There's no denying that opening up a Twitter account is easy stuff. Five minutes out of your day and you're ready to be up and running. There's also no denying that Twitter is a lonely, lonely place if you don't have any friends. Today, we'll dive into the Twitter "followers/following" system and learn how you can really use Twitter to communicate with people.

If you're just joining the series, make sure to go back and read part one where I gave step by step directions on getting your Twitter account up and running.

Make New Friends But Keep the Old

macktweet.gifThe entire point of Twitter is to communicate. Since communicating to yourself gets a little boring, it's a good idea to start off by finding some folks to follow and inviting people to follow you. In part one of this series I explained how to use your existing email accounts to find and follow people. Once you've exhausted that list, you'll want to start finding other new people to add.

The easiest way to do this is to find someone with similar interests who uses Twitter and start browsing their followers. When I first joined Twitter, I started looking through the list of people Mack Collier was following. I'm a fan of Mack's blog and I knew he'd be tapped in to a lot of great marketing minds. You can see a screen shot of who he follows over on the right. Note that when you mouse over an avatar, you get the screen name of the Twitter user. From there, I decided to hit the SEO world and started looking at the lists of people Debra Mastaler and Stoney deGeyter were following.

It's important to note that when you follow a Twitter user, Twitter sends them a note letting them know you've begun to follow them. Generally when this happens, the user goes to review your feed and then decides if they'd like to follow you back. In other words, following other Twitter users is a great way to get other Twitter users following you.

Once you are following a decent number of people (say 50ish) it suddenly becomes a lot easier to expand your network. As you watch the conversations of people with more followers than you, you'll spot the names of Twitter users you might not already be following. When you see these names pop up, you can easily head to the Twitter site to review their feed and decide if you'd like to follow them as well. The same thing will happen in reverse as other Twitter users spot your newly minted Twitter friends sending messages to you.

With that in mind, let's move on to an explanation of how to spot these names in other people's messages.

What's With All the @'s?

The first thing you'll notice when you start using Twitter is how many comments come across with @username in them.


If you're on the Twitter web site reading posts, each of these @username's is a link. If you're accessing Twitter from an instant messenger client, they'll simply appear as text.

Since Twitter is basically a broadcast communication tool, users need a way to let the world know they're writing a response to a specific person. This is where @username comes in. If I want to let Twitter users know I'm speaking directly to a specific person, I would use @username in my post. This not only tells the world I'm having a conversation with that one person, it also makes sure the post shows up in their "replies" area on their Twitter home page.

Here's an example of a message I sent this morning in response to a post made by Lee Odden.


Remember, Twitter isn't just about sending out your own thoughts, it's also about engaging other users in conversation. This is why the @username option is so handy.

On the other hand, you want to send out a message to you entire community of followers, you would simply type the message like this:


Don't Forget to Check Your Replies

Since you may not end up following everyone who follows you, it's a good idea to go to the Twitter web site and check your replies every now and then. To do this, simple go to Twitter, make sure you are logged in and click the replies tab in the center of the page.


This will list any tweet that has been posted with @yourname in it. That may mean it was a post directly to you or a post where someone was talking about you. Either way, this can be a great way to spot comments you might otherwise miss. It can also be a great way for people to get on your radar so you'll begin following them as well.

Learning Twitter Commands

While almost anything that needs to be done with your Twitter account can be handled on your Twitter home page, it's far easier to learn at least a few Twitter commands. Twitter commands will allow you to invite, follow, stop following, turn updates on and off, check your stats and a variety of other things from your device of choice.

Simple Commands:

  • follow username - You'll both follow and receive updates from this person. Note: you don't have to put the @ in front of the username for this one.
  • on username - If you are following a user, but haven't opted to get their updates to your IM or phone, you can use this command to start reading their tweets.
  • off username - If you'd like to keep following a user, but no longer wish to get their updates on your IM or phone, you use this command to stop reading their tweets. You'll still be able to read them when you visit the Twitter home page though.
  • help - This command sends back a list of commands like the one I'm going over here. If you only learn one command to start with, let it be help.
  • stats - Sends back a quick update telling you how many followers you have and how many people you are following.

Sending Direct messages:

messagetwit.gifWhile Twitter is generally designed as a form of mass communication, you can also use it to send a direct message to a specific user. This can be especially handy if you'd like to send a message to a Twitter user that you don't have an email address for.

Sending these messages is pretty easy. You simply type "d username message text" into whatever program you use to send your tweets. (Once again, you don't need to put the @ in front of the username.) You can also send a direct message by going to a user's Twitter page and clicking "direct message" in the right hand column.

Since users can opt to have direct messages sent to them via email as well as via Twitter, this can also be a good way to get a message to someone who might not be paying attention to their Twitter feed at the moment.

Twitter Lingo

There's plenty of Twitter lingo out there, but some phrases pop up more than others. Among the most common:

Tweet - What you call a message sent out via Twitter. As in "I'm going to tweet that link."

Tweeple - Early on in my Twitter adventure, I found myself wondering if Twitter users were "twits." It didn't take long fo me to learn they prefer to be called "tweeple."

Mistweet - This is a Twitter message you wish you hadn't sent. Unfortunately, with so few characters allowed per post, people sometimes get a little briefer than they should. A poor choice of words can result in backlash from the party feeling slighted.

Tweetup - This is when a bunch of Twitter users get together for an "in person" meeting. Twitter has a new official Tweetup page, but it was down as I wrote this. You can also follow the Twitter Tweetup account to get the scoop on upcoming events.

Twoosh - This is a perfect, 140 character Tweet.

Twitterbait - While I'm sure someone else has already coined this, it's something I observe happening every now and then. Users will bait a popular user into sending them an @username response. This gets the baiter's username in front of the more popular poster's network of followers and can result in quite a few new followers.

Get Ready for Part Three

Now that you've got the hang of following people, addressing people by name and via direct message, keeping track of replies and the Twitter lingo, it's time for us to move on to some practical application. In the next article in this series I'll look at how Twitter can be used as a powerful networking tool. I'll also share some great examples of how Twitter allows people to connect in new and unusual ways.

This Twitter series continues with:
Part Three: From Twits to Tweeple, Why I Embraced Twitter and You Should Too

February 1, 2008

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.


Wow Jen, this is thorough and VERY useful. I haven't seen someone else do Twitter lingo before. That's clever. :)

Thanks Lee. I think I'll end up with six or seven posts in the series. I've seen quite a few Twitter starter guides, but none answered all the questions I had, so I figured it was time to write my own. :)

Hopefully many of my readers will decide to pony up and join the conversation after reading the series.

Loving these twitter posts! I just joined Twitter in mid-December last year (2007) so there's still a lot I don't know. For instance I did not know you could type commands in the What Are You Doing field. By the way, my peavatar was created by @GeekMommy.

Forgive me...but all this 'tweeple', 'twoosh', 'twitterbait' is just embarrassing. It's the kind of stuff that reminds me of a certain clique of students when I was at university 15 years ago who invented their own language.

They were all terribly clever, of course, but it was all a pointless, self-referential waste of time.

Very much like Twitter, in fact.

I just joined Twitter last week (yes, I know, what took me so long) and I can not believe how useful it has already been. I am still learning all the tricks, terms and techniques for getting the most out of it, but it has definitely changed the way I do things already.

Excellent post!

This is THE Definitive guide that ALL tweeple should be encouraged to read! Great post! Thanks!

Love your article! My roommate got into Twitter about a month ago and really enjoys it. She keeps trying to get me to try it and after reading your article I just might do that. I am going to have to tell her all about the Twitter lingo and the Twitter commands that you have mentioned. Thanks for all the in depth information about Twitter.

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