So how do you do the Twitter? It’s one thing to have a Twitter profile, but it’s another thing to be active on the platform. And once you are active, it’s another thing again to utilise Twitter to best effect. While every user has a different approach and different goals for their Twitter presence, it’s worth noting the various types and uses of tweets to help guide your own process. Many things are still being tried and tested, different practices will have varying levels of success, but here are some basic Twitter protocols, along with the how and why of their most common uses.
Retweets and favourites are the most commonly used Twitter processes, outside of tweeting itself. In the first iteration of Twitter, there was no actual ‘retweet’ function - it was created by users, who started re-posting tweets with ‘RT’ at the beginning. Some still see this as the best way to retweet, logic being that if you press ‘Retweet’, it shows up in the notifications feed of the person you’ve re-tweeted, but they don't have the option to reply or favourite the tweet – they have to respond to you separately.
Even worse, if you re-tweet something that’s been re-tweeted by several other people, your re-tweet goes onto a list - if the originator doesn't click on that list, he/she will be totally unaware that you’ve re-tweeted them.
This is particularly relevant for social media marketers, as you’ll often use the re-tweet as a means of connecting with a potential client: if your name ends up on a list of re-tweeters, using a RT for this purpose is pretty much pointless.
Using the original RT process - copying the tweet and putting ‘RT’ at the beginning - ensures the originator will always see that you’ve re-tweeted them, and they’ll be able to respond and engage with you easily.
That may not always be your aim when re-tweeting, but something to consider in your process.
Another aspect of this to keep in mind is that if you never actually re-tweet anyone, your feed will only ever show your own tweets:
This is the first impression people are going to have when they visit your profile – having just your own tweets in your stream may give the impression that you’re only a broadcaster and could lessen your appeal to those looking to connect. Breaking up the feed with some re-tweets can look more inviting for people scanning through your output.
MT (Modified Tweet)
Sometimes you want to re-tweet someone but you want to add in your own message. In order to do this, you may have to lose or modify some of the original message to fit into the 140 character limit, but you still want to credit and acknowledge the tweet originator. You can do this by copying the original tweet and putting 'MT' at the start, along with your modifications or additions:
MTs are generally used when you want to share the original tweet, but add only a small modification – if you’re changing the original tweet wholesale, you can just re-write it and forget the original wording – though crediting the source tweeter is always best practice.
I read a description once that said ‘favourites are like a nod, re-tweets are like a high-five’. I’m not sure that’s always true – some see re-tweets of your own @mentions as self-serving - but I do agree with the characterisation of Favourites. It’s like a nod of acknowledgement, a thumbs-up to the originator. Favourites are your basic, minimum acknowledgment – if you want to say thanks with no fuss, just click on that little star and let the sender know you appreciate it.
Favourites are also a good way to make subtle contact – for every favourite, you’ll show up in the originator's notifications feed, which may prompt them to click on your profile and, eventually, connect. But just like re-tweets, if you Favourite a tweet that ends up getting several favourites, you might end up as another profile on a list that may never get seen.
For instance, don’t bother clicking favourite one of Justin Bieber’s tweets if you want him to let him know you care:
Favourites also show up in a separate list on your profile, so people can get a better idea of what you’re into by looking through that list – but be wary, if you’re trying to present yourself in a professional manner, maybe best not to favourite the latest semi-offensive joke tweet from that comedian you really like.
In early 2014, Twitter introduced a new Pinned Tweet feature which allows you to select your favourite tweet and pin it to your profile. This means every time someone visits your Twitter home base, the tweet you’ve selected will be the first they see.
This is particularly handy for bloggers who want to promote their latest posts – you can pin it and leave it up, updating it whenever you post a new piece. You can also use it to showcase your most popular tweets to ensure people get a glimpse of you at your Twitter best.
Tweets are 140 characters long, right? Not much room to work with, but best practice is to try and keep your tweets shorter than the limit – even down to 100 characters if you can. Why? Leaving more room gives other people space to add in their own comments when they quote or re-tweet your stuff. Like with MTs, people like to be able to add their own take on tweets they share. Leaving space at the end of your tweets allows them room to do so.
Hashtags are linked conversations – you click on any hashtag and you’ll be taken to a listing of every mention of the same hashtag on Twitter, showing you the wider conversation around that particular topic. Hashtags are still widely misunderstood and mis-used, but applied correctly, they can greatly expand your tweet reach and help you connect with specific communities on the platform – but any more than two tags and you’re running the risk of over-doing it.
A common hashtag mis-understanding? Hashtags are not an extension of your tweet. There’s no point making up a hashtag if it’ll never be used by anyone else. You see people doing it all the time, adding odd hashtags to add context to their description:
Some people make up tags just for the fun of it, but if you’re seriously trying to utilise hashtags, putting an # in front of a random phrase or word is not particularly helpful. If you need to know which hashtag to use, visit Hashtagify and enter in any term you like – Hashtagify will come back with the most used hashtags in relation to that term, along with a number to indicate how popular each is. You pick the most relevant one, add that to the end of your tweet, and there you are.
If you enter someone’s @username in a tweet, that tweet will appear in that user’s notifications feed, giving them a chance to respond. If you enter an @username at the start of your tweet, that tweet will ONLY be seen by that user and any users that follow both you and that person. A common mistake people make is that they’ll enter an @username at the start of a tweet, thinking it will be seen by everyone who follows them. It won’t. You can avoid this by putting a full-stop before the @username to begin your tweet – this will ensure it’s seen by all your followers.
There’s been a big focus on visual elements of late, and for good reason – figures show that tweets with images are re-tweeted at a significantly higher rate than those without. For every tweet, you have the ability to add in an image that will appear with your message. In fact, you can add up to four images to every tweet – they will appear in box format, in the order you uploaded them.
Adding in images is a great way to increase engagement, and there are clever ways to utilise Twitter’s image options to create additional context for the info you’re sharing. You can also add in videos that can be played in-stream with your tweet.
These are the basic functions of Twitter that you need to know in order to mix it with the tweet elite. Understanding these functions will help fast-track your performance and expand your thinking on what’s possible in 140-characters or less.