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Twitter Only Gives Me 140 Characters!? What the Heck?

Twitter is everywhere! What does it take to become the next Twitter superstar?

We’ve already mentioned that Twitter is a microblog. To become a Twitter superstar, you need to decide on what your niche will be, such as politics, WoW, Halo, or gender studies. You must also decide on your level of interaction: How often will you post? Some people post once or twice a day, whereas others post dozens of times per hour.

Example of a Twitter Tweet.

Figure 3. Twitter limits you to 140 characters, so make every character count.

One of the easiest ways to get more readers on Twitter is to provide people with your URL on Twitter (typically, www.twitter.com/[your username]). Much like getting more readers for a blog, it takes time, but if you’re diligent, your twitter followers will slowly grow. Well, that is if you have great information that others want to read!

Another easy way to gain a larger readership is to tweet, often. When others see you have good comments and posts, they’ll want to follow you. Balanced with this, you should also have a profile that reflects your posting and your identity as “the writer” of the tweets. So, having a username like Hotbabe4u probably won’t get a lot of attention from a gender studies group.

People like Twitter because the posts are short and to the point. It takes time and practice to get good at it, but you can learn a lot from studying other Twitter fans. How are they structuring their tweets? What types of tweets get the best response? And what ones don’t? Figure out why. Think of a tweet kind of like the chorus to a song or a breath in a rap—remember you only have 140 characters to make your statement, position your argument (in context AND make the argument), maybe relate it to others by using “replies,” “direct messages,” and “hashtags.” See the screenshot below for an example of a mention and a hashtag:

Showing hash tags and mentions.

Figure 4. The @ and # have special meanings in Twitter; learn to use them effectively.

The “@culturecat” is a mention. This means that when the owner of that Twitter account clicks her “mentions” button, she’ll see this Tweet in the list. “#c&w2011” is a hashtag. A hashtag is a convenient way for people to make sure their Tweets are listed together. If you’re at a conference or responding to a trendy topic, a hashtag can ensure you aren’t lost in the shuffle.

Most of us have heard how someone posts a tweet and it’s misread or misunderstood by others. (Consider the times you might have had this happen with text messaging on your phone.) This happens more often than you think. It takes time to get the hang of tweeting. Try to think about how someone will read your tweet without knowing the context in which you wrote it.

You can also use Twitter as an information-sharing network. Some of the best tweets are those that direct followers to useful or fabulous content that they wouldn’t otherwise have heard of (often using a url shortener like bitly or Google URL Shortener to allow long links to fit into the short space allowed in a tweet). This makes a lot of sense—after all, aren’t you more likely to check out content shared by people you follow and trust, as opposed to whatever some big news network’s website thinks you might find interesting?

A lot of people like Twitter because of the thousands of apps you can use with it. There are apps for every mobile phone and tablet, apps to integrate your tweets into Facebook, and much, much more. There are also widgets that you can copy and paste into your blog site to display your tweets. If you can think of something you’d like to do with Twitter, chances are there’s an app for that.

Tweeting can be fun, but if you want to be popular, don’t post stuff nobody wants to read. Does anybody really care what you had for breakfast? Also, it’s more impressive if you can write succinctly (using few words) rather than resorting to texting conventions like u for you. The superstar Twitter users have mastered the art of saying more with less.