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Updated 11 Mar 2016

Twitter Basics

If you have just started on twitter, then you may be overwhelmed with the huge amount of jargon that floats around the site. What's a retweet? What about a DM? And why do people keep slapping the number sign in front of words? Don't fear, I'll walk you through all of the most important elements of twitter so that you can navigate your first steps into the medium with poise and grace.

Tweets

You probably know this one already, but tweets are the messages you send on twitter. They are short, public, and can contain images and videos. They are currently limited to 140 characters in length, but this will be increased soon. Read this article for some great examples of tweets.

Your Timeline

Whenever you log into twitter, the first thing you will see is your timeline. It is a real-time feed that shows the tweets of users that you follow. Since Twitter's inception, this timeline has simply shown every tweet by every user you follow in reverse-chronological order, with the newest tweets appearing at the top and older tweets extending downward.

screenshot of a timeline and tweets

However, twitter is moving towards an algorithmic approach to the timeline which will attempt to reorder tweets into a prioritized view. While some users feel that this goes against the essence of twitter, it appears that this change is here to stay. Whether twitter will offer the option to turn off this algorithmic feed in favor of the original version is not yet clear.

@Mentions

When you post to twitter, your tweets will be visible to anyone who follows you (on their feed) or anyone who views your profile page. Most of your tweets should be designed to appeal to your audience as a whole. However, occasionally you'll want to direct a tweet at a specific account in particular. This could be for any number of reasons, either to express gratitude for attention they've paid to you, call their attention to something you'd like them to know, or any other multitude of reasons.
You do this by starting your tweet with their @username. Doing this will ensure that the tweet shows up in that users feed. Other users will not see your tweet, unless they view the conversion later on. In other words, the tweet is public, but it is not shown by default to all. If you place the @username later in the tweet, then all your followers will see it by default. There is a standard trick on twitter to place a '.' period before the username to both send the tweet to someone and allow everyone to see it.
e.g.   .@username.

screenshot of a twitter dot mention

To send a @mention, simply open up the box to compose a tweet and type the '@' symbol followed by the first few letters of the recipient's username. Twitter will automatically pull up a list of suggestions from which you can choose the correct person. Then you can compose the remainder of your tweet and send it off. A @mention tag can be located anywhere within a tweet, so you can incorporate the recipient's name into the tweet itself. You can also @mention an unlimited amount of users within your tweet (though the 140 character limit still applies.)

@Conversations

A conversation on twitter also uses @mention tags, but with a slight distinction. These conversations result from direct responses to tweets from users and their replies back and forth. For example, let's say you've just read a tweet you enjoy from a user you follow. From beneath their tweet you can click on the swooping arrow symbol, which will open a dialogue box for you to send a reply. They can then reply to your tweet and so on, and this entire conversation will appear in a chain whenever someone clicks on the original tweet. As with mentions, these conversations will be visible to any user if they choose to view it.

Likes

A 'like' is twitter's standard form of showing appreciation for a tweet. It used to be called a 'favorite', but they adopted the more standard terminology recently. At the bottom of every tweet is a heart symbol which you can click to register a 'like' on that tweet, basically expressing that you appreciate whatever is being said or shared. The amount of likes a post has received will appear along the bottom of the tweet, which serve to act as a sort of status symbol about the success of an individual post.

screenshot of a twitter like

Retweets

Retweeting someone's tweet is the act of sharing their post to your own followers. It's an excellent way to show appreciation for a user and their content and is often a great way to build positive relationships. Twitter offers two built-in mechanisms for retweeting. The first is a straightforward retweet, which will result in the entire original post being passed on to your followers, including the original users profile picture and username.

screenshot of a retweet

If you'd like to share the tweet to your followers but also add your own thoughts, you can quote the tweet. This will make the original appear in a small box beneath whatever comments you choose to add.

screenshot of a quoted retweet

This is a great way to both bring exposure to the original account and add your own unique spin. The retweet button can be found at the bottom of each tweet (two arrows making a circular motion). As with 'likes', the amount of retweets a tweet has received will be visible beneath the tweet itself.

Direct Messages (DM)

A direct message, or DM for short, is a message sent to an account that's visible only to you and the recipient. Think of it as twitter's built-in instant messaging app. DMs don't have the same 140 character limit as tweets, and they will be private to the participants.
To send a DM, click on the direct message button on the recipient's profile. This icon can be identified by a speech bubble with a small '+' sign in the top left-hand corner. Note, it may not be available if the recipient has disabled DM's, or if they do not follow you.

screenshot of the DM twitter button

#Hashtags

The pound sign '#' is known as a hashtag. They are twitter's mechanism for threading tweets together by topic. They are used by many social networks so you are probably familiar with them by now. They are also used to track trends, resulting in the Trending Topics you'll see along the side of your feed.

screenshot of twitter trends

To add a hashtag to your tweet, simply type a '#' sign followed (with no spaces) by a word or phrase. When users read your tweet, the hashtag will show up as a link which they can click to see what other users are tweeting about that same topic. As a consumer, you can search for any given hashtag to see what is being said about the topics that interest you. Sometimes overly-specific and in-depth hashtags will be used for comic effect.

Muting

Sometimes you'll find that a user updates their twitter simply too much and too often, or maybe their tweets don't interest you, or they may even offend you. If you'd like to stop seeing tweets from a certain account without the insult that comes from unfollowing them, you can simply mute their account. By clicking on the settings icon (identifiable as a gear) and then clicking 'Mute' from the menu that appears, you can discretely mute the tweets of a specific user in their feed without them being aware that they've been muted.

screenshot of twitter mute & block

Blocking

Blocking a user means that you will no longer see any posts from that user and they will be unable to see or interact with any content that you share. Users block other users for a variety of reasons, whether they find their posts offensive, insulting, or simply uninteresting or annoying. To block a user, click on the settings symbol (identified by a gear icon) on their profile, then select 'Block' from the list of actions. A user can be unblocked at any time by following the same process.
Try not to be lame by sending the person a message telling them you've blocked them. That accomplishes nothing, and is little more than a petty dig at the other person. Just block them and move on - you'll also save yourself 30 seconds by not typing the tweet.

Follow Limits

In order to discourage what are known as bots (automated accounts not belonging to a real person) and spammers, twitter has instituted general follow limits that restrict the amount of users each account can follow.
For the standard user this limit is set at 5,000. However, as an account gains more followers the limit will grow. So if you have 100,000 followers, you will be able to follow around 110,000 users in turn.

Daily Limits

Another tool twitter uses to fight spam are daily action limits. They are as follows:
  • Tweets: 2,400 per day
  • Direct Messages: 1,000 per day
  • Account Email Changes: 4 per day
  • Follows: 1,000 per day

Users who exceed these limits will not only find their ability to continue restricted but might even earn themselves probationary limitations that are even more restrictive.

Videos and Images

Sharing videos and photos through twitter has become a more integrated process as twitter has strived to become a centralized location for content-sharing. To add an image or video to a tweet, you can either select the camera icon or copy and paste a direct link to the online location of the image, video or Vine you want to share. When scrolling through your feed, images and videos will appear embedded in tweets.
Images may be hidden or cropped, so click on them to see them fully. By default, videos will autoplay as they scroll into view but their audio will be muted. Click on the video to expand it and activate the audio in your browser.

screenshot of a twitter video

Tagging Users in Images

Twitter recently enabled the ability to tag people in images. To tag a user in an image, simply upload the image into your tweet through the composing dialogue. When the image appears, a small blue text will appear beneath it asking "Who's in this photo?". Click on the text and you'll be able to enter the usernames of whoever appears in the image.
@nigeldickinson1 @tofolo_1 @BryanC1978
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