by UFSocial contributor Amelia Rivera Barreto
Twitter is a fascinating platform. At first glance one would think that Twitter is a very limited tool with its posts limited to 140 characters which is even less that the 160 SMS character limit!
But despite the character limit, this social media platform has served as a tool for social movements and revolutions in countries like Egypt and Venezuela, and it is even used by news outlets to for breaking news. So then, what’s Twitter secret, and why do so many people use it?
Twitter allows for two-way communication, but unlike Facebook or LinkedIn, relationships on this platform are unequal or asymmetrical. Just because you follow somebody does not mean that person will follow you back. Instead, there are “followers” and people you are “following”. And sometimes it is mutual when you become a “cofollower”. This is an important difference from other social media platforms.
On Twitter most profiles are public allowing anyone to follow them. In a personal interview in May of 2017, former editor of breakingnews.com and freelance reporter for Reuters wire service, Jimmy Lovaas, explained, “Facebook for most people is like having a really big party at your house. You bring your friends, friends of friends, neighbors and then at the party you decide to tell these people things. You show them a picture and tell them you have a kid. There is a certain intimacy or understanding that these people care about that information you share.”
But Twitter is like walking up to a random guy on the sidewalk and showing them a picture and telling them a story. The sort of information people care about on Twitter is different and if shared, it has the potential to spread faster. But this can also lead to a lot of “noise” and “junk” being tweeted, which according to Lovaas, is one of Twitters weaknesses, and one of the reasons why the 140 characters limit is useful.
As Lovaas explained, with millions of people tweeting, you need to be able to browse to find something you want to read.
Twitter is not as easy to use as other platforms, according to Lovaas, and instead is more of a platform for tech savvy people. Something that makes Twitter different, and which requires some experience, are the tools or ways it has to find or classify the tweets you are interested in through the use of hashtags, searches, advanced searches and lists.
What are these tools and how are they used?
- Hashtags are keywords preceded by the # symbol which help categorize Tweets, so that you or other users that search or use that hashtag can find related Tweets. They can be written anywhere in a Tweet and when they become popular they trend. For example during the terrorist attack in Stockholm in 2017, the people who lived in downtown Stockholm began using the hashtag #openstockholm to let others stranded find a place to stay during the chaotic afternoon. Once it began trending, it was the first thing people in the area saw in their feeds.
- Searches are quite simple and useful. You simply type a keyword or topic you are interested in and it will bring up a list of Tweets which match the words you typed.
- Advanced searches are pretty cool and particularly good for businesses. For example, Lovaas gave the example of McDonald’s launching a new ad and wanting to know what people are saying about that ad. With advanced search, you can narrow the search by time, seeing what people have said about McDonald’s since the time the ad first appeared. Then you could also look only for Tweets which include photos, or only look at ads from people with verified Twitter accounts. You can get pretty specific and get pretty good information for your campaigns.
- Lists are also great! You can create lists of Tweeter users, and also look at other people’s lists. Another example from Lovaas was from the Eurovision song contest. Let’s say you want to find out about it and there is a hashtag. But maybe not everybody is using the hashtag, and you want to know which contestants have Twitter accounts. Someone out there might have a list of Eurovision contestant profiles or perhaps the BBC Twitter has curated one. When you click on it you get all the Tweets coming from the participants and voilá, you get to follow the contest without having to find each participant yourself!
All of these tools are especially useful for journalists when breaking news occurs. Using lists they can follow politicians or public figures tweeting about certain topics or working in a particular industry or government entity. They can also use the searches when particular stories come up and they want to see what people are saying. Relevant hashtags are also a great way to find out what is happening and keep up with trends. And searches can allow them to find out about stories from people on the ground, before news sources report them or even the police or local authorities are notified.
Since most Twitter posts are public there is definitely a lot of noise on the platform, but just because something is published it does not mean that you get to see it. As a Twitter user or a business using Twitter to monitor the competition or the chatter about your business you have great tools that allow you to reduce the noise and the get valuable information and engage in meaningful interactions.
|Tweets are public, making the spread of information easy and fast||Fast pace nature can make reaching audiences hard|
|Great for monitoring campaigns||Anonymous accounts sharing fake news|
|Short and sharp messages, easier to browse through to find good information||Posts are limited to 140 characters|
|Curated lists to follow topics and people you care about||Tons of noise flying out there…|