Twitter User Guide

In terms of interaction, Twitter remains one of the most dynamic social media platforms. Whereas Facebook’s strength lies in connecting you through people you know, Twitter’s strength is connecting you through topics you speak about. Twitter content can capture the moment using tweets, links, trends, and hashtags.

Twitter 101

Twitter messages are called “tweets” and each tweet is limited to 280 characters.

Though it varies widely, most Twitter users will post something everyday with many accounts posting, replying, or sharing other peoples messages multiple times a day.

Initially tweets will only be seen by your Twitter “followers,” and those tweets get seen by wider audiences when your followers share (“retweet”) your message, or other Twitter users find it through the search tool.

The primary way to engage on Twitter is through “replies.” A Twitter “@reply” can be published in response to another user’s message, but you can use @reply in your messages called “tagging” which, when published, notify that user that they have been mentioned.

While Twitter’s “feed” is not absolutely chronological, the Twitter algorithm heavily favors messages that were published more recently. The more popular a message is the more likely it will remain in people’s feeds for longer. If a tweet is popular, Twitter may also continue to share it with your audience, hours or even days after you sent the tweet.

In the same way that the Twitter feed is semi-chronological, dialogue between Twitter users is semi-realtime. Exchanges between users often are conducted over the course of hours, not days, and a Twitter user would expect a reply to a question within the same day.


Hashtags are a way to categorize your Twitter posts so they are seen by more people. When you add a “#“ before any series of letters Twitter automatically creates a link in Twitter that aggregates all other tweets that have used that hashtag.

Applying hashtags on Twitter can serve two function. First, you can apply general hashtags to get your Tweets seen by other people that are talking about a specific topic or event, e.g. #ScienceFriday. Second, you can you specific original hashtags to bring together a collection of a social posts about a topic you “own”.   Hashtags do count toward the 280-character limit on Twitter, so keep it short and obvious. For instance, in promoting the event “Zen meditation at Rockefeller,” if you wanted it to be seen by a broader group of people you could use the tag #Zen, if you were are trying to curate an online topic you own, you could use the hashtag #ZenMedUC.

To save characters, you can use the hashtag in the context of what you’re tweeting. An example: “Find your inner Buddha during #ZenMed. Only 4 more days to sign up!

If the hashtag does not fit within your message, it’s best to place them at the end of your message. “Finals week getting you stressed? Relax: #ZenMed #uchicago”

Getting Started on Twitter

Go to Twitter and enter your name, e-mail, and preferred username and password, then click “Create my account.” Try to pick a username that is short, easy to remember, and contains words or names users might search for you with. Take care to avoid creating  usernames that are indecipherable to an outsider — including obscure acronyms, unfamiliar abbreviations, or strings of numbers may make your account appear to be a spammer or a “bot.”

Select your username carefully, as it is not easy or a good idea to change it. If your preferred username is too long to fit, or it is unavailable don’t worry. Choose an effective username and use your Twitter “display name” to include more detailed information. Both your username and display name are searchable, and your display name can be changed at anytime.

Twitter will send you an e-mail. Confirm and activate your new account by clicking the link in the e-mail.

A page will appear that says “Find sources that interest you,” with lists of suggested users to follow, broken down by area of concentration. Click the “Follow” button to follow users that interest you. Click “Next” when you’re done.

Next, the “Contact Import'' page will appear, allowing you to find people in your e-mail address book on Twitter. Click “Next” when you’re done.

Go to your account settings to add a profile picture, bio, or website URL, or to adjust the design of your profile.

Type and publish your first tweet! Tweets must always be 280 characters or less, which includes all links, usernames, and hashtags.

Best Practices

Accounts can be set to either public or private, and can be switched back and forth at anytime. Tweets from private accounts will not appear in search results and users must request permission to see your messages. Aside from a very specific use case, University accounts should always be public. You want your messages to be seen by more than just your followers.

Tips for Twitter compositions:

  • Be as succinct as possible. 280 characters is a limit, not a goal.

  • Include images, links and other visual assets whenever possible.

  • Use at least one but no more than three hashtags in your posts.

  • Look for opportunities to “tag” appropriate accounts in your messages.

While some hashtags are associated with specific organizations or topics of conversation, hashtags are not “owned” by anyone. You do not have to “register” or otherwise validate a hashtag before using. That said, it is advisable to search for a hashtag you intend to use to see who uses a hashtag and what is being posted.

Tweets that begin with an “@_ _ _ _” are known as “Replies” or “Mentions”—they will only appear in your feed, and the mentioned user’s feed, as well as the feeds of anyone who follows both you and the mentioned user. If you are beginning a tweet with an “@ mention,” you can type a “.” before the @ to send it as a tweet that can be seen by anyone, not a reply. For example: “.@UChicago…”.

“Direct Messages” (DM’s) are messages exchanged privately between groups of Twitter users and are not publicly viewable. Users can set their DM’s to be “closed” — which means only users that follow each other can DM, or you can set them to be “open” in which any Twitter user can privately message you. Aside from very specific use cases, University accounts should always have “open” DMs.

Although DMs are only viewable to you and the users you are communicating with, never share information that must remain private. This is a principle that applies to all social media.

Using Twitter’s Functions

GIFs are a popular way to add some variety to your Twitter feed beyond just static images—Twitter allows you to search for GIFs in-platform. A collection of University-centric GIFs can be found here.

Retweets (RT) are one of the easiest and most popular ways to spread information through Twitter. Simply click the “retweet” button under a tweet you would like to share with all of your followers. It will appear in your feed regardless of whether other users follow the user who posted the original tweet.

Quote Tweets (QT) allow you to retweet a tweet, while adding a personal message. This can be an opportunity to engage in conversation with the material you are retweeting, without republishing it yourself or simply retweeting it to your profile page.

In a 2019 update, you can now add images to Quote Retweets—including GIFs. We advise quote tweeting with text as much as possible, but there may be times when using an image (such as a flyer for an event or photos of campus) can also help your tweet stand out. 

If you cannot effectively communicate your message with less than 280 characters use a “Thread.” Threads are a connected series of tweets that allow you to get across a larger amount of information on Twitter, or bring  older tweets back into your audience’s feed. You can create a Thread all at once when writing your initial tweet, or reply to your own post later.

There is no limit to how often you can or should tweet. Develop a flexible posting schedule that complements the times your target audience is the most active. 

Other Tips and Tricks

It is important to avoid any overtly “spam-like” behavior. Here are some suggested techniques to avoid while using Twitter:

  • Repetitive or misleading tweets

  • A “robotic,” or impersonal tone of voice

  • Over-reliance on Trending Topics as tweet subject matter

  • Never replying to users

  • Using third-party applications that send an automatic DM any time a user decides to follow you.

  • Attempting to get someone who does not follow you on Twitter to follow back.

Twitter is meant to be informal. Take note of the type of language, content, and attitude that elicits the most responses.

All University policies concerning plagiarism, profanity, obscenity, and discrimination are applicable as you represent the University of Chicago.

Identify alumni by degree and year using UChicago style. Arrange multiple degrees in chronological order, from earliest to latest. For example: “Janet Davison Rowley, PhB’45, SB’46, MD’48, named ’11 #UChicago Alumni Medalist.”

Tools & Resources

There are many third-party applications that can be used with Twitter, making it easy to broadcast live events, host contests, pull data for research, and much more.

Twitter has created a helpful collection of documents for marketers and companies hoping to maximize the success of their campaigns, featuring more best practices, a “Twitter Glossary,” advertising information, and more.

URL Shorteners 

Use a URL shortener when linking to an outbound web page. With only 280 characters per tweet, every word and letter is very important and some URLs can be very long. Twitter now has their own short URL service,, and there are many more, such as (which features it’s own Analytics tools),, and


Twitter has developed its own analytics function that can measure engagements, offer advice for making more successful tweets, explore the demographics, interests, and locations of followers, and track how Twitter Cards drive clicks, app installs, and Retweets. In addition, many third-party Twitter applications and URL shortening services (see above) feature built-in analytics tools. These include:

Twitter Counter – With this tool you’ll be able to find out more about followers, friends, tweets, absolute and relative growth, as well as analyze trends and export data into a .CSV file.

Tweetstats —This is the best way to find out how many times you tweeted daily or monthly, as well as learn more about your replies and mentions.

Tweetreach — Tweetreach creates graphs and pie charts that analyze your tweet types and how many times they’ve been viewed using any and all Twitter applications.

Listening & Research

Twitter remains one of the more publicly-accessible social media platforms, and users on the platform, generally speaking, want their messages to be seen. This makes Twitter an ideal place to do “listening” — researching what the popular opinions are about people, topics, and even about your institution. Use Twitter Search to:

  • Discover trending news and topical conversation

  • Search hashtags to track “real-time” conversation and identify topic influencers

  • Search keywords associated with your organization to find opportunities to interact and add to the conversation

Examples on Campus

The University of Chicago Magazine’s Twitter feed features retweets of news and information from all over campus. This provides a snapshot of what’s going on in different University departments, and helps other campus communicators who may not have as many followers.

The Chicago Manual of Style (published by the University of Chicago Press) provides writing tips, news of interest to copywriters, and promotions, all with a sense of humor. It also pays attention to others’ loving mentions of the Manual and retweets them.

Help and Feedback

Contact us if you have any questions about using Twitter, or if you have feedback on this page.