A Simple Guide to Twenglish (Twittish, Twitterese?)

photo_091608_001I’m sure there is plenty of advice out there on Twitter, and I’ve read a fair bit of it. If you know of some particularly valuable information or want to add your own, please use the comments here, as this post will likely circulate in searches for some time. We all are cultural explorers when it comes to the new world of social media, and it’s important to stake claims.

I’m coming here from the perspective of a former report and editor and a political and community activist. I think of most of my networking in those terms, and Twitter is no different. If that’s not you, this post will still likely have some relevance.

Hashtags (hash tags?) are critical to any organized activity.

A hashtag is simply the # sign in front of a word, with no spaces. Why is it powerful? Because Twitter tools like TweetDeck automatically assign a search link to the hash. Twitter also tracks popular terms, and by using a hash, you screen out words that really don’t need to be in the search. Like, if you are tracking a big tourist convention where folks are tweeting, you might use #tourist, but if you use just the word you are going to get more random comments.In your search, you can use just the word, which will give you everything, or the word with hash, which screens out @ (the handle) tag, and the random stuff.

Also, the standard Twitter @ reply function only picks up Tweets that start with that symbol, if your handle (Twitter name) is in the middle of a tweet you need a search or a third party application to see what people are saying to or about you (h/t to @ariherzog, who first pointed that out to me.)

Examples: Compare these searches for “#GovLoop” “@GovLoop” and “GovLoop“, and this one for “#tip” and “tip” (note that Twitter is not a case-sensitive system.)

The hash also signals to others that something is going on that they may want to read about or chime in on. If you are trying to actively promote a topic, like #bailout, a retweet campaign (covered below) with a hashtag is very powerful if you’ve got five or more people in on the action. If you can get the hashtag topic trending as a top term for the moment, you’ll enlist various bots (see this link) that will also pump the cause, and it will appear on the left side of the page on executed Twitter searches, adding even more fuel to the fire.

Tip: Remember to use just one word or an acronym or a hybrid word in your tag. Spaces between words will diminish the power of the tag. And long hashtags take up too much space when you only have 140 characters.

More examples: I created #pilife to promote the activities of private investigators through Twitter. I use #twit2fit plus my hande to track my exercise progress.

2/26/09 update: So on Monday I forgot my own advice, and tried to trend “Twitter is like” without using a hashtag. Never made it to the top 10. Then today, power-tweeter Scott Stratten kicked up the #definetwitter meme (a tag first coined by @ZAmmi), pushing it quickly to number one trending term and noteriety throughout Twitter. Hashtags are essential, especially since TweetDeck now automatically adds them to reply messages. They are powerful.

Social media is social, so don’t be a total failwhale (“Fail Whale”?).

Haven’t heard of the failwhale? It is one of the images Twitter uses when the system goes down, and the word has become a common disparaging remark. Don’t want to be one? Then don’t be an ass on Twitter.

Follow-up. Highly partisan doesn’t translate well in 140 characters.

There are plenty of places for rabidly partisan activity on the Web. The folks who do it on Twitter, (i.e. #tcot – “top conservatives on Twitter”) appear to be only valued within their own hashtag community, which seems kinda silly to me.

Think, then RT. (And rarely if ever rt yourself).

“RT” is short for “retweet,” which is basically just quoting someone else. It’s a great way of showing someone you approve of a comment they’ve made or to affirm them in general. As mentioned above, an rt (lowercase or upper both work) campaign with hashtags is very powerful.

However, RT etiquitte is difficult. Plenty of people are into RTs for their own sake, and try to get campaigns trending as a form of self-promotion. I don’t know about you, but this bugs the heck out of me. There are only a few things worse than repetititive and low quality content, which is basically another term, “Twitspam.”

And please, RT yourself sparingly, and only for something important. If you’re that clever, someone else will rt for you.

Automatic DMs equal automatic alienation.

Do you like form letters? Nobody else does either, and that’s exactly what an automatic direct message, or DM, is. If you don’t want to say something unique and personal to new people who follow you, don’t. You won’t offend them. But, you will offend them by sending the same obvious message as you send everyone else. And if it’s promoting your Web site, you won’t just offend them, you’ll make them mad. Trust me on this. Auto DMs are the ultimate failwhale.

Here’s some new info on how to opt-out of auto DMs.

Remember: DMs have a fuction, which is private messages to a close contact. They aren’t for rude remarks or spam. You also shouldn’t send one to someone you are not following, as they can’t sent one back.

Also, Some of us still have DMs set up as SMS text alerts on our phones, so spam is very, very bothersome.

What would you add? Any questions I or my community can answer in the comments? Clarifications of my points?

Also, who are the best guides for people new to Twitter or looking to expand their skills?


19 thoughts on “A Simple Guide to Twenglish (Twittish, Twitterese?)

  1. That’s clever #twit2fit plus handle…I need to experiment some more, play around with hashtags.

    On another note, I literally google text shorthand phrases at least once a session on twitter to figure out wtf the msg is.

  2. Thx so much for this! I’m still figuring out the entire hashtag ordeal…so I appreciate your help.
    The twitter world is definitely an entirely different arena as social networks are concerned. The key is knowing how things work & following the rules (twules?:))

  3. One more – “h/t,” which I use a lot, is short for “hat tip,” and is a gesture of acknowledgment to the source of an idea.

  4. Adriel
    I think I can now give Twitter a fair look — it just wasn’t working for me to Google every time I wanted to de-code. Thanks!


  5. In my first few weeks on Twitter, while I was becoming addicted to the new social culture, I coined “Twitter Jitters” – when I couldn’t sleep at night from thinking about Tweeting!

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  7. Thanks, Teri! “Spitter” is great (I’ve seen plenty of those!), and thanks for “FTW” as well – I’ve had a fair amount of questions on that one. Like “IRL” (in real life), that one is pretty standard Internet slang that has moved into the Twictionary.

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  12. I’m not sure that TwEnglish is the correct term for a guide on how to use and understand Twitter. In my mind “TwEnglish” represents a new form of the English language used to compress written communication of English speaking people into a smaller character space.

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