Twitter Navigation
Twitter Bird from designkode

Twitterpated? Relax. You Don’t Have to Know Everything.

This is the third installment in my series about using Twitter, aimed primarily at people like myself, living in the “Fine Aged Wine” zone (that is, over 50). I liken my approach to the old radio show “News Read Real Slow”, because I know that there are a lot of people who are just getting started, and the last thing you want me to do is bombard you with new and confusing technical terms.  Something happened the other day which highlighted this approach for me. I was chatting with one of my “guru’s”, and he happened to mention a term with which I was unfamiliar. I had to stop and make a decision. Go ahead and admit my ignorance, and maybe learn something new, or ignore it. I realized at that moment that, although I think I’m picking up a lot of information in a short time, that the technologies related to the social media experience just keep racing along. Sometimes I feel that they are leaving me in the dust. So, in response, I did three things:

1) I looked it up on Google, but there were at least 5 definitions of the term. I was still stuck with my ignorance.
2) So I asked. And I did learn something useful.
3) I also realized once again that the social media phenomenon is not so much about the technology and knowing the correct terms—it’s about the possibility of communicating with people halfway around the world about topics of mutual interest.

Drawing from my Dad’s ham radio experience again, when I listened to him talk with his buddies, most of their conversations seemed to be about their equipment, but there was also a lot of socializing that happened. When my folks were ready to travel, they had people to visit wherever they went. So, relax. I’m speaking about Twitter today, and I’m giving you some useful information, but there’s a chance that the technology of the social media world will be different next year. Keep in mind that the whole reason for doing this at all is to make new friends and keep touch with the old.

Basic Navigation

Today, I’m going to focus on some of the options within Twitter which allow interaction with your fellow “tweeps”. In doing so, it occurred to me that there are a couple of things that you may not yet know about navigating around the “Twittersphere”. If you look at the top of the page, you will see several tabs. The two that are most important for now are Home and Profile.

Home: What you need to know right away is that the “Home” tab will show you all of the Tweets rolling in from all the people you are following. An endless stream of the good, the bad and the ugly. The Home page also has some very valuable tools on the right hand side. Starting from the top, you’ll see Home, @(your username), Direct Messages, Favorites, and Retweets, followed by Saved Searches and Lists. These functions will help you organize the chaos. Twitter conveniently saves all the @replies that mention your username, as well as the direct messages, and all of your favorites—but that’s also a topic for next time. What this means is that if you are not “on twitter” when someone sends you a direct message or a reply, don’t worry. You can click on those two links and view your inbound activity. You can then decide whether to reply or send that person a direct message in response. I do this as a matter of course whenever I log onto my Twitter account.
At the end of each Tweet you receive, there are some action buttons which you may use to interact with the other person. Those options are Retweet, Reply, and Favorite This Tweet. As you will notice, there is a correspondence between the action buttons and the tools on the right-hand column. To put it simply, the buttons by the incoming tweets are for out-going functions and the links on the right side of the page are mainly for incoming functions.
Profile: If the Home page is your “Fibber McGee’s closet”, the Profile page is your front porch. Here is where you decide what you’re going to show the world. Some people keep their profile page spare and uncluttered. For instance, if you go to @massageseattle, you will see that the owner uses this Twitter profile page strictly to let her clients know when she has openings. Yes, you really do have that much control over what shows up on your profile page.

Sending Direct Messages, Using @Replies, and Retweeting

Let’s say that you are in the middle of a chat stream, such as #blogchat, or let’s say that you are checking the twitter messages in your home area, and someone says something that gets your attention. Maybe you want to know more, or maybe you want to comment, and you want to make it clear that your response is aimed at that specific person (reply). Perhaps you want to comment or ask a question, but do it privately (direct message). Or, maybe you think it’s profound or silly or funny or provocative enough that you want all of your followers to see it also (retweet). This is where the conversation gets fun, and occasionally profound.

Direct Messages

The most efficient and private way to communicate one-on-one with another user is through the direct message. This is done in three possible ways:
1) by clicking on the username included in a tweet, which takes you to their profile page. Below their name is a star icon. If you click on that, you have several options, including mention (username), which is the same as reply and Direct Message (username).
2) From your “what’s happening box on your Home page, you may type d (username) before your message, or
3) by using the “send___a direct message” box in the direct message area of Twitter.
Direct messages can only happen between two people who are already following each other. You are still restricted to 140 characters, so if you have something lengthy to say, you might want to send a direct message suggesting that you switch to email or facebook messages, or even LinkedIn messages. Or, it is okay to send a string of direct messages also. Keep in mind if you do this, however, that your receiver may be picking up their direct messages via their cellphone. Also, you need to know that although direct messages are supposed to be private, that they occasionally show up on your profile (public) page within Twitter. Why that is, I have not yet discovered. What I do is check right away and delete anything that I don’t want to be public. This will not delete the messages from your “direct Message” page within Twitter, it will just keep everyone and their dog from reading what is meant as a private correspondence. When you’re using Twitter, the direct messages will show up on your home page (which, remember is not open for public view) and also on the separate direct message page.

Some appropriate uses of direct messages:
a) You’re in a tweet chat, and someone says something that you want to know more about, you don’t want to interrupt the flow, and it’s all right with you if you get the response later.
b) I have occasionally seen calls for prayer or advice. I always respond to those privately.
c) Your daughter is late getting home, and you want to let her know to contact you. You know she pays more attention to text messages than to phone calls. DM her. She’ll either think you’re especially cool or especially annoying—or both. Either way, you just might get a response.
d) I have gotten lots of offers of help from fellow tweeters when I have raised questions in a tweetchat. These often come in the form of a direct message.

@Replies, Also Known as Mentions

If what you want to do is to respond to a particular tweet, you may either click on the “reply” button (right by the bottom of the tweet) or manually type @(username) and then type your comment. If you’re in a tweet chat, and you also use the hashtag that the group is using, this tweet will show up on the home page of the person you’re replying to, but it will also show up on the hashtag stream. This alerts the rest of the community that you are calling attention to that person’s comment. A lot of times, someone will simply reply to one of your comments without adding any new comments. This simply means that they are acknowledging what you just said. As I mentioned above, Twitter saves all the @replies so you can respond to them later. Be sure to check that area frequently, so you can stay current with people who want to interact with you. I like to make sure that I at least say “thank you” for the reply. I do the same with retweets.
The @reply is also useful if you are wanting to speak with someone directly, but they don’t follow you yet. If you see that there is a person whose tweets you particularly like, you can send them a message via the reply function, and you can ask them to please follow you so that you can send them direct messages.


Now, let’s say that a person says something that you think is good enough to share—widely. Retweeting is the way you share someone else’s tweet with your followers. There are several ways to do a retweet. Probably the most common is to click the retweet button at the end of the tweet (and by the way, if you visit someone else’s profile and see something you like, you can retweet from their page the same way.) You may also manually type RT at the start of the retweet. Be sure to include the Twitter username of the person you are retweeting, as if you were attributing a quote. It is a violation of Twitters terms of service to present others’ material as your own, so be sure to include the name of the original tweeter.

Sometimes, retweets will go “viral” almost instantly. I don’t recall the exact quote, but someone said something sarcastic when the world was waiting for Rob Blogojovich’s verdict. Because I was following the #Blogojovich hashtag, I noticed at least 6 immediate retweet’s of that comment. Followers of the people who retweeted that remark then retweeted the retweet, and on it went. The moral of that story is, be careful what you say on Twitter—but not too careful, especially if you’re representing a business. Having a clever saying that you posted go viral may be a very very good thing for your business.

I still have some other basics to cover, and I will do so next blog post. What I’ve given you today should have you happily interacting until then. Next time: Lists and Searches and Favorites, Oh My.

Twitter bird image from:

Laurie Owen is a social media manager, with ReachThemOnline.