By Richard Leo Ramos, as originally posted at the Philippine Online Chronicles/ Blog Watch
Today’s world has one foot in the virtual. Just as much as people still meet up to have drinks and exchange stories, so, too, do we have online communities and networks where we spend a good part of our time daily, updating people on what we’re doing in real life, what we’re thinking, or even how we are reacting to some bit of online information or news.
One of the more popular messaging-type social networks is known as Twitter. However, given how peculiar and limited Twitter is, it is actually amazing that it has become so popular.
Welcome to Twitterverse
Twitter is a social media application. Formed in 2006, it is one of the earliest example of a cross-platform social media network. While you can use it on a desktop or laptop computer using either the main Twitter app or TweetDeck, Twitter is probably at its best when loaded as an app in your mobile device of choice, be it a smartphone or a tablet.
Now, one of the big limitations that first-time users have with Twitter is the 140-character limit. Now, do take note that this is a character limit, so spaces, punctuation, and other symbols are also included in the count. Twitter and TweetDeck have character counters, so you will know if your message will not fit.
How do you use Twitter?
Many people usually use Twitter as a stream-of-consciousness “thought feed,” and admittedly, it works on that level, given how immediate Twitter can be. Here are some tips on how you can “maximize” the Twitter experience.
Define your audience
You should define for yourself first whom your Twitter account is for.
Are you using Twitter to keep in touch with friends? Are you using it so you and your friends can keep an ongoing conversation even if you do not see each other often?
If that is the case, then you should set your Twitter as a private feed. This way, you will not get embarrassing publicized tweets that can be scandalous or damaging to your reputation. You should also be careful about whom you include in your Twitter network, since what you say can be taken out of context too easily, given the online world seems to remove from us some language and thought filters.
On the other hand, are you using Twitter for promotional or soapbox purposes? If so, then a public Twitter account is best. This applies for both personal and corporate feeds. If you do want to have a public Twitter account, do make sure that you always think twice before posting anything, so you will not have to post a tweet that can either turn you into a laughingstock, or start an online war.
If you are using apps like TweetDeck that can shift in-between accounts, you should even be more careful. All you have to do is use a Google search to see how many celebrities have tweeted private opinions or nude photos to their public accounts by accident to know that you should be careful with apps that can switch between multiple accounts. If you feel that you are better off manually signing in and out of your various Twitter accounts, then you should stay with the classic Twitter app, where, even though the mobile version can switch between accounts, you have to switch consciously, rather than have the accounts lined up in your type-in window.
Some people really need to use more than 140 characters to get their point across. While there are special apps and sites that allow you to tweet longer messages, these work as another step in the tweet process, as the tweet they put up will probably just have a short link (for an example of this, see http://bitly.com). If you want a range of options for tweeting longer, all you need to do is use Google, and enter the key words “tweet longer.” Do be aware that you should see reviews on some of these sites before you use them, as some of them could also take over your Twitter account.
Of course, the real question is: why would you need to have a longer Twitter message? It actually makes the idea of tweeting somewhat useless, since the idea behind the 140-character limit is that you should be able to say something while on the go, or in between real-life activities.
Now, some people may be wondering what hashtags are. In the Twitter world, hashtags are usually words or phrases (if a phrase, the without spaces in between), which can be used as a form of keyword or metatags. This is usually preceded by the hash symbol – for example: #thePOC. What this does is create a reference word, so if you type the hashtag in the search bar in Twitter or other third-party Twitter apps, you can follow trending topics. For example, if you want to keep track of the Sochi Olympics, all you have to do is use #Sochi2014.
Now, the hashtag has actually become a marketing device, where it is used as a social media “anchor phrase” for events, TV shows, and anything you want to have a hashtag “brand” on. It has become so popular that even Facebook has adopted hashtags lately.
However, since you do have a 140-character limit, it is probably a good idea that if you want to start a hashtag campaign, that you come up with something short and sweet. For example, #breakfastwithfriends may not be the best hashtag ever. You could try something shorter, like simply naming it #friends or #foodtrip. Of course, for some people the comedy is in using long hashtags, so you can use and abuse this idea depending on what you want to say.
Before we forget, you may want to think about your Twitter account name (@name). While a profile name like @Ilikebewbsmay be funny when you are younger, it can be a source of embarrassment as you get older, and will probably mean you have to get a new account once you are looking for a job. It is a good idea to use your name, or a pun on your name. Some even combine a favorite subject matter, like a TV show or anime show, with their name. What is important to think about is if you, as the person, will find the Twitter account name relevant for long-term use.
What about text speak?
To be honest, if your intended audience can understand text speak, then use it. Remember, with a 140-character limit, you should strike a balance between being understood, and putting in as much information as possible.
Finally, what you should remember is that while your tweet may just be a throwaway thought or announcement, but you also have to be aware that mistakes can persist or be preserved in the online world. Even if you have erased it from your own accounts, it may still be floating somewhere else. Do be careful and give more thought to your tweeting.
Images by Riku Lu, Garett Heath and Woofer Kyyiv from Flickr.com. Used under CC license. Some rights reserved.