Andre Sólo, Favorites, Social Skills

How to Use Twitter (and why it beats FB)

“Another Drew Jacob shortcut,” I breathed.

We were covered in mud, bites, sweat, bruises and just about everything except the tangy salt of a day in the ocean. It was a 6 mile bike ride to the hidden beach but I found a shortcut on a map. (I love shortcuts.) We never got there.

I didn’t write the story of that exhausting day, but I did drop a hint:


Earning Its Keep

Many people are surprised that Twitter is my favorite (now only) social network. I never run out of friends who say, “I don’t need to hear what someone had for breakfast today,” or “I don’t get Twitter.”

I can’t help you fix what other people tweet about—though if they tweet about their breakfast, you’re following the wrong people—but I can help explain Twitter: how it works, why I like it more than Facebook, and how to get the most out of it.

Unlike Google+, Twitter is not a Facebook clone. It’s a profoundly different tool that does different things. It’s less about stalking friends/family and more about knowing what’s going on in the world—or making connections with new people.

In many ways, Twitter is for “advanced” internet users. Every tweet is limited to 140 characters—nothing more. That forces you to think about what you’re saying, and how to say it succinctly and well.

Here are the advantages Twitter has, that make it my favorite social media site:

  • Simpler. Twitter is the simplest and most streamlined social site. Everything happens in one column, and everything works the same way: no “pages,” “groups,” “causes,” “games” or anything else. You can share websites or pictures, but only as links in your tweet. It’s simple.
  • Not as addictive. Interacting on any social site gives you a hit of dopamine, just like chatting with a friend does. But some sites are designed to try to hold your eyes on the screen as long as possible. Twitter doesn’t do that. Brands can’t build their own on-Twitter presence, so any link you share is an external link. Unlike G+, Pinterest or Facebook, Twitter doesn’t try to keep you there.
  • Less clingy. On Facebook, if a real-life friend tries to friend you and you don’t accept, you’re rude; if you un-friend someone it’s a statement. On Twitter, “following” is not a personal judgment. I don’t follow all my friends and I unfollow people freely. It’s more like a news source or a chat room, and less like a yearbook.
  • Higher quality content. Twitter forces you to curate your content. All the factors above—the short, to-the point format; the easy-to-leave website; the social acceptability of unfollowing—combine to incentivize smart, funny or interesting tweets. On Facebook if you write boring/annoying posts, I stay your friend because we went to 4th grade summer school together. On Twitter, if you write boring posts you lose followers.
  • Ads aren’t intrusive. Twitter sometimes places a single “sponsored” tweet at the top of your stream. It always identifies itself as sponsored and they are never aggressive or deceptive. Thank you, Twitter!
  • Builds new relationships. Because Twitter is not a friends-only platform, it’s easy to meet new and interesting people. On Facebook, if I send a friend request to someone I don’t know, it’s weird—and J.K. Rowling will never friend me back. On Twitter, instead of waving at existing friends, it’s normal to make fascinating new ones or have conversations with people you admire.

Basically, Twitter gives you much more power over what comes your way. Twitter can be used to keep up with friends, but it’s a more fluid platform that lets you focus on meeting who you want to meet, or reading what you want to read.

Nuts and Bolts

There are many Twitter how-to’s out there, but the basic concepts to understand are:

  • When you “follow” someone, you can see all their tweets. They might not follow you back.
  • You can tweet at anyone, by putting @theirusername (for example) in your tweet, even if you don’t follow each other. They will see this.
  • Hashtags are helpful. Instead of tweeting, “I blog about adventure,” I could tweet, “I blog about #adventure” and other people looking for that hashtag (#adventure) would easily find me. (Punctuation breaks hashtags: if you try #isn’tlifecrazy you actually create the hashtag #isn, which makes no sense.)
  • Follow people you find interesting and don’t pressure them to follow you.
  • Not sure who to follow? Search by interesting hashtags, or follow the Twitter accounts of your favorite writers. Mine is @Rogue_Priest (surprise).


How I Use It

I’ve been using Twitter since I still had a job. I’ve always found it to be a more valuable tool than any other social network. That’s partly because of the reasons above, but it’s also how I use it.

I’ve developed practices to maximize what I get from Twitter. Because of this, I enjoy reading it as much as you might enjoy the Sunday paper. I often start a morning with my coffee and my stream, catching up on killer articles Twitter has brought my way—it’s a relaxing experience, with reading material tailored just to me.

Here are my best practices. These are just my own preferences—you might use your account differently than I do.

  • Privacy settings. I once heard author Tessa Zeng tell someone, “If you set your Twitter account to private, you’re not actually using Twitter,” and she’s not wrong. By default, anyone can see your tweets (whether they follow you or not) and anyone can follow you (you don’t get to accept or deny it like a FB friend request). Keep these settings—you’ll build more followers, meet more people, and have a reason not to say nasty things in your tweets.
  • I don’t follow everyone I know. Like any social media tool, Twitter can search your email contacts and suggest people for you to follow. Take a pass on that. Think about specific people you find interesting and follow them. You’ll have less noise and get a lot more value out of your stream.
  • When someone follows me, I don’t follow back. When I started on Twitter I thought it was good etiquette to follow back everyone who followed me. Anything else would be rude, right? Wrong. It’s not an insult to not follow someone back. Only follow them if you think they’re interesting, or if their profile and tweets are tantalizing.
  • Never follow companies. Why would you?
  • Follow less than 100 people. This is a longstanding rule for many Twitter users, and it pays off. Checking Twitter should be a relaxing experience where you see things that make you grin—not a stressful experience with more noise than signal. If you find yourself approaching 100, take a few minutes to trim off the ones you don’t really pay attention to.
  • I don’t use lists. Optionally, Twitter allows you to create “lists” to sort and organize the people you follow. I never use them—they just take more time and effort, and they’re never needed if I follow less than 100 people. (I do look at other people’s lists to find the folks they think are interesting.)
  • Retweet often. Anytime you find yourself enjoying a link that someone tweeted, RT it (giving them credit) so your own followers can enjoy it.
  • I make a point of tweeting things I like. I read online a lot, and anytime I like an article or site, I make a point to shorten its URL and tweet it with a snappy headline and a little comment.

A retweet.

Clearly, these are my own habits that support how I prefer to use Twitter—as a place to find and share high quality articles, and have meaningful conversations with the people I respect.

You might use Twitter differently, or not like using it at all. There won’t be any pressure for Rogue Priest readers to use Twitter—even as I leave Facebook you can subscribe to the site via email or RSS (check the right-hand sidebar of this very page).

But if you want to have more contact with me, or if you want to put my claim to the test and see if Twitter can be as useful for you as it is for me, then these are the habits I suggest. I believe they’ll help make your experience with Twitter far more meaningful. They’ll definitely help you beat the learning curve and avoid the frustration of many beginning users.

Are you on Twitter? Leave a comment with a link to your account. I’ll follow you for a week to see if I dig what you share.

L Days cover_front only_half size

My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.


36 thoughts on “How to Use Twitter (and why it beats FB)

  1. I was on Twitter before FB and have found the biggest difference between the two is the time suck. I’ve noticed that due to FB I’ve been updating my blog a lot less as FB is basically the format of a tumblr blog now. Twitter has never changed for me though and I agree with everything you’ve said. Twitter doesn’t take over your life – it’s just there when you want it and still there when you’ve forgot it for a while.

  2. I don’t know if it *beats* FB; they’re not playing the same game. That said, Twitter it is very useful.

    What I look for in people I follow — I follow just over 300, of which many are news sources such as @AP or @BBCBreaking — is either the quality of the links they tweet or how interesting I find their tweets. If you bore me, I’ll unfollow. If you amuse me at any level, I’ll stick with you for at least awhile. If you tweet what you had for breakfast, or only links to your FB posts, not so much.

    I didn’t really “get” the point of Twitter for a long time. The “aha” moment for me was when I saw it described as “micro-blogging.” The other “aha” was the concept of being a curator of content. I follow people people who consistently tweet or retweet links to interesting content. I’ll go through my feed, open all those links in different tabs, then sit back and read, much like I’d read a magazine. I try to make my own tweets a mixture of the two.

    A couple of quirky favorites of mine are literary figures. @JoyceCarolOates is consistently interesting, as is Alexander @McCallSmith. McCall Smith will sometimes tweet charming little stories over the course of six or ten tweets, each one a 140 character “chapter.” I look forward to those.

    Following news sources has also proven very useful now that cable news has shifted its focus from breaking news to news entertainment and talking heads.

    One thing I did early on was to link my FB and Twitter accounts, so things that I post on Twitter also cross-post on FB (although I don’t go the other way; my FB posts don’t cross-post to Twitter, although many people do go that route). That’s one way to serve two audiences without double work. Retweets don’t go to FB, though, which is fine, because that way I can curate my FB feed a little more delicately.

    One thing you didn’t mention: if you begin your tweet with @PersonsTwitterHandle, the only people who will see it are people who follow both you and that other account. However, if you put that @PersonsTwitterHandle after any other text, such as the “RT” you showed in your example above or even a piece of punctuation such as a period, everyone who follows you will see it. But the followers of @PersonsTwitterHandle still won’t see it unless they follow you, too.

    Another thing to consider is the length of your Twitter name. If someone uses it in their tweet, each letter of that name counts as one of the 140 characters, so a long Twitter handle reduces the amount of useful text in a tweet. This is a consideration when re-tweeting, as it is considered courteous to acknowledge the account from which you got content. Although Twitter automatically compresses the link, it’s still easy to run out of room.

    @PhaedraBonewits is probably a little long, but at least it’s clear :-)

  3. Hey Drew, I use twitter in a similar but different fashion than you do. I started out on public, but because of some creepy folx going thru my timline and favoriting very specific things (about me being a trans woman) I went private. Safety first as they say. It has changed my experience, but I can and still do talk to a lot of people there. I also met both my primary S.O. and the woman I’ve got an interesting undefined at the moment relationship with. That one started as a friendship, then let’s just say, it got more interesting. I’m not actually looking for followers. But my max limit for following is 65. Once I get near that, I start trimming the dead weight. But I also just talk to friends on there as well as use it as a much better news service, tailored to my interests.

    • That seems like a smart way to use is Em and I can definitely understand why you’d be cautious. You met your main SO through Twitter? How did you find each other – thru a mutual followee, saw each other’s work, or….?

      • well technically she commented on my blog, then I found her on twitter where we started talking. :) we just started responding to each others comments and having conversations. It developed into friendship, then something more. I finally asked her out. and she said yes! We started skypeing. Now, we’ve been going out for a while, and well, I’m moving closer to her. Just to be very clear, we are non-monogamous. That doesn’t mean that she means any less to me. She’s my primary. <3 I love her so much. The other woman I'm starting to see is polyamourous. She's actually married. But she's very special to me. I met her by people we both followed. We got into a conversation on someone else's tweet and followed each other. One thing led to another and now the stage of the relationship is kind of fuzzy on that one, but she lives in the same area I'm moving to, so we will defitely be seeing more of each other. I'm very excited to see where that goes. If you want to know more, you've got my email. That's all I'll say about that in public.

  4. Tracey says:

    This is really helpful, thank you. I’m still learning how to use Twitter and what you say, along with other people’s comments, has encouraged me to be brave and try new ways of using it. As I say I am a fairly new Twitter user but I am finding it easier, and more interesting, than FB.

      • Tracey says:

        OK – I’m @TraceyLYates ….I was thinking since I read your post that Twitter can be about making new contacts etc. but it could also be like having a conversation at a bus stop with someone; you say hi, exchange a few words and that’s it…mostly its just being friendly but sometimes the encounter could be truely significant, I like that idea….you never know who you will meet!

          • Yes, blogging is definitely the little brother of streamlining thoughts. I guess Twitter is like the window into the shop. It’s where you see what’s inside, the sign outside that helps you decide if it’s a shop you’re interested in entering. It allows us to be clever with our invitations and not be held accountable for them too, lol. If I see a tweet about “the 3 legged blue eyed dog” and click the link, I can’t be upset that they were referring to a man. And at the same time, the clever line drew me inside to browse around. I like that aspect of Twitter. I think subconsciously, I’m looking for that one line blurb that has the power to make me click. I clearly may not be using Twitter the way it should be, LOL.

            And also, I hate the name Twitter. And the term tweet. When using them as verbs, I’m always tempted to say twatted and twitted/ which makes me think of users as Twatters, Twitters, and Tweeters.

  5. My temptation with Twitter is to use it aggressively. But after reading several posts about it, i see aggression leads to regression. I think I’ve always known that on an instinctual level. I’ve always been attracted to Twitter because of its simplicity by design. And at the same time, intimidated by that very thing. I’m a woman of a thousand words an hour, and a writer that learns to master the art of showing and not telling (which often requires more words) but I’m also mastering the craft of blurbing. Now that I’m much better at the latter, Twitter is once again approachable.

    In a way, to me, Twitter is to air traffic, as Facebook/Google Plus is to road traffic. It seems to take less time to arrive at your destination but without the congestion of tangled freeways and detours that often lead to professional dead ends.

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