Today’s post, the second of four, is a collaborative effort by Sarah (@sarahjoaustin) and me (@xgravity23). Yesterday, you learned the basic functions of Twitter and in this post, you’ll learn advanced Twitter functions. In the next two posts, you’ll learn how to use Twitter on the web, at your desk, and on the go; and get our recommended Twitter tools and resources.
Once you’ve been on Twitter for a day or two and you’ve nailed down the basic Twitter functions, you can move on to the advanced functions. “Advanced” is a little misleading because these functions are easy peasy; however, they are a little less essential than the very basics.
A “retweet” (RT) is just like clicking “forward” in your email: When you come across an interesting tweet that you think your followers should read, copy the tweet, paste it into a new tweet, then add RT @[username] to the beginning of the tweet, like this.
If you have room, you can add a comment between RT and the @[username] part of the tweet (just like in the image above), but because of the 140-character limitation, this is not always possible.
Most Twitter applications now include a RT button that fills in everything for you so that all you have to do is click retweet and submit. This makes it super easy to forward those tweets that catch your eye.
Some people think that retweeting is spammy because it is completely unoriginal content. You might consider instead sharing why you like the tweet or link and using “(via @[username]) at the end to give credit to the original author instead. Don’t worry too much, though; Retweeting seems to be the standard in the Twitterverse right now, so don’t retweet too often, weigh the two options, and go with which ever method suits you best.
If you’ve been observing the Twitterverse for any length of time, you might have noticed tweets containing the number symbol and a word, something like this:
Many websites use these so-called “hashtags” to track what is “trending” (popular) on Twitter at the moment. Even though that example tweet doesn’t mention Lost at all, it is about the show and should be counted if you want to know what people are talking about on Twitter right now. In this way, hashtags are something like an email subject line: They tell your readers (and anyone analyzing tweets) what you are talking about in your tweet. They can be at the end of a tweet, like above, or embedded into the tweet.
No matter whether you embed your hashtag or put it at the end of the tweet, it will show up in a Twitter search or trending report. Hashtags.org and Tagal.us are two websites that track the use of hashtags on Twitter and are useful resources if you’re looking to use a hashtag but aren’t sure if it’s in use or how it’s being used. Tagal.us also allows you to define hashtags.
One final note on hashtags: We recommend that the first time a hashtag is used, it should be defined with the hashtag #define. A tweet that defines each hashtag will help future users understand when the hashtag should be used. While Tagal.us lets you define hashtags, those definitions are not accessible through Twitter Search. If you use a #define hashtag, users searching tweets will find your definition. First define your hashtag in a tweet, then add your tag and definition to Tagal.us for maximum impact.
Many interesting applications have sprouted because of Twitter, and URL shorteners are one of them because URLs are long and hog all of your limited characters before you’re able to explain why you’re sharing a particular link. URL shorteners take an original URL, smash it down to 15 or so characters, and provide a new URL. If you are using the Twitter.com site to post your sites, you will need to either install a bookmarklet, like the ones offered by Snipr or TinyURL, or visit their websites to shorten your URL. Most third-party apps include a URL shortener within their interfaces or a bookmarklet for your browser to make URL shortening easier.
Twitter has a built-in search that searches all tweets in the public timeline. At search.twitter.com, you can do a simple search if you’re looking for a simple keyword, but if you want to narrow that search to a location, person, date, or many other limiters, use the advanced search tool. Once you have the results that you like, you can subscribe to those results via RSS to receive future updates that meet the same criteria.
Automatically-tweeted Blog Posts
One reason many people start tweeting is to advertise their blogs to a new readership. You can shorten your URL (see above) and type in your post title manually, or you can take advantage of the many services that will access your RSS feed, package your post title and a short summary (if you so choose), and tweet your blog posts on your behalf automatically. Twitterfeed is probably the most popular site offering this service, but HootSuite does this too.
One word of warning: Some people might consider this spamming if you only send out tweets that promote your blog or website. Twitter does not exist primarily as an advertising medium but for community building, and as such, if you use it for only advertising, you will not win favor from the very people you are trying to attract to your brand. Besides, building community is the way to build success on the Internet.
That’s all for today. If you missed it, be sure to check out the first post in the series on basic Twitter functions. Tomorrow, Sarah will share how to tweet on the web, at your desk, and on the go; and on Thursday in the final post of the series, we’ll share our recommended Twitter tools and resources.