Using Twitter Effectively: Part 5 of 10 – Composing Effective Tweets

Nat RussoHow-To, Twitter, Writing 5 Comments

In the last four parts of this ten part series we covered a lot of ground on what Twitter is (and is not), some of the mechanics of how to use it, and how to build a meaningful following. But we’ve yet to cover one of the most important topics:

How do I write effective Tweets? Heck, how do I write a Tweet at all?


It’s not as hard it may sound at first. Today, in Part 5 of this series, I’ll offer some advice on how you can take over the world in 140 characters or less.

A Disclaimer

This series was originally written over a 10-day period in 2013. I’ve included relevant updates throughout the series as Twitter changed policies and procedures. Please be aware that I may not have caught all of the changes. If you find such a change that isn’t captured in this series, please leave a comment with the new Twitter policy, and I’ll update the series accordingly. Cheers!

What Is a Tweet?

A Tweet is nothing more than a simple text message, composed by you, and shared with the world. A Tweet can contain text, hyperlinks, hashtags (we’ll cover that below), even images.

Five Ways to Tweet

Twitter gives us several different ways to create effective Tweets. Each method is slightly different than the others, though I think you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly. Let’s see what they are!

1. General Tweeting

I’m not really sure what else to call it. It’s the primary way you’ll get your message out. Take a look at the top of the screen when you log in to Twitter. You’ll see a toolbar that looks like this:
Twitter Toolbar
[UPDATE 05/09/2014] Twitter, like most forms of social media, is always evolving. The image you see above is based on a “theme” you can select in your settings. The colors may be different. At the time I took the screenshot, my theme caused the bar to be black and the active buttons to be blue.
Look at the far right side of the toolbar. See that blue square with what looks like a quill? That’s the button you’ll click to start writing a Tweet…well one of the ways to start. We’ll cover the rest. For now, just for grins, click that button. You should see something that looks like this:


The “Compose new Tweet” box will appear somewhere in the center of your screen. It’s a simple interface, but there’s a lot going on. For most purposes, the two most important things in this window are the text box where you type your message, and the number “140” next to the “Tweet” button in the lower-right corner. [9/12/2018 – Please ignore the “140”. A year or so ago, Twitter increased the allowable character count to 280.]

Keep in mind the “Compose new Tweet” box you see above is reddish/pink because the “theme” I’ve selected makes it so. Your colors may very well be different.

Who can see a general Tweet? The entire world. Only your followers will see the message in their timeline, but anyone can find your message by search or by looking at your profile page.

2. Retweet

You will often find other people’s Tweets interesting enough to share with your own following. In cases like these you’ll use the “Retweet” function of Twitter. Hover over one of the tweets in your timeline and you’ll see the following toolbar appear at the bottom.
Tweet Controls
The button in the center of the control is labeled “Retweet”. If you click this button you’ll be offered the option to “Retweet to Followers”. By continuing you are, in effect, reposting this Tweet to anyone who follows you. It’s a great way to help your Twitter friends spread a message to as many people as possible. It also happens to be one of the reasons that Twitter is quickly becoming the go-to source for news around the world. More and more stories of global interest are “breaking” on Twitter long before they hit the mainstream media.
You’ll recognize a retweet when you see one. It will usually contain the letters “RT” somewhere toward the beginning, often after a short message added by the person doing the retweeting.
Who can see a retweet? Same as a general Tweet. The whole world. But only your followers will see it in their timeline.

3. Mention

Twitter user names all begin with the “@” sign. Whenever you include a person’s “@” name in a tweet, that person will get a notification that they’ve been “mentioned”. It’s a quick way to get someone’s attention. Remember, people are rarely looking at their entire timeline. Eventually you get to a point where you’re following too many people for the overall timeline to be useful. You’ll want to “mention” someone to get their attention, otherwise they may not see your message.
Who can see a mention? Again, the entire world. However, the person mentioned will receive a notification that they’ve been “mentioned”. It gets their attention even if they’re not following you.

4. Reply

Take another look at the “Tweet Controls” image above. Notice the button that’s labeled “Reply”? If you click that button, Twitter will start a new Tweet for you. The only difference between this Tweet and a “mention” is that Twitter begins the new Tweet with the person’s “@” name. That’s all a reply is: a Tweet that begins with a person’s “@” name.
Who can see a reply? Once again, the whole world. Keep reminding yourself that Twitter is a public forum.

5. Direct Message

A direct message is a private message from one person to another person. You can send any of your followers a direct message. However, keep in mind that only people you follow can send you a direct message. So if you direct message (“DM” for short) a person you don’t follow back, they won’t be able to respond.
Who can see a Direct Message? Only the person you send it to.

Be Concise

You really have no other option, after all. You have 280 characters in which to express yourself. Think of it like sending a text message to the world. But take heart, writers. You’ll find your own prose becoming more concise after spending a healthy amount of time on Twitter!
If you have something to say that simply cannot be expressed in one or two Tweets, consider creating a blog or Facebook page and use your Tweets to drive people to those places
Twitter is not the place to sell your book. That’s what your blog, Facebook, or other author page is for. It’s one thing to promote your book a few times per day, but you’ll lose followers fast if the only thing you Tweet are advertisements. If you haven’t yet read my series on Building a Meaningful Following, it will offer you some advice on how to be a contributor to your community.
Use Twitter to drive people to your blog or author page. Use your blog or author page to contribute valuable information to the community. When people see that you have something of value to offer, they will be driven to check out your work!


You’ve undoubtedly heard the word “hashtag” many times since Twitter became popular, and you’ve probably seen them without knowing it; on television shows, in magazine and newspaper articles, even in radio advertisements. A hashtag is a word or phrase that begins with “#”.
What are they used for? Hashtags are a way to quickly categorize a Tweet so that the rest of the world can find it easily. For example, I regularly broadcast Tweets that are designed to give writing advice. Whenever I broadcast one of these Tweets, I add the word “#writetip” to the end. This way, whenever someone is searching for Tweets with “#writetip”, my Tweets will show up in the search results. They can also click on the hashtag and Twitter will create a search results list with all Tweets that contain “#writetip”.
Hashtags can be a valuable branding asset for writers as well. If you consistently Tweet with specific hashtag or set of hashtags, people will begin to associate you with the hashtag…so pick some good ones.
There are several lists of “canonical” hashtags for use on Twitter. I think writers will find the following lists of use:
Please limit your hashtag use to two or three in any given Tweet. Any more than that and the Tweet becomes difficult to read. It also makes you look like you don’t know what you’re doing. One or two well-chosen hashtags are far more effective than ten random ones.
Don’t forget to use your primary hashtags in your bio field!

Link Shorteners

Links can get out of control sometimes. To solve this problem I recommend finding a good link shortening service. Most are free, and they’ll take a monster-sized link and break it down to sometimes less than 16 characters.
The link shortening service I use is Bitly. Bitly takes a link like this:
And shrinks it to this:
Quite a difference!
In part 6 of the series, I’ll begin covering what not to do on Twitter. 

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About Nat Russo

Nat Russo is the Amazon #1 Bestselling Fantasy author of Necromancer Awakening and Necromancer Falling. Nat was born in New York, raised in Arizona, and has lived just about everywhere in-between. He’s gone from pizza maker, to radio DJ, to Catholic seminarian (in a Benedictine monastery, of all places), to police officer, to software engineer. His career has taken him from central Texas to central Germany, where he worked as a defense contractor for Northrop Grumman. He's spent most of his adult life developing software, playing video games, running a Cub Scout den, gaining/losing weight, and listening to every kind of music under the sun. Along the way he managed to earn a degree in Philosophy and a black belt in Tang Soo Do. He currently makes his home in central Texas with his wife, teenager, mischievous beagle, and goofy boxador.

Comments 5

    1. Not remotely, as long as you’re in the practice of using strong passwords. Dictionary words won’t cut it. Also, 3rd party services never actually see your passwords. They receive an “authorization token” from Twitter that you can revoke at any time.

      Bitly is a reputable provider. The reality is that to truly get the most out of our services, we’re going to have to be willing to integrate them. Technology has advanced to the point at which this integration is secure as long as we’re practicing strong security wherever we can.

      My passwords are unintelligible. In fact, I couldn’t even tell you what a specific password is. They’re random strings, very long, and they include special characters, numbers, and mixed case. I use a password manager which is controlled by a VERY strong passphrase. When I need a specific password, I go straight to my password manager, enter my passphrase (the only complex thing I need to remember), and retrieve the impossible-to-remember strong password.

      If a service ever asked for my Twitter/Facebook username and password, I would run like the wind. But the services I recommend never do that. When you are asked to authorize their access, notice the URL of the login page you’re taken to. It’s Twitter’s (or Facebook’s) official login page. You authenticate to Twitter *through* Twitter. Twitter then passes an authentication token back to Bitly (or whichever service you’re attempting to authorize). As long as the token remains valid, which you control, the service can act on your behalf.

      And keep in mind that Bitly isn’t suggesting it’s going to post to your account without your knowledge. They simply need the authorization token for when *you* click the “Tweet” button on a Bitly page.

  1. Maybe I’m doing sth wrong, but: When I press “retweet” inside Twitter, either on the desktop/browser or on my tablet, I can retweet the tweet AS IS or I can cancel. I can’t change or add anything – which is one reason why I rarely retweet. Do I need 3rd party tools for that? Or is using the retweet-button the wrong approach?

    1. Post

      I share your frustration in this. You’d think Twitter would understand its own community enough to realize their retweet button is functionally useless.

      Well, perhaps “useless” is overstating things. I use it on occasion. But, as you’ve noticed, you can’t change anything. It just sends the message as-is immediately. Fortunately there are workarounds for this:

      1. You can hit the “reply” button instead. This allows you to add text to the tweet before sending it out, and it automatically adds the handle of the original tweeter. The convention is to preface the original tweet with “RT” if you haven’t changed anything, or “MT” if you’ve had to modify the tweet to meet the character limitation.

      Sometimes when a tweet is too long for me to add something to (or modify and still be able to keep the message intact), I just hit the retweet button, then follow up with a reply.

      2. Third-party tools. The third party tool developers seem to understand the Twitter community better than Twitter does. I use third party tools on my mobile devices exclusively (I prefer TweetBot on mobile due to the ease with which you can manage lists). I still use the Twitter website primarily when I’m on my desktop, but I also use the HootSuite dashboard for this on occasion. HootSuite also allows you to modify a tweet before sending it out.

      3. Buffer. If you have a “Buffer” account, and you use Chrome as a web browser, you can install the “Buffer” extension in your browser. When you do this, you get another option on your Twitter interface: an option with the Buffer logo that says “Add to Buffer”. When you click this, they present you with a tweet interface that allows you to change the original tweet! An added benefit to Buffer is that you can track tweet performance through Buffer’s analytic tools. Another example of a third party developer who understands Twitter better than Twitter does.

    2. Post

      I forgot to mention something regarding option “3” in my last reply: using the Buffer extension gives you another added benefit. You can choose to “Share Now” or “Buffer Tweet”. The former is self-explanatory. The latter will take your reply and queue it in your buffer queue, if that suits your social media strategy more.

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