Social media in public works 101 — Microblogging: Twitter

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Everyone seems to enjoy gathering and sharing over a plate of appetizers, and yes, even social media has an appetizer course to offer known as microblogging. This term designates a tool that acts as a mini-feed that functions by pulling short messages from multiple sources and delivering them to you. A time-saving smorgasbord of appetizers. But don't forget, this feast is potluck. Your friends will let you stop by empty-handed for a while, but eventually you will want to join in and share your own creations.

To discover what this microblogging is all about, we are going to join and explore Twitter  one of the most popular sites providing this type of service. Twitter has evolved to become the go-to place for up-to-date news and information. It's fast and easy and highly interactive. When my power is out, I can usually find out why by checking Twitter. Or if my Internet goes down, I can message Comcast through Twitter and get almost instant help. And now that I have connected on the site with many other professionals, the answer to a question I might have about work is just a Tweet away.

Signing up for a Twitter account

Twitter WebsiteWe'll start by visiting the Twitter site. You can get there by either clicking the link below or typing it into your browser’s address window.

Signing up for Twitter is easy because, as you can see, the signup window is displayed on the main page. Simply fill out your full name, email address, and choose a password. Then click the bright, yellow “Sign Up for Twitter” button.

This will take you to a screen where you can choose a username. (I've included a screenshot from the last time I created an account to give you an idea of how this screen looks.) Type the username you would like in the box and hope that no one else has already signed up using this name. If you are the first, you will get a happy and encouraging message. If your chosen name is already taken, you will have to keep trying different variations or other names until one gives you the positive and much anticipated message confirming your choice.

Twitter Username screenWhen you've successfully filled out all the prompts, make sure you click the "Create my account" button so the computer knows you really do want a Twitter account and that you have thoroughly read and agreed to the terms of service. From there, you’ll be taken to a series of pages welcoming you and suggesting celebrities you can follow. Because I’m not a huge fan of celebrities, I chose not to follow any at this time. But if you see someone you like, go ahead and follow a few of the people suggested by Twitter. You can always "unfollow" them later if you decide Twitter led you astray.

Keep clicking through the screens and following prompts from Twitter to upload a photo and fill out your bio. Eventually you will find yourself at a screen similar to the one shown here. As you were moving through the screens, Twitter was busy sending a confirmation email to you. If there was a problem reaching your email, Twitter will notify you at this point and allow you to submit a different email. But if everything went through, you’ll see a message here confirming your account and thanking you for signing up. And we seem to get one more chance to follow some celebrities.Twitter Account Confirmation Screen

I want to mention at this point that you might have had a somewhat different experience signing up than what I described. Over the years Twitter has regularly made slight changes to the screens and messages they present during the sign-up process. But they always seem to do a good job leading people through it all, so even if you found slightly different instructions, you most-likely have had no problem getting to this point.

Exploring Twitter

Now that you are an official member of Twitter, you should find yourself at your new Twitter homepage. Unless you chose to follow a few celebrities, there should be no Tweets showing at this time. If you did follow a few accounts, the list of their Tweets will be displayed in a running feed that updates as new Tweets are posted. You can see a sample of this in the screenshot of the home page for my Public Works Group Twitter account.Public Works Group Twitter Page

Before we go any further, let's take some time to post a Tweet of our own. Look in the upper left hand side of your screen where Twitter is prompting you with the words, "Compose new Tweet" followed by an open box. Try typing a message, or Tweet, in this box. As you choose what to say, remember that these posts stay associated with your account.

As you type words into the box, you will notice a number appear below the box. This number starts out at 140 and decreases to reflect the number of characters you have left. This is a very important concept behind microblogging; you must get your message across in only 140 characters. Don't you wish we had this rule in other aspects of our lives?

Next, we'll visit "Settings" and make sure Twitter works like we want it to. To get there, look for an arrow next to an icon in the upper right-hand corner of your screen (in the image here the icon is a silhouette of a person, but again Twitter changes things so much don't be surprised if your icon looks different). Click this icon, and you'll be presented with a drop-down menu. Choose "Settings," which should take you to an account page. Here you can set your time zone and language. And there are also some privacy matters to decide. Should you add a location to your Tweets? Do you want to see media from people you don't follow? I'll leave these decisions up to you. One of the last settings on this page is a box with the words "Protect my tweets." Checking this ensures your posts will be private so that no one else can read what you write. This might seem somewhat counterproductive, so only check this if you want to have to first invite people before they can read your posts. Otherwise, remember that everything you post is out there for the world to see. (Note that this is also where you would delete your account. But Twitter is one of those things that takes time to develop a taste for. So I would advise holding off doing any deleting until you have actively used Twitter for at least a week or so.) Click the save button at the bottom before we go any further.

While there are more setting tabs here, the only other one we will review is the design tab. You can find this in the left sidebar. Click this, and you will be given a choice of designs that can be used as your Twitter background on your page. There are theme choices along with the opportunity for you to upload your own background image. When done, click the "Save changes" button at the bottom.

Now, go back to your home by clicking "Home" at the top. At this point we need to work on our next step, which is to find a few people to follow. In the world of Twitter, following simply means that you have chosen to collect a particular person's Tweets and have them fed to your Twitter home page. For now, I am going to suggest a few accounts for you to follow  the ones listed below post fairly regularly and usually include links to many useful resources. While there are many great and interesting folks to follow, it's best to only start out with a few while you're getting the hang of it. By watching their posts over the week, you will have a good idea about how people are using Twitter. (To follow someone, you just go to their Twitter page and click the "Follow" button. If you change your mind later and want no part of them, then just go back and hit the "Following" button again. It will change to "Unfollow.")

Aren't we done yet?
I realize that you are probably excited about your new Twitter account and about discovering what words of wisdom will arrive on your very own Twitter home page. But before you are cut loose totally, we need to go over a couple of last items. Trust me, you will want to know these last few tips.

1. The @ symbol  If you look through Tweets on other sites, you might notice a few that include people's Twitter names or "handles" with the @ symbol in front of them. This is the method of publicly directing your message to a specific person on Twitter. You can check when someone directs a public message to you by clicking the “@ Connect” link at the top of your Twitter home page. This takes you to a screen listing all of the times someone has put your username in a post with the “@” symbol.

2. Links  You might notice some people include links in their Tweets to provide more information related to that Tweet. This is called sharing, and it is a good thing to do. The bad thing about links is that they are often long and can take up a lot of characters. Fortunately Twitter has been shortening long links automatically. So usually you can just type or paste them into your Tweet, and Twitter will reflect the shortened version in the number of characters you have left.

3. Direct Messages  People can also send you messages directly that are private. No one else will see these messages but you. These can be found by clicking the “Direct messages” label found in the drop-down menu under the little icon in the upper right hand corner of your screen. These messages are sometimes cleverly referred to as a DM or Direct Message. The key thing to remember here is never to click on a link in a DM unless you know and trust the person sending you that link. This is because occasionally you might be sent a DM that tries to entice you to click the included link by suggesting people are posting bad things about you. Trust me, they are not. It's just a trick to get you to click that link. You can delete these tricky DMs by carefully clicking the DM in the drop-down. This will display the DM in a window by itself. If you hover your mouse over the area to the right of the DM, you will see a little garbage can. Click it to delete the message. A prompt will pop up asking if you are sure you want to delete it. Confidently click the red "Delete message" button, and the offending message will be cast into oblivion.

4. The Retweet  Sometimes a Tweet has such great information that people want to share it with everyone who follows them. This is done by creating a "Retweet." To share a Tweet you see in your feed, just hover over the Tweet. You'll see a list of options show up  one is "Retweet." Click this and the Tweet will be sent out to your own followers. Some people also Retweet others by copying the entire Tweet then putting a "RT" and the user's Twitter handle with the @ symbol at the beginning of the Tweet. Below is an example of @help4smallwater (which, by the way, is another great account to follow) sending out a Retweet using this method: 5. Replying to a Tweet  If you see a Tweet and want to send a comment to the person who sent it, you can send a "Reply" by hovering your mouse over the bottom of the Tweet and clicking the "Reply" link. This will open up a new window where you can type your message. Notice that Twitter has started out your Tweet by putting in the @username at the start of the Tweet. This is to ensure the person will see your comment.

6. Photos  You can add a photo to a Tweet by clicking the little camera icon that shows up when you start typing a Tweet. This will bring up your folders so you can browse to where the photo is stored on your computer. When you add it to your Tweet, Twitter will place a link to the photo in your message so people who see your Tweet will be able to view the photo by clicking that link. This is a useful method of sharing what's happening out on the jobsite with all your followers.

7. Tagging A word or letters with a number symbol added to a Tweet is called a "hashtag." People add hashtags to their Tweets as a way of tagging their Tweet so others can find it more easily. In the Retweet example above, you might have noticed that person ended their Tweet with #pygwd. This is an example of how the hashtag is used. You can also check this out by typing something like #sewers into the search window at the top of the Twitter screen and hitting enter on your keyboard. This will bring up a feed of all Tweets posted by everyone who added the #sewers hashtag to their Tweet. It's a useful way of monitoring a topic or even Tweets posted during a conference.

You have now successfully created a microblogging account at, you have started with your first post, you are following at least a few people, and you are armed with some beginning tips to get started. You are now a part of the Tweeple population.



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About the Blogger

Pam Broviak

thumbnail image A former senior editor of PUBLIC WORKS, Pam Broviak publishes the Public Works Group Blog at (All views expressed in this blog are her own and not those of PUBLIC WORKS.)