Tuesday, July 12, 2011

TUES TIP: Twitter Basics 3 Tools You Need to Master

Yesterday, in the Monday Marketing: Authenticity + Twitter blog, I discussed the philosophies of using twitter, do's and don't's for fitting in, how to create relationships with your audience instead of coming off like a spammer simply blasting your twitterstream with alternating bouts of silence broken only by sales pitches. You know, how to not do what I did this spring when I started trying to use my twitterstream for business purposes rather than sheer fun.

Even though I created my @webbiegrrl twitter account years ago, in the first month after Twitter started up, I still don't have a lot of followers--just 56 when I last checked--but I had a mere 18 on June 25, 2011 when I started getting onto Twitter regularly. Yeah, despite several years worth of Twitter presence, I actually managed to not accumulate followers outside a handful of friends.

I could say "learn how I did it to avoid doing the same" but let's say instead, follow me as I learn from the mistakes and do it right instead. Since I started feeding this blog through to my twitterstream via Networked Blogs in mid-June, 2011, however, I've gained about one new follower a day. It's slow-going, but I'm not actively focused on it. I'm still working on finding time to do all of my blogging, tweeting, working, life-living and it'd be nice to do some actual fiction-writing again. Sometime. Anytime. Click through to start learning with me.

Join the Conversation

Why am I tweeting? Simple. It's fun. Why not? Actually, I'm not fourteen and I do have a myriad of other things far more important to do (like life and you know, work) but joining in on Trending Topics is really hilarous sometimes. Plus, joining the conversations on Twitter makes me a part of the Twitter community, a part of a larger, worldwide social network where everyone has a voice. Or everyone who has internet access or a smartphone has a voice (grin). I never used to bother. I never saw the point behind Twitter. It seemed like a noisier, stupider version of MySpace and I stopped using MySpace (even just for music, which had been my primary focus there) back in 2008, though I do still have an active account there. Yeah, my username there is also "webbiegrrl" but I don't respond to friend requests for months, if at all.

To fully-engage with Twitter this spring, I had to finally learn how to really use the basic tools. Today, I'll take a look at those and combine them to illustrate how, this morning, I was playing the "In Your Pants" game with about a million strangers around the globe. Be warned: it's addictive. I had to cut myself off after five minutes, being a grown up and all. I'm such a mean mommy master.

3 Tools of Twitter You Must Master, Grasshopper

There are really only 3 things you have to grasp in order to Join the Conversation: Hashtags, Identifiers and Direct Messaging. I'll look at each one, in turn and in detail, but really, once you grasp these basic tools, you'll have a sure footing to get started on Twitter. You still need to understand the philosophy of how to be polite, effective, appealing, profitable, friendly and Ye Olde Favorite, authentic, but you'll have the basic tools required to communicate your personal voice.

1. Hashtags (#)

These are amazing tools. They were actually created by the users of Twitter, not by the developers of the site. As a result, Twitter users are fairly possessive of their use and really take offense at your misuse of hashtags--that is, using ten in one post or hashtagging just about everything in every tweet all day long.

Don't worry if you mess up and use too many at first. Nearly all beginners misuse them at some point and some internet marketers overuse them all the time and just don't care. If you want to be a spammer, go ahead, but if you want to Join the Conversation, learn. Quickly. I actually declined to use them at all rather than misuse them but then, I hadn't yet discovered their power.

These little buggers are the freakin Holy Grail! Why? Because hashtags connect people and concepts on Twitter. They are the glue that makes the site remain cohesive while also being organically viral. The actual method of using a hashtag is simple. Just type a pound sign (#) and a word and voila!, you have just tagged your first hash.

So...what good did that do? None if you chose a bad hashtag. You must choose wisely, Grasshopper.

You've probably used Twitter's own, internal search feature, either trying to find people or topics. That search engine uses hashtags to identify what are called Trending Topics. In fact, because hashtags gained such popularity, the Twitter developers added a menu function to the site called Trending Topics where you can check on things other people have identified as of interest to them by applying hashtags to their tweets.

Twitter users took it one step further, adding multiple hashtags (not huge numbers of them but 2 or 3 in a single tweet was not and is not unheard of). In particularly, a hashtag to identify regional interests became popular, so Twitter developers added "location" to Twitter profiles and now they give you Trending Topics by location. You can choose to see Trending Topics for any location, but the default is to see the one for the region you specified in your profile. Forex, I'm in Raleigh, NC in the USA, so I get a Trending Topics list for the USA, and not for say, the UK or Israel, though I often switch to one of those two just to see what's happening there.

Let's look at what we have so far. This morning, I got onto Twitter just to follow someone whose blog I follow and then, because I was there, I clicked on my Trending Topics list where I noticed that yesterday's popular hashtag #improvefilmtitlesbyaddinginmypants was still trending today. That is, the game of adding the words "in my pants" to a film title to see how funny it will get was, as they say, "trending on Twitter."

It's a lot like the old fortune cookie game of adding the words "in bed" to your fortune. But you add the hashtag #improvefilmtitlesbyaddinginmypants to your tweet so others can find your contribution. By tweeting one of your own (and using the hashtag) you have just joined the conversation.

It's that simple. Now, when anyone searches the twitterstream for the hashtag #improvefilmtitlesbyaddinginmypants, they are going to see your tweet as well as everyone else's. You are part of the collective. (I didn't know Borg assimilated Grasshoppers, but apparently they do!)

I should hope it's obvious, but I'll state it explicitly just in case, you can create your own hashtags. You can turn any words into a hashtag. Just put a hash mark or pound sign (#) in front of the word (no spaces). Although it's fun and exciting to make your own hashtags in the hopes they'll become trending topics, it's just as easy to jump onto someone else's pre-existing trend and contribute in some value-added way (or just for the sheer fun of it).

For business purposes, the objective being to sell books, you might want to search for Trending Topics and hashtags related to book-selling and book-reading which are already in use on Twitter rather than reinventing that particular wheel. For instance, Goodreads, a reader-centric site, auto-tweets readers' updates to their Goodreads newsfeeds when (forex) they add a book to their "now-reading" shelf or complete a book. The auto-tweet usually adds the hashtag "#reading" so a popular trend is "what are you #reading" or #WAYR. It's popular because not only are Twitter users independently posting #reading tweets, but the Goodreads web site is posting for thousands of them when they just visit the Goodreads site. It's a good community to join (and authors, you can get a Goodreads Author Profile with added features, too).

Not All Hashtags Are Created Equal. Usually, searches won't differentiate one hashtag from another based on capitalization--that is, they are not case-sensitive--but rearranging the words will look like a unique hashtag, and sometimes, adding spaces will kick it as well. The idea is to join an existing conversation, not start a parallel one all by yourself. Check for existing hashtags before adding one to your original tweet.

2. Identifiers (@)

These are one of the most-confusing concepts to people and I'm not sure why. It seems so straightforward and simple to me--more so than hashtags! Your username, preceded by the at sign (@) is your identifier on Twitter, your Twitter ID, your username. As is done with hashtags, the built-in Twitter search engine (and third-party search services like TwitDir) will search for your username and return the results in a list called your "@mentions." 

Being @mentioned is a little different than having someone put a hashtag in front of your username (though that would be pretty kewel, making you a Trending Topic on Twitter! Talk about 15 seconds of fame!) An @mention can be a reply to something you tweeted or your reply to something someone else tweeted or an @mention can be a method of flagging or tagging someone in an original tweet to make the tweet show up in their twitterstream. That way, their followers can see what you said about them (and you will have gotten their @ttention)  If you originate the @mention of someone in your original tweet, you are starting a conversation, not joining one, and that's okay, too.

So you've joined a conversation and someone @mentioned you but....how do you @nswer them? Easy! @reply! You're gonna really hate that at sign before this post is done, aren't you?

If you click on the curved arrow (in most apps, including the original Twitter web site menu, the reply feature is an arrow that sweeps from right to left in a circular arc), your tweet will start with an @mention of the person to whom you are replying. Forex, if I tweeted "@you, how r u 2day?" and you wanted to answer me, you could click on the reply button and your tweet would get "autofilled" with the "@webbiegrrl" (as well as having a script behind the scenes that links our two tweets together).

If you want to see who, if anyone, has @mentioned you, yep, you guessed it, use Twitter's menu function. When you click on it, you get a list of all tweets that include your username preceded by an at sign (@you). It's good twetiquette (Twitter eitquette) to check your @mentions and @reply to people or, depending on the topic of conversation, DM them in reply to their @mention. If you don't check your @mentions regularly, you might end up ignoring someone (or appearing to do so) and just as in real life, that's rude.

3. Direct Messages (DM)

These are a little trickier than hashtags and @mentions. Both of those relate, essentially, to activity in your twitterstream, things being typed into the stream that are readable to everyone who follows your tweets. A DM, however, is not visible to anyone other than the Twitter user to whom it is sent.

The reason I say these are trickier is because you cannot DM someone who is not following you. That is, even if @you are following @webbiegrrl, you cannot DM me unless I am following @you back; however, I can DM @you because @you followed me. Weird, right? I'm sure the Twitter developers will get to that "feature" eventually, but for now, DMs are outside the main twitterstream and are allegedly private messages. They're not entirely private but they are definitely abused by tweeps who want to spam marketing and promo. In fact, most auto-bots will auto-DM @you the second you follow one of them - as a thank you - including a sales pitch and link to buy something. Ick. Saying thank you is one thing but pitching me a link as our first contact? Not so much.

It's easier to DM from the Twitter web site than from an app because the web site has a whole separate menu function for DM'ing, but some apps now have a DM function, too. In a pinch, if you're using a phone and don't know how to get your app to let you DM someone separate and apart from your tweets, just start the tweet with the letters "DM" a space (or in some apps, just a "d") and the addressee's @username another space and then your message. If you forget the "DM" at the start, this will be (essentially) an @mention in public instead of a private msg. Oops.You can imagine how embarrassing that could get!

Be careful with DMs. Some people follow you and wait for you to follow them back--then DM you with SPAM. Personally, I rarely use DMs and in fact, don't like them at all. Not only do I feel that if you cannot say it in public, you should not say it to me, but I have my Twitter notifications set up to let me know when someone DMs me because I am assuming a DM is something I actually want/need to read. My phone makes a distinctive sound (even when everything else is on "silence") which definitely gets me disapproving looks at the day job. I don't need the hassle. Please do not DM me unless we actually know each other and you actually need or want to get my IMMEDIATE attention. That's what a DM does. It screams URGENT!! URGENT!! Drop everything. Only a truly offensive spammer would DM a sales pitch anyway.

You are now armed with the tools you need to go forth into the Twitterstream and succeed. May the Trending Force be with @you, Grasshopper #inyourpants ^_^  (geez, Kung Fu, Star Trek, Star Wars and Twitterspeak all in one post! I am such a geeky webbiegrrl I even shock myself!!)

In the next week or so, I'll have to do another follow-on post (or series of them!) discussing some of the trends of behavior on Twitter (as well as popular Trending Topics which tend to resurface periodically--and why they come and go), some of the do's and don't's of Twetiquette (which is a follow-on to the philosophical discussion yesterday--I had so many links I found and never got to use!) and more on how to use Twitter to build a community of your own. This is turning into quite a series, isn't it? I might need to create a FeedsBurner stream just for these!

See you next time #inyourpants


TC said...

Great post, I could have done with it when I first started using Twitter rather than having to figure it out myself. I love the games where you change words in song titles or add a prefix to film titles but I'm so slow whatever I come up with has already been done by the time I get there!

Webbiegrrl Writer said...

Hey, Tracy, thanks for checking out the post and letting me know it made sense! I proofread it 3 times and am sure I missed a dozen typos or rambled where I could've made more sense.

I got onto the whole #improvefilmtitlesbyaddinginyourpants trend when I saw it on British comedian, StephenFry's, Twitterstream. He is *SO* hilarious--and was one of my favorite guest stars on the TV series BONES (Fry played a psychiatrist brought in to evaluate FBI Agent Booth's ability to do his job after a head injury). I wish they'd bring him back!! Check Stephen Fry's timeline for some doozies--he's so creative! His twitter handle is guess what? @stephenfry :-)

Helene Young said...

Fabulous post, Sarah! I clearly need to revisit its use. As a sporadic user I have to admit I question how much benefit or enjoyment I actually get from it. You've demystified :-)

Webbiegrrl Writer said...

Thanks, Helene! Coming from you, in your line of work (well, MULTIPLE lines of work), I can't imagine you not understanding Twitter so I take it as a real compliment that you think I made it clearer to someone as "smrat like u" :)

I've gotta amend the post, just saw the most hilarious list of Twitter acronyms...probably should save it for a future post. Here it is so we can all anticipate its inclusion (haha)

Top 50 Twitterisms + Acronyms Defined

Paul Fenton said...

Excellent post Sarah, thanks for this. I'd kind of guessed what the hastags and mentions were about, but was clueless about acceptable behaviour.

Also: Yes, Stephen Fry is a genius.

Webbiegrrl Writer said...

Paul, First of all, YES!! Stephen Fry is ...art, personified IMO. I so loved him as a psychiatrist on the BONES television show. Although it's a drama and he's supposed to have played a serious person, his dry wit got me everytime. Plus he tweets the most amazing things, doesn't he? I have no clue where he gets half the stuff he tweets!

Second, thanks for the compliment on the post. I'm working on the series, hoping to help people but you never know if you're getting through unless someone tells you so thanks for telling me.

I plan to do ANOTHER post on the "Basics, Revisited" because as I get further and further into Twitter and start delving into automation and scaling up etc. I realize a lot of the advice I gave, while good, needs to be explained so newbies can understand why they should form the habit right from the start. I mentioned a few things as being just "good manners" but in fact, once the bots enter the scene, turns out, "good manners" are how you stay alive on Twitter! More on this coming in a few weeks (2 or 3, soon!)

Be sure to also click the link I included in my reply comment to Helene. Lotsa good Twitterspeak there.

Kerry Kerr McAvoy said...

Thanks for your Twitter helpful hints.

I am running into a problem which I is why I originally reached out to you about a week ago and found these fantastic tutorials. My twitter acct has been suspended last night for the second time in the past week.

The first suspension made sense when I read through Twitter's Rules (carefully this time!) and then your columns. I could see I had manually followed too many people in one day without enough individuals following me back. It was after this embarrassing experience I contacted you and began my "studies in Twitter" at the school of Webbiegrrl's. ;)

As I read several of your columns, I began to "get it" and "joined the conversation" as you frequently say. I have to admit, I found the whole experience quite enjoyable! I had fun getting to know new people and tweeting about issues of mutual interest. As I tweeted back and forth about various things, I organically gained new followers. I would read each new person's profile to see how well they matched up, often following them back. I stopped my previous practice of mass followings to pump up my numbers.

To my surprise, I woke up this morning to discover I was suspended again. Wow??!! I am not sure what I did wrong? (FYI, I have already submitted a ticket with Twitter's support and am now waiting for their response.) The banner message on my account didn't give any clues as to why this happened this time whereas the first time it said I was "aggressively following."

So, as I sit at the feet of someone who has been doing this longer and hopefully more successfully than me, can you give me some direction about what went wrong so that I can avoid this "corner of shame" in the future :).

This is what I did last night. I retweeted a couple of people's messages and I responded through the use of @(twitter name) to several conversations. These replies occurred at 5:11 p.m., 7:50 pm, 7:52 pm, 7:57 pm, 10:43 pm, and 11:10 pm. Most of these were to one person, with a couple to two individuals. All but the last resulted in a positive response from the recipient which included a couple of new followers. I think over all I followed about 10 new people through the course of the day and obtained about 6 to 8 new followers.

The only other thing I did was to leave Tweetdeck up and running with no activity on my part from 8 to 10: 43 p.m (when I stepped away for dinner).

Just to give you more background: My current numbers are: approx 877 following and 348 followers.

Any ideas? I'm stumped.

Please don't post this on your blog unless you think it would be helpful to others. Maybe you have blogged or are planning to blog about avoiding suspensions. If so, then feel free to use this story.


Webbiegrrl Writer said...

Hi Kerry,

Again, I'm glad to hear that you're finding the tutorials helpful and you're working your way through them. Please be sure to read the "intermediate" ones about your "Twitter Authenticity" and increasing your Twitter credibility, as I think you're still seeing Twitter as a means to an end, rather than an end unto itself. It can be both but at least, it must be the latter not the former.

I have to confess first of all, I am not an expert on Twitter Terms of Service nor do I know much about getting suspended or reported. I do report people I find to be abusive, spammers, scammers, just there to blast the Twitterverse and not actually "be" there, but beyond that, I have zero experience with the whole phenomenon as I have never actually gotten around to using an Auto-Follow tool or following that many people. I have carefully "cleaned out my Twitter house" on a routine basis (way past time now, as I haven't cleaned house since around Thanksgiving!! I was doing it every weekend) to avoid following or being followed by nefarious characters. I have been UNfollowed -- often during the recent Giveaway, sadly -- and I will normally contact any of the individuals whose IDs I recognize and ask them why they unfollowed me. Typically it is that they think I post too many promo tweets. So if *I* am getting that, and you are / were posting exclusively promo tweets until the last day or two, I suspect you were reported by people you were annoying. Once the Twitter Admins get around to reviewing reports of abuse, they do suspend accounts. It can sometimes take a day or two (or three at this time of year) for them to catch up. Maybe this is what happened to you? Some of the people you were tweeting with found you over-bearing? Some of the people who were following you found you "all promo and no tweet"? I'm just taking some wild guesses--NOT even educated guesses!

I will also confess I had never looked at your numbers. With a ratio of (877 / 348 = 2.52) you are still very much "aggressively following" and I would highly advise you to stop following people unless or until more are following you such that your ratio falls below 2.0 -- so wait until you have at least 438 followers and IMO I'd wait until you hit more like 450 or 500 before you start following total strangers for no particular reason other than to boost your numbers. Besides, why do you need to boost your numbers? It'll come--if you actually participate and have content on your stream--it'll come. Be patient. Don't try to arrive one week and have 1000 followers the next. It took me over a year to organically pass the 1000 mark. A year, not a week, not a month.

I haven't been as active on Twitter since August as I was for those 14 months from when I first got active but still got more followers because I posted content, not just promo tweets. I am resolving to be more active in the New Year (and working on getting a day job so I don't have to work 7 days a week and CAN be more active again!!) If I can manage 10 min twice a day to post CONTENT RICH tweets then so can you. As you said, you noticed immediately when you start to join conversations and actually engage with people, you do just "get" followers without asking. You just have to be patient for it to happen in the natural course. It's hard for the beginner to find this patience but when you can/do, you win/win :)


Webbiegrrl Writer said...

Oh and Kerry, a follow-on note, out of the 1280 or so followers I have at this very minute, I am able to "recognize" about 1100 of them by "name." I recall where we "met" or under what circumstances and/or whether they also follow me on Facebook, Goodreads or here on the blog. I've found a LOT of authors just following me like crazy on Twitter, Goodreads and attempting to friend me on Facebook where I no longer accept friend requests at all.

I direct people to my Webbiegrrl Writer Fan Page; they "like" that and then "expect" me to reciprocate...by osmosis. They don't even talk to me; they don't even ask me; they just expect I'll "want" to boost my numbers and theirs but since I use Facebook to build community NOT NUMBERS, I don't follow anyone back "just because" and that pisses some of these authors off a bit, I think. They feel ripped off somehow because they "liked" me and I didn't just automatically "like" them back without ever speaking to them first. I hope you hear how silly it sounds when I say it that way. That's essentially what you're doing on Twitter. Talk to people before you expect anyone to follow you back--and don't just follow back people you don't want to read. Your stream will get so overflooded with noise you can't possibly talk to anyone anymore.