Twitter – Tweet in 140 characters or less

October 4th, 2010 by Monika Jankowska-Pacyna

Twitter is a quick and easy way to share and discover what is happening right now. It is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables users to send and read messages known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters that are displayed on the author’s profile page and delivered to the author’s subscribers who are known as followers.


Tweets can be sent and received via the Twitter website, Short Message Service (SMS) or external applications. While the service itself costs nothing to use, accessing it through SMS may incur phone service provider fees.

Twittering is the sound birds make when they communicate with each other – an apt description of the conversations on Twitter where everyone is posting and exchanging tweets.

Why 140 characters?

SMS (i.e., texting on your phone) limits each message to 160 characters. Twitter takes that limit and reserves 20 characters for your username, leaving you 140 characters to work with.



Deciding to explore and use Twitter can take time and be intimidating. Often Twitter is thought of as a tool that tells people what you are eating, where you are going or what you are doing – in short, a tool that provides too much personal information. But it can be so much more, especially to organizations and communities that want to connect with their users, partners and funders.

Here are some of its benefits:

News and updates

Twitter allows users to quickly disseminate information to their followers and, in turn, followers quickly get information and updates from Twitter accounts they follow. The ability to retweet the posts allows for the news to spread quickly among different Twitter users.

Discovery and research

Twitter is recognized as an alternative tool for searching and researching specific information. Tapping into the pool of knowledge of Twitter followers allows organizations to ask specific questions, and to elicit ideas and suggestions. Some organization post tips or hints, while others provide quick survey questions directly on Twitter that can then can be found and followed up on by Twitter followers.

Collaboration and networking

One of the most recognized benefits of Twitter is the opportunity to meet people and new organizations – to make new connections, interact with and learn from each other. Some users compare it to the “water cooler effect” where they can simply chat and share ideas, explore new possibilities and collaborate on initiatives directly from their home or office, often without ever meeting the other Twitter users in person.

Marketing and promotion (Billboard)

Having a Twitter account allows users to promote their cause, their products and services. It helps reinforce their brand and market their organizations via a new and popular medium. Many organizations use Twitter to post coupons and discounts, update followers on the latest sales or promotions, announce new events, and even run full campaigns. Twitter can be compared to a big billboard on a busy virtual intersection that allows users to not only advertise to, but also to interact with, their followers.

Search engine optimization and referral

Twitter accounts often drive traffic to an organization’s main website or blog. Since Twitter allows only 140 characters, users often link back to the main website or blog for full content. When followers visit the site or blog, they will often explore other sections and information about the organization. Sometimes Twitter posts simply remind followers to go and visit the main site for the latest updates.


Since followers can respond to Twitter posts, the followers often provide instantaneous feedback on products or services and offer testimonials. They can even pinpoint typos or broken links, helping host organizations to fix them immediately. Sometimes they would even alert organizations that their websites or blogs are not working or have been broken into and are displaying inaccurate content.

How does Twitter benefit you? Send us an email at



As with any new technology or tool, there are a few downsides to using Twitter. It takes a bit of time to get used to this tool, the new terminology and how it functions.

Also, finding enough time to write, read and review posts to stay up to date can be challenging, especially when some of the users add more than ten new posts per day.

When following too many different Twitter accounts, the task of reading all the posts becomes impossible. For example, let’s assume you follow 100 different accounts and each adds one post per day. You have to review 100 posts per day. Assuming that some users will add more than one post, the task of keeping up to date on all posts can be overwhelming and time-consuming. It’s very important to carefully choose and limit the number of accounts you follow.

Finally, the wealth of topics and information you will find in Twitter can quickly sidetrack you from what you are doing, even if the information does promote new ideas and insights.


New Terminology

Twitter has introduced users to a whole new range of vocabulary. Here are some of the terms you will find:


To receive messages on Twitter, you follow other people and companies you’re interested in. Their messages show up in your incoming timeline on your Twitter home page. Conversely, people get your messages by following you.


Users refer to an individual message as a “tweet.” Alternatives include “post,” “message” and “update.” Verbs, such as “I tweeted” or “I twittered” are also used.


The term “@username” allows you to directly exchange public messages with individual users. For example:

“@alphapluscentre thanks you for the last post!”

On Twitter, @username automatically becomes a link to that person’s account – helping people to discover each other on the system. Put another way, when you see an @username, you can always click through to that person’s Twitter page and decide if you want to follow them.

Direct messages

These messages allow you to privately exchange messages with others without posting them in the public area.

RT or retweet

To help share someone else’s post, you can use the retweet feature to share that post with your own followers. The system will add information to the post to tell others who the message originally came from.

Trending Topics

On the right side of your screen and on the Twitter search page, you’ll see ten Trending Topics, which are the most-mentioned terms on Twitter at that particular moment. The topics update continually, reflecting the real-time nature of Twitter and the true shifts in what people are paying attention to.

Hashtag (#)

Twitter messages don’t have a field where you can categorize them. So people have created the hashtag – which is just the # symbol followed by a term describing or naming the topic – that you add to a post as a way of saying, “This message is about the same thing as other messages from other people who include the same hashtag.” Then, when somebody searches for that hashtag, they’ll get all of the related messages.

Companies often use hashtags as part of a product launch (like #FordFiesta), and conferences and events frequently have hashtags associated with them (like #spotlight2010).


A tweetup is simply an in-person gathering organized via Twitter, often spontaneously. Companies use tweetups for things like hosting launch parties, connecting with customers and introducing like-minded followers to each other.

Shortened URLs

With just 140 characters at your disposal, Twitter doesn’t give you much room to include URL links – some of which are longer than 140 characters themselves. Twitter sometimes will automatically shorten the URL for you, if not, there are also a number of services – URL shorteners – that take regular links and shrink them down to a manageable length for tweets, and some even let you track clicks. An example of a URL shortener is


Twitter has great search capability and allows you to save your searches to see what new information comes up under your saved search categories.


Sample Twitter Accounts

Resources to Explore

Click here to read: Ontario Literacy Coalition – Literacy is a cause worth tweeting about!