Tweeting 101: A Twitter Cheat Sheet

I put together the following “Twitter Cheat Sheet” for a client, and thought it might be also helpful for others who are still struggling with how to get started with Twitter. It provides some gentle guidelines that should help to keep emerging best practices in mind.

Why Use Twitter

There are many reasons to use Twitter, but here are my top three.

  • Branding. The more others refer to you or “retweet” what you tweet, the greater your reach. Extend your brand by tweeting “retweetable” tweets.
  • Communications. Twitter can be a powerful communications tool, particularly because of its potential to reach not just your own followers, but your followers’ followers and so on. Google (s goog)  and other search engines are also including tweets in search results now.
  • Community. By engaging your followers, you can begin to build a following, and join in conversations in meaningful ways.

How to Use Twitter

When you first open up Twitter each day, here are a few key things you’ll want to do to make the most of your “tweeting time.”

  1. Check @ messages. First check to see who has publicly referenced you in their tweets and acknowledge, answer or respond.
  2. Check DMs. Next check your direct messages (DMs) from people who have messaged you privately. Note that you don’t need to respond to auto-responders that say things like “Hey, thanks for following me! Can’t wait to learn more about you.” Responding to those is not expected.
  3. Check your Twitterstream. Read through the first few pages or screenfuls of tweets to see what the people you are following are saying, and to see where there might be appropriate opportunities to retweet, respond or reference them.
  4. Check Searches. You save searches for terms such as your brand name, product names, and keywords pertaining to your business or industry. These can be good sources of additional tweet fodder.

How to Make Your Tweets “Retweetable”

Twitter limits the length of tweets to 140 characters. In order to make your tweets “retweetable” (to make it possible for others to retweet you without having to edit the tweet), you need to reduce the the maximum length even further. Add five to the number of letters in your Twittername, then subtract that from 140. So, for example, there are 12 letters in “alizasherman” — adding five to that is 17. So I subtract 17 from 140, which equals 123. That is the maximum length of my “retweetable” tweet.

How to Retweet

There are two standard ways to retweet – adding “RT @Twittername” at the start of the tweet,  and adding “via @Twittername” at the end of the tweet. Either is acceptable, but the latter takes up more valuable “character real estate” — it’s longer, so you can fit less into the retweet. It is acceptable to change spellings of words to make a retweet fit the character limit.

You can also use Twitter’s built-in retweet button, but this is a newer feature has not been adopted by everyone,  and it’s not the ideal way to retweet as it seems less “personal.” You can personalize retweets by adding a comment at the beginning or end.

Here’s a screenshot showing all three types of retweet:

Types of Tweets

There are many ways to tweet. Here are a few examples of different types of tweets to give you some ideas.

  1. Informative with a link
  2. Provocative or timely statement or quote

  3. Questions to start conversations
  4. Referring to someone with an @
  5. Response to an @ message
  6. Retweet
  7. Promotional (with a link or link to image)

How to Use Hashtags

Hashtags are simply words prefixed with a hash sign (#) added to your tweet. Hashtags provide ways to group and find topically-related or conversationally related tweets — readers can click the hashtag in your tweet to find related discussions on the same topic. For example, if you tweet about wine, the best hashtag for wine discussion is “#wine.” By using it strategically, you could attract more followers.

Here are some example tweets using the #wine hashtag:

#FollowFriday or #FF

There is an organic Twitter-wide event called “Follow Friday” where people recognize their favorite Twitterers by referencing them in a list and then adding the hashtag “#followfriday” or “#ff.” Note that you should make sure your Follow Friday list is retweetable.

Follow Friday is a great way to give kudos, help others discover new and relevant Twitterers and to attract the attention of people you follow who may not follow you back yet.

It’s a good idea to thank people when they give you kudos or list you in a Follow Friday tweet, but don’t thank everyone one by one as this can be annoying to your followers.

What are some of your favorite Twitter tips?

Photo by Flickr user Mr_Stein,  licensed under Creative Commons