Ask Jeremiah: The Comprehensive FAQ Guide to Twitter

Need a Twitter expert in your corner? I’m here to help!

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I’ll take the most rudimentary basic question to the most advanced, don’t be shy. This is a living FAQ, if you have a question for me, Jeremiah, leave a comment and I’ll answer, if you’re really shy, you can email me, but I can’t promise I’ll see it (I get a lot of emails). I’ll be updating this over time, so please bookmark, and share with your network.

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Ask Jeremiah: Comprehensive FAQ Guide to Twitter

What are common terms and phrases I need to know? Do I Tweet or Twitter?
Twitter, which evolved from simple status messages to now a global conversation, is referred to in a number of times. Asking folks: “Are you on Twitter” is appropriate. When you want to use Twitter, and want to refer to it as a verb, it’s appropriate to say “I’m Twittering that”. However, it’s more appropriate to say to say, “Did you Tweet that?”. (verb conjugation) It is never appropriate to suggest “I’m twatting now”.

I just joined, now what? I don’t get it.
Twitter on it’s own makes little sense, why? It’s a social tool and this means you have to follow others. First, use the address import tool to add folks that are in your Yahoo mail and Google mail. Secondly, do searches for people you may know to find them. If Twitter search doesn’t’ work or the “Find people” search, use Google and seasrch “First Last Twitter” to find folks. Once you find people you do know (or want to know) see who they are following, and add them. You can always add me, but you should first see how I use Twitter.

Who gives a donk what I ate for lunch, can I talk about something else?
Yes, talk about anything you want. The twitter question “what are you doing now” isn’t the most effective way of using the tool. Instead, answer this question “What’s important to me” or better yet “What’s important to my followers”. Also, engage in dialog, ask questions and answer others questions using the reply feature.

Why 140 Characters?
140 characters is the size limit of text messages using SMS, since Twitter integrates well with mobile devices, you can text to “40404” and enter in 140 characters to tweet from your phone. Also, 140 characters is a true bite sized chunk of information making it easy to consume and create –ideal for rapid sharing of ideas. Loughlin reminds us that the true maximum payload of SMS can actually be 160 characters.

How do I use the reply feature?
Easy. When you see someone’s tweet, there’s a small ‘arrow’ next to their tweet. If you feel like responding to them, click that arrow and it will automatically load their name into the text box. Type your answer in 140 characters and submit. This will make conversations easier to track and find.

How come people don’t write in normal English in Twitter?
Good question, due to it’s limited 140 characters style of publishing, Twitter has formed it’s own unique nomenclature, similar to how users of pagers in the 90s developed shortened codes and how text message have developed their own digital shorthand. Often you’ll hear people use Twinglish, a combination of “Tw” plus other English words like “Twello Texas”. It’s cute once in a while, but can grate on ones nerves after a while. Twanks Tweeple.

What is a “DM”?
DM stands for “Direct Messages” which suggests that an individual can message another individually using the private messaging system (like email) to other members. You can only DM users that are following you. You may hear individuals say “DM me for details about conference discounts” suggesting the user wants to take the discussion private. Do note that Twitter’s DM system still resolves in 140 characters and is fairly primitive, many conversations may naturally shift to email, or even the archaic phone!

Question: What does “RT” or “Retweet” mean?
One of the greatest aspects of Twitter is how quickly word of mouth spreads globally. If a user thinks another users tweet is interesting, they may choose to retweet what they say. In this instance, the member will repeat what the twitter user said. Example: “Did Jeremiah got a doctorate in Twitter?” if a second user sees this and agrees, they will echo it back in the following way: “Retweet: @Jowyang Did Jeremiah got a doctorate in Twitter?”. In a shortened version, they may also use RT, an abbreviated version of Retweet, it would go like this: “RT: Did Jeremiah got a doctorate in Twitter?”. And in case you’re wondering, no I didn’t get a doctorate in Twitter, but I did get my undergrad in Twitter. BT a Bachelors of Twittering.

What the heck are Hashtags or #?
You may often notice that twitter users add hashtags to the end of their tweets. Such as this example: “49ers just scored 7 points against the Cowboys #football”. Users are using hashtags for events, ideas, conferences, TV shows, and any other interesting subject to make tweets easily found. By using this hashtag, anyone can use the search tool to find anyone talking about a particular topic. As you know tweets, on their own, can be taken out of context, so hash tags are a simple way of making content findable and retrieable.

How is Twitter going to make money?
Good question, a few weeks ago (early 2009) they raised yet another round of capital, a strong round of $35MM. VCs require a business plan for that amount of money, and they’ve indicated that they’re seeking to provide services to brands. I predict that they will offer services to brands to secure their corporate names, provide analytics, and crude customer and prospect management tools. It’s unlikely they’ll generate revenue from ads as we know that ads don’t perform well in social networks, it could disrupt the user experience, and also tweets can be exported to other clients –purging ads out of it. It’s possible for them to monetize with contextual ads as people search, or develop a currency system for third parties to use during transactions, I think those are far fetched.

Should companies register aka “squat” user names?
Great question from Tom in comment 5. Companies should register their main company and or product name, but they should not register all the variations of their name. Registering the most common name like “‘Hitachi” makes sense as this is one of the first places users will look and it will also score high in search engine results. Brands should not register all the variations as they won’t be able to register all the different varieties. I know that Twitter themselves have ‘locked’ variations for brands that have requested, but I don’t know if this is a common service. Expect Twitter to offer name registration services for brands, similar to GoDaddy for urls.

What do I need to know about Twitter Search?
Thanks Daniel, good question. Search is a your best friend! Twitter actually has two search tools, the first one is the search.twitter.com tool. It was originally created by a developer who named it summize, then Twitter acquired them and the developer, it’s slowly being integrated with each users profile page. The search tool is easy to use, and you can use it just like you would Google. First, search for your name, variations of your name and your actual twitter handle. Examples: “Jeremiah” or Jerymiah” or “@jowyang”. The search tool offers an RSS feed so you could subscribe to search results and watch them come into a feedreader, like MyYahoo. Also, see the trending topics on the right hand column of the search tool, that’s a great way to see what the community is talking about, which is referred to as a ‘zeitgeist’. Another useful tip is to search other people’s names to see the conversation around them, or search terms that have hashtags to see all the discussions around an event or topic.

What’s the difference between private and public tweets?
Thanks Daniel, good question. Did you know that your tweets, when public, are publishing to the whole world? Your boss, wife, kids, competitors and enemies can read what you’re writing, for better and for worse. It’s important to remember that you’re publishing (like a blog) and these tweets will stay public forever –even if you delete them they could be archived. The internet tends to trend towards open communications and many (if not most) make their tweets public, however you should be aware of the impacts. If you’re still concerned about privacy, make your tweets private, which means they will only be visible by those you follow. Check out the toggles here on the account page, you can select the ‘make my tweets private’ checkbox at the bottom of the page.

How much time should I spend constructing my Tweets?
I like this question from Caesar. The answer? It depends on what your objective is with the tool. The same thing applies when you’re communicating in real life, are you have an impromptu conversation with friends? Or are you having a business discussion with colleagues. Regardless of your objective, you should take the time to construct meaningful tweets that are grammatically correct, and are void of spelling errors. The more thoughtful you are with your tweets, the more people will notice and may react –just tweeting a stream of consciousness or spelling out every detail of your mundane activities isn’t going to win folks over. I’m a bit more careful on my tweets, I try to get them to be about 120-130 characters so folks will have an easier time retweeting them, and I try to write in an engaging way that folks will find interesting –that is of course unless I’m tweeting from a party –then all the rules are off! Summary: you’ll get back as much as you put into tweeting.

Can small businesses succeed with Twitter, or just the big ones?
We’ve seen press picking up the successes that Dell, Comcast, and Jetblue have had with Twitter, but what about small businesses? Good question from James Hong. The answer? There are more opportunities for small companies –as these small tools have big reach to a global community. In fact, Zappos, an online etailer has done very well for itself by using twitter for customer support, marketing, and thought leadership. Koji a “Korean Taco truck” (I’m serious) has gotten lots of media buzz from tweeting it’s location to it’s community. In summary, there’s plenty of opportunities for companies both big and small.

What should I put on my profile?
Thanks to Jennifer Bongar for the question. In all social networks, not just Twitter, the more you fill out your profile (here’s how) and make an effort to connect with others, the more you’ll get back. So, it really depends on your goal, if you’re using Twitter to do heavy social networking with others you don’t know, make an effort to fill out the profile with your name, occupation, location, and an appropriate picture, bonus points for linking to your blog, facebook, or linkedin site. Yet if you’re using it just among your friends, they already know who you are, and can put less information. Some users suggest they won’t follow those who don’t make it clear who their name is, also, putting an image (preferably your own picture) is a good idea (here’s how).

How do you measure click through rates?
Thanks WBB Jeff, a good question. I’ve yet to see an easy-to-use accurate method. There’s a few considerations you’ll have to take in to really be accurate. First of all, use a tracking tool like bitly or snipurl to track click throughs. That’s the easy part, the numerator for your ratio. The hard part is trying to determine the denonomater. Twitter is time-sensitive, and we know that tweets around late morning to lunch time eastern time may get more attention, and certainly during weekdays. Secondly, not all users are on twitter, and this HP research on twitter found that the actual number of active users is around X percent. So depending on how accurate you really want to calculate, you’ll have to factor in those impacts.

How should I brand my company Twitter handle?
Kate Lukach says she sees large consumer brands with branded handles, yet wants to know what SMB and B2B companies should do. This really depends on your objective. I recommend that you certainly reserve your formal company handle on Twitter. It comes down to expectations. Make it clear in the profile what the objective is, whether it be for support, news, questions, or conversational. Some brands like Dell and Oracle have employees that share the name of the brand @richardatdell which creates a unique hybrid brand –yet with it’s own challenges. Some brands use the corporate handle and an ‘official spokesperson’ like @marketingprofs will indicate their persona and face. Of course, you can expect many employees to create personal twitter accounts, and they may indicate their affiliation with their employer. In any case, set expectations in the Twitter profile.


Got a question? Ask Jeremiah, leave a comment below. I’ll be updating, merging, and modifying these questions and answers over time.

Update: This ultimate guide to Twitter (with screenshots) is truly, well, ultimate.

  • LisaG

    How will Twitter impact SEO?

  • http://www.realistadvisory.com Kim Garretson

    Question: I am supervising 40 senior ad majors at the U. of Missouri J-School for social media campaigns for two new SM companies. In this job economy, especially the declining ad/agency biz, I have encouraged these students to develop Twitter networks of people in agencies/companies or pros in cities where they’d ultimately like to work. But most seem very reticent to do this. They’ve of course all ‘lived’ on Facebook for years, and they are all clever good writers, but they don’t seem willing to ‘put themselves out there’ via Twitter. My question (sorry it took this long to get there): Are there any case histories of college students doing this, or tips, you know and can pass on to the college crowd? Thanks

  • http://www.mediathink.com/blog @mthinker

    What’s your opinion on editing RTs for length? Is it bad form to change someone’s tweet in order to RT it?

  • http://www.fsf.org Caroline A

    Does twitter support open source? I ask becuase it doesn’t seem to work very well with the firefox browser. I sent an inquiry about what firefox versions they support to their help dept 1.5 weeks ago and haven’t heard back. Thx.

  • http://civilities.net/people/JonGarfunkel Jon Garfunkel

    What is stopping Twitter (and helper apps) from introducing a prioritization/metadata system — http://bit.ly/ssmc

  • http://www.nobi2.com Hanoch Rabinovitz

    How do you generate those “tinyURL” links in your tweets?

  • JillS

    Here’s a question: Is there any way to filter the tweets so I can actually keep track of the people I find most interesting? Or is it simply a matter of not following people who tweet 50X a day?

  • Kate Robins

    How do I RT from the i-phone? I twitter from [basic free app] Twitterific and also go on through the Twitter home page. Don’t see that either has a RT option. Am I overlooking something? Thanks.

  • http://twitter.com/davidjagger David Jagger

    Good, interesting information, with a touch of humour – perfect. Well thought out questions as well. Even though they did take some time to read.
    Thanks.

  • http://www.andrescavelier.com Andres Cavelier

    Jeremiah,
    Some of my followers are English speakers, others Spanish speakers. I normally write in both languages but have a hard time deciding which language to use. Any ideas on what to do?

  • http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/ jeremiah_owyang

    I just added two more questions and answers, at the bottom of the list, more to come as I wade through the great questions.

    If I don’t know the answer, then I’ll indicate here in the comments why I’m not responding.

  • Tim

    I have the same Question as recruiteresq — which is as follows:
    hey jeremiah,

    not sure if you are still accepting questions but I would love to know about the 30 people who are featured on my twitter home page. as in, how does twitter decide which of your followers are featured on your homepage?

    (…hope this makes sense…)

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  • berkeley stewart

    if someone asks a question on twitter, is there a way to see all the responses in one place?

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  • http://www.bobashwood.com Bob Ashwood

    Jeremiah, I’ve started following all your posts. I’m new to Twitter but an old-school ad man. I withdrew from mainstream 5 years ago. My expertise has been creative solutions/brand salience. I’m compelled to carry on. Can’t stop myself. I’m a compulsive problem-solver.

    How can I best fast-track my understanding of Twittering through firsthand experience for me, before I can advise others on how to get the most for their brand out of it? I need help getting the scale to fall from eyes. I use Facebook and Twitter socially. What my best immediate course of action to let people know ‘I’m out there’ and doing it in the new world. Good news is, I’m a fast learner. Thanks for what you do so well.

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  • http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/ jeremiah_owyang

    Bob thanks! The great thing with these tools is you can easily experiment first hand –without using an advertising budget!

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  • http://blog.peterkupfer.net Peter Kupfer

    This is a nice little FAQ. Thanks.

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  • Julie

    Do protected twitter updates get included in trending topics?

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  • http://twitter.com/PrayMaddyMcCann Liam

    Thanks so much, Jeremiah!

    These tips are so cool I really appreciate them! They helped me to simply undestand many aspects of Twitter! Thanks xx

    Follow Me:
    http://twitter.com/PrayMaddyMcCann

  • Lilliam

    Is there a way to search for a past twitter that you liked? For example, if @jowyang posted a link and I completely meant to click on it but forgot, is there a way to search for it?

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  • Tana

    If I reply to a tweet…will that person see my reply if they are not following me?
    Thanks.

  • Tana

    If I reply to a tweet, will the other person see it if they are not following me?
    Thanks.

  • Tana

    If I reply to a tweet…will that person see my reply if they are not following me?
    Thanks.

  • Tana

    If I reply to a tweet, will the other person see it if they are not following me?
    Thanks.

  • http://woodworkingplansdiy.org woodworking plans

    I find it hard to market on twitter.

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  • Chrissarris

    How can I delete the Tweets that I have received from the people I follow? I don’t want to delete them all but most of them.

  • Chrissarris

    How can I delete the Tweets that I have received from the people I follow? I don’t want to delete them all but most of them.

  • http://twitter.com/noopurvasuraj Noopur Vasuraj

    Hi Jeremiah! I’ve been on Twitter for about 2 weeks now and been pretty active. I’ve got the hang of trending, which is an art i’ve realized. However, I still do not show up on the Twitter search engine neither do my tweets. My friends aren’t able to find me even with my handle. I’ve gone through all the settings and made the necessary changes but it’s still now working. Help! 

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  • F_Superior

    if i deactivated my twitter account on a computer am I still going to be logged in on twitter’s mobile app? 

  • Kristy

    Hello can you tell me why my tweet is highlighted in blue?

  • Tracy

    Can someone that you don’t follow and they don’t follow you know when you look at their tweets?

  • Soukaina Amira

    Dear Jeremiah, how can I create a master list on twitter- is it even possible to create one list that encompasses other lists? Please let me know! Thank you.

  • Filippa

    I have a question. Why can’t I follow people? I know that the twitter limit is 2000. But i only follow 37 people and i can’t follow more!
    Please help me!

  • Caroline

    I de-activated my account a few months ago and just tried to make a new one but ut says my email is taken?