Twitter is akin to texting a friend — or in this case a lot of friends who are specifically interested in the content you're posting. As an individual, using Twitter is generally simple, but the use of 140 characters, especially for brands and businesses requires a lot more effort than just sharing a link and adding a hashtag or two. If you want to be a tactful tweeter, make sure you first know how the platform works.
In this article…
- What is Twitter?
- How does it work?
- Customizing your Twitter profile
- Verified accounts on Twitter
- The anatomy of a tweet
- Interacting with others on Twitter
- Twitter hashtags
- Twitter lists
- Advertising on Twitter
- Twitter management platforms
- Twitter tips and tricks
What is Twitter?
Twitter is a social networking platform through which users can share short messages (140 characters or fewer) known as tweets with the rest of the Internet. The platform, which was launched in 2006 by founders Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, Biz Stone and Noah Glass, is web-based and has a mobile app in addition to its own native social management platform, Tweetdeck.
Twitter is one of the top websites in the world, and is currently ranked No. 8 domestically and globally, according to Internet analytics company Alexa. It has more than 313 million active monthly users, according to the company, and 82 percent of those users are active on mobile platforms.
How does it work?
Like any social site, first you have to sign up for an account to use Twitter. While unregistered users can visit your public profile, only registered users can share tweets and interact with other users.
To sign up, you need to fill in your name and email address, create a password, and choose a username. Usernames, or @handles, are alphanumeric and can also include underscores. You can change your username at any time.
When you sign in to your Twitter account, you're taken to your home page. Across the top of the page is your navigation bar, where you can access your home page, notifications and messages, and browse the Discover tab. On the right-hand side is a search bar, along with your user icon (clicking this will take you to your account and profile settings) and a Compose Tweet button.
On the left-hand side there is a box that displays your profile's cover photo, your user icon, name and @handle, along with the number of tweets you've shared, the number of users you follow and the number of followers you have. Below that is the trends box, which shows you the top 10 trending topics and hashtags on Twitter at that moment.
On the right-hand side, there is another box entitled Who to Follow that displays suggested Twitter users and gives you the option to import your contacts from Gmail or connect to other address books. (Depending on the size of your screen and your screen resolution, this box could be on the left-hand side below the trending topics box.)
At the center of the dashboard is your Twitter feed. At the top of the feed is a box in which you can compose a tweet. The rest of your Twitter feed contains tweets from users you follow along with the occasional ad. The feed features infinite scrolling and is updated in real time as users share posts. From there, you can retweet, favorite and reply to others' tweets.
Customizing your Twitter profile
Once you've signed up for Twitter, you'll need to set up and customize your profile. Twitter allows users to upload a square profile avatar in addition to a wider header photo. If no avatar is uploaded, it defaults to Twitter's "egg" icon. The egg profile picture is often a red flag for other users, indicating that it may be a spamaccount. It also makes you look lazy and careless, which is a bad branding move.
Your profile and header photos need to properly represent you or your brand, and they should be high-quality images. The header is a great place to put a custom banner for your business. Twitter header photos should be 1500 pixels wide by 500 pixels high, and a maximum of 5MB. Profile photos are ideally 400 pixels by 400 pixels and 2MB maximum.
It's important to fill in information about yourself as well, you can share a little blurb about yourself or your business, up to 160 characters. You can also add a website, location and birthday.
Your Twitter page's layout can't be changed, but you can choose a theme color, which will appear as an accent color on your profile, mostly visible in links and when you hover over the navigation bar. You'll also be able to see this theme color from your home page.
Verified accounts on Twitter
Blue and white checkmarks, usually administered by Twitter, indicates the account is verified. This means that the social network considers the user to be a key brand or individual, or confirming the user is who they say they are. This is a way to differentiate between fake accounts impersonating the user and the authentic account actually run by that user (and/or their social media team).
According to Twitter, the requirements for verification are constantly being updated, but the website doesn't take things like follower count or tweet count into consideration.
Verified Twitter users can lose their verified status if they change their handle or protect their tweets. In these instances, Twitter will automatically review the user's account again to make sure it's still eligible for verification. Verified users can also lose their status if they violate the Twitter rules or terms of service.
Applying for verification
Recently, Twitter opened the opportunity to apply for verification status. According to the site, an account may be verified if it is determined to be an account of public interest. Typically, this includes accounts maintained by users in music, acting, fashion, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, sports, business, and other key interest areas.
Twitter outlines the requirements, including:
- A verified phone number
- A confirmed email address A bio
- A profile photo
- A header photo
- A birthday (for accounts that are not company, brand, or organization accounts)
- A website
- Tweets set as public in Tweet privacy settings
If your profile request is rejected, you must wait 30 days before the next application can be submitted for review. In addition, Twitter does "rolling verifications" for accounts that are determined to be of public interest. Typically, this prominent figures and brands in music, acting, fashion, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, sports, business, and other key interest areas, the website says.
The anatomy of a tweet
Posting on Twitter is fairly straightforward. It's mostly text-based, but tweets are limited to 140-characters. As of Sept. 19, Twitter announced its rollouts to expand the 140-character count.
To keep your audience interested in what is being posted by you or your brand, consider adding these enhancements:
Links: Sharing links to your content or content from other websites that is relevant to your professional or personal brand is a great way to make your Twitter feed more engaging. To save more room for text, you can use a link-shortening service like Bit.ly when adding links to your tweets.
Images: Twitter also allows you to share images in your tweets. Simply upload the photo or image you want to share in the Compose Tweet box. As with adding links, adding photos will take away from your available character count, so plan accordingly when you share images. Now, you can also upload multiple images to share photo sets, as opposed to sharing one photo at a time.
GIFs: Not familiar with GIFs? Think a short-loop video with funny or interesting actions. A gif keyboard can be found between the photo and poll options it's a great way to incorporate meme marketing in your Twitter strategy.
Videos: In addition to a more seamless integrated video component, you can also share Vine videos or Periscope live video right from Twitter. Additionally, users can link videos (from YouTube, Vimeo, etc.) which will load with a preview, description, and ability to play the video within the tweet.
- Polls: Polls allow you to pose a question to your followers and track their votes. To add a poll to your tweet, click the Poll button at the bottom of the tweet composition box and fill in what you want the voting choices to be. Polls have a default of at least two choices, but you can add up to two more (for four choices total.) You can also fill out how long you want your poll to run for in days, minutes and hours.
Interacting with others on Twitter
There are several ways to interact with other Twitter users, both publically and privately.
@mentions: The easiest way to reach another Twitter user is by tagging that user's handle in your tweet. This will notify the other person, showing up in the notifications tab on the homepage. Other users who see the tweet can click on the @handle to view the profile of the person you're talking about. Note: If you want to start your tweet with the other user's @handle, and want to make it visible to others, you need to place a period before the @ symbol.
Editor's note: Twitter has noted a feature will be added where the period before the handle is no longer necessary, though no evidence supports the capability is accessible at this time.
Likes: If you like a particular tweet but don't want or need to respond to it, you can favorite it by clicking the heart button under the tweet. Your likes are stored in a list on your Twitter page that is visible to you and anyone who visits your profile. You can always unclick the heart to remove it from your list.
Retweets (RTs): Retweeting allows you to share what other Twitter users post so that your followers can see those posts as well. There are two methods of retweeting: You can share the tweet in its original form on your feed, or you can quote the original tweet and add your own commentary. Once you hit the RT button, a window pops up, hit "Retweet" to RT in its original form, or in the text box above, add comments to it. If you no longer wish for the RT to be present on your timeline, simply click the RT button again for it to be removed.
- Direct messages: To privately interact with other Twitter users, the social network allows you to direct-message people (usually referred to as DM on Twitter). Direct messaging used to be closed so that only users who were following each other could use the feature, but now everyone has the option to make their DMs open to the public. Like texting, users will soon be able to see people typing, in addition to a read receipt and link previews. There is no character limit, either so you’re able to get your message across better than in a tweet.
Hashtags are a useful component of Twitter. The words or phrases accompanied by a number symbol; (#) gives users the chance to tag an identifying word that groups hundreds (or thousands) of tweets together. Hashtags are searchable and offer the perfect companion for live events.
Hashtags are a great way to make the content you share on the platform visible to users beyond your own followers. There are many highly popular hashtags that generally all active Twitter users are familiar with, like #FollowFriday or #ff, which encourages your followers to reach out to other users you admire or work with, and #ThrowbackThursday or #tbt, with which many users post vintage or childhood photos and memories. You can also create your own hashtags to draw attention to your brand or to events you may be throwing, though it comes with the possibility it may not catch on. Many brands latch on to already-trending topics to contribute to the conversation or sell their product.
It's important to make sure you use hashtags that are relevant — for example, if you were tweeting about starting a business and it happened to be a Friday, you might use the hashtag #entrepreneurship, but using the #FF hashtag would be inappropriate.
When you're using hashtags on Twitter, however, it can be tempting to add as many as possible to increase your reach. This doesn't work — in fact, the more hashtags you use, the less likely people are to interact with your content because they'll find your posts spam-like.
Trending topics on Twitter
Trending topics are any topics that Twitter users are talking about at a very high rate. Often, these topics are identifiable with hashtags, but they can also be words or phrases related to the subject. As previously mentioned, you can see the current trending topics on your Twitter home page in the trends box on the left-hand side.
Twitter users can customize the trends box to show trending topics in different locations. For example, you could set it to only show you what's trending in New York, in the United States overall, or around the world.
Most commonly, trending topics result from breaking news or commonly talked about topics in the media. For example, if the results of presidential election were announced, you might see the candidates' names as trending topics. These topics can also come about when large groups of Twitter users work together to get a certain hashtag or phrase trending. This is usually the work of celebrity-obsessed fans, so it's not uncommon to see things about celebrities in the trending section.
When you click on a trending topic, it'll take you to a search page where you can view what people are discussing, along with photos and related users. At the top of the page, you can select to view all of the tweets being shared, or just the top tweets — the ones getting the most interactions.
For brands, latching on to trending topics is a good way to get noticed — just make sure you do it the right way. Only use trending topics in your tweets if those topics are relevant to your brand, and make sure you use them appropriately. If you're not sure why a certain topic is trending, do some research to ensure that you don't do something to offend your audience, like making light of a serious situation or saying something politically incorrect. Users typically identify disingenuous marketing if brands are just tweeting to tweet.
It's best to say away from breaking news stories surrounding tragedy, including celebrity death, or major tragic historical events like 9/11. Use your best judgement and always choose tact when deciding to integrate marketing with trending topics.
Live tweeting is another way to get topics trending on Twitter. Essentially, live tweeting is when a user tweets his or her reactions to a live event as it is happening, whether that is breaking news or entertainment-related. When brands throw events and want their attendees to live tweet while they're there, the brand will often create its own individual hashtag to use and share with the invite list so that others can follow around.
Live tweeting most commonly occurs with TV shows and televised events. It's not uncommon during events such as these to see the trends box filled with related topics — for example, in the case of the Oscars, it wouldn't be surprising to see the official awards show hashtag along with the names of celebrities and films that win major awards.
Another way to engage followers or get a topic trending is by hosting a Twitter chat. Twitter chats are fairly straightforward, but they do require a decent and active follower base to be successful.
A Twitter chat happens when several Twitter users discuss a specific topic simultaneously using a shared hashtag. For example, Business News Daily sometimes hosts Twitter chats with the hashtag #BNDchat — which participants incorporate into each of their related tweets.
Usually, one Twitter user will host a chat at a specific time and prepare specific questions and discussion points. The host will tweet out the questions, often with "Q1" or "Q2" (numbers vary depending on how many questions you're asking) preceding the questions, and other participants will respond with "A1" or A2" and their thoughts.
Twitter chats usually last about an hour. They are a great way to show how active you are on social media and to get your followers (and their followers) engaged and asking questions or sharing their advice.
Twitter offers its users the ability to make lists of other users they find interesting. With lists, you don't have to be following the users you include to see their posts regularly.
Lists can help you organize your following list. For example, you might make a list of celebrities and other users that you admire and label it "Influential People." If you had an interest in something like photography or writing and want to track users who tweet about those things, you could make lists of "NYC Writers" or "NYC Photographers" to do so.
To create a list, click your user icon in the top navigation bar and click Lists from the drop-down menu. From there, you can see two tabs: lists you're a member of (i.e., ones you've been added to) and lists you're subscribed to (the lists you've created). You'll see a Create List button below the Subscribed To and Member Of links.
When you create a list, just type in the name you want to give the list and a short description, and then choose whether you want the list to be publicly visible or private (visible only to you). If you make your lists public, the users you add to it will be notified. Once you're done, simply click Save List. After the list has been created, you can add users to it by clicking the gear button next to the follow button on their page, selecting "Add or remove from list" and then selecting the list you'd like to add them to.
Advertising on Twitter
Using Twitter is free, but if you'd like to pay to promote your account on the platform, there are plenty of advertising options at your disposal.
Promoted Tweets: These ads are just like regular tweets, and they appear in a user's Twitter feed along with posts from people the user follows. Promoted Tweets are a way for advertisers to increase engagement and expand their reach to a wider group of users beyond their follower base. These tweets are labeled "promoted" across the bottom of the ad, above the reply, retweet and like buttons. You can read more details about Promoted Tweets on Twitter.
Promoted Accounts: Promoted Accounts are designed to help brands become more discoverable and grow their follower counts. These ads are displayed in multiple locations on Twitter, including the Who to Follow box on the home page, your home page's Twitter feed and search results. Promoted Accounts ads target Twitter users who have interests relevant to the advertiser's brand, so that brands can gain followers who are more likely to interact with their content. All of the ads are labeled as "Promoted" just like Promoted Tweets are, so users can distinguish them from other content on their feeds. To learn more about Promoted Accounts, go here.
- Promoted Trends: Promoted Trends appear at the top of the trending topics list in the trends box on Twitter and, like other Twitter ads, are clearly labeled as "Promoted." These ads look exactly like other trending topics, and users can interact with them in the same ways. While Promoted Tweets and Promoted Accounts target specific users, Promoted Trends are visible to all users when the trends are being promoted. They're also visible on Twitter's mobile apps. If you're looking to get people talking about your business using a specific hashtag, Promoted Trends are a good way to do so. For more-detailed information on Promoted Trends, head to Twitter.
In addition to these options, Twitter has a host of other marketing tools designed to help advertisers improve their campaigns.
Twitter Amplify: Twitter Amplify is a tool that allows advertisers to share real-time television content (for example, videos of sports highlights) that they can integrate with their brand or sponsors. Twitter Amplify helps brands reach users beyond their current followers by delivering content to targeted audiences. For more information on Twitter Amplify, go here.
Promoted Video: While Twitter Amplify gives brands the ability to share videos from TV programs and other broadcasts, Promoted Video opens up the possibilities to any kind of video, giving advertisers more ways to be creative with their campaigns. It's important to note that Promoted Video is different from sharing a YouTube video in your tweets — while both methods allow you to play a video in a tweet, Promoted Video content is hosted directly by Twitter and is only available as a paid marketing tool. Learn more about Promoted Video here.
- Mobile app promotion: Mobile app companies, this is the tool for you. Twitter's mobile app promotion option lets advertisers target and reach their desired audiences via mobile devices to drive app downloads. Advertisers can create a custom image and app description for use in the ad, and target users by their location, gender, language and mobile platform (so, if your app is available only on iOS devices, you can target users who access Twitter from only those devices). The tool also features a unique measurement system so advertisers can see how their campaigns impact app installs, purchases and registrations. Read more about mobile app promotion here.
To read more in-depth about how advertising works on Twitter, go here.
Twitter management platforms
There are a number of third-party clients and desktop apps that you can use to manage your tweets outside of Twitter's website or mobile app. The most popular ones are TweetDeck, Twitter Dashboard and Hootsuite.
TweetDeck: TweetDeck is free to use and has a sleek user interface with customizable columns where you can organize your lists, notifications and your own feed. You can also track hashtags in their own separate columns, schedule tweets in advance (something you can't do on the Twitter website or mobile apps) and add multiple Twitter accounts to manage several users at once. TweetDeck is browser-based and is accessed via the web.
Twitter Dashboard: Twitter Dashboard is a free tool for business owners and Twitter users with a large following. This tool, which allows you to schedule posts, looks similar to the main Twitter homepage. Tweets about you appear first, your tweets (center column) shows what you have tweeted, and your timeline is like the main Twitter homepage. To schedule a post, compose your tweet, then in the lower right hand corner of the text box, choose Schedule Tweet. From there, choose the date and time and click schedule tweet. Twitter Dashboard will then queue your tweet and send it at the designated time. Dashboard also provides analytics, providing information on activity, audience and visits/views.
- Hootsuite: Hootsuite, which lets you manage other social media accounts besides just Twitter, operates similarly to TweetDeck. However, it is arguably not as sleek or simple as TweetDeck's layout, as Hootsuite uses tabs for each profile you connect to it. Hootsuite offers a free version, as well as a pro version for $9.99 per month (with a free, 30-day trial). Hootsuite also allows users to schedule tweets in a similar manner to Tweetdeck. Like TweetDeck, Hootsuite is browser-based, but it does not currently have a desktop version available for PCs or Macs.
Twitter and Hootsuite have mobile apps for use on your smartphone or tablet, and allow you to add multiple user accounts at once.
Twitter tips and tricks
Don't buy followers. There are services that allow you to purchase followers to beef up your follower count. While it may seem tempting to make it look like you have more followers than you really do, it's not worth it. The followers you get won't be real, and therefore won't interact with your brand.
Go mobile. The Twitter mobile apps are incredibly well-integrated with the web platform, so the transition from tweeting on your computer to tweeting from your smartphone or tablet is almost seamless. And if you don't have a smartphone, don't worry — you can also tweet via SMS text messaging. The process is simple, and you can find step-by-step instructions here.
Add a Twitter widget to your website. Show everyone who visits your website that you're active on social media by creating and embedding a Twitter widget on your page. To create a Twitter widget, simply go to https://twitter.com/settings/widgets and click Create New. This will take you to a page where you can customize what kinds of things you want visible in your widget.
You can make a widget out of your own timeline of tweets, the tweets you favorite or lists you've created. You can even do a search for a specific hashtag. You can then adjust the size, link color and theme of your widget. Once you're happy with your new Twitter widget, simply click the Create Widget button and you'll be redirected to a new page that contains the HTML code necessary for embedding the widget on your website.
- Embed tweets on your blog. If your brand's website has an active blog, embedding tweets can showcase any fun tweets you shared or tweets from your loyal followers. This is a great way to incorporate your social media accounts on your website to make them better integrated. To embed a tweet, go to the tweet you want to share and click the ellipse button under the text. A drop-down menu will appear; choose the option Embed Tweet, and it will take you to a new page with the appropriate HTML code. From there, just copy and paste the code where you want it to appear.
Additional reporting by Brittney Helmrich.