Basics for new Twitter users

In 2009 South Africa was listed as one of the top 10 countries in the world that use Twitter. This is an honor for a country which has just over 5 million Internet user (just over 10% of the South African population). Twitter is a social networking and micro-blogging service that allows you to answer the question “What are you doing?” by send short text messages of up to 140 characters (called tweets) to your friends (or followers). The service has a subscriber base of more than 7 million users and it’s growing at an exponential rate.

Twitter users can send messages / tweets using the Twitter website directly as a single SMS alert or via a third party application (like Tweetdeck). Because there is a character limit on tweets website links (URLs) are usually presented in a shortened format. The tweets that you send on Twitter are displayed on your Twitter profile page, on the home page of each of your followers (friends) and on the Twitter public timeline. One can only send Direct Messages (private messages) to followers. Users can also send tweets by visiting the Twitter website on their mobile devices.

For argument’s sake, lets say that you’ve just created a Twitter account. So now you are asking yourself “What Next?”. Our advice to you is to follow a few people on Twitter to get an idea of how communication works on there. After observing for a while you’ll get the idea.

There are various kinds of tweets. This is a list of them:

  • Random Thoughts Tweets: You might see a few people that you are following sending tweets that express their random views or list their random thoughts. You may also have the pleasure of experiencing someone tweeting one-liner jokes. Examples of Random Thought Tweets are “Have to go to the doctor today, but not in the mood” (almost comparable to updating one’s Facebook status) or “Stuck in JHB traffic, accident on N1 at the Buccleuch interchange”. This kind of tweet can also be sent with a website link attached to it, for example “Check out this interesting article about Patrick Swayze http://bit.ly/BjHtX” (notice the shortened link format).
  • @username Tweets: If you’re following users on Twitter you’ll see a lot of them mentioning @username in their tweets. There might be more than 1 username listed on the tweets as well. If you see @username in a tweet this means that someone is replying to someone’s tweet. Let’s say (for argument’s sake) that 5 people have posted greeting tweets like “@yourusername hello” on Twitter. Instead of replying to each one individually (which could be time consuming) you can mention all 5 usernames in one tweet, for example “@tannietokkie @auntbetty @unclepaul @unclejohn @dannysmith Morning” A @username can also be mentioned in the middle of a tweet. This means that they are referring to another user. For example “Sitting at the bus stop next to @janniekruger waiting for the bus.” Replies like these (also called mentions) can be sent to followers and non-followers. Links can also be added to this kind of tweet, for example “@janniekruger check out http://www.junkmail.co.za”
  • RT @username Tweets: Twitter also refer to this kind of tweet as RTs or Retweets. Let’s say that you’ve found an interesting tweet that you want to share with your followers. If you tweet the link to this post to all your followers some of them might find it extremely interesting and RT (or Retweet) the tweet to all their followers. This could be the reason that this post goes viral on the web and generate a massive amount of hype and website traffic just because one or more people Retweeted it to their followers on Twitter. Twitter users sometimes Retweet something and add a comment of their own at the end of the tweet. For example “RT @JMClassifieds http://www.junkmail.co.za/blog / Nice blog”
  • #hashtags: You may also see tweets with “#Friday” or “#Beer” or “SouthAfrica” or something similar mentioned in them. These are called #hashtags. This is a great way to tag a tweet as relevant to a specific subject / event. Both followers and non-followers can find your update using the Twitter search box on the website’s homepage or by using one of the Trending Topics searches. This is excellent way of explaining to your followers which subject your tweet is related to. One of the most popular #hashtags is #FF or #FollowFriday. This #hashtag is commonly used to list recommended Twitter users that might be interesting to follow by mentioning their @username in the same tweet as this tag. For Example “#FF @jannie @pietie @sannie”. Another example of a #hashtag tweet is “Found out that #KurtDarren is playing at #Loftus this weekend”

So now you are asking yourself “How do I get followers?”. There are various Twitter directories on the Internet. You might use We Follow and Just Tweet It to find people on Twitter who share your interests. Just remember that Twitter has ways of monitoring if you are following more than people than you are following. Don’t follow too many people, Twitter might consider you to be a spammer and suspend your account. You can also find people to follow by other means. Check websites that you are regularly visiting for the author / owner’s Twitter account link. Twitter is very popular with webmasters and bloggers nowadays and most of them have Twitter accounts. Just a warning: Once you get the hang of Twitter it can be highly addictive. We hope this post has been an informative one and that readers understand the working of Twitter better. If you have a Twitter account already you are welcome to follow us on Twitter for regular tweets:

Henno Kruger

Digital Marketing Campaign Coordinator at Junk Mail Publishing.

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