Twitter is all about sending brief messages to others, but what you send, how you send it and why can be tricky to learn. Here are some pointers starting with the basics and moving into some lesser known tid-bits.
Twitter offers two types of message: a tweet and a Direct Message (DM). Tweets are visible to the public DM’s are private communications between two users.
Direct messages you receive from others are listed on the Messages tab on your Twitter home page. A chronological list (newest on top) is displayed on the left, a reader panel on the right. Click a sender to read the direct messages to and from that sender.
In the Account Settings (click your name in the upper right hand corner of the screen, then Settings, then Notifications) you may choose to have a copy of your DMs sent to your e-mail address. These include a link that will take you back to Twitter to reply to the DM if you like.
Direct Messages allow you 140 characters to say what you have to say just like a tweet. Brevity is essential. Links may be included.
CAUTION! There has been lots of Phishing activity through DMs where someone sends you a message that entices you to click a link to see a funny picture, a picture of yourself or get some great new information. That link asks you to log in to Twitter. If you do, the spammers will use your account to send out more of these Phony messages and draw in your followers using YOUR good name. This can cost you many followers and could result in your account being blocked for spam.
To send a DM you can:
From the Messages screen, click the New Message button at the top of the left hand panel, a fly-out window opens up. Type in the Twitter user ID of the person you want to message in the top slot, the message in the lower part, then click Send.
From the Messages screen, click a sender in the list on the left of the screen so the message or conversation is displayed on the right. At the top of that column is an area that says “Send (UserName) a Message. Type a message in the box below that and click Send. Using this you can carry on a DM conversation with someone or quickly message several people who have DM’ed you with a specific message. Be careful, it’s easy to become spammy with this and incite folks to unfollow you.
From the Home screen (and all of its sub-screens: Timeline, @Mentions, Retweets, Searches, Lists) click on the user name or picture any displayed message so their profile pops up on the right hand panel. In the tool bar under their profile is a button with an envelope on it (second from the right) click that to open a DM window. Type your message and click Send.
Or, as mentioned above, you can reply to a DM you had e-mailed to you.
I’m sure you know that to post a Tweet you type something into the What’s Happening window at the top of your Home screen (and all sub-screens) and click the Tweet button. The counter at the bottom tells you how much space you have left to use. If this goes into negative numbers you need to find ways to abbreviate your message to fit. What you enter into your tweet will determine who will see it and how it will function.
Many Twitterers use textspeak tricks that cell phone users are accustomed to (maybe Cellphoners picked this up from Twitter, I’m not sure which came first. Chicken or the egg?) You will see things like UR for “You are”, GR8 for “great” and of course all manner of acronyms like LOL (laugh out loud) ROFL (rolling on the floor laughing), WTH (what the heck) and the more vulgar (and popular) WTF (what the F***). TY (thank you), TKS (thanks) RT (Re-tweet) are also often used. In the References section at the end of this post I’ve listed several helpful sites that define these terms for you.
Links that you add as URLs are now automatically compressed by Twitter so you don’t have to use a separate service like bit.ly if you don’t want to. This saves quite a bit of space when you’re trying to share a long URL.
And of course you can choose to leave out punctuation and extraneous spaces. A statement like “I love bigDogs,chocolate,SciFi,freshAir,oldMovies” saves at least 7 characters and is not *too* difficult to read. But making a steady diet of this gets old fast.
What you type into the tweet box determines who will be able to see the message. If you type a straight text message (with or without a link) but no @TwitterUserName the tweet will go out to the general population of Twitterville UNLESS you checked the “Protect my tweets” box on Settings / Account, then only people you approve to see your tweets will see them – basically this is your followers list.
When you check this box, potential followers will see a Request Authorization button instead of a Follow button; which can be a bit off-putting in a social networking environment. And if you have checked this box your reach is reduced because only your followers will see your tweets. If you are regularly tweeting on some controversial subject and are afraid of being flamed by the general populace for your commentary, check this box. Otherwise leave it unchecked.
If you include a @TwitterName in the tweet (and the above box is not checked) the tweet will be posted to the Mentions screen of @TwitterName and to the timeline of all your followers, UNLESS you put the @TwitterName as the first element of the tweet (left margin). For some reason, a Tweet that starts with a user name and contains just the one user name, will be seen only by those who follow BOTH you and @TwitterName. To make the message visible to all of your followers (including those who do not follow @TwitterName) and to all of @TwitterName’s followers (including those who do not follow you) put some text in front of @TwitterName. It doesn’t take much; anything except a space or a period.
If the tweet includes two or more @TwitterNames the above limitation does not apply, the tweet will go to all your followers as well as into the general stream where it may be picked up by folks who do not (yet) follow you or those in the list of names.
Reading tweets was very frustrating for me at first because so many of them made no sense at all; they were obviously a reply to something else, and though the tweet was interesting or funny, it was meaningless without the other half. Then I discovered that if you click on any blank space of a message in your Timeline or Mentions list, the right hand panel will display the conversation thread that lead up to that tweet, providing much more insight as to what was being said. Of course, this thread is maintained only if the conversants are using the Reply link to talk back and forth.
To get more information about those mentioned in the tweet, click their name and their Twitter profile page and a list of recent tweets comes up in the right hand panel. From here you may follow/unfollow this Twitterer, have their tweets sent to your mobile phone, or stop having them sent, or use the button on the bottom-right of the profile section to start a tweet using their name, add this user to one of your lists, block this user from your tweet stream, or report this user as a spammer.
After reading a tweet you have several options. 1) Do nothing and move on 2) Reply to it 3) Retweet it (forward this message to all of your followers) 4) Add it to your Favorites list. All of these options are available from the line of invisible text that lives next to the time stamp at the bottom of the tweet; place your cursor over this apparently empty space (‘hover’ in geekspeak) and the text will show up so you may make your selection. As mentioned above, you may also click their username to open their profile to block or report the user as a spammer if these are appropriate.
Recently there has been an increase in spamming activity. Most of it is fairly uninspired and easy to spot if you are aware. Direct Messages (DM) that say something like, “I found this funny photo of you” or “Is this you in this photo?” and has a link that is cloaked – meaning that when you hover over the link it does not display a little window with the full address – are phishing attempts or spam 99.999% of the time. If you click the link you will either be asked to log into Twitter to view the picture, and when you do you give the scumbags your Twitter log-in information and they will begin using YOUR account to dupe your followers, or you will be taken to some spammy web site trying to sell you a get-rich-quick scheme or porn, or who knows what.
If you get a tweet that looks like “@YourTwitterName bit.ly286ghht560” with that last part being a cloaked link, click the user name, not the link. If the user’s stats say something like “187 Tweets, 0 followers, 0 following, 0 listed” report them as a spammer and move on. Reporting them will remove the message from your timeline and block any further messages from them.
I hope this post has helped to shed some light on the mysteries of Tweeting for those who are struggling. If you are an experienced user and know something about message handling that I missed, please feel free to share it in the comments below. Thank you for reading!
More good stuff
Top 10 Twitter Tools: http://blog.kissmetrics.com/10-twitter-tools/
Comprehensive acronym dictionary: http://www.acronymfinder.com
More Twitter Specific: http://www.gadgetcage.com/twitter-abbreviations-acronyms-definition/941/
A general dictionary of Twitter terms: http://www.webopedia.com/quick_ref/Twitter_Dictionary_Guide.asp