GUEST POST: Everything You Want to Know About Twitter (but are afraid to ask)

By Nina Badzin

Twitter and I have been together for exactly one year. We’re mad for each other. Can’t stop a love like ours.

I’m going to do something unusual for a trusting relationship. We’re going behind closed doors. This is beyond a simple “how-to.” I want to help the Twitter newbies and those who aren’t using the site effectively. Why? Because when you’re in love, you want to share it. I’m Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah’s couch. I’m Star Jones planning her wedding on The View. And I’m just plain nice.

Twitter is an unbelievable experience, but you have to know what you’re doing.

Here’s what I wish I’d known from the get go.

1. NICHE: If you don’t have a purpose for using the site, then you’re wasting your time. My goal was and still is to feel a sense of community with other writers. To that end, I only follow writers, literary journals, literary agents, bloggers similar to me, and publications focused on Jewish life (I guest post for one of them and it’s a personal interest.) Celebrities? Nope. News organizations? Absolutely not. When I want the headlines, I read the paper or a news site. When I want to know what Ashton Kutcher thinks about anything–well, that will never happen.

An exception to the rule: I follow back people I know in real life. Because even I’m not that much of a Twitter snob.

One last thing about niche. I’m not suggesting you only follow people you agree with or who are exactly like you. My category of “writers” for example includes people from all walks of life, not just people who write in the same genre.

2. LISTS: If you don’t use lists, you’re missing the Tweets you really want to see. Speaking of lists, if you have 1300 followers but only 20 or so have listed you, then I’m probably not going to follow you back. A ratio like that means few actually read your Tweets.

I’ve read (wish I could remember where) that a 10% ratio is good. (600 followers should mean you’ve been listed about 60 times.)  Start by putting other people on lists. They will probably do the same. Keeping the people you follow unlisted is like storing your forks in your sock drawer. It’s too much trouble to find what you’re looking for and wastes a lot of time. Start those lists. And use them! (If you don’t know how, leave a comment and I’ll walk you through it.)

3. USE HOOTSUITE OR SOMETHING LIKE IT: I rarely use the actual Twitter site–what a clunker. Options like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck make the Twitter experience a breeze. Hootsuite allows me to schedule Tweets and see my lists next to each other, including the @mention, “Retweets of me,” and “favorites” categories. I use UberTwitter on my Blackberry since I do about 90% of my Tweet reading while I’m working out. (Clearly I’m not training for a marathon, but the system works for me. I’m killing two birds with one stone.)

4. UTILIZE THE “FAVORITE” FUNCTION: When I’m reading Tweets during those workouts, I favorite the ones I want to check out later. Later might be weeks away–that’s fine. People appreciate the RT of their link whenever you can get to it. Why would anyone want all their link promoting to happen in one day? Spread out the love, people!

5. KNOW HOW TO RT: Please commit this one to memory. When you start a Tweet like this—> @NinaBadzin–ONLY the people who follow BOTH of us will see that Tweet. So when you’re RTing someone’s link as a nice gesture (and you should do that regularly on Twitter or you’re COMPLETELY missing the point) then it’s not all that generous to write a Tweet like this—>@NinaBadzin wrote a must-read post about the ins and outs of Twitter.

Wrong! It should look like this—>A must-read post by @NinaBadzin about the ins and outs of Twitter. Another option—>.@NinaBadzin wrote a must read post about the ins and outs of Twitter. Notice the . in front of the @–That little . makes all the difference. HOWEVER, don’t start throwing a period in front of every @. (See below)

6. KNOW WHEN TO START WITH @: We’re getting down to the nitty-gritty of Twitter etiquette. There’s a time for a less public Tweet. If you’re thanking someone for a RT or giving a specific response to an article/post, then an @reply is totally acceptable. Sometimes it makes sense for just the people who follow both of you to see that Tweet. There’s nothing wrong with using the @reply aka @mention, but understand that if you’re trying to promote someone’s post, then you must stick a word or a period before the @. (See #5)

7. KNOW WHEN TO DIRECT MESSAGE: Nothing irks me more than a long personal conversation on the public feed. Like I said above, a few Tweets back and forth are appropriate and expected. (I absolutely do this.) But an endless back and forth is bordering on rude. If you have that much to talk about, take it to the Direct Message function or exchange email addresses. It’s great you found a friend on Twitter, but please spare the rest of the us the giggle-giggle, wink-wink. Twitter isn’t Facebook.

8.KNOW WHEN NOT TO DIRECT MESSAGE: Do NOT auto-DM the people who follow you with seemingly friendly notes like, “Thanks for the follow. I hope you enjoy my Tweets.” I suppose people who do this think it makes Twitter more personal. It doesn’t. It makes you look like an automaton. Authentically interacting makes Twitter more personal (responding to general questions, RTing someone’s Tweet).

9. BIO AND PHOTO: Speaking of spambots, make sure to fill out your bio as thoroughly as possible. Upload a picture. Most people avoid following the eggs.

10. KEEP YOUR HANDLE SHORT: If you’ve read this far, you’re probably already on Twitter and it’s too late to save you. But just in case someone is reading this who hasn’t yet signed up–LISTEN TO ME–keep your handle short. When people RT your link, your handle counts against the 140-character allotment. And if you want a certain Tweet RTed, you always want to keep it well under 140 anyway. (Your handle, the RTer’s handle, plus the actual link count against the 140.)  Therefore, if your handle is anything like @NinaIsaWriterPleaseLoveHer, then you’re screwed.

That’s all I have! I hope it helps you maximize your relationship with Twitter.

And to my darling Twitter, Happy anniversary to us. Your ever devoted @NinaBadzin

Nina Badzin is a Pushcart Prize nominated short story writer, aspiring novelist, and Twitter addict. She blogs about the writing life, married life, and motherhood at Find PART II of her Twitter Tips there!


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  1. Ginny
    Posted March 7, 2011 at 8:04 am | Permalink


    Thank you! I’ve been mooning over twitter like a junior high
    wallflower, knowing I should just get up and dance but …

    Now about making those lists? How is that done?

  2. Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Hi Ginny! It’s in Part II. Follow the link at the end of the post
    in my bio. And let me know if you have any other questions
    after that. 🙂

  3. Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Just a little addition: if you use a client like Echofon on iPhone then the handle of the person you RT is NOT part of the 140 character limit… one advantage of using that particular one. I will often go to my phone to RT a 140 char tweet because I know I don’t have to deduct any characters to make it fit.

    Great summary, Nina!

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