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Five More Tips For Twitter Newbies (And Veterans)

Last week I wrote a post that gave advice to people who were new to Twitter and wanted to get off to the best possible start. The article has been quite popular and follow-up conversations I’ve had with readers led to me thinking a little bit more about the subject.

Here are five more tips that I think will help anybody who is using the platform for the first time. If you have friends who ‘don’t get it’, or are finding Twitter disappointing, then please share this with them.

And if you consider yourself a veteran of Twitter, there’s still plenty of value to be found!

1. Twitter Isn’t Third Person

Remember the old days when Facebook status updates were always third person? The status box used to come with a fixed ‘is’ before each message, which encouraged you to always be doing something – i.e., Jack is eating his dinner, Jill is going for a walk, etc.

Because it was so limiting, Facebook eventually dropped the ‘is’ part of the status box, but the majority still updated in the same way. Recently, likely in an attempt to emulate (and keep up with) Twitter, Facebook has almost entirely abandoned the third person status update, and most people (certainly those with whom I interact) update in a similar way to Twitter (albeit with less character restrictions, and significantly less reach).

Twitter has never been third person. Each tweet is a standalone piece of news delivered in 140 characters or less. It is not your name doing or saying something. It is not an action. It’s a message.

Hence, you should NEVER write tweets such as:

Twitter isn't third person

I see this all the time with new Twitter accounts (and many established ones). This is partly Twitter’s fault – by specifically asking of us, “What are you doing?”, they encourage people to think of their tweets in the same way they used to think of Facebook status updates.

So, how should you craft your tweet? Any way you like. Beyond the example given above, there are no hard and fast rules and guidelines. Tweets are essentially first person in nature (so, “I love the new Muse album!” is fine) but can often be quite toneless, like when delivering a news item or sharing something interesting that you have found.

If you’re a heavy link sharer, most of your tweets will be built around a headline and a link, with possibly a little creative prose if and when necessary. If you use Twitter just to chat with friends, your messages will likely be quite talky and loose. Or, like a lot of people, you’ll find yourself somewhere in the middle – an engaging blend of content-sharing and personality. If you’re unsure of what to say in your tweets, striving for this balance can work really well.

(Read more: So You Want To Get Retweeted? Sharpen Your Pencil.)

2. Monitor Your Replies And Mentions

This tip might seem a little silly to Twitter veterans, but I see it happening all the time with friends when they first register – because nobody* has instructed them on how replies and mentions work, they remain oblivious to any messages that are sent their way unless they happen to notice their name appear in the timeline.

On Twitter.com there is a sidebar on the right side of the window that contains a number of goodies, the most important of which is the replies/mentions link, which is directly below the Home button and reads @username (where username = your actual username, i.e., @Sheamus). Click on this, and Twitter will re-populate your timeline so only the messages sent to you, or any of those in which your username has been mentioned, appear.

Monitor Your Twitter Replies And Mentions

Why does this matter? Because Twitter is all about engagement. If people are sending you messages and you’re not seeing them, then you can’t respond. And if you don’t respond, people will stop sending you messages. It’s that simple.

It pays to monitor your replies very, very closely. Most Twitter software clients notify you when you receive a new reply or mention (see later for more on this), but Twitter.com does not. You have to actually click on the button yourself, and you need to be doing this a lot.

And if somebody writes you a message where a response is required, then please answer them back. Your reply is what puts the ‘social’ in ‘social media’.

(Read more: How To Reply So You’ll Get A Reply Back.)

* Yes, I’m looking at you, Twitter.

3. Be Personable, Not Personal

For an entirely open, public network, Twitter often attracts some strange behaviour. It seems that for every person who is super-cautious about the things they say and the way they behave on the platform, there is another who approaches from an entirely opposite angle, being entirely gung ho and casual with their personal data.

Again, the best approach here is to be found somewhere in the middle. If you’re too distant and aloof, others are going to struggle to warm to you because you can come across as cold and robotic. Conversely, if you’re too personal, and share just that little bit too much, you’re likely to make other people nervous about how they can interact with you, for fear of what you might say or do.

The secret is to be engaging and friendly, but at all times to remember that Twitter is an open network. It’s very easy to forget that you are still on the internet, and that tweets are for all intents and purposes forever. Even if you delete them, they don’t go away. Google tracks and links to everything that you say.

Your boss could be reading your tweets. Your future boss could be reading your tweets. Not to mention your partner, friends and family. Don’t tweet drunk. And be very careful with photos.

Be personable, not personal. And be smart about it.

(Read more: With Social Media, You’re Always On Camera.)

4. Master The URL Shortener

Twitter’s 140-character message limit means we often have to be creative with our messages, and this is certainly true when it comes to sharing links. Most links, certainly to blogs or news portals, are often far too long to be manageable and this has led to the creation (and boon) of various link-shortening websites. It’s important that you familiarise yourself with URL shortening and make a habit of it.

Twitter recently partnered with bit.ly, and as a result the already-popular URL shortener is now the industry leader. Bit.ly has always been a personal favourite because it also provides link-tracking and statistical services which are really useful. These features are only available to those with a bit.ly account so it’s very worthwhile registering for this free service.

Master the URL shortener

Tip: As said above bit.ly is built into Twitter but on the website it’s extremely unreliable as a link shortening tool. Sometimes it doesn’t seem to work at all, and your (hideous) long link is published as is. It also doesn’t recognise or support your personal bit.ly account. If you’re limited to using Twitter.com I recommend shortening your links at bit.ly manually and then pasting them back into Twitter.com, or using bit.ly’s own Twitter update box to submit your tweets.

(Read more: Want To Get Re-Tweeted? Memorise Your Number and The Ninja’s Guide To Sharing Links On Twitter.)

5. Try Looking At Twitter In A Different Way (With Software)

Everybody starts on Twitter.com and a lot of people realise fairly quickly that interactions with the Twitter network via that website are (ironically) a bit limiting.

Twitter.com has improved dramatically over the past six or seven months but it still doesn’t stand up compared to the good Twitter software clients, many of which are now available across all platforms.

Here are my recommendations:

  • For your home computer, I suggest you download Seesmic Desktop or TweetDeck. Different people have different opinions about which is better – I personally prefer Seesmic, but I recommend you install both and decide which one you like best. Both have similar functionality and allow you to set up manageable groups and lists so that you can more easily follow your Twitter contacts. They also provide notifications when you receive new replies and mentions, which is a huge improvement over Twitter.com.
  • At work, we’re often not allowed to install software, so a web-based Twitter application is necessary. Seesmic Web is the best.
  • If you’re a business looking to manage your Twitter account with multiple users, I recommend HootSuite or CoTweet.
  • The iPhone has a plethora of Twitter clients, including TweetDeck, Tweetie, Twitterrific and many more.
  • For your Blackberry, I recommend ÃœberTwitter.
  • Your Android phone could do a lot worse than Twidroid.
  • For your Windows-based mobile, I don’t think anything is better than Dabr.

All of these will significantly improve your Twitter experience. Experiment with as many as you can and find what works best for you.

Bonus: Take Your Time With Tweets

Twitter is a real-time social network, and updates can come through thick and fast, especially when you start to follow a lot of people. As such, it can sometimes seem like you need to operate in a super-fast way yourself, rushing out loads of tweets just to keep up.

This is a mistake. Twitter is high-speed, but that’s only because you’re seeing the collective. Individually, people update on a much slower basis, and it’s important that you maintain a manageable pace to ensure the best quality in your tweets.

  • Make sure your grammar, spelling and punctuation is first class. Like it or not, you will be judged on the quality of your prose. If necessary, consider running tweets through a spellchecker before publication. Many applications provide a spellcheck feature and I find this extremely useful.
  • We all make mistakes and typographic errors. Remember that Twitter does not come with an edit feature. Once your tweet has been published, it’s essentially ‘out there’ forever.
  • Be mindful about accidentally sharing important information, such as email addresses, telephone numbers, where you live, etc. Not everybody is as trustworthy as you.
  • Until you get really good at it, always double-check that the shortened links you’re submitting to Twitter actually go where they’re supposed to.
  • Don’t bombard others with replies – give somebody a chance to reply back.
  • Twitter isn’t good for long, drawn out discussions. Consider taking conversations to email.
  • Relax – there’s no prize for the person who publishes the most tweets.

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The learning curve on Twitter is quite steep and it’s easy to pick up bad habits at the expense of good practices and etiquette. By following these simple tips above (and those in the previous article), you can move from newbie to pro in no time at all.

(This is part two of two posts – read the first installment here.)

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