What is it?

twitter.jpg Twitter is a social communication tool where people broadcast short messages. These messages, called tweets, are limited to 140 characters in length (to ensure that Twitter can be used on non-smartphone mobile devices), and can be sent from certain web-based tools, desktop applications, and mobile devices. Messages are often about what someone is doing, where they are, what they are thinking or reading or watching, and so on. It's possible to include links to web pages, images, and other media in a tweet. As a Twitter user, you select which other people you wish to follow; when you follow someone, their tweets show up in a list known as your Twitter stream. Anyone who chooses to follow you will see your tweets in their stream. It is not necessary to follow everyone who follows you, and not everyone you choose to follow will follow you back.

How do I use it?

Just type a short message about what you are doing: “I’m attending the MIDEA workshop on social media in San Antonio” is a good start. You can even leave out “I’m” if you need the space — Twitter values economy over grammar.

If you want to direct a tweet to someone in particular, or refer to someone else on Twitter, but still have it be a public message, you can use their Twitter name preceded by the @ sign: "Just saw @cogdog in San Antonio" would tell your followers that you met the Twitter user @cogdog (Alan Levine). The message would also show up in a special list on Alan's Twitter account for messages that include his Twitter name (these are called mentions).

If you see something tweeted by someone else that you want to spread the word about, you can "retweet" it. This means, essentially, that you quote the person, giving them credit for the original tweet. Many Twitter clients make it easy to do this with the click of a button, but you can also copy and paste a tweet. Just remember to indicate that it's a retweet, and who said it first: "RT @newmediac: Join us in San Antonio for a workshop on social media, June 30." Retweeting spreads a message farther by increasing the audience. Note that retweets also appear in the other person's mentions list since they include their Twitter name. Most people are flattered by retweets.

If you want to contribute to, or look for tweets about, a particular topic, you can use a hashtag. This is a short word or acronym preceded by the pound sign (#). Conferences, hot topics, places, and other things often have a hashtag. For instance, the hashtag for this workshop is #midea10so: "Just saw @cogdog at #midea10so in San Antonio." The advantage of using hashtags is that it makes it easy to find all the tweets about the topic that interests you, even if you don't follow all the people who are tweeting about it. This is also a handy way to find new people to follow.

Why is it important?

Twitter has evolved quickly as an effective way to communicate up-to-the minute news and resources via web links, announcements, and opinions. Its effectiveness for organizations grows as the number of followers increases and there is a steady stream of messages being sent. Twitter isn't just about broadcasting, though. By monitoring mentions and hashtags, an organization can find out what people are saying about their experiences related to the organization. Responding to people by Twitter name is a powerful way to engage audience members and make them feel heard. Unhappy people sometimes say things on Twitter that can be addressed, when they wouldn't necessarily make a complaint to the appropriate department (people also say good things on Twitter, and that's always nice to hear!).


  • Choose a short twitter name for your account. The characters in the name will be counted as part of the 140 characters that will be part of replies other users send you.
  • Fill in your Twitter profile (for yourself or for the organization, depending on whether it's a personal account or not). People look at the profile when deciding whether or not to follow an account, and having a complete and correct profile will help them make this choice. Include a picture -- this will represent you next to each of your tweets in others' streams -- and explore the options to customize your Twitter profile to make it distinct from others. You can add a background picture, for instance.
  • Think of Twitter as a river of information that you need only sip from in small mouthfuls. Do not feel the need to monitor everything that is posted, as there are search and notification tools you can use to filter out the information important to you. As you follow more people, updates will come along faster. It's okay to let some go by.
  • Mark interesting posts that may contain links or other information you want to save as Favorites. These are kept in a special list that you can review at any time.
  • Pick meaningful people or organizations to follow, and take the time to offer thoughtful responses and feedback to individuals (e.g. thanking a patron for visiting an exhibit when they tweet about it). This can help expand your network as you see what these people are saying and who they are following.
  • Many users average about 4 tweets a day. Aiming for a goal of 20-22 tweets a day may initially help build followers. Keep in mind, though, that people dislike seeing the same tweet repeated over and over. Vary your content and make sure that some of the tweets are responses to others.

Getting Started

Museums and Twitter

Listening in Twitter

See Also

Similar Services

Notes and Questions

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