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Twitter – the ever popular social networking site that asks users “What’s Happening?”. It’s everywhere right? People are tweeting all around you, and you’ve finally jumped on board. But do you really know what you’re doing? What should you tweet about? What’s a hashtag? A retweet? As with any new technology, there is new terminology. 15 years ago, no one knew what a “Search Engine” was. What in the World was a “Blog”. All it takes is a little bit of time, and some research for you to get a real handle on what all of these things mean, and how to appropriately use them. Trust me, when I started tweeting, I was overwhelmed by all of the “Twitter-isms” out there.

Here is a simple guide that will help you get started.

Followers – By following other users, you will receive their tweets on your Twitter Home Page. Similarly, those that follow you will see your tweets on their Twitter Home Page. The number of people you following and people who are following you is shown on the right hand side of your Twitter Home Page.

Tweet – Every post on Twitter is referred to as a “tweet”. Tweets are limited to 140 characters.

Tweeter – Somebody that uses Twitter

Retweet / RT – To help share interesting information on Twitter, you can repost (or Retweet) people’s tweets to your followers using the Retweet button. You can also Retweet to a specific person, and it usually looks like this: “RT @username followed by the original message”. Retweeting is very common on Twitter and is the driving force behind Twitter’s amazing ability to share information. If I Retweet a post to my 100 followers, then a handful of them Retweet it to their followers, and so on…you can see how fast the information spreads!

Hashtag (#) – Hashtags help people organize tweets into groups. To hashtag, you put the # symbol followed by a term that describes your tweet. For example let’s say I post “Great episode of #Entourage last night!”. If people search for the hashtag “Entourage” they will see related posts. If enough people use the same hashtag, then that topic will appear in Twitter’s Trending Topics (see below). For example, this summer the topics “Inception” and “WorldCup” were hashtagged several times and were among Twitter’s highest Trending Topics.

@username – This is a great tool for businesses using Twitter. By using @username, you can reply to another Twitter user. For example, let’s say you own a restaurant. If somebody Tweets about how awesome their lunch was today at your restaurant, you can reply to them by Tweeting “@username Thanks! Glad you enjoyed out restaurant, what did you order?” If that user is following you on Twitter, your reply will show up on their Twitter Home Page. If they are not following you, your message will show up in the @username folder on the right hand side of their page. Additionally, people who are following either one of you on Twitter will see the message on their Home Page. Lastly, the message will also show up in search results.

Direct Message / DM – Direct Messages, or DM’s are Twitter’s version of private messages. If somebody sends you a DM, only you can see it – and vice versa. Direct messages appear on the right hand side of your Home Page. Direct Messages are often used to communicate with others on topics that may be a bit more sensitive and personal. By using DM’s, you keep the information being shared between and the other user – no one else on Twitter can read it. For example, I may write “@username Let’s go to lunch this Friday! DM me your phone number!” That way, “username” won’t be giving their number to everybody on Twitter – just me.

Trending Topics – As mentioned above, as topics get more mentions, they trend. On the right hand side of your page you will see the top ten trending Topics at the moment. These topics update continuously in real-time ensuring that people are always kept up to date. This is the main reason why news can be learned on Twitter much faster than through traditional media. For example, when the earthquake that rocked Quebec and Ontario hit last month, I read dozens of Tweets about where it had occurred before traditional news outlets had even reported it happening. You can also specify Trending Locations. So instead of seeing which topics are trending Worldwide, you can select the topics trending in Canada.

Shortened URLs – Since Twitter only gives you 140 characters to Tweet, it is often difficult to get your full message across. Many users add links to their Tweets – but links are often ugly and long as well. That is where shortened URL services come into play. There are many websites that will shorten URLs for you, which is perfect for adding to Tweets. My favourite is bit.ly which allows you to shorten any URL to about 20 characters.

Tweetup – A Twitter meet up, or Tweetup, is an in-person event organized via Twitter. They are often organized by companies for product launch parties or events designed to gather like-minded individuals. I often attend a Tweetup known as Social Media Breakfast Ottawa, where individuals from Ottawa in the Social Media industry gather to discuss industry trends and network.

Lists – Lists allow you to group the people you follow into different “lists”. For example you have lists for “Family”, “Friends”, “Coworkers”, etc.

Fail Whale – Last, but not least, the Fail Whale! When Twitter gets overloaded, it experiences outages. When these outages occur, you are brought to a screen that features the infamous Fail Whale – a whale being held up by a bunch of birds – and a message that reads “To many Tweets! Please wait a moment and try again!”

So there it is folks, Twitter’s basic Twitter-isms. Have you begun using some of these tools on Twitter?