20 Most Common Questions About Twitter

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For a simple service based on 140-character “tweets,” Twitter really confuses new users. It’s filled with rules, etiquette, lingo and unclear functionality. I already created 10 Tips for a New Twitter User to use as a guide to get started. But once you start, you’re bound to have questions. And I created this list to help.

Twitter Logo

Here are some common questions that come up from new Twitter users.

The questions are in alphabetical order, so not in order of importance…

1. How do I find people to follow?

This question may be the source of the most frustration and inactive Twitter accounts. People create their profile, then sit there and wonder… Now what??.

It all depends on what you want to get out of Twitter:

1) To connect with friends, you can have Twitter search your contact lists;
2) To follow famous people or people who tweet about specific topics, you can browse who to follow here.

That’s a good start. I’d make two more suggestions:

1) Find a person whom you respect in a field that interests you and browse the people they follow;
2) Go to your favorite websites and look for the Twitter logo. You will almost always be able to follow the main website feed if not individual writers.

2. How do I get people to follow me?

Some people make this a higher priority than others. It’s all about how important it is to “get people to like me.”

To the people who care about numbers, you’ll hear all sorts of tips on how to inflate them. Please ignore those people. If you are interesting and if you interact with others, you will get followers. If you artificially inflate your numbers and get a ton of followers but aren’t interesting, the numbers are hollow.

My main advice is to just be yourself. Reply to people who send you messages. Thank people for sharing your links. Retweet cool, interesting and funny tweets. Search out conversations. But don’t do these things for the purpose of getting followed back. Do it because you’re a nice person and it’s the nice thing to do. If you’re not a nice person, screw ’em.

It’s also easy to see through the people who retweet, thank, reply and “try to seem like they care” about their followers. Don’t be one of them. Be genuine.

3. How do I integrate Twitter with my blog or website?

If you use Twitter and if you write a blog, you absolutely must connect the two. You need to do two things:

1) Add a Tweet button. No self-respecting blog lacks a Tweet or Facebook Share/Like button. If someone digs your stuff, this is an easy way for them to share it. And you should also consider using it when you’re on others’ blogs.

2) Add a Follow button or create your own. You don’t need to use Twitter’s button for this. It could simply be a button, picture or link to your Twitter profile. But it should absolutely be somewhere on your blog.

If you have a WordPress blog, there are also plugins for these purposes. I recommend Share and Follow.

Finally, make sure you share your latest blog posts on Twitter. It’s a good way to generate conversation and drive traffic.

4. How important is my profile?

It’s very important. Think about it. When you stumble across someone’s profile, how do you decide whether you’ll follow them? Make sure you use a nice photo. Set a background. Use a very descriptive bio that includes keywords of your interests so that relevant people can find you. Link to your blog or website. If you leave any of this stuff blank, you make the decision easy for people: They won’t follow you.

Maybe getting followers isn’t important to you, and that’s fine. But otherwise make sure you fill in this information.

5. How important is my username?

More important than you think. Consider the type of follower you want to attract. Think about your goals for using Twitter. If it’s to promote a business, use your business in the name. If it’s to build your personal brand, try to make it your name. Whatever you do, though, make the name easy to spell and remember. Avoid special characters and numbers.

Also, keep it short since when someone sends you a reply, “@[YourUsername]” will cut into the 140 character limit.

6. How often should I tweet?

It’s really a case-by-case basis. But the typical user will update on Twitter more often than they do on Facebook. Whereas people typically “keep up” with the updates on Facebook, that’s often not possible on Twitter. People will follow hundreds or thousands of people, and since those people are generally more active it’s a fire hose of information.

This is also why if you share blog posts, you should do it multiple times per day. You wouldn’t do this on Facebook, but people will miss your tweets on Twitter. It’s accepted practice, so don’t feel like it’s overkill.

So in a nutshell, definitely try to tweet at least once per day. No one wants to follow an inactive person. But you also should avoid overkill as well. I don’t want a single person taking up my timeline. You’ll find the balance.

7. Is a Tweet like a Facebook status update?

The basic tweet is similar to the basic status update, I guess. Except that you’re limited to 140 characters and you can’t control your audience. On Facebook, your friends read your status updates. On Twitter, those who follow you (though you may not follow them back) read your tweets in their timelines. And people can comment directly within a Status Update on Facebook, whereas it’s just a stream of back and forth tweets on Twitter.

There are some similarities, but they are really quite different. People don’t “share” a friend’s status update on Facebook. But your tweet can be quickly retweeted to many thousands of people. So keep that in mind. Your one message can quickly receive a large audience, so don’t tweet anything you’ll regret.

8. Is “Following” like “Friending” on Facebook?

Actually, the true comparison is to Facebook Subscriptions. Up until recently, all relationships on Facebook were mutual. You could not become a “Friend” of someone without that person returning the favor.

On Twitter, you can follow anyone’s updates. They don’t have to follow you back. They often won’t. This is similar to Facebook Subscriptions in that you can “subscribe” to the public updates of people without them “friending” you or subscribing back. It’s a one-way relationship.

9. Should I connect my Twitter account to my Facebook account?

Twitter buttons

I use Twitter buttons!

You’ve likely seen status updates on Facebook that have been fed from Twitter. Maybe you didn’t realize what it was at the time. But you’ll see a Twitter icon (or some other third party app) showing it came from Twitter and they’ll use strange characters (@ and #), which make no sense on Facebook.

Don’t do this. Please, don’t do this. The immediate impulse is to make your life easier and connect the two, but the audiences don’t mix. Your Facebook friends will start ignoring you. It’s simply not worth your time. Either manage both or pick one.

10. Should I protect my tweets?

No! If you want to be private, you have two choices: 1) Use an alias, or 2) Don’t use Twitter. You simply don’t get the benefit of Twitter if you’re private. People can’t retweet you if your tweets are protected. Just open it up and let it fly.

11. Should I use a link shortener when sharing articles?

Darn right you should! You see, you have a 140 character limit. When you share interesting links, that cuts into your limit. And many links will often take up a big chunk of that. So use bit.ly or some other link shortener.

If you use Tweet Deck or a similar desktop or mobile application (which I recommend) you can also connect a link shortening service to your account. This way, every time you paste in a link it shortens it for you.

12. Someone just followed me! YES! Should I follow them back?

The impulse in the beginning is one of two things: 1) YES! I’m awesome! They followed me! I’m following back! or 2) Who the heck is this person? BLOCK! Both are too quick to react.

Don’t follow everyone back. Some will tell you that you should so that you can get more followers. Don’t listen to them. Look at their profile. Read their bio and most recent tweets. Are they interesting to you? Do you actually want this info flowing through your timeline? If so, follow. If not, don’t.

On the flip side, get used to “strange” people following you. You’re public. It’s okay. They won’t hurt you. You don’t have to follow them back, but just because they are a stranger doesn’t mean they aren’t worthy of your following.

Be smart about this. If you follow someone, they can send you a direct message. People who look fishy are easy to spot, and you can bet they’re going to spam your inbox.

13. This direct message looks suspicious. What should I do about it?

It depends on the source. If it’s someone you trust, it’s possible they’ve been hacked. Don’t open the link. Just reply to them to ask what it is. It’s always good practice to alert someone since they may not know it happened to them.

If it’s someone you don’t trust, this may be intentional spam. And if that’s the case, you should probably unfollow them.

14. What are Lists and should I use them?

When Lists came out, they were cool and trendy. If you added me to a list, I felt appreciated. People would create lists for specific categories for “cool people” or “tech people” or whatever. And they were very useful in some cases.

But then people took advantage of them. They started adding everyone to lists, knowing that they may then get a follow back. The use of lists quickly became insincere and lacked value.

But, there is still one use of lists. If you follow a lot of people, you may want to group them so that you can view incoming tweets by categories. Maybe you’re watching the Brewers and only want to read people you’ve put into the “Brewers Fans” list.

Do me a favor, though. Don’t use lists as a way to follow people without actually “following” them. Again, an old trick is to follow thousands of people because many will naturally follow back. It’s all about reciprocation. But when you follow thousands of people, you can’t keep up with your timeline. So instead, those individuals will often filter you out completely and focus on one, small list.

In other words, use Lists for good, not for evil.

15. What does it mean to “Favorite” a tweet?

When reading the tweets of others, you’ll have the option to Reply, Retweet or Favorite. I personally don’t use Favorites much, but I’m seeing it used more and more these days. It’s a way to show appreciation for someone else’s tweet, but that typically isn’t broadcasted to followers. So it’s not as strong as a Retweet.

For me, I see it’s purpose for bookmarking. Someone said something you want to preserve, Favorite it. If you’re running a Twitter account for your brand, Favorite the nice things people say about your company so that you can refer to them later.

16. What is a hashtag (#)?

If there’s one thing that confuses new Twitter users more than anything else, it’s the hashtag. It’s multipurpose. Sometimes it has no purpose at all, which doesn’t help that new user understand.

So, briefly, let’s just explain what it does. If you add a # in front of a word or combination of words (no spaces or characters), it will link to a Twitter search of every Tweet that used that hashtag. For example, if you put # before “Brewers” it will create #Brewers.

Okay, so why? Well, I like to use it when I’m tweeting about a specific topic. As a Brewers fan, I most often use it when tweeting about the Brewers. If I don’t use the word “Brewers” in such a tweet, I add #Brewers at the end. People save this search and will follow it if they only want to have a discussion about the Brewers (or whatever topic it is). This is also a good way to get discovered.

It’s also used for business purposes. You’ll often see it in branding campaigns. You’ll often see people use it when they are on social media conference calls or at conferences. Everyone will use the same hashtag when they are taking public notes, and it makes it easy to follow the discussion.

Finally, people may just use a hashtag to convey an emotion (#sad). Or, the hashtag may have no purpose at all. People will just use it as a punch line to tell a joke. It’s multipurpose and a major part of the Twitter language.

17. What is a Retweet and why are there two different ways to do it?

When Twitter started, it was just people sending 140 characters or information back and forth into space. Then they allowed you to send a message directly to (@) somebody. Eventually, users created their own rules and developed the Retweet. It is a way of acknowledging someone else’s genius tweet and resharing it with their own followers.

Let’s say I wrote the following tweet:

@JonLoomer The #Brewers are AWESOME!

Note that I would not write “@JonLoomer” but that is how it would be displayed publicly to show it was from me. Now let’s say someone thinks that’s a pretty genius tweet and they want to share it with their followers. We’ll call that person “@Person”. So, the old fashioned (or “manual”) retweet will typically look like this:

@Person RT @JonLoomer The #Brewers are AWESOME!

This is simply a reply and a copy and paste of the original message, then adding “RT” at the beginning to indicate a Retweet. But typically, they’ll add their two cents either at the beginning…

@Person This is SO true! RT @JonLoomer The #Brewers are AWESOME!

…or end…

@Person RT @JonLoomer The #Brewers are AWESOME! >> This is SO true!

But either way, there really aren’t any rules. And you’ll often see the original message changed slightly to account for space.

So Twitter eventually created the official Retweet. This way, someone can just click Retweet and the original message and attribution are preserved. You can’t put words in someone else’s mouth (or Tweet), and there’s an official way of recording it. Users just can’t add their own comments to it.

18. What is a Trending Topic?

Twitter Trends

What are the trends in your area?

Whether you’re at Twitter.com or using an application, you will see “Trending” or “Trending Topics.” Essentially, this is what people are talking most about — the most common subjects on Twitter — either locally, within the country or globally.

Sometimes, these make a lot of sense to reflect the current news of the world. As I look at my Denver trends, some of them are about Apple and Steve Jobs, who passed away yesterday:

iPhone 4S

But you’ll often see just random, nonsensical stuff that makes you embarrassed that it would be popular. For example, the most popular national trend right now is “#EvenIfYouPaidMeIWont” where people follow the hashtag with things they wouldn’t do even if they were paid. Fun, I guess, but certainly doesn’t add value.

19. What is the difference between sending someone a direct message and an @ reply?

It’s important to remember you can send messages two ways: 1) as an @ Reply or 2) a Direct Message. An @ Reply is sent publicly, and you can send it to anyone, whether you follow them, they follow you or not. A Direct Message can only be sent to someone if they follow you (also remember that they can’t DM you back unless you follow them).

A good rule of thumb is if what you want to message about is sensitive at all, send a DM (though extremely sensitive info should be kept to email). Just remember that an @ Reply is public. I’d also consider DM’s if you begin having a back-and-forth public conversation that otherwise has no value to your followers. You don’t want to take up your followers’ timelines with a conversation they don’t care about.

Also remember that since you can only DM people who follow you, it’s why you should be careful about whom you follow. If you follow everyone back, you will receive DM spam. Count on it. If you’re careful, you’ll get occasional spam that happens when a user innocently clicks on a DM virus. But otherwise, your DM inbox will retain its usefulness.

20. Why did this weirdo send me an @ reply and what do I do about it?

Twitter has done a good job of eliminating this for the most part, but you’ll still get random @ Replies from people that seem to have no context and make no sense. What tends to happen is they will set up scripts that automatically @ Reply someone with a specific message when users mention a certain key word.

For example, let’s say I send this tweet:

@JonLoomer: My kid needs a haircut. He’s starting to look like that freak Justin Bieber.

The first rule of Twitter is to never use that little dude’s name in a tweet or you’ll be spammed like crazy. But you might suddenly get a response like this:

@ImaBelieber: @JonLoomer Justin Bieber is awesome! Read about his upcoming concert here! http://bit.ly/biberness

Yeah. Annoying. And automated.

This stuff is usually obviously spam. But when in doubt, look at the person’s history. If they’ve sent the same — or similar — message over and over again, they are spammers. Block and report them so that they can be wiped off of Twitter.

In Conclusion

If you go to Twitter.com, they’ll have a more comprehensive FAQ. But these are the questions I see asked most and the questions that I likely had as a new user.

What do you think? Are there any common questions I’m missing?