To help get the word out about ourselves, Bold Universe uses Twitter. We currently have two Twitter accounts: @bolduniverse (corporate tweets), and @boldspin (marketing tweets). We have gotten so much out of these accounts that we are thinking of adding others to our repertoire. “But what is Twitter?” many have asked us, “What value does it bring to your company?”
If you don’t use Twitter, the people who do seem to be speaking a foreign language. The unindoctrinated have heard that some people use the web for Twitter, but others tweet by phone. The one thing they know is that people who are into Twitter tend to be REALLY into Twitter.
Let’s create a fair and equal playing field for those who are still reading but unfamiliar with the tool. The following are the definitions for eight important terms to better understand Twitter and tweeting.
Twitter is a social media tool that allows its users to write about anything that they want. Users are limited to 140 characters per message. In some circles, this is called “microblogging.”
Tweet, tweets, tweeting
“Tweeting” is the act of writing and posting a 140 character entry on Twitter. Tweets are devoid of markup (you cannot use bold or italics, for instance). Twitter users have overcome this bare-bones approach to writing content with all forms of syntax. To embolden a word or use emphasis, users will type in ALL CAPS or put *asterisks* around a word to make it stand out. In order to tweet to another user, simply include their username with an @ symbol in front of it (to write to BoldSpin for instance, simply type @boldspin in your tweet). Additionally Twitter users type “RT” to infer a retweet (see below), and # symbols to denote a hashtag (see below).
Following: Followers, Followees and Friends
When you create an account, you may very well do so because you know someone else on Twitter. If you know their Twitter handle (their username with an @ symbol in front, ex. @boldspin), you can see what they have tweeted by putting their username after the twitter url (ex. http://twitter.com/boldspin). If you like what you read when you get to that page, you can click the “follow” button underneath the user’s picture. Sometimes, when you post content that others find interesting you will discover they have followed you back. When you and another user are both following each other you are considered “friends.”
You can easily create a list (by clicking “New list” in the right column of Twitter). Lists can be used to categorize the users you follow. If you only follow a few individuals, you probably won’t need lists. However once you get over 25, you may start to find the lists a handy way to group and sort those you are following. For instance, I follow several news agencies (CNN, NY Times, etc. as well as several reporters) and have them all listed under “news.” You can include a user you are following in as many lists as you manage.
Sometimes someone tweets something that another user considers worthy of repetition. In such an instance the user “retweets” the entry. This is a common practice on Twitter and is considered a form of flattery. In practice, this was simply done by typing “RT @boldspin:” and then pasting the contents of BoldSpin’s tweet afterwards. Some users add flourish, praise or criticism along with the retweet “LOL!! RT @boldspin:” or “WRONG!! RT @boldspin:” to weigh in on their feelings about the tweet. Twitter has since provided its own functionality to simplify retweeting and make retweets stand out.
In the column to the right of the Twitter stream, Twitter shows a series of trends. These are the hot topics on Twitter, with heat defined by frequency and recency of the term. This gives a user the ability to see what is being discussed most and right now on Twitter.
Twitter offers user-to-user communication via Direct Messages (DM). These messages allow for communication that doesn’t appear where other users can see it. In some cases, this can be for business purposes (we get a lot of “Thanks for following us” DMs). Additionally, there are times when we have observed a mistake or typo on another user’s Bio or found that their link doesn’t work. To avoid embarrassing them, we tend to point these out via DM.
Hashtag (or tag)
A hashtag (or just tag) is created by typing the hash symbol (#) before a word (ex. #bold). This is used to tag a tweet so that it can be found with other tweets that have also been marked with the same tag. This can be used for bookmarking, marketing, or categorization.
Now that we have these definitions, let’s quickly create a scenario in which we use them all in context:
Haley knew her friend Ivy was using Twitter. She often heard Ivy talking about things she read and friends she made on Twitter. Haley was intrigued and wanted to try Twitter for herself. She went to http://twitter.com and created an account. Her first choice for username (Haley) was already taken, but she found that her nickname was available (Halester).
Once she had logged in, she was afraid to just start typing. First she looked at the trends to see what other users were tweeting about. There was a trend called #nowplaying. Haley clicked it and saw this trend was filled with users who had put the hashtag “#nowplaying” in their tweet and written about what music they were listening to. Several people were listening to one of her favorite artists, Lady Gaga. She decided to click on each of their usernames and see what else each of these users was tweeting. She was fascinated by some of them and decided to follow them. In fact some of them seemed to be tweeting so much about Lady Gaga, that Haley created a list called “LadyGaga” just to keep track.
One tweet had quoted Lady Gaga and Haley liked the quote so much she decided to retweet it herself. This was her very first tweet. She then decided to find and follow Ivy on Twitter. When she did, she saw that Ivy had mispelled a word in her bio and wrote a direct message to tell her. Ivy wrote a direct message back very quickly thanking her and saying she had fixed it. When Haley refreshed Ivy’s profile, the typo was gone.
The story about Haley is a scenario involving an individual, but businesses can benefit from Twitter as well. If you consider some of the terms we defined, followers and trends for instance, you might glean the marketing potential of the tool. Twitter enables businesses to write about what is happening within their company, but it also allows them to follow and opine on the industry they are in. They can find and follow other companies in their industry and keep track of hot topics in their trade. Most importantly Twitter makes brands accessible on a personal level. Individuals can interact directly with brands and check in and see what is happening in a less formal fashion than permitted by checking for updates on the company website.
There are other nuances about Twitter that this article doesn’t cover, such as the differences between public and private accounts and lists. Suffice it to say that Twitter, albeit a tool designed for overt communication, can support private, intranet like functionality as well; although tools like Yammer are perhaps more suited for such applications.
Lastly, if you do use Twitter and have a lot of followers, followees, friends and tweets and you want to analyze it all, there are many wonderful tools you can use to manage your account. To tweet from multiple accounts simultaneously, there are tools such as Cotweet and Tweetdeck. Twitter allows users to post tweets from any cell phone, but you can also download great tools for added Twitter functionality on various smart phone platforms. Perhaps most critically, there is a variety of great tools for analyzing all of your twitter data. Bold Universe uses and loves My Tweeple (Whitley Media) and Twitter Grader (Hubspot).