Using Twitter

Why Twitter?

While your WordPress blog serves as the hub of your online presence, Twitter gives you the speed and flexibility of micro-blogging. We’re introducing you to both together because one of the things we want you to do is explore the very effective use of Twitter to promote blog content.  So when you post something new on your blog, one way to let people know is to tweet a brief note to say what it’s about, and the link.

But you’ll also use Twitter to share things that you find, and sometimes to have an exchange of views with someone else. Please remember, though, that your tweets are public, and that when you have people following you, you need to be reasonable careful not to clutter up their feed with stuff that really, no one needs to know!

In fact, the first reaction of most people to Twitter is to view the 140 characters as a limitation, and the immediacy of content production as irrelevant distraction. Who needs to know what you are having for breakfast? However, it’s what makes Twitter easy and quick that makes it so valuable as a news sharing and aggregation tool—and that is the way we want to encourage you to use it.

The video below will give you some ideas of the way in which Twitter can work for you:

What name should you choose?

To begin with, open an account on Twitter, for which you’ll need to choose a screen name. Because Twitter can only offer unique names, you’ll find that unless you have a really unusual name, most combinations that resemble your actual name are already taken.  So again, it’s important to stop and think how best to overcome this problem without coming up with a name that’s too cute or too weird to work for you professionally.

The other thing to bear in mind is that other people will need to type your name in order to send Tweets your way, so choose something short and easy to type.  You can include underscores, but these are a pain for others to type, so avoid these if you can.

If you’re stuck for an idea, browse Twitter for a while until you can see the kinds of names other people choose.  And remember, when you edit your profile you’ll be able to put in your own real name which will also appear next to your Twitter name.

Creating your profile

Here you have a 160 character limit to write a short bio about yourself.  This is really important, as it becomes a key factor in whether or not other people decide to follow you.  Again, take a look at other Twitter users to see the kind of details they include, and the tone they adopt.  If you want to attract traffic to your blog, you can put the URL in your profile.

Getting started

Next, go through this short guide on Twitter 101. If you have any experience with Facebook (and lets face it – you all do) you will find that getting up to speed on Twitter is a breeze.

The first thing to do is find and follow some people or organizations—preferably related to your academic and professional interests.  An easy way to find relevant followers is to find one person that you want to follow, then look through the list of people that they follow, as these people will often be interesting to you too.  Twitter will also suggest people for you to follow, and you’ll find that these suggestions become more relevant the more you tweet and the more people you follow.

And then you simply start tweeting! Go through the guides on the right for ideas on how to format your tweets and who to follow.

What is a hashtag, why do I need one, and how to use it?

A hashtag is a single word with a # sign in front of it. This creates a live link in Twitter that will connect you to everyone else using the same hashtag, so it’s a common way for a community to form around an idea or a conversation.  Some hashtags are well established and last for a long-time (see #auspol to follow news and debates on Australian politics; and #highered for global news about higher education). Others have shorter lifespans, but are still very relevant ways of bringing together people tweeting on the same topic—people live tweeting an event or a TV show, for example.

The subject-related hashtags you will use will look like this: #bcm112 and/or #bcm110. All your tweets relevant to the subject should come with a hashtag at the end, so that others following that particular hashtag can see them. For example, a typical subject-related tweet will look like this:

Malcolm Gladwell claiming social media contributions made little impact on Arab Spring http://t.co/DNTZp031 #bcm112

See this guide for a detailed explanation on the role and use of hashtags.

Including links

Twitter is a really useful way of sharing links to useful sources that you’ve found.  Twitter will shorten links for you, or you can use a link shortener like bit.ly, where you just paste in a long form URL and bit.ly will give you a short version that you can copy into a Tweet.

Who sees your tweets?

The starting principle is that unless you choose to operate a locked, private account, then all your tweets are potentially findable using simple searches.  So this isn’t the place to reveal private information, as many celebrities have found to their cost!

But in general, there are three ways that your tweets are seen:

1. An open tweet like the one above goes to everyone following you

2. An ‘@ reply’ tweet that starts with @name goes only to the named person and anyone who is following both of you

3. A DM, or Direct Message, is sent separately and can only be seen by the person you send it to.

For more on this and other general Twitter stuff, see Twitter’s very helpful Frequently Asked Questions page.

Now you’re on your way!

Happy tweeting.

Dr Ted Mitew