#NativeNerd: How to use Twitter. Intro to newbies and tips for long-time users

Vincent Schilling

Is Twitter intimidating? My #NativeNerd article on terms like hashtag, username, threads, mentions, DM's, block and more

Well here we are again. Thanks for tuning in to the latest #NativeNerd weekly column by yours truly, a self-proclaimed #NativeNerd. Today we are going to be talking about Twitter. In this week’s column I will offer a tutorial of sorts for the new users wishing to join the #NativeTwitter community, and tips to users who have long-used the social media platform and might wish to know a little more.

Twitter was created in March 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams. In 2012, more than 100 million users posted 340 million tweets a day. There used to be a limitation of 140 characters per tweet, but Twitter seeing the need for people to express themselves a little more, doubled the count.

I have been doing a bit of research over the past few years, and I have been a user of the social media platform since December 2010. After just looking this up, I am admittedly surprised to say I have been on Twitter for almost eight years. (Wow.)

There are a lot of things to know about Twitter as a social media platform, and I see a lot of folks using it to share their thoughts, share photos, articles in Indian Country Today or just a few thoughts about the world in general. There are a lot of great posts, but I think a lot of users on Twitter can take things one step farther in the right direction by optimizing their tweets just a little bit.

All of this said, I will now dispense to you the things I have learned over the years and do my best to explain all about what Twitter is, how to use it and ways to optimize your tweets. I will also add my tweets to this article to give examples as we go along.

I will start with basic info for new or beginning users, and will add more detailed information as I continue through the article. I hope you enjoy!

How do I start tweeting?

Visit Twitter.com and start the normal set-up process and choose a username. A username is a personal online social media name people choose for themselves. It can be their name, something funny, or official. I use my name @VinceSchilling. Keep in mind, I started 8 years ago, and truth be told, the chances are fairly tight in getting the exact username you might want right off the bat because Twitter has 330 million monthly active users. But you might get lucky and find the name you like.

Once you get signed in, verify your email and upload a profile photo … you can start tweeting.

Who should I follow?

When you first start Twitter, you will be offered suggestions on who to follow. If you follow someone, you will then see their “feed” which is a semi-fancy name for their tweets on your “timeline.” Your personal timeline is all of your own personal tweets, your homepage is the tweets of everyone you follow. If you are gracious enough to follow me on Twitter, whenever I tweeted an article, video, photo or thoughts as a journalist in Indian Country, my tweets would show up on your home page.

Now that I have explained this, follow anyone whom you like. With 330 million accounts on Twitter you can follow your favorite celebrities, journalists, friends, family or organizations. People aren’t the only ones with a Twitter account, you can also follow name brands and even TV shows. Sometimes, your favorite folks on Twitter will appreciate the follow and follow you back. Don’t take it personal if they don’t, sometimes they aren’t able to respond with a busy schedule, or they only wish to follow a select few accounts.

If you are still not sure, you can always ask people on Twitter whom they might recommend.

How can I get people to follow me?

When many people first come to Twitter, they understandably want to amass a great amount of followers who will respond, engage, interact, reply and give overwhelmingly appreciative comments on just how wonderful of a person they are. Who can blame them, a compliment is a wonderful thing and it really does feel fantastic to feel appreciated.

BUT - and I do mean mean this with emphasis, there will be a bit of work involved in maintaining a level of social engagement.

Social media is just that, it is social. In just as much as you like a compliment, others like to be appreciated as well. So though it is simple, a lot of people miss out on the ‘social” aspect of social media. You have to interact.

Many times, I see someone on social media that is just a broadcaster. In a sense, they are standing on a platform with a megaphone shouting out their own interests or promoting their own agenda.This works to some regard if the company is an established brand, but if you don’t interact with your followers or vice versa, many times people will lose interest and unfollow you or go elsewhere. Twitter can be a great place with lots of great information, but it can also be an anonymous environment where a Twitter user is like the Queen who, once she feels the amusement is over, screams, “off with their heads!”

You must engage. Say ‘Good morning.’ or ‘beautiful hat you are wearing,’ or ‘thanks for the great comment, I appreciate your insights.’ People will tell you there are quick and easy ways to gain followers, but in my life’s experience, there is no such thing as a ‘get rich quick’ scheme.

What is the @ sign in front of usernames?

When you visit Twitter, you will notice the “@” sign in front of usernames. Simply explained, you have to put the @ sign in front of a username to let people know you are talking to them or about them.

When you are working in a Microsoft Word document or Google Docs, if you have ever put in a website and kept typing right after the website address, the website link becomes “LIVE.” For example here is my LIVE link to Twitter: .

You could now click on the link above and navigate to my Twitter profile online. When you type the @ sign in front of a username - it becomes “LIVE” in your tweet. It is the exact same concept as adding a website in a document.

But wait - there is a difference: When you tweet with a live username in your tweet such as mine @VinceSchilling, that person will be notified you are talking about them. But you have to be extremely careful when adding the @ sign to a username.

If you are one small letter, number, period or dash off, you could be talking to the President of the local cupcake club rather than the President of the multi-billion dollar National Potato Organization.

One tip one of my followers reminded me about as I was tweeting is to ensure you place a space before the @ to ensure the username “link” goes live. Thanks BadPonyMedicine! The only place you don’t need the space is if you are at the front of the tweet, but you can always check to see if the link to their name went live after you post the tweet. If you click on their name and you navigate to their Twitter page, your tweet “@ shoutout” has been successful.

Talking to someone on Twitter tips

If you want to talk to someone on Twitter and you want the whole world to know about it, put a character or word in front of the username. Like “Hey @VinceSchilling!” Or .@VinceSchilling, check out this link. (That is why you will sometimes see a period in front of a username, it makes the tweet publicly visible.)

If you want to talk to someone on Twitter and only want that person to know about it, start the tweet with the username.

In this example, I tweeted to my wife. Notice the difference in Tweets:

So this is already a lot to take in, but stay with me as I promise things will get easier. Many users out there know a lot of these tips, but sometimes there are small things that you may not know.

What is a verified account aka the blue checkmark thingie?

A verified account is just what you might think it means. It means Twitter has gone through the process to ensure that person is who they say they are. As you might imagine, since Twitter allows people to have parody accounts, there are a lot of accounts that might heckle or support public figures ranging from fan clubs, to outright angry accounts aimed at politicians. Twitter says they do not tolerate hate speech, but some accounts get away with a lot of volatile banter.

If you are not sure if the person you are following is the real deal, look to see it there is a verified account, that is your safest bet. As a public figure and journalist in Indian Country, I am fortunate to have a verified Twitter account, thus I have one of those cool checkmark thingie’s next to my name.

Replies, Likes and Retweets

(I had to stop myself from adding “Oh my” to the above subhead, but moving on.)

When you are looking at a tweet. It can be your own or another persons, you will see the following:

Far left: Reply button

Second from the left: Retweet button

Third: Like button

Far right: Tweet activity

These are fairly simple to understand with a few words here.

Reply: It is just that, reply to a person’s tweet. Here is a great place to give a compliment, share your thoughts, or say what comes to mind. People are here to interact, so reach out and see what happens.

Retweet: If you see someone’s post on Twitter — called a tweet — and you enjoy or what they say resonates with you, you can retweet it. When you can retweet, you can just hit the retweet button and be done with it or you can comment on the tweet. As you might imagine on a social media community with over 300 million users, comment can run the gamut in the positive and negative.

Like: Click this if you liked the tweet. The public can see this.

Tweet activity: This is a little more analytical, and I don’t use this a whole lot, but if you are a statistics-junkie and want to know who looked at your tweets or want to see the outreach, click on the little graph.

Throwing the block or mute at users

Is someone pestering you or being too argumentative? You can always block someone, or if you think you are annoying but don’t want to exclude them completely you can just hit the mute button.

Just navigate to three little dots next to the follow button on your desktop or above the follow button on your mobile and exert the power you were always meant to have! You are in charge here! (You can also Tweet, DM or report someone for abusive behavior.)

What you see on your own home page

When navigating to your own profile / home page aka www.Twitter.com/[Your Username,] you will see a lot of information, to include Home, Moments, Notifications, Messages, Tweets, Following, Followers, Likes, Lists, Moments, Bio Info, Edit Profile and follow suggestions.

Here is what they all mean in a nutshell:

Home - Click the little house to navigate to your own profile page.

Moments - Rather than explain, I’ll put the description on Twitter’s blog which is written as follows: “Moments are curated stories showcasing the very best of what’s happening on Twitter. Our Moments guide is customized to show you current topics that are popular or relevant, so you can discover what is unfolding on Twitter in an instant.”

Notifications - If someone uses your username in a tweet or replies to you, you will receive a Twitter notification. You might get an email or your phone might buzz, when you have a lot of active followers as I do, I went into my settings to disable my notifications and emails. (Otherwise my phone would be buzzing most of the day.) Twitter is great at giving you the options to cater to the experience you want. (I won’t go into the settings here, but you should take some time to navigate through them all to see the options you may or may not want to use.)

Messages - If someone follows you, you can send them a private message which is called a direct message or the more popular ‘dm.’ This is a nice way to share private messages, but don’t take advantage of someone’s good graces if they follow you to overwhelm them with private messages.

Thus the expression, “Why is this person all up in my DM’s?” Too many DM’s are considered intrusive and disrespectful if you have not been invited to do so.

Tweets - Click to see all of your personal tweets.

Following - Click to see all of your followers.

Followers - Click to see who is following you.

Likes - Click to see the tweets you have liked.

Lists - Not one of Twitter’s popular options. In my view, I don’t know why they still have it, but some people might like to categorize people into lists such as journalists, celebrities, singers and more.

Bio Info - Your biographical info or possible a funny quote or saying. Info also includes where you live in the world, possible periscope broadcasts, when you joined Twitter and your birthday.

Edit Profile - A place to edit your profile / personal info. Easy enough.

Follow suggestions - Twitter follows a formula of sorts to find like-minded accounts that are tweeting similar things. If you follow Spongebob on Twitter, then Twitter will be likely to suggest Patrick or Mr. Krabs.

What the heck is a #hashtag and why are they important on Twitter?

When you scour through the millions of tweets you will almost always see words or abbreviations beginning with the “#” sign. It is called a hashtag and works similarly to the @ in front of a username. It makes the words “LIVE” and if you click on the hashtag, you can see everyone who has used the hashtag to in a sense — categorize the tweet.

Perhaps one of the best examples of the power of a hashtag is #NoDAPL in which everyone who had something to say about the Dakota Access Pipeline or water protectors used the hashtag. The hashtag has been included in countless tweets. When a #hashtag becomes popular, it “Trends” meaning it is garnering the majority of attention on Twitter.

When a #hashtag trends, Twitter will post the most popular, thus it will gain even more attention. Some companies even pay big bucks to Twitter to have a sponsored hashtag, getting them more attention on Twitter.

You can even follow a hashtag chat, which I describe in this video I posted on my personal YouTube channel.

One thing to keep in mind, don’t go too overboard on hashtags. This might get you noticed on Instagram, but it honestly clogs up your tweets if you go overboard. Again, try to look at things from an engaging perspective, be an interactive person as opposed to someone who only broadcasts or self-promotes

Posting images, gifs (funny moving pictures), videos, links and more

Okay, I have written a LOT, and I didn’t realize I was going to go for this long. But now that you are armed with more Twitter knowledge, how do you do basic tweets and add photos, links videos etc.?

From your desktop, click the tweet button, if you are on someone else’s profile page you can click “Tweet To” and their username will automatically populate. (You can also send them a DM, see above.) If you are on your phone or a tablet, it will be a little blue feather button you will press to tweet.

Once you are in the tweet box, tweeting area? I don’t know, start typing your message. Add a hashtag, don’t abbreviate too much and before you send you can do the following:

Attach a photo - Drag and drop into Twitter or navigate to the right place on your computer or phone and add it.

Add a GIF - A graphic interchange format, which is a nerdy way to say moving picture is one of my favorite things on tweets. Click on the GIF button and enter a search term, you can find some hilarious responses to questions using this feature.

Add a poll - Want to ask people to vote on a question? This is a feature to do just that. You can even schedule the time period to ask a question. This is a great way to engage on Twitter. Not every poll will get a million responses, but this is a nice way to get a conversation going.

Add a location - Add where you are in the world to your tweet. Some people like to share their locations, others like to be more private. The choice is yours.

Add an article, video or link - There are several ways to do this, you can use share buttons on websites or cut and paste the title of an article and the link listed on the webpage. Personally, I like to use a Google Chrome add on called Tweet This, where I click the tweet button on my browser and it automatically inserts ther headline and the webpage link. I usually adjust the writing in my tweets to be a bit more personal.

Threads - Not as hard to do as you might think

If you have a lot to say and it won’t fit into one tweet.You may want to consider a thread. Seem tough? It’s not. All you have to do is tweet and post. Then, reply to your own tweet. You will create a long or short continuous “thread” of personal tweets.

The process has gained so much popularity, Twitter added an easy guideline to the process by creating an “Add another Tweet” button.

This is screen capture of my tweet:

Take all this information and optimize your tweets

Taking all of this information into account. Do the best you can to employ the best practices in creating the best tweets you can.

Here are some of my parting tips:

Include usernames in your tweets - Do you like Dwayne The Rock Johnson’s latest movie? Instead of just tweeting you like the movie, take a moment, look up his Twitter username and include him in your tweet. It is possible someone with millions of followers, might retweet your message.

Use hashtags, but don’t overdo it - Use hashtags when you can, but don’t be too much. People can tell when you are self-promoting too much and don’t have the community interests at heart.

Read your tweets before you hit send - Sometimes you might be caught up in emotion. Take a moment to breathe and read your tweet. Twitter, unlike other social media platforms, does not include an edit button.

Don’t over-abbreviate - I can’t tell you how many times I try to read a tweet and get confused. It is better to create a two-tweet thread then to have your point missed entirely.

Twitter karma comes quick - Be nice. People have lost their influential careers over tweets. The old adage, ‘look before you leap.’ certainly comes to mind.

Stop being so damn serious all the time - This is admittedly a selfish tip, but I think it warrants its place. There is nothing wrong with being angry at the world sometimes. There is nothing wrong with calling to question the choices of elected officials, lawmakers or company CEO’s — but keep in mind people also want to know about the interesting lives of others. Be not only a source of information, and yes of course sometimes a source of anger or pain, but also do your part in bringing a bit of light to this world.

Phew! It took me awhile to get here!

Now go out there and enjoy Twitter. I do — and I would be honored if we could follow each other. I would LOVE to see your tweets in response to this article “at me” on Twitter at @VinceSchilling and use the hashtag #NativeNerd so that I can see your responses.

I sincerely give well wishes to all of you.

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The #NativeNerd Column by Native Nerd himself, Vincent Schilling. Tune in to my Native Nerds column every Friday for more Native Nerdy content, including movie reviews, technology reviews, comic book discussions, science, photography and video tips and more, all from a Native perspective.

Follow fellow Native Nerd, Vincent Schilling Associate Editor of Indian Country Today on Twitter at@VinceSchilling

Have a question or suggestion for Vincent Schilling? Make sure to use the Hashtag #NativeNerd in your tweets or social media posts! You can also send him an email atvschilling@indiancountrytoday.com.