While these trends are anecdotal the fact remains that parents still are unsure what Twitter is about, how to use it, and how to monitor their children so that they are safe and using this very popular social media channel appropriately.
As a result, the goal of this post is to help parents understand the who, what, where, how, and why of Twitter. Let’s begin…
What is Twitter?
According to Wikipedia Twitter is:
Twitter is an online social networking and microblogging service that enables users to send and read "tweets", which are text messages limited to 140 characters. Registered users can read and post tweets, but unregistered users can only read them. Users access Twitter through the website interface, SMS, or mobile device app.
In laymans terms Twitter is essentially a text-messaging platform with one major difference - the messages are public and searchable by search engines like Google. Each message is called a Tweet and is limited to 140 characters which includes spaces.
The public nature of Twitter makes it a wonderful platform for many uses, including educational, but the public nature is what causes parents to pause and to be concerned for their children.
History of Twitter
Twitter began in 2006 and the growth of this social media platform has been staggering. It is now in the top 10 most visited sites on the internet, according to Statistic Brain, and has incredible usage statistics:
Total number of active registered Twitter users: 645,750,000
Number of new Twitter users signing up everyday: 135,000
Average number of tweets per day: 58 million
Percent of Twitter users who use their phone to tweet: 43%
Percent of Twitters who don’t tweet but watch other people tweet: 40%
Number of days it takes for 1 billion tweets: 5 days
Number of tweets that happen every second: 9,100
If your child isn’t on Twitter yet it’s only a matter of time before they open an account or watch someone else use Twitter.
Glossary of Twitter Terms for Parents
In order to learn more about Twitter it’s important to understand the language of Twitter. I’ve compiled terms and definitions for words that you will hear surrounding the use of Twitter.
Tweet - a message on Twitter limited to 140 characters including spaces. A tweet can, and typically, includes a link to a web page, photo, or video. A tweet is public.
Hashtag - is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created to categorize messages using the # symbol. Hashtags can be seen by the public.
Reply - is any update posted by clicking the Reply button on a tweet. The tweet will include your twitter username with the @ symbol preceding it. A reply is public.
Mention - is any Twitter update that contains “@username” anywhere in the body of the Tweet. This is a way for someone to mention you. A mention is public.
Retweet - is someone else’s Tweet that you chose to share with all of your followers. A retweet is public.
Favorite - represented by a small star icon next to a Tweet, are more commonly used when users like a tweet. Favoriting a Tweet can let the original poster know that you liked their Tweet, or you can save the Tweet for later. Favorites are public.
Direct Message (DM) - is a private message sent via Twitter to one of your followers. You can only send a direct message to a user who is following you; you can only receive a direct message from users you follow. While this type of message is intended to be private it can potentially be read by anyone. In short, treat them as public.
Following - a Twitter account means you are subscribing to their Tweets as a follower. This means you will see their tweets.
Followers - are people who receive your Tweets. In essence, they have subscribed to receive your updates.
Protected Tweets - when you sign up for Twitter you have the option to protect your tweets which means that your tweets will only be visible to your approved Twitter followers. In other words, if someone chooses to follow your Twitter account you will have to approve them to follow you. While tweets coming from a protected account are intended to have limited access they can potentially be read by anyone. In short, treat them as public.
Tweet Chat - is a pre-arranged chat that happens on Twitter through the use of Tweets that include a predefined hashtag to link those Tweets together in a virtual conversation.
How To Create A Twitter Account
1. Sign Up For Twitter
Twitter is free and it’s very simple to sign up for an account. Simply go here: https://twitter.com/ and enter your full name, email address, and a password then click the Sign Up for Twitter button.
2. Select a Twitter Username
You will then see a screen that allows you select your Twitter Username. While Twitter will suggest a username for you please take the time to think about the username you select. Ideally it would be great to get your name or a version of your name like last name, first initial. While you’ll be able to change your username later I find it best to take time to set it up correctly the first time.
3. Follow People/Brands/Organizations
You will then be instructed to follow 5 Twitter usernames. Twitter will suggest accounts for you to follow but I recommend searching and following people, brands, or organizations that are meaningful to you.
Here is my initial list for you follow:
4. Follow 5 More Accounts
Twitter will ask you to follow 5 more Twitter accounts. After you select 5 more, Twitter will ask you to select 5 more but on the next screen they have a small Skip link at the bottom of the page.
5. Upload A Profile Image
Twitter will then ask you to upload an image of yourself and complete your Bio. Best practices suggest that you upload a recognizable image of yourself and then complete your Bio by telling people about yourself and what you are interested in.
After your account is created I encourage you to “listen” for a short amount of time. What I mean by that is to watch your Twitter stream and see what other people are tweeting and how they are interacting. At first your Twitter stream might be a little overwhelming but have patience and in time it will become more familiar to you.
After you’ve listened for some time I then encourage you to begin to participate on Twitter by sending your first Tweet. In order to send a Tweet simply look beneath your Twitter Photo and you will find a box that says, “Compose new Tweet….” Enter the contents of your first tweet into the box and click the button labeled Tweet. That’s it.
If you set-up your Twitter account using this tutorial I’d like to ask a favor. When you compose your first tweet please copy the Tweet below and enter into the box and hit Tweet:
Thanks @Sewickley - This is my first tweet. #sapanthers
How to Search Twitter
Twitter’s search capabilities are very powerful and in order to learn how to search Twitter I encourage you to watch this short screencast I created.
How to Find Your Children On Twitter
Now that you have a basic understanding of Twitter and have set-up your Twitter account you'll probably want to see what your children are posting on Twitter. In order to find your children on Twitter you have three options:
- After watching the above video on Twitter I suggest that you search for your child on Twitter using Twitter search. Search for your child's full name, or a variation that they use, and you should be able to find their Twitter account and follow them using your Twitter account.
- If you are unable to find your child on Twitter using Twitter search I would recommend conducting a Google search using your child's name and adding the words "on Twitter" to the search, e.g. Brendan Schneider on Twitter.
- Finally, if you are unable to locate our child's Twitter username using the above methods you will have to ask them directly for their Twitter username.
Once you locate the username you'll be able to follow their account and monitor their usage to make sure that they are safe. Also, don't be surprised if you learn a thing or two about Twitter from your child!
I hope you found this post helpful and now feel a little better about Twitter and what it actually is and how to use it. I’ll be on the lookout for your first Tweet and if you have any questions please ask them in the comments section of this blog post. Good luck!