What is Twitter?

If Twitter seems confusing and you’re not sure where to start then think of it as a...

public email network where you can only send very short messages

Unless you chose otherwise, anyone in the world can look at your Twitter page and see your messages. But the only people that directly receive your messages are the people that sign up to follow you.

This makes Twitter really great for the end user as you get to decide exactly who you want to get information from. If you get tired of the messages (tweets) you can easily unsubscribe. If tweets are offensive or spam you can block the sender.

Advantages of Twitter

  • The messages are short - it’s easy to skim-read your list of messages and if it looks interesting, click a link to find out more.
  • It’s easy for other people to sign up or unsubscribe.
  • It’s easy to forward other people’s messages.
  • It’s easy to contact other people on Twitter but messages have to be short and to the point!
  • And if you need to, it’s easy to stop people contacting you.

Potentially you can reach a lot of people quickly. So it’s like email, but better! 

How Twitter works

Still using the email analogy...

An email is a tweet

A forwarded email is a retweet (or RT)

All the messages you have sent are listed in your Tweets page (your sent items folder).

Contacting people on Twitter

The people who will get your messages are called followers. They click “Follow” on your public page and Twitter adds them to the list of people that you can send messages to.

If you want to get messages from someone else then you have to click “Follow” on their public page. All the messages from people you have followed are listed in the Home section of your Twitter page (your Inbox).

People can also contact or mention you on Twitter by adding your user name to a Tweet e.g. “@bfunded new funding opportunity now open”.

They might do this to say thanks, ask a question or ask you to forward (retweet) something. To see these messages, click on Notifications.

The Notifications section will also tell you about new followers and retweets.

What if I want to send a private message?

A direct message (or DM) can only be seen by the person that you send it to. Direct messages are not listed on your public page.

You can only send a direct message to someone from your list of followers. If you want to be able to get a direct message back, you have to follow them.

To send a private message, click on direct messages (envelope icon) then new message. 

Remember, all other messages are public. As with email, you also can’t be sure that someone won’t forward a private message to other people - be careful what you say!

What’s a hashtag?

A hashtag is a direct link to a list of other messages (tweets) with the same topic e.g. #Bradford #charity #fundraising

You can make up your own hashtag or use an existing one to start a conversation - the idea is to link to other similar content on Twitter.

As a Twitter user you have no control over how other people use hashtags. It is a public conversation.

You may have heard amusing stories about large corporations starting conversations with hashtags such as #greatnewproduct and then having them subverted by people on Twitter. But hashtags can also be used for social campaigns and have been used for some quite dramatic events such as organising protests.

I tend to use geographical hashtags e.g. #Ilkley as they get picked up and retweeted by accounts that concentrate on general local news and it might reach more people - including new potential followers.

Interested? Find out more:

This Social Media guide is a workshop presentation by Sarah Moss, Voluntary Organisation Support Officer, © Community Action Bradford & District. 

Community Action Bradford & District, making a positive change


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