A practical guide to Twitter | Part I: Twitter speak

Of all the social media channels, Twitter is the hardest to get your arms around. To those unfamiliar with Twitter conventions, a series of tweets can look like code – without the decryption key.

But for those working in the investment business, Twitter can’t be ignored. It’s the social media channel of choice for firms in the industry. An investment manager is more likely to be tweeting actively than to maintain a Facebook page or manage a LinkedIn group.

So if you’re interested in keeping up with the latest industry trends, you’ll need to know something about Twitter. In this 3-part series, we’ll decode the typical tweet, then we’ll examine how tweeters interact with each other; we’ll conclude with a discussion of how you can use Twitter to gather information – and what your firm’s social media policy is likely to prohibit you from doing.

Let’s start by dissecting a tweet, focusing on the typical business tweet:

Public text messages

Like the text messages on your cell phone, tweets are limited to 140 characters, but unlike the messages on your phone, they are visible to everyone on the Twitter web site. Tweets can be deleted (thank goodness!) but not directly in Twitter. To erase a tweet, you’ll need to use a Twitter management tool like Tweet Deck or Hoot Suite.

Links to additional information

Most business tweets end with a shortened url that provides a link to additional material. Here’s an example from one of my recent tweets promoting our Annual Conference:

What’s the role of social media in asset management? Experts discuss at #NICSAAC2012, Miami Feb 12-15. ow.ly/8Pw8y

Click on the shortened url at the end, and you’ll be directed to a NICSA web page with more information about the event. In other words, the text of the tweet is the headline, while the link gives you access to the full article.

As a result, Twitter is a great tool for publicizing an organization’s activities. And, in fact, many companies – especially larger ones – use the channel solely as a sort of PR wire, funneling readers back to their own website.

Live tweets

Occasionally you’ll see a business tweet without a url – usually when someone is reporting on breaking news from a conference or other live event. These hot-off-the-presses messages are called “live” tweets.

Hashtags

Note the #NICSAAC2012 in the sample tweet? It’s a hashtag, which are easy to identify because they always begin with a # sign.

Anyone can create a hashtag – we came up with #NICSAAC2012 to flag tweets about the 2012 Annual Conference. There’s no central registry of hashtags; they become standardized only through general use.

Hashtags make it easier to find tweets on specific topics. A search for #NICSA is more likely to turn up tweets about your favorite association than one for just NICSA. To search quickly, just click on the hashtag — it’s a hyperlink to a search of tweets that include it.

Twitter handles

The # sign isn’t the only symbol that turns up regularly in tweets; the @ sign also makes frequent appearances. Here’s an example:

New post: 11 hot topics in regulation for 2012 | based on a recent NICSA webinar. ow.ly/8MxVx @Deloitte @dechertllp

The @ sign indicates a Twitter handle, which is a Twitter username. I use the handle @NICSAPres when tweeting for NICSA. Twitter handles are not case sensitive. Like hashtags, they are also hyperlinks; click on one, and you’ll see a search of recent tweets including that handle.

This particular sample tweet includes the handles for two NICSA member firms. I’ll explain why in the second part of this series, which discusses Twitter user interaction.



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