January 16, 2014

Twitter 201

by Jesse Johnson

Yesterday I explained why I use Twitter, and I gave an introduction to the basics of the Twitterverse. Today I want to explain how to get the most out of Twitter.  

Who to follow:

That depends on what you want to get out of Twitter. Do you want to see what your pastor is preaching on Sunday? The follow him. Do you want to see who what NFL rules experts are saying about every controversial play in the Super Bowl in real time? Then follow Mike P.

I follow a mixture of people that make me laugh, people that tweet quotes from Puritans, and friends of mine who like the same kind of blogs I do. That mixture means that when I open Twitter I chuckle, see ministry highlights from a few of my friends, and get a hint or two about any blogs I might want to read that day.

Every month or so I add a few new people to follow and drop some others, so that I’m always following around 50 people. Some people tweet more than I want to read, or about topics I don’t care about, and so I don’t follow them. And I just live in a world where it is OK/not personal to follow someone for a while then unfollow them. If you take it personally that someone doesn’t follow you (or unfollows you), then Twitter probably is not a good medium for you.

Yesterday in the comments I was asked about those who follow thousands of people (for example). I don’t understand those people, but I can only imagine they are using Twitter in ways I’m not familiar with.


You can reply to other’s tweets by pressing the reply key below them. Any time you do that, their user name starts your tweet. IMPORTANT POINT: If someone’s twitter handle is the first part of your tweet, your tweet will only be automatically seen by those people who follow both you and that person. Anyone else can see it, but only if they scroll through your timeline. So for example, this exchange below was seen only by those who follow both Eric and Joe–unfortunately for them, that happens to be me:

But what do you do if you really want your reply to be seen by all of your followers, and not only those that follow both of you? You have two choices: either remove their handle (their twitter name) from the reply, or move away from the beginning of the reply. This is why some people put a period or a quote mark before their tweet if it begins with someone’s handle:


Or you could get more creative than a period and put “Agreed” or “disagree” or “are you crazy” or whatever before the reply. If you do that, it is seen by everyone who follows you, not just by those who follow both of you. Had this tweet started with only @ndwilsonmutters, it would have only been seen by those that follow both CT and Nathan Wilson. But by adding “From” it is seen by everyone who follows CT:




You might see some people put an HT before someone’s handle. That simply means that whatever is in that particular tweet was brought to the person’s attention by that person. It stands essentially for “hat tip” and translates to “this person alerted me to this.” So if you see a cool thought by Piper, and you tweak it to make it your own, you would put “HT @johnpiper” there.

MT simply means “Modified Tweet.” So if you take someone else’s tweet, but for some mysterious reason you don’t want to simply retweet it, you can copy it into your own tweet (or select the “quote” option from the retweet button), then edit it. So for example, if I see a tweet from @austin_duncan that says the best preachers of all time are Spurgeon, Finney, and Edwards, I think, “I want to say something about that.” So I’d quote it, and write something like “2 out of 3 is ok. MT @austintduncan The best preachers ever are Spurgeon, Edwards, Finney.” I tweaked the order and shortened it to get it to fit, but the MT indicates that. This isn’t graduate level research here, but it is letting people know you altered the quote a bit.


There are two ways people use hashtags. We will call them the “right” way and the #wrongway. First the right way:

The pound sign serves as a hashtag, which is a cool feature on Twitter that allows someone to immediately see all tweets with the same hashtag. So for example, if you wanted to tweet about the Strange Fire conference, you’d include #strangefire in the tweet. Then when anyone wants to read everything tweeted about the conference, they can click on any tweet with the tag in it, and they will be taken to feed with every single tweet that used that hashtag.


Sometimes people use a hashtag for a particular theme. Such as “#evangelicalpickuplines. Then all kinds of random people that you wouldn’t normally interact with post their own replies, and you can see them all at once.


But some people use hashtags in what I will call “the wrong way.” They use it to say something clever, and basically the tag stops being a tag and starts being the equivalent of making fake quotation marks in the air when you are talking. In fact, I bet it is the same kind of people that do both.

But, to each his own.

Is there anything missing from above? Any other questions or things you’d like to add?

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • Doug

    Can you give some examples of different ways to use #hashtags correctly and creatively?

  • JD Taliaferro

    I cannot consider entering this alternative reality unless I know whether I will be considered a Tweeter, a Twitterer, or a Twitterian. Where do you stand on this important moral question?

    • a user? Maybe a user who tweets?

    • Some guy


  • Always thought HT = Heard Through, but same idea.

    Interesting posts. I hope it helps some folks.

  • I think this is worth adding.

  • 4Commencefiring4


  • Dan O.

    Also, DM = Direct message, in the event you want the conversation to be a
    little more private. While nothing online is completely private, you might use this to give someone your email address for extended communication not limited to 140 characters.

  • i appreciate these posts, but honestly, I still don’t get it. Give me a good, savory, several-paragraph blog post to read to understand a writer, not sophmoric sentences that sound like they could be scribbled on a bathroom wall (and seriously, the hashtags just remind me of bathroom wall graffiti as well…)

    • Alex

      Perhaps it is helpful to think of tweets like taglines for longer blog posts. A short snippet to grab a person’s attention and redirect it to the “good, savory, several-paragraph blog posts.” Twitter is, like most technology, best understood as one part of the machine – not an end, in and of itself.