Twitter for the Absolute Beginner - Part 1

I get it, this whole social networking thing is still pretty new and can certainly be confusing and intimidating for newcomers. You may have heard about Twitter, maybe on TV during a news segment, or perhaps you've attended a seminar hosted by your favorite small business marketing company at which you heard how valuable maintaining a Twitter account can be for online brand marketing. You've decided to take the plunge and send out your first tweet, but where to start?

What is Twitter?

Twitter.com is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that lets you share what you're doing at any given moment with the world. A twitter message, or "tweet," is a single 140-character note that you can use to tell everyone what you or your small business is up to. Twitter's premise is similar to text messaging on mobile phones - just like with texts you're limited to a small amount of text to relay a message which makes Twitter updates concise because, unlike with email, you can't input paragraphs of text. As a result, it's much easier to keep up with a stream of Twitter messages when compared with, for example, a full email inbox.

Where do tweets go?

Twitter works on a follow system, meaning that when you choose to "follow" someone on Twitter you will receive all of their tweets from that point on, until you decide to "unfollow" them. Keep in mind that the follow system is a two-way street: Twitter users can follow your tweets just as easily as you can follow theirs. You might already be starting to understand why this can be such a powerful tool for inbound marketing because if a potential customer follows you on Twitter they've opted in to hear more about your business, product or service. Remember though, you don't want to scare followers away by spamming them with advertisements - there is an etiquette to abide by! I'll get into that in a later, but first we need to get some definitions out of the way.

Retweets, Hashtags and @Replies

Despite having only existed for a few years Twitter already has quite a bit of slang associated with it, as most popular things tend to in our culture. Below you'll find some of popular terms, including how they're most-commonly used and some examples to boot.

Retweet (RT)
A retweet is simply a way of re-broadcasting someone's twitter message to your group of followers. Say for instance you were following protocol 80 on twitter and you wanted to send one of our tweets to your friends. Rather than copying and pasting the message, Twitter has a built-in retweet feature that will automatically send what we tweeted out to your followers. Retweeting is a great way to relay information without losing attribution. Retweets are commonly referred to as the abbreviation RT, which is simply a shorthand way of manually retweeting someone's message.

Hashtags (#)
A hashtag is a way of categorizing your tweet. For example, if you wanted to tweet about a funny commercial you just saw during the superbowl, you might tweet something like this:

Now your tweet will be organized with all of the other tweets on Twitter that use the hashtag '#superbowl,' and anyone who wants to search for tweets about JUST the superbowl can easily find them (including yours). Hashtags are powerful in many other regards though. Another common use for them are industry events and trade shows. This lets folks that don't have a chance to attend a trade show keep up with all of the latest news by following that event's hashtag.

@Replies (at replies)
@Replies are a simple way for you to direct a tweet at an individual on twitter. For example, if you wanted to send protocol 80 a public message on twitter you could tweet something like the following:

After posting this we would see your tweet and could respond by doing the same to you. If your twitter username was JaneDoe, we could respond by tweeting the following:

Now the next time you checked your Twitter account you would be notified that we had responded to your original message. By using @replies it's very easy to carry on a conversation!

Direct Message (DM)
As fun as @replies are, you may need to contact someone with a private message on Twitter from time-to-time. That's what direct messages (often abbreviated to DM) are for. Before you send a direct message, make sure the person you want to message is following you, because you can only DM your followers. Once you've done that, visit their Twitter page and look for the following button (this example shows the protocol 80 twitter page, note the 'following' button is active):

Now just type in your message and click send, that was easy! Remember, just like with normal tweets you're limited to 140 characters.

What's the next step?

Congratulations! You now know enough about Twitter to be dangerous. The best way of learning is by doing, so head on over to Twitter.com and create an account if you haven't already. One of the most important parts of using Twitter is following people that are relevant to you or your small business, so try and follow as many folks as you can and start a conversation by using your new retweet, @reply and DM skills.

I've truly only scratched the surface of Twitter in this post, so make sure to check back for more ideas about using Twitter to promote your small business, ideas for what sort of tweets you should post in order to gain new followers and even some fun tools that'll make using Twitter a breeze! One of the easiest ways to keep up with the content we post here is to follow us on Twitter, so once you've setup your account be sure to follow @protocol80 and then send us a tweet.

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