Using Twitter At Work: Basic Concepts

This is part two of my guide for using Twitter at work. If you don’t have a Twitter account yet, read Part One first and then  before continuing. 

Brief overview of Twitter concepts

Twitter has some specialized jargon, terminology, and customs that, like anything, take a bit of getting used to. The first day may be a little rocky, but you’ll get comfortable really quickly. Most Twitter users are really friendly, so feel free to ask questions.


Tweets are the atoms of Twitter communication. They’re short statements, no more than 140 letters long, that usually express a single thought. It might be an idea, it might be a link, it might be a question.

With 140 letters, there isn’t room for much depth in any single statement. This keeps people pithy and concise; the nuance comes from how people jump in and add thoughts. You can certainly send multiple tweets explaining your thought, but the 140 letter limit enforces a certain fluidity of conversation.

It feels really awkward at first, but you’ll get used to it.

Followers and Following

By default, Twitter only shows you information from people you follow. To follow people, click their username and then click Follow. From then onward, you’ll see the things they post publicly. (there are a few caveats you’ll figure out, but nothing big).

Unlike on Facebook, following is not bidirectional: just because you follow me doesn’t mean I’ll follow you. It’s customary for people to “follow back” the people who’ve followed them (meaning that they follow you), but it’s not mandatory or automatic.

When you’re new and haven’t posted much, people may not follow you right away because you’re an unknown quantity. Get posting and give people a sense of what you’re interested in, and they’ll follow you. They’ll also check out your bio to see whether they want to hear what you have to say.

You can always unfollow people later if you want.

Interacting with others via @mentions

When you send a tweet with someone else’s username in it (like mine, @adkpiper), they’ll receive a notification that you’ve interacted with them.

If they have a smartphone with the Twitter app installed, they’ll get a notification on their phone; otherwise it’ll show up the next time they log into Twitter.

There’s a blue “New Tweet” button on the Twitter page, and you can click it to start a new tweet. Alternatively, if you want to respond to someone else’s Tweet, there’s a reply button underneath each tweet (looks like an arrow pointing left) and it automatically inserts their username so they’ll get the message.

Once you’re a little more familiar with Twitter, you’ll want to read my guide to understanding how @mentions work and how different tweet syntax affects visibility and notifications.


Twitter is searchable, in real time, worldwide. To facilitate conversations, Twitter users add ‘hashtags’ to their tweets, which makes them show up whenever someone searches for that hashtag. Hashtags always have a pound sign/hash (” # “) at the beginning, so: #suicide, #climatechange, #edchat, #school, #spsm.

If you type #spsm into the search box on Twitter (usually looks like a magnifying glass), you’ll get a list of all the recent tweets that have included that hashtag. Often there’s a choice to see either Top Tweets (chosen by some algorithm) or All Tweets. I always choose All.

Retweets (RTs)

You’ll see a Retweet button under other people’s tweets. It just means to share that tweet, automatically and with attribution, with your followers. The button looks like two arrows in a square. People sometimes call this an RT.

Retweeting usually doesn’t constitute endorsement, although it sometimes does. It’s more like a signal boost. People retweet things because they think they deserve a wider audience, and it’s a big part of how information moves quickly through Twitter.

There’s danger in retweeting too many things—when I follow people on Twitter, it’s usually because I want to hear their thoughts, not someone else’s. So make sure you’re contributing your ideas, too.


There’s a Favorite button that looks like a star under each tweet. If you click it, it’ll send a notification to the tweet’s author (and any other users mentioned in the tweet) that you favorited it.

Favoriting (yes, a verb) a post usually means you agree with it, think it was insightful, or want to compliment its author.

Note that other people won’t usually see that you’ve favorited a tweet, so favoriting a tweet doesn’t amplify the signal or pass it on to your followers. If you want to share the tweet with others, use a Retweet.

Twitter chats and question/answer formats

Groups of interested people meet at prearranged times on Twitter to talk, usually for an hour, about their shared fields. These are coordinated by the use of a common hashtag. For example, #spsm is suicide prevention and social media, which meets Sunday nights.

So if you searched #spsm at 10pm Eastern time on Sunday nights, you might see something like this:

  • @docforeman: Hi everyone! Welcome to #SPSM, talking about suicide prevention and social media! #spsm
  • @docforeman: Tonight we’re talking about how law enforcement can help with suicide prevention #spsm
  • @adkpiper: Glad to see so many people here tonight! #spsm
  • @SPSMChat: We’ll use a numbered Question/Answer format tonight. #spsm
  • @SPSMChat: Q1: Everyone say hi—let us know whether you’re law enforcement or a suicide intervention person #spsm
  • @adkpiper: A1: suicide intervention but I’ve trained a lot of LE people #spsm
  • @officerjames: A1: law enforcement #spsm
  • @sgtmike: A1: I’m a sergeant in a small police force in northern NY #spsm
  • @Atoes84: suicide intervention hotline person in MI! #spsm
  • @docforeman: psychologist and pirate-hat-wearing suicide interventionist #spsm
  • @SPSMChat: Q2: What would you like to see from collaboration between LE/suicide people? #spsm
  • @adkpiper: A2: better connections so we can back each other up and feel comfortable with each other #spsm
  • @Atoes84: A2) more trust that when we call LE they will take us seriously #spsm
  • @sgtmike: A2 not to be left holding the bag when we have a suicidal person and nobody knows what to do #spsm

You’ve got to include the #spsm hashtag in each of your tweets or it won’t show up in the chat. Feel free to jump in and participate!

The question/answer format means that the moderator will post numbered questions like the “Q1” and “Q2” tweets above, and people responding put “A1” and “A2” before their tweets. You’ll find it becomes intuitive pretty fast.

Tweetchat moderators will often post a transcript of the chat after the hour has ended.

Finding people and Tweetchats

The quickest way is to search on Twitter for keywords that interest you and see if any #hashtags come up repeatedly. Often the hashtags will have the word “chat” in them, like #edchat, #msmathchat, #lrnchat, etc. Here are some to get you started.

  • #spsm (suicide prevention and social media): Sunday, 10pm Eastern
  • #hcsm (health care communications and social media): Sunday, 9pm Eastern
  • #mhsm (mental health and social media): Wednesday, 8pm Eastern
  • #BPDchat (borderline personality disorder): Sunday, 4pm Eastern
  • #livedexp (lived experience): no listed time
Instructional design/teaching-related
  • #lrnchat (learning and instruction): Thursday, 8:30pm Eastern
  • #guildchat (eLearning): Friday, 2pm Eastern
  • #educoach (performance coaching in education): Wednesday, 10pm Eastern
  • #profchat (professors and higher ed): Tuesday, 8pm Eastern
  • #musedchat (music ed): Monday, 8pm Eastern
  • #edtechchat (educational technology): Monday, 8pm Eastern

There are lots of others. If you have suggestions for tweetchats I should list here, tweet ’em to me or leave a comment!

I look forward to talking with you on Twitter. Again, I’m @adkpiper.

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