140 Characters for Your Thoughts: A Smart’s Girl’s Guide to the Twitterverse

By Laura K. Garrison

Fun fact about me: I had a Twitter account before I had a Facebook profile. In fact, I’ve been going strong on Twitter for about two and a half years compared to the five months I’ve been on Facebook. Even though this might sound a little strange, my lack of having a Facebook was never really a problem because most people in my high school tweeted. When I came to Barnard, however, I was shocked by the number of ladies who had no concept of what Twitter was or didn’t really understand what to do with their Twitter account. So, in order to clarify the most prominent of micro-blogging sites, here’s a guide to Twitter from a reformed Twitter addict.

People who don’t understand Twitter always compare it to Facebook. For example, a common question from a non-tweeter is, “It’s basically a site where you can post endless statuses, right?” Although you can think of it like that, that’s not Twitter’s true nature. Facebook is designed to connect you to your friends and people you know personally. Twitter, however, seeks to connect you to the world—your friends, your favorite celebrities, the top professionals in your field, anyone. This phenomenon is best summed up in this proverbial tweet: “Facebook is for the people you went to high school with. Twitter is for the people you wish you went to high school with.” It is important to remember that Twitter is what you make of it; it doesn’t only depend on what you post, but also on the people you follow. If you want the best Twitter experience possible, follow people who interest you and take their example on how to be an effective tweeter.

Ideally, Twitter is a great place to share those clever thoughts you wish you could tell everyone you know, but naysayers frequently criticize Twitter for being a medium that encourages the self-absorbed to recount their day’s inconsequential events. Yes, some tweeters can be really boring and self-absorbed, but you can choose to follow or not follow those people. More importantly, don’t become one of those tiresome tweeters yourself. For example, say you trip going up the stairs. Rather than tweet, “Just tripped going up the stairs” (which is boring and, frankly, no one cares), try something like this: “Yes, I am that girl that just tripped. I am not a klutz; I am a damsel in distress.” By adding some wit to the previously mundane event, you generalize your tweet so that your other damsel-in-distress followers will want to retweet you, the ultimate form of flattery on Twitter.

Though I hate to compare Twitter to Facebook, there is no better way to clarify the Twitter’s “follower” relationship than by comparing it to Facebook’s “friend” relationship. When you want to be “friends” with someone on Facebook, it is a mutual agreement between two parties that they are both mildly interested in each other’s lives. Unfortunately, this creates a situation where people feel as if they have to accept a friend request even though they really don’t care about the person who sent it. Let’s be honest: who really has two thousand friends who they want to keep in touch with via Facebook, anyway? The beautiful thing about Twitter is that there is virtually no pressure to follow back because your followers will still be able to see your tweets even if you don’t choose to follow them. Even if you do feel obligated to follow someone back, you can always un-follow them after a day or two. Chances are, they won’t even notice that you no longer follow them because they will continue to see your tweets. You can also protect your tweets by activating a security setting requiring that you approve all of your followers, which I highly recommend.

Now that you know how Twitter works, what’s the most effective way to actually use it? Remember, Twitter is all about who you follow. Try following your favorite celebrities, musicians, movie stars, comedians, etc. Unlike Facebook pages, which are usually run by their staff, celebrities often have full control over their Twitter accounts and use them to share funny tidbits about their daily life and pictures of whatever they happen to be doing. Beyond the superficiality of celebrity stalking, I would suggest following publications and news sources (such as @nytimes and @cnn) that keep you updated on what’s happening around the world. Since I joined Twitter, I’ve often been informed on current events even before my super socially aware mother, be it the recent Virginia earthquake or the death of Steve Jobs. By checking what’s trending on Twitter in New York or around the world, I can get a general sense of what’s happening in real time.

I’ll admit Twitter is a bit of an acquired taste; at first, even I didn’t really see the point. With a little practice and some guidance, however, Twitter can become a great source of information and, unfortunately, yet another wonderful distraction. I’ve known people who began a Twitter account and didn’t use it for a few weeks, but six months later didn’t understand how they ever lived without it. Below are a few glossary of terms used frequently on Twitter and a list of my favorite feeds to help you begin your journey into the Twitterverse. Let me know how it goes in the comment section below!

Glossary of Twitter Terms
Direct Message (DM) – a way to privately contact anyone who follows you; direct messages do not appear on your (or their) timeline
Favorite – click on “Favorite” at the bottom of a tweet to keep a copy in your list of Favorites
Follow Friday (FF) – a way to suggest an interesting Twitter feed to your followers on Friday, Ex. “FF @9waysofknowing
Hashtag (#) – a mechanism creating a link of certain words or phrases so that others can see who else is tweeting about those words or phrases in real time, Ex. #inthe90s
Mention – to tag another Twitter user in a tweet, similar to mentioning another Facebook user in a post (see Replies)
Replies (@) – place an ‘@’ symbol in front of a username at the beginning of a tweet to reply; this will also create a link to their Twitter feed and notify them that they have been mentioned in a tweet (in this case, known also as a mention), Ex. “@9waysofknowing Great post! Keep them coming!” or “Just read the new post on @9waysofknowing! Good read!”
Retweet (RT) – used as a verb, refers to the action of retweeting (or reposting) another’s tweet; used as a noun, refers to the retweeted tweet itself (NOTE: If someone has protected their account, you must type RT and copy and paste the tweet; if their account is unprotected, simply click ‘Retweet’ at the bottom of the tweet) Ex. “RT @9waysofknowing Photos and an explanation of what’s going on in the Altschul atrium, excuse me, the Hive, up now!”
Timeline – a complete list of tweets from you and those your followers in real time
Top Tweets – the most retweeted/popular tweets at a specific time
Trending Topic – a list of the top ten most popular topics being talked about on Twitter; can be listed worldwide or by city

Laura’s Top Twitter Feeds to Follow

If you have lace Barnard-Pride panties, then your
life is definitely Barnard (and I’m jealous).

@MyLifeIsBarnard – This is a MUST FOLLOW for all Barnard students. The witty ladies behind this feed tweet daily about life at Barnard College, proving that there is no shortage of stereotypical jokes on a women’s college campus.
Sample Tweet: “Neighbors complained to the RA about ladies changing with the shades open. I’m sorry, but I can’t help being strong and beautiful. #mlibc

@Lord_Voldemort7 – On his way to 2,000,000 followers, You-Know-Who has turned many a loyal Potterhead into a Death Eater. With his sarcastic view of Muggle life, following the Dark Lord is an easy way to be sustained through Post-Potter Depression.
Sample Tweet: “20 Aug 1994: Harry lives the nightmare of Voldemort killing Frank Bryce. 20 Aug 2011: We all live the nightmare of Kim Kardashian’s wedding.”

@whitegrlproblem – Run by the mysterious Babe Walker, this feed lists all the inevitable challenges every privileged, chic white girl will ever face. This “problems” feed will only continue to rise in popularity, as Walker is releasing her memoir, White Girl Problems, in January 2012.
Sample Tweet: “My Dad only pays for my car, phone, trainer, tattoos, psychic, and tattoo removal. Financial independence feels great. #whitegirlproblems

@BCMagnoliaTree – This Barnard-centric feed chronicles the imagined thoughts of the beloved magnolia tree that graces Lehman Lawn. Though somewhat infrequent, the magnolia’s tweets are a nice boost of Barnard pride.
Sample Tweet: “Totes saw SJP walk by today! I was about to tell her how much I LOVE Sex and the City, but then I remembered that trees don’t talk.”

@StephenAtHome – From the poli-sci major to the comedy fan, Stephen Colbert’s feed is just like The Colbert Report: full of clever one-liners on everything from politics to pop culture. He holds the honor of writing the most retweeted tweet of 2010.
Sample Tweet (and most retweeted of 2010): “In honor of oil-soaked birds, ‘tweets’ are now ‘gurgles.’ http://bit.ly/cIhZNf

@Karl_Lagerfeld – Renowned fashion designer and fashion photographer Karl Lagerfeld rarely tweets, but when he does, expect something epic. Though an obvious choice for the fashion-obsessed, Lagerfeld is inspiring for any driven young woman. Not to mention you’ll also feel super sophisticated seeing him on your timeline.
Sample Tweet: “My greatest problem in life is my indifference to the outside world.”

@Joan_Rivers – Joan Rivers is many things: an actress, a comedian, a Barnard alumna, and now a hysterically funny tweeter. She muses on everything, from celebrity culture and national headlines to her own fabulous life.
Sample Tweet: “I asked my grandson, Cooper, if he knew where babies came from. Very smart! He said, ‘Of course… Brad and Angelina’s house.’”

@9waysofknowing – And finally, please follow The Nine Ways of Knowing on Twitter for the latest updates to the blog!

For more, check out this list of 140 Best Twitter Feeds as compiled by Time magazine.

Laura K. Garrison is a first-year at Barnard College and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing. People tend to think she’s really popular because her cellphone is always vibrating with text messages. Secretly, she knows she’s not popular; they’re just tweets from the people she stalks.

Photos courtesy of Simply Zesty and Naldz Graphics.


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