Twitter training (Maynard Institute)

This presentation was originally given as a workshop for the Maynard Institute‘s summer Multimedia Editing Program — a month-long intensive training for media professionals looking to bulk up their online skills.

Twitter Training

– Quick review of yesterday
– Terminology
– Tools
– Building community
– Content
– Fine-tuning your activities

Guides are located at

For the uninitiated: Twitter is a service that functions like a giant bulletin board where anyone can stick a short note 140 characters or less. These posts are called “tweets.” You can choose to read other people’s tweets (called “following” them), and other people can choose to read yours (these are your “followers”). Some people choose to keep their tweets private, and approve each request to be “followed.”

Quick review
– Why use social media?
– Social capital
– Filter/curation
Your job is to weave it altogether.

Everyone’s signed up? Make sure your username is not your organization. ID yourself as yourself.


Let’s run through some basic vocabulary on Twitter. Probably the number one thing I hear when people say they don’t use Twitter is that they can’t decipher all the symbols and abbreviations.

# Following. These are the people whose tweets you’ve selected to read; their tweets appear in your “feed” or “stream.”

# Follower. This is someone who is reading your tweets.

# The @ symbol. Put this before any other Twitterer’s username to refer to them. Why? It creates a link to their profile automatically, which is handy for your followers to track conversations or look at people you’re referring to. @Replies will likely show up in that person’s Mentions page.
Note that if you reply to another person using the Reply arrow button on Twitter, though, that only people who follow that person will also see that reply in your feed. It’s kind of a drag; more on this here.

# Rt, RT or rtwt. These stand for “retweet.” If you read someone else’s tweet that you think people following you should also read, put this before copying and pasting the whole thing, including the original tweeter’s username. Here’s an example, where I retweeted something that Nancy Scola posted: “rt @nancyscola: isn’t there something uniquely DC about 1/5 of Politico’s “top 10″ DC Twitterers not actually tweeting?”
Update: Also, you can use “via @username” to attribute something that you saw with another user, but aren’t directly quoting word for word. (thanks, @nezua!)
Update #2: Twitter now has its own built in retweet function (the circular arrow button). Many people don’t use it, though, because those retweets don’t show up in Mentions, and it throws off their user’s own feeds by displaying the icons of strangers.

# The # symbol. Words that follow # in Twitter are called “hash tags.” It’s a way of assigning a keyword to a tweet so that so that others can follow the topic. More on this in a bit.

# URLs that look like,,, etc. These are URL shortening services that take very long links and squish them down to fewer characters. Why? Because on Twitter, you only have 140 characters to get your thought out, and this leaves more room for your words.

# Direct messaging. This is a way of sending a message to someone so that only they can see it like sending a txt message. The person has to be following you in order to receive messages from you, though! (No DMing Jane Fonda or Henry Rollins unless they’re following you, ya hear?) To do this, you can either go to the person’s twitter page (aka, their profile page), and click on the “message” link in the left sidebar. Or, if you’re using another device or application besides the Twitter website, you can type the letter d, the person’s username, and then your message. I.e., “d randomdeanna let’s go to happy hour at abilene later”

It takes a while to get used to the language of Twitter, so just give yourself some breathing room to get the hang of it.

I want to delve in here by first covering the use of downloadable tools to work with Twitter. The Twitter website is fine, but it’s the magic found in many “clients,” as they’re called, that make working with Twitter easy and fun. I use one for the Mac called Tweetie, but today we’re going to talk about Tweetdeck, since that’s one that can be used on both PC and Mac, and is pretty popular amongst Twitter users.

Why should you use a Twitter client? For one thing, it makes sharing links much easier. Often URLs are very long, and it’s a pain to go to the websites of those shortener services I mentioned. Clients like Tweetdeck do the shortening for you. Another thing is that you have all of your commonly used tools: mentions, saved searches, etc., which we’ll get into, right at your disposal– and you can be notified of updates like mentions.

There are also clients for smartphones that are extremely useful. I like Ubertwitter for Blackberry; I hear Tweetie and Tweetdeck for the iPhone are great, and I’m pretty sure folks are still using twidroid for Android phones. If you have a web-enabled regular phone, you can go to and login.

I also want to mention here a little bit of an advanced topic– posting pictures to Flickr. A pretty fun and useful tool; there are many services out there you can use. A lot of Twitter clients have photos and video services built into them, so you don’t have to set anything up. If you already have a flickr account like me, you can add Twitter as a “blog” in your profile, and send pictures to the email address they assign when you do that–and it will auto post a link on Twitter.

I’m going to swing back around to Tweetdeck and its features at the end, if we have time, and if folks are interested in learning how to use it.


Let’s talk a little about finding your people on Twitter. Twitter is more fun and more interesting when you find your “sweet spot” of how many people make your stream start to be interesting. Something tells me that say, following just 5 people is not going to make you come crawling back for more at different times of the day. I would think about setting an initial goal of finding maybe 50 people and seeing if that works for you.

One quick thing about the numbers game here: It may seem really startling to think about following a large number of people. “How will I keep up with it all?” But I want you to think about Twitter (and other social media) a little differently. See, the paradigm of email being our main form of digital communication for the past 10+ years (at least in the mainstream) has created this sense that every message appearing in front of our faces is significantly important enough to demand our attention. We know we have to *do* something with it: reply, delete, archive, whatever. It’s maddening.

Social media works differently. Here, it’s a river of info going by that you dip in and out of. Socially/culturally, you’re not expected to read every single message. When you check Twitter, you don’t go back and see everything that everyone was talking about since you last looked. You’d be there all day! You need to pull back, take a soft focus view, and understand that it’s a more holistic, less sharply-focused set of tasks that you’re doing.


First way is to use the “Find People” link in the main navigation. This is the same tool that you were walked through when you first signed up. If you have a Gmail, Yahoo or AOL address, you enter in your login information, and Twitter scans through your address book/contacts to see who is already a member. You can then choose who you want to follow from there. If you don’t have one of those, I suggest getting one (they’re free) and importing your contacts there for this purpose. If you’re not sure how to do that, just google the name of the current program where you keep your email contacts, and “import into Gmail” and you should find some instructions.


Directories are another way to find people– in this case, often people you don’t know who tweet about a particular topic. These are all self-defined; you can add yourselves, too. I don’t find the lists that are organized by number of followers that interesting, personally, because I don’t like to follow a lot of famous people. The lists that are organized by “most influential” are very interesting tho.


The other way to find people is what I call the “organic” way. This is when you pay more attention to who your friends retweet and reply to. You start checking out those other people to see if they’re interesting, if they’re someone you want to add to your mix.


Here are some journalists on Twitter that I really like…


A lot of people ask, how do I get people to follow me back? Well, the first thing to remember is that it’s not about numbers. It’s about providing context and content.

One way to get people’s attention is by replying to them–unless they’re uberfamous, most people look at their replies. Often, if you give them good reason, they’ll glance at your profile to see if you’re someone interesting to follow.

The other way is to mention them when you have a particularly good tweet — say a link to breaking news– and you want to get their attention. Here’s an example: “Oil spill will never be capped @randomdeanna @lilianasegura”


What do I say? Review of yesterday with professional/personal boundaries. Some people also almost only just retweet others– this is OK! It’s a way of curating– doing that weaving that we talked about. You can act as a filter for your community.

As mentioned yesterday, responding to questions is also a great way to build social capital. You can save searches that look for questions on a particular topic in which you have expertise, for example.

Which brings me to the bit about saved searches. Helpful for people that have a beat or issue area that they want to focus on. (Go to computer and demonstrate.)


Sometimes things aren’t quite right, and you need to make adjustments. You make find one or two people dominating your feed, for example, because they tweet so much more often than the other people in your feed. It’s okay to unfollow them! You can also put them in a List, which we’ll talk about in a second. But the big thing is that there’s not as much onus to follow and follow back as there is in other social networks.


Lists are another way to manage a large set of information. (Quick how-to.) Here are a few uses for lists:
– Geography. People who live in a certain area, or who are attending a conference that you’re at
– Topic. People who tweet about particular issues.
– High-volume. Move people who tweet to much to your regular feed to a high-volume list. also, i.e., how Cyn uses her feed.
– Give props. A nice way to tell someone what you think of them.


Hashtags are another way to organize information on Twitter. It’s a way of assigning a keyword to a tweet so that so that others can follow the topic. For example: When folks were attending the WeMedia conference this week, they would tweet information about the conference and put #wemedia somewhere in the tweet. That way, everyone else interested in news from the conference could easily find and track them. Tracy Van Slyke of the Media Consortium said this, for example: “#wemedia. Twitter wins game changing award! @biz says best thing: twitter isn’t about triumph of tech, it’s about triumph of humanity.” And you can see lots of other tweets from that conference here by searching for the hashtag. If you see a hashtag in use and don’t know what it means, try checking out “What the Hashtag.” You can save searches for hashtags if you want to cover a particular topic. (Video)

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