When I first signed up for my own Twitter account near the end of 2006, there were a few things that had me scratching my head. I couldn’t figure out why everyone was putting random pound signs in front of certain words and I was mystified by the occasional @ symbol in front of names. Sometimes with all those symbols in there I had a hard time making sense of what they were trying to say. Also, with the ability to re-tweet, sometimes it was even hard trying to figure out who said it to begin with. In the years since, I’ve gained a lot more valuable experience with Twitter and now feel totally comfortable with it, but there definitely can be a bit of a learning curve for those jumping into the Twitter game for the first time. Here are 3 things that will help straighten that curve out and help you hit the ground running with Twitter.
No this is not some reference to marijuana, or to breakfast in the south. This simply refers to the pound sign (#) and it is a very useful tool in Twitter. This sign allows Twitter users across the world to mark their posts so that other people can find them easily and join in on a conversation. In simple terms, it is really nothing more complicated than adding keywords to your posts. It’s a way of organizing conversations and information, for events products and more. A shoe store might say, “Come check out our new line of #TOMS that we got in this morning! They are amazing!”. Marking the brand of shoe with a hash tag immediately lets you join a conversation that hundreds, thousands, or even millions of other people may be already talking about, and thus exposing the business to an audience that is already interested in what it has to offer.
The @ Symbol
This one is a little easier to understand than the hash tag, but still can be a trick to figure out for first time Twitter users. The @ symbol will always be followed by a username. You can think of the post as being directed at (@) that person. This is a great way to respond to a particular user’s comment or question. Keep in mind however, that just because it is directed at the person doesn’t mean the rest of your followers can’t see what you’ve written. The information you type in your posts is always made public to your followers. This is actually a good thing for many situations. Chances are if one of your customers has a question about something, others do too. Because your response is made public, it answers the question for those wondering the same thing and saving you the time of responding to each person individually. If, however, you want to send a private message to a particular user, you must use the messaging feature in Twitter.
Re-tweeting is exactly what it sounds like. You are taking someone’s tweet (or post) and “re-broadcasting” it to your network of followers. Not only does your network of followers see the post, but they also see who the post came from. This can be an effective way of gaining followers. If someone in your network happens to re-tweet one of your posts, they are exposing you or your business to their entire network as well. If the post is worthy, it can get passed through multiple networks and your followers can start to grow exponentially. It’s a very simple concept, and a great way to share information extremely fast. Word about Japan’s Earthquake and Tsunami spread faster on Twitter than any of the news networks could spread it, and actually became a huge source of information for reporters all over the world. There is power to be utilized with the re-tweet link!
Although seemingly simple, these things can often cause social media anxiety for those new to Twitter. Hopefully this cleared some things up for those of you looking to dive headfirst into Twitter and social media for the first time, or for those of you who have just been pretending for the past few years. The future only holds more to come the in the online social world, so you might as well catch up and get your feet wet so you’re not left behind!