Et Al / Technical Writing

True Beginner's Guide to Twitter: On the Web, At Your Desk, On the Go

Today’s post, the third of four, is a collaborative effort by me (@sarahjoaustin) and Linden (@xgravity23). In this post, you’ll learn how to Twitter on the web, at your desk, and on the go. If you’ve been out of the loop, check out Monday’s post on the basic Twitter functions and Tuesday’s post on advanced Twitter functions.

On the Web, At Your Desk, On the Go

The beauty of Twitter is its API (application programming interface) that allows third parties to rebundle Twitter’s information into other websites, desktop programs, and mobile phone applications; therefore, allowing you to use Twitter as it best suits you and your online lifestyle. Here are some ways to access Twitter.

One characteristic of the Twitter API is that it requires you to enter your Twitter username and password on other sites that use the Twitter API. This means that Hootsuite, TwiPic, and all other Twitter-related websites will ask for your confidential information. Do not be alarmed. But do make sure you are logging in to a valid website. Linden usually waits several weeks before using the newest Twitter fad website to make sure that it isn’t phishing for usernames and passwords, or asks @sarahjoaustin or @llcadle, two of her tweeple who are in the know about Twitter trends.

Note: All of the instructions in the Basic Functions section work no matter what platform you use, although many platforms have streamlined the @ reply, retweet, and direct message functions.

Twitter.com

If you are connected to the internet, the most straight-forward way of tweeting is by going to Twitter.com, logging in, and publishing a tweet. It’s a no-frills interface, but it gets the job done.

SMS and Mobile Platforms: Twitterfon

You don’t have to be on a computer to tweet, and this is one of the things that makes Twitter so powerful. Even without a smartphone, you can tweet by simply sending your tweet as an SMS message to 40404. You can send DMs and @ replies and use hashtags just like normal.

If you do happen to be using a smartphone, then you have several other options available to you, and while you could pay for Pro or Premium apps, there are viable free options, and Twitterfon is our favorite. Twitterfon’s no-nonsense interface is intuitive and has a short learning curve compared to the other free options. This is, however, a highly subjective observation, so we recommend that you try all of the free options listed below and tweet with each one for a day or so. If you are like us, a clear personal favorite will present itself fairly quick.

Other SMS and Mobile Platforms

Dedicated web applications: HootSuite

You also don’t have to be on Twitter.com to tweet, which seems silly, right? You’d think that a company would want to keep its users on its own site. Nope. Twitter is very generous in sharing itself with other websites. Many of these websites improve upon Twitter’s basic format by allowing you to manage multiple accounts, schedule tweets in advance, and add editors to your Twitter accounts without handing out passwords.

Our favorite third-party website is HootSuite.com. As of this writing, it’s still in beta, but the developers are adding new features weekly. In addition to the bright interface, easy management of multiple Twitter accounts, and pre-scheduled tweeting, we especially like to see statistics on items we link to, the ability to add Google AdSense code to tweets, and funneling our blogs’ RSS feeds to our Twitter accounts.

Multiple Accounts in HootSuite

Multiple Accounts in HootSuite

One major reason to choose HootSuite is for managing multiple Twitter accounts. If you got into this Twitter thing to help promote your business (web-based or not), you will need a public Twitter account for that purpose, but you might consider using a personal account to get your bearings in Twitter. Go ahead a set up both accounts now and configure HootSuite to give you access to both. From this one interface, you can send tweets from both accounts without first logging out of one account to use the other. You can even, if necessary, post the same tweet to both accounts.

Dedicated Desktop Applications: TweetDeck & Twhirl

The last method of accessing Twitter is via a dedicated desktop program like TweetDeck or Twhirl. These two programs are free, and both provide basic Twitter functionality. In addition, they both use Adobe Air to keep memory usage to a minimum, and both display small on-screen notifications when a tweet arrives. Though they are similar in many ways, we like them for their differences.

In particular, TweetDeck is useful for organizing tweets by columns. In each column, you may specify what tweets are shown: all friends, @ replies, direct messages, favorites, etc. Additionally, you can use a Twitter Search within TweetDeck and assign results to their own column. For example, when Linden tweets about Lost, she can add a #lost column that imports all tweets from all users that include the #lost tag. This allows her to see what others think about the show, meet other tweeple with similar interests, and converse with them.

Twhirl, on the other hand, is particularly useful for managing multiple Twitter accounts. Each account you add has its own window, and in each window you view the account’s Twitter feed live. Twhirl allows you to control what notifications appear on your screen, so you’re not overwhelmed by the tweets coming in.

Sarah runs both programs simultaneously to manage her multiple Twitter accounts. She uses TweetDeck for her personal account and uses Twhirl to get updates on two other accounts she manages. So she’s not overwhelmed entirely by all those updates, she has set TweetDeck to update only every 15 minutes, and Twhirl only notifies her of @ replies and DMs.

Tomorrow is the last post in our series, and we’ll be sharing all sorts of Twitter tools and resources that we love. If you missed them, be sure to check out Monday’s post on Twitter basics and Tuesday’s post on advanced Twitter functions.

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