By Joe Pulizzi published November 10, 2009

Top 10 Twitter Basics Questions Answered

Just about every day I answer a question about using Twitter, the microblogging tool. I’ve put them together in this handy post.  Enjoy, and, if you like getting information on content marketing, feel free to follow me @juntajoe.

Question #1
What is the easiest way to find someone’s @ name? If I read an article or hear them speak, how do I easily find their Twitter call sign.

Use Twitter Name Search

Question #2
What are other ways to find twitter names?

If Twitter Name Search doesn’t work for you, try Twellow, the Twitter Yellow Pages.

Question #3
What does the # mean and how do you find out the # for a conference (for example).

The # is called a hashtag. They were created to bring organization to Twitter.  For example, I may send out a tweet about content strategy, and may want to help those interested in content strategy find the tweet by adding #contentstrategy.

For the example below, this person can now coordinate his/her tweets with others about news of the fire.

If you are trying to locate a particular hashtag, try these sites:

For more on using Twitter hashtags, here is a helpful hashtag article from Search Engine Journal.

Question #4
Are their ‘rules’ written or implied on when you should retweet or thank for a retweet?

“Retweet” means to forward someone else’s tweet to your followers. Best practices are:

  • Retweet only if the information would be valuable for the people that follow you. If it’s not valuable, don’t retweet.
  • Public thanking retweets are sort of frowned upon as unnecessary (i.e. @you Thx for the RT), so don’t do them. If you really want to show recognition, you can Direct Message the person back, but since so many users are starting to use DM’s for spamming, your follower may not ever see it.  Also, if you both aren’t following each other, you can’t send a direct message.  Best practice is to just return the favor at some point.
  • Personally, I like to use “via” when retweeting.  It just shows that you didn’t just forward it out without thinking.  See below

Question #5
What is the difference between sent from Tweetdeck or Seesmic?

There are literally hundreds of ways to send and manage your tweets.  Tweetdeck and Seesmic are two ways of managing the process. Tweetie is used often for the iPhone.

In this image, you can see four different ways that people are sending out their Tweets. Web means Twitter.com.

Question #6
What’s a good ratio to keep from Followers to Follows (often called the TFF ratio)?

I’m a big fan of following people that follow me, as long as it’s relevant to my business in some way (around a 1 to 1 TFF).

You’ll get all different viewpoints on this.  For example, some people (like our good friend Ashton Kutcher) will only follow a select crowd.  Obviously, unless your a celebrity, this can come off as a bit elitist.

Truth is, it probably doesn’t matter.  If you have significantly more followers than people following you, it may be harder to gain more followers.  So, best advice, is to grow your followers naturally as you go so your ratios never seem too far out of whack.

But here’s the biggest point – figure out what your objective for using Twitter first. That makes all the difference.

Here is an excellent article that goes into more detail on TFF ratios.

Question #7
How often are personal tweets appropriate?

Couple points here:

  • Understand what your objective is for using Twitter.  Is it personal or is it business or both?
  • If it’s business, determine whether your Tweet would be valuable to your network.  If it’s not, personal or not, don’t send it.

Greg Verdino, who I follow, always sends many more helpful tweets than personal…but every once in a while throws in a personal Tweet.  I like that about Greg.  It makes him more real, but he never overdoes it.

Question #8
Where do direct messages post? Who can read them – only the person you send it to?

A direct message (DM) is only sent to that particular person.  In order to send a DM to someone, you both must be following each other.  Same goes for receiving a direct message.

Think of it like an email to that person – only they will receive it.

NOTE: Be careful using direct messages.  Since some Twitter users have been using them for Spam and Auto-DMs (see this post for more on Auto DMs), people are ignoring or even turning off their DM email settings.

Some, as in the one below from Ambal, are very helpful.

Question #9
How is sending a direct message different from sending a reply to the person?  Does this post public? Just to the person or to anyone in Twitter?

Replying to someone in Twitter (@juntajoe) can be seen by anyone in Twitter.  Sending it with the @ (at) symbol gets another person’s attention.  Basically, it’s like doing a phone conversation over the radio – it’s intended for one person, but everyone can hear it (see it in this case).

When you are replying to someone, it’s important to provide enough context for both the person you are talking to and also possibly be helpful to anyone else paying attention.

Question #10
So, should I even answer the Twitter question “What are you doing?”?

Well, probably not.  Does anyone really care anyway?  They care about themselves, so send out tweets important to your followers.

For more of the basics, check out this Twitter for Beginners article or check out this presentation for Twitter beginners.

Did we miss any?


Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi considers himself the poster boy for content marketing. Founder of the Content Marketing Institute, Joe evangelizes content marketing around the world through keynotes, articles, tweets and his books, Managing Content Marketing and Get Content Get Customers. Joe's latest book is Epic Content Marketing (McGraw-Hill). If you want to get on his good side, send him something orange. For more on Joe, check out his personal site or follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

Other posts by Joe Pulizzi

  • Deborah

    Joe, Here is another question: what does it mean when someone does this:
    @BWDumars @DarcyBev @CSRollyson @doverdeput @KelloggSchool @AllanDeYoung @beardrs @richguha #MENG

  • instant sales system

    Good Questions.

  • Sherri

    Very helpful! Thanks.

  • http://blog.junta42.com Joe Pulizzi

    Hi Deborah…
    That tweet looks like it’s promoting MENG members to follow, since the #MENG was used. Not best practice really, but I believe that is what the user was doing. Sort of like a #ff follow friday tweet where someone is recommending others to follow that they follow via Twitter. Hope that makes sense.

  • http://www.zoombits.fr/batterie/ batteries

    Many times i also felt few of these questions on using twitter. Thank you for explaining all answers in brief here. These information should known to all users.

  • http://www.marketbright.com Jimmy Lu

    This is an excellent guide on Twitter. I’ll be showing this to a lot of my friends and coworkers who are new to using Twitter :)

  • http://www.nextlevelblogger.com Christian

    Great basics on Twitter. It’s crazy I haven’t written a post like this…need to get on that. The basic stuff gets asked over and over again; it’s a great idea to simply have a post you can refer people to for answers :)

  • http://www.enjoyhealthybody.com stem tech

    Thank you for the Questions and Answers.

  • http://www.alicerene.com Alice Rene

    Very, very helpful! Thank you, Joe.
    Alice Rene