Twitter 101

I’m calling my shot. By the end of the year, I predict CropLife® magazine’s Twitter page will have more than 1,000 followers. It’s a bold claim, for sure, but one I can make with Nostradamus-like conviction. Afterall, @croplifemag recently surpassed the 500-follower plateau and is welcoming new followers every day.

But now that I’ve proudly laid my reputation on the line, I need your help in making my prognostication come to fruition. If you are new to Twitter or haven’t yet made the leap, this column explains some basic terms that are often unknown to beginners. Below are nine tools ag dealers need to know to make best use of Twitter and, in the process, become part of CropLife’s mad dash to 1,000 followers by 2012.

1. Reply (@). Twitter has a unique replying feature. When a user’s name is preceded by the @ symbol, it means the sentence (tweet) that follows is directed at them. For example, if you want to reply to a CropLife tweet, simply type @croplifemag, then type the reply. There is also a reply icon (a “swoosh” symbol) on the Web interface that inserts the reply prefix automatically.

2. Message. A message (also referred to as Direct Message or DM) is a private message sent via Twitter to one of your followers. In turn, people you follow can send you a private message. You cannot send a direct message to a user who is not following you. As opposed to replies and regular tweets, messages are completely private.

3. Retweet (RT). To retweet someone’s tweet means to share it with your own Twitter followers. The syntax of a retweet is the abbreviation “RT” followed by the username of the person who tweeted it (e.g., RT @croplifemag) and then the content of the actual tweet. It essentially quotes that person’s tweet and gives them the credit, so people can see the tweet and then choose to follow that person.

4. Hashtag (#). Once you’ve started using Twitter, it won’t take long before you come across what’s known as a hashtag. That’s when you see something in a tweet that has a # prefix. A hashtag is simply a way for people to search for tweets that have a common topic. One of the most popular hashtags for agriculture is #agchat. So if you search on #agchat, you’ll get a list of tweets related to agriculture.

5. TwitPic. TwitPic lets you share media on Twitter in real-time. You can post photos or videos to TwitPic from your phone, from the site or through e-mail. If you have a Twitter account, you already have a TwitPic account automatically. Comments to photographs are sent as a reply tweet. TwitPic URLs are already short, making it unnecessary to use URL shorteners (see No. 6).

6. URL Shorteners. Because Twitter limits the number of characters you can use to 140, URL shorteners are the most effective way of tweeting if you want to share a link with a long URL and still have space for your thoughts about the link you are sharing. There are a number of sites that offer this service, including bit.ly and TinyURL.com.

7. Favorite A Tweet. One of the features I use most on Twitter is the “favorite” button. You do this by clicking on the little star next to a Tweet. People use this for two main reasons: To bookmark links or to mark something they like. When you bookmark a link, you can find them by going to the “Favorites” link on the right.

8. Twitter Directories. Twitter directories are a useful way to find new followers. They make it easier for people using Twitter to find other “Tweeters” with similar interests. WeFollow, Twellow, TwitDir and TweetFind are just a handful of some of the more popular directories.

9. Dashboards. If you’re not using a social media dashboard, you are likely not getting the full experience of what it’s like to participate on Twitter. Dashboards allow you to monitor, interact, retweet, sort, categorize, follow trends, create groups, search and more. A few of the more commonly used dashboards are TweetDeck (rumored to be acquired by Twitter), HootSuite and Seesmic.

So go ahead and experiment. Even if you only use just one or two of these tools, your Twitter experience will be that much better for it. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to follow us @croplifemag.

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