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A Beginner’s Guide To Using Twitter Effectively



New Puck Daddy: what a bad dressing room is like, and the Philadelphia Flyers


As Twitter becomes a bigger part of my life, both for entertainment and work, I find myself learning more about how to best use the site. I happen to think I’m pretty decent at using it, so today I’m going to share some opinions with you guys.

Hopefully those opinions help you use the site to it’s full potential so you get the most enjoyment and value possible out of the site.

The basics

I’ve written this quick note before, but twitter is a big conversation – just because you don’t have to say it to someone’s face, doesn’t mean you get to be an asshole. If you hate what someone tweets, DON’T FOLLOW THEM. Just move on.

THE RETWEET – If you’re going to retweet something someone said with comment, your comment goes first, followed by RT, followed by the original tweeter’s @name and comments. As in, a normal RT from me would read:

From @jtbourne

“The Islanders. RT @NHL Who do you think will win the Cup next year?”

Don’t make up your own —> to show your comment, or just add it willy-nilly. Don’t // don’t ….. don’t >>> …just do it the proper way. (And yes, if it’s from an iPhone it’ll look different or something, that’s fine.)


If you’re someone with something to promote, as most people are, there needs to be a balance between promotional tweets and normal (preferably funny) ones. The Twitter account @OfficialGretzky is the perfect example – it’s Wayne Gretzky’s official twitter feed. I doubt Wayne knows his people even have one up in his name (I don’t really, but I am sure he’s never used it).

I had to unfollow the other day because the previous ten tweets were ALL pushing something – I think a gym, or workout product…whatever it was, nobody wants that. It’s like inviting advertisements into your feed, like requesting additional commercials in your TV show, like not filtering spam from your emails. It’s horrid, and for someone with a predictably large following, brutal.

I have a column up every day that I share with people (it gets the columns hits, which my bosses like), and sometimes I have two, if the thing I write on this site is worth it. I also AVERAGE 15 tweets a day (including responses to people), so somewhere around 10% or less of my daily tweets are pushing something for personal gain. Plus, I’m pushing something free that I hope people enjoy, so it’s different too. Because of that, when I do have stuff to sell (Hockey Greats Fantasy Camp, anyone?) I don’t feel remotely bad about throwing it out there.

{By the way, my numbers are low – even 20% of your tweets could be promos and nobody would flinch. Maybe more.}

What to tweet about?

People probably follow you for a reason. In my case, they follow for my insight in hockey (and because I’m HILARIOUS). Thus, you owe your followers to at least generally discuss the thing they follow you for (if it’s just your friends as followers, than you’re the topic, genius). I have many interests: golf, cats, every other sport ever, I have a personal life, all that stuff. I pepper those things in occasionally, and I think it helps show people you’re human (it’s why Bob McKenzie has more followers than Darren “The Robot” Dreger). But in the end, I think at least 60% of your total tweets need to be on the topic that has people interested in you.

I’m pulling numbers from my ass, but it sounds about right.

Once you’re on that topic, the discussion flows naturally – it’s likely you’re all into the same news as it comes into the cycle, so share. For me, Twitter was CHAOS when Philadelphia made all those trades yesterday. Tonight it’ll be on the draft. Wednesday it was on the Awards show. It’ll be trade rumours up to July 1st.

You just share your opinions and let people react, then interact.

@jtbourne: I still think Philly is gonna kill it next year. Solid three lines, good d, and they finally have the goalie they’ve needed.

Boom, there’s a tweet (albeit a bland, boring one, but whatever, it’s an example). Now Flyer fan will write to say they won’t be able to re-sign so-and-so, we’ll discuss cap room, etc.

What to re-tweet

Anything that actually made you LOL, anything that has information you think your followers would be interested in, NOT COMPLIMENTS OR INSULTS.

I stopped following a hockey media guy that I like because his RT’s were constantly different forms of this example: 

“Thanks! RT @Whoever444 Great column today! Love your work!”

Why the hell would you do that? To let people know others like you? You can write them back directly “@Whoever – Thanks!” Your followers don’t need to be involved.

And just is bad is when any of the professional contrarians who could not be any more excited to straight RT someone who calls him a moron. If it’s a funny insult or something, sure, but otherwise….why? Pity? Do they think they’re the only ones receiving dickish messages?

I’m not saying I’m all that great at using Twitter, I’m just saying I use it enough to know what works and what doesn’t. Hopefully you found this helpful, and hopefully it’ll inspire some of you who aren’t involved to try it. It’s the first place you hear news (Winnipeg Jets!), it provides a million great links to stories if you follow the right people (“who to add” is a column for another day), and it’s great for promoting your work.

Oh, and one more thing:

I delete a lot of tweets. Here’s why: I tend to spend my time before bed getting columns from twitter and reading them. I often feel like interacting with others around that time, so I tweet something that would generate opinions (great for crowd-sourcing before writing, BTW).

Once I’m tucking into bed, I’m done talking about that topic, so I delete, so I don’t have to respond to 50 new messages that people threw out while I slept. Especially when it’s an argument about something, like the legality of a hit, it’s no brainer to just have the replies stop when I’m done dealing with it. I deal with it then, then it’s over. You can do this too.

Anyway, I couldn’t love the site any more, I’ve even got Bri into it too – you can follow her at @briannagillies if you like cat pics and hearing about our lives. I’m @jtbourne as always.

Have a good weekend, and we’ll talk to you soon!


21 Responses to “A Beginner’s Guide To Using Twitter Effectively”
  1. Steve C. says:

    Thanks for the tips.
    I’m a newbie at Twitter (you may or may not have noticed) and need all the help I can get.

    Sometimes when I want to comment or react to one of your Tweets, I reply directly to you.
    (I wonder if if you just shake your head and sigh when I do that.)
    What’s the best/most acceptable way?

    Reply All?
    Don’t bother me you idiot…if I cared what you thought I’d be following you!

  2. Sherry says:

    Good lord JB, this post couldn’t have come at a better time! Thank you, thank you! My husband just got back from a big security and risk conference (he’s a bit of a security and risk guru) and made the comment to me that he’s going to have to investigate Twitter because a number of tweets came out mentioning him and his conference presentation – and he, of course, had no idea (how can an industry technology expert, who *loves* his iPhone and iPad so much *not* be into Twitter one could ask?).

    It’s funny that I am actually ahead of him on the whole tweeting curve (and I’m sure it galls him even more to know that I use it primarily to follow hockey news, writers, etc.). I will bookmark this blogpost (for me) and send the link to him as a primer on what to do.

    But since you’ve opened up the topic on this post, I have a few questions I’ve had for awhile – namely concerning the logistics of tweeting. Say for example, I want to tweet something specifically to you (so, I initiate the tweet) – I can only do that if I follow you *and* you follow me, right (in essence, a tweet “conversation” can only take place if two people follow each other)? Same holds for a reply to a tweet of yours, right? If I reply to a tweet of yours, you don’t get that reply unless you follow me, right?

    So it seems the general paradigm for tweeting is for public conversation on a topic, rather than a back and forth between individuals (although I know that that happens as well). But how does one become part of that public conversation? That’s where I get confused… For example, Mike Rupp has a “Guess that Melon” thing where he solicits guesses as to whose head (back of, not face obviously) is in a pic – but how do those guesses get to him? He doesn’t follow all those people who follow him and tweet their guesses, right? I know that this is probably fundamental tweeting stuff, and I hope I don’t sound incredibly stupid, but I just don’t quite get how to be *part of* the conversation. The following part, I think I have down pretty well. :)

    Anyway, it was fun to tell my husband today that I found out about the crazy shit that went on in the hockey world yesterday via Twitter and it’s fun to be more of an “authority” on it than he is. He still thinks he knows more about NFL labor relations and NHL contract negotiations than me because he reads stuff like the WSJ and I read sports writers and bloggers, but I may be gaining some cred with him on that. The proving ground will be if the NFL gets a deal done (my take) or doesn’t (his).

    Anyway, thanks again for a very informative post!

  3. Sherry says:

    I see Steve C beat me to the punch (of course I went on and on and on…)! But yes, what he said!

  4. jtbourne says:

    Sherry – You absolutely don’t need someone to be following you to say something to them, and they can write you back too. You only need mutual follows for Direct Messages, which is basically shitty email.

    So if you want to say something to me, just make sure the first thing in your tweet is “@jtbourne.” and I’ll get it. Hell, if it’s ANYWHERE in your message it’ll show up in my @’s. I write back to about 25% of my @’s I’d say. So get involved.

    STEVE C – Same goes for you there, man – if you want to say something to me, just lead it with @jtbourne. If you want all your followers to see what you said to me, don’t make @jtbourne the first thing in the tweet. If you want to say something and include my comment, just copy/paste it and RT it as I described above!

  5. AL says:

    Best way to refresh the tweets? I hate having to click on the blue box saying “# new tweets” and don’t want to just hit F5 because that will refresh the whole page. You know of any other keys to update the timeline?

  6. jtbourne says:

    I think you’d have to use a service like tweetdeck (which RULES on your phone, is good on compy). It just keeps spittin ‘em out as they come.

  7. Sherry says:

    Awesome, thanks JB!

  8. Mike says:

    Sweet! Thanks for the tips, you are actually the first person I followed on Twitter, am now up to about 150 and you are still a scorpion-killing star.

    I have a technical question though- when I hit “retweet” it just re-tweets. How do you get your own comments in before the re-tweet?

  9. Steve C. says:

    …and you thought hockey was your only forte.

  10. Al says:

    What a total , absolute waste.

  11. jtbourne says:

    But that comment? Type of quality contribution that can never be replicated, duplicated, imitated. Gold.

  12. Francis says:

    I have to agree that retweeting people’s compliments has to be the absolute worst. The person could easily just respond singularly back to the person to thank them if they wanted to do so, but retweeting it as some sort of self-affirmation of themselves just seems pretentious. I unfollowed a hockey media type as well for that same reason.

    For myself, I don’t tweet that often but am trying to get in the habit of doing it more. I’ve mainly used Twitter as an up to date information source. It works great at that, but being involved in conversation about things is the whole point of it I think.

  13. Alanna says:

    I have to say that I disagree on deleting tweets. I think it comes across as back-pedaling, and it’s obnoxious for people who may have responded to it and then it vanishes, as though you’re hiding that you ever said that. If you don’t want to respond to people, fine, just ignore them, but I never delete anything*. JMHO.

    *This rule is broken if I misspell something or tweet a bad hyperlink, so I delete and replace the tweet with a corrected version.

  14. It seems that a lot of people don’t think before they tweet. A lot like real life, thinking before you speak.

    if you take the time to actually care about what you say, you will probably get a better response.

    Although, I haven’t had much luck getting a mention or RT.

  15. Fish says:

    i signed up for twitter. Started follwoing about 4-5 people. Realised nothing they said was interesting, AND that I had nothing interesting to say.

    My account is now unused.

    greatest decision ever.

  16. petshark says:

    Thanks for your thoughts on this. I’ve been using Twitter mostly to gather information and was just starting to wonder how people use it (effectively) for promoting things. Obviously, there’s the link spam that simply doesn’t work but is nice for boosting a beginner’s following, haha. But your guesstimate about how much to chat and how much to promote seems about right.

    I’m still a little miffed about the missing tweet I was hunting. I think it ended with “I’m a fan of Havlat.” Oh well. I wonder what happens to externally-linked tweets? WordPress has a feature that embeds tweets. I wonder what happens if someone deletes the embedded tweet? Guess I’ll have to go look through old blog entries and find out.

  17. petshark says:

    Thanks for your thoughts on this. I’ve been using Twitter mostly to gather information and was just starting to wonder how people use it (effectively) for promoting things. Obviously, there’s the link spam that simply doesn’t work but is nice for boosting a beginner’s following, haha. But your guesstimate about how much to chat and how much to promote seems about right.

    I’m still a little miffed about the missing tweet I was hunting. I think it ended with “I’m a fan of Havlat.” Oh well. I wonder what happens to externally-linked tweets? WordPress has a feature that embeds tweets. I wonder what happens if someone deletes the embedded tweet? Guess I’ll have to go look through old blog entries and find out.

  18. jtbourne says:

    Petshark, those tweets still exist somewhere out there. As soon as one person RT’s it, it’s around forever. And that doesn’t bother me in the slightest (it’s not like I occasionally mix in racial slurs or something) – I’ve just received all the responses I want, and decide I don’t need to sift through any more. I try to respond to as many people as possible, so when I get an extra 20 responses, that’s an extra 10 mins in the morning before I can get to work.

  19. jtbourne says:

    Fish – Yeah, 4-5 people ought to be enough to determine the worth of the site. (….to quote NFL analysts….”c’mon, man.”) I’ll be writing a “who to follow” post soon.

  20. parking says:

    thanks for info, just getting my head around twitter, can you add pictures to tweats ?


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