Twitter Speak 101: A Useful Guide on Twitter Syntax and Manners

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It’s never too late to join the Twitter party. If you’re daunted by Twitter’s esoteric syntax and engagement style, don’t be. My recommendation for Twitter newbies is to learn the basics and then get tweetin’!  To help you with that process, I’ve created a guide on Twitter syntax and manners. The ten pointers below are the most important ones with which to familiarize yourself.

Please share additional tips not included on my list.

1. Tweet 120 characters or fewer
2. Shorten your links
3. Tweet with grammatical integrity
4. Abbreviate the abbreviations
5. Reply to tweets that mention you
6. Retweet others
7. Mention others
8. Use hashtags — but don’t overdo it
9. Provide references
10. Get private with DMs (Direct Messages)


1. Tweet 120 characters or fewer

The maximum number of characters in a tweet is 140. However, if you want others to retweet you, keep your tweets to 120 characters or fewer. Some Twitter tools allow easy retweeting even if the original tweet is maximized at 140 characters. But many Twitter tools require the retweet to be shortened, or they truncate the original tweet in a way that might look odd.

When trimming down your tweets, look for words that can be easily replaced with symbols. For example:

  • replace “and” with “&”
  • use actual numbers (1)  instead of spelling them out (one)

2. Shorten your links

When including a link in your tweet, be sure to first shorten it through a free service like ow.ly or bit.ly. Shortened links are beneficial because they a) allow more character space for your tweet and b) are trackable, enabling you to see the number of clicks generated by your link. Shortened links also make you look like a savvy user (in contrast, posting full links will make you look clueless). Note that the native Twitter app now shortens links automatically. But the links can appear truncated and untidy. Here’s an example:


3. Tweet with grammatical integrity

Remember that Twitter is  a public forum and thus, you are what you tweet. Be careful of typos, spelling errors, homophone errors, etc. People will judge you for such missteps, especially if you are a frequent offender. So remember to proofread your tweets!


4. Abbreviate the abbreviations

It can be challenging to stay within Twitter’s 140-character limit. But abbreviating your way through a tweet is not the answer. A tweet with pervasive abbreviations is difficult to read, especially if the abbreviated words are not immediately recognizable. If you absolutely can’t trim down your tweet, send two separate ones. End the first  tweet with “con’t” (as in, “continued”) followed by an ellipsis (…), and start the second one with an ellipsis followed by “con’t.”


5. Reply to tweets that mention you

When someone asks you a question or gives you a compliment by mentioning you (denoted by the @ sign followed by your username), be sure to reply with an answer or a thank you. Ideally, you should reply within an hour. If it takes you a few days to reply, that’s better than not replying at all. And if you’d rather not interact regularly with people on Twitter, then convert your account into a private one.


6. Retweet others

Retweets are a way of sharing great tweets posted by others. In the world of Twitter, retweeting another person’s tweet is a complimentary gesture. When you retweet someone’s post, it means you think their tweet is interesting enough to be shared with your followers. That’s why measuring how often your tweets are retweeted is a good way to measure the quality of your twitter content.

Retweets are denoted by “RT” followed by the originator’s username, e.g., RT @jasonfalls. This gives credit to the original tweeter.

There are two main ways to retweet:
a) Click the Retweet option from any Twitter tool. Above is an example from the native Twitter interface, which automatically truncates the retweet if the original is too long. Other interfaces will require you to manually shorten the retweet if it surpasses 140 characters.
b) Cut and paste the original tweet, then prepend with “RT.” If you have extra character space, add commentary to your retweet. See example below.


7. Mention others

If your tweet mentions another Twitter user, be sure to include that user’s username in proper Twitter syntax, i.e., with @username. Like retweets, mentions can be a way to give a shout-out to another user (it can also be a way to complain about/to another user).

The rule of thumb is to compose a tweet with a mention much like you’d compose a normal sentence. The above tweet is a great example. Also note that you can mention more than one person, like so:

It’s also perfectly okay to begin a tweet with a mentioned username. So the @nvelocity tweet above could have been written as: “@RingCentral Using the new Android App with VOIP on WIFI and 3G. So far, very impressed.” The fine distinction is mentioning @RingCentral in the middle of the sentence is a general post to everyone that is not necessarily directed at @RingCentral; whereas starting the tweet with @RingCentral suggests you are addressing @RingCentral directly, even if your tweet is visible to all your followers.


8. Use hashtags — but don’t overdo it

Hashtags, denoted by the hash symbol #, is a way of tracking and organizing specific topics discussed on Twitter. The advantages of a hashtag are: a) it makes tweets around that topic easily searchable and b) it increases the chances of that topic being a trending one. Another way of looking at hashtags is that they are great for tracking and participating in conversations about a specific topic. You can click on a certain hashtag and engage in conversation around the corresponding topic. Conferences and events are great examples of hashtag usage.

As exemplified above, @RhondaAbrams uses the hash symbol followed by “cloud” to convey that the subject of her tweet is related to cloud computing. Like with mentions (@), hashtags can be elegantly integrated into a complete sentence. You can also add hashtags to the end of a tweet, like so:

Feel free to combine two or three short words into one hashtag, e.g., #socialmedia. One word of caution: don’t overdo it on the hashtags! This makes your tweet difficult to read, and it makes you look like a novice. Example:


9. Provide references

If you are tweeting out a link or quoting somebody, provide a reference. This is important because a) it’s courteous and a best practice to cite sources b) your tweet shows up in the referenced person’s Twitter stream (if your citation mentions @ someone) c) if your reference is a recognizable source, e.g., Mashable, it may increase the likelihood that people will take notice.

The above example is the standard way to cite a reference: title of the article, followed by the shortened link, then “via” and the source. If the source of your link or quote isn’t on Twitter, then just include the name of the source with the “@” sign, e.g., via FoxNews.


10. Get private with DMs (Direct Messages)

DMs or Direct Messages are for exchanging private messages with another Twitter user. These messages are not visible to anybody else. However, in order to send someone a DM, they must follow you and vice versa.

You can DM someone from within the native Twitter interface by clicking in the upper right corner of the screen, selecting “New Message,” and typing the recipient’s name. Alternatively, you can visit the recipient’s Twitter page and select “Send a Direct Message” from the upper right corner.

Examples:

Need a deeper dive into Twitter? Check out Mashable’s excellent guidebook here.
 

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