Twitter tips for beginners

The phrase “a little bird told me” seems nearly literal in the Twitter segment of the social media sphere. At their best, tweets deliver useful, juicy, provocative, fun bits of news that start conversations in the virtual world or face-to-face.

How do you create those impactful tweets, especially if you’re new to Twitter? How will you ensure you’re among the most engaging of the more than 300 million little birds who are active monthly users?

Start by following these tips on what to say, the best way to say it, how to use the platform and how not to abuse it.

Twitter best practices

Follow other accounts – Receive tweets in your home feed from other users by following them. Follow as many accounts as are relevant to you. This may encourage others to follow you too.

What to say – cover the 5 Ws: Who was involved? What happened? When? Where? Why? Then consider adding a personal touch. Share your thoughts and feelings.

Be concise – Your tweet cannot exceed 140 characters. Photos and links take up 23 of those.

Use hashtags – Add context and make your tweets searchable by using the # symbol in front of any word or phrase (no spaces). When someone clicks that hashtag they’ll see your tweet along with others using the same one. Hashtags can help target a specific audience or add to an ongoing conversation. Search for the right ones or ask people for recommendations.

Common Edmonton hashtags include #yeg, #ableg, #yegwx (Edmonton weather), #yegfood, #yegdt (Edmonton downtown) and #yegcc (Edmonton City Council). At times, hashtags may be “trending” or newsworthy, which you might be able to take advantage of to reach more people. On desktop, see trending topics on your home page. On mobile, they’re in the search tab.

Tag users – To encourage another user to respond to, retweet or otherwise act on your tweet, include their @username. You can also tag users in photos from the mobile app, which is a way to engage users while sparing your precious 140 characters.

Share what you find – Share a tweet from another user by retweeting it on your own account. You can also “quote” a tweet, retweeting it with a comment (within the 140-character limit).

"Like" tweets (formerly "Favourite") – "Liking" a tweet (using the heart  button) works the same as on Facebook or Instagram, allowing you to acknowledge or support a post, or engage with another user without replying or retweeting. That heart replaces the star, which also let you bookmark a tweet for easy locating later. "Liking" does that, too.

Reply promptly – If you’re tagged in another tweet, respond as soon as possible with a retweet, favourite or reply. Reply by starting your tweet with @username; only the user and those followers you have in common will see this. To make your tweet more public, start with something other than @username (but include it in the tweet as a tag).

To make it private, send a Direct Message to one or more users. Senders and recipients must be following each other to use this feature.

Twitter worst practices

Don’t exclusively self-promote – Successful, well-followed users shares other people’s content about 70% of the time. They use their accounts to promote their own events, success and so on only about 30% of the time.

This rule also applies to retweeting. Share positive mentions of yourself but not so much that it annoys your audience. Alternatively, favourite positive posts to engage with other users and show your appreciation.

Don’t cross-post – Often, the same content can be posted to multiple platforms, verbatim, with a click. This creates problems. For example, if you post an Instagram photo to Twitter, the photo doesn’t embed in your tweet. It shows up as a link to Instagram. Also, you may lose context because of the character limit.

Keep engagement up on each platform by tailoring your material to each one. Don’t make it hard for other users to enjoy your content.

Don’t abuse hashtags – Try not to use more than 3 hashtags in a tweet and avoid tacking them on as chains at the end. Your tweet is a message; however short, it should still read like one.

Don’t rely too heavily on scheduling – Automating tweets can free up your time but scheduling too far into the future can limit the spontaneity that makes social media effective and engaging. Worse, you risk inadvertently sending a promotional message during a time of crisis, depending on the day’s news.

Don’t get lazy with language – Spelling and grammar are important in social media. Proofread that tweet before you post.

Don’t argue – It’s easy to want to have the last word on Twitter. Don’t get sucked into long, negative Twitter conversations. Followers find it awkward, which reflects negatively on your online brand. If you want to continue the conversation, take it offline. Otherwise, step back and cool down.

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