Twitter for Baby Boomers, Lesson 3

In which Linda answers some questions from blog readers.

1. So what’s up with your Twitter handle? You don’t follow your own advice. You know something? You’re right. My twitter handle should be either @LindaBernstein or, better, @GenB2. These days, we’re all brands, in a way, when we’re on a public platform, such as Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, not to mention Tumblr or Pinterest or one of the hundreds of social networks, large and small, that populate cyberspace. Either we’re ourselves, or we’re part of something we’re promoting. If my handle were @GenB2, I’d be promoting my Website, which is all about Baby Boomers, and my platform for now until I get my book on Baby Boomers published. If my handle were @LindaBernstein, I could take it anywhere and be “me.” So how did I end up as @wordwhacker? I had to get on Twitter quickly, and I tried to be clever. I’m a writer, a lover of words. I’m an editor, a worker with words. @Wordwhacker seemed appropriate. It was memorable. People liked it. Now people who don’t know my name say, “oh, you’re wordwhacker,” when they meet me. Nice, but also sucks. It’s not that I have so many followers I couldn’t change it. I could also develop either @LindaBernstein or @GenB2, and I might.

2. Will you follow me? Yes, maybe. If you’ve got good stuff. I mostly follow friends and journalists. I also use two cool tools (NEW INFO ALERT) lets you sign in with Twitter. Then you can do three things: Check whom you follow but doesn’t follow you back; check followers who follow you; and check who is following you but you’re not following. I’ve unfollowed people because of what I’ve found–people with whom I had a follow-me-I’ll-follow-you arrangement, but who had dropped away. So if they’re not giving me interesting content, and believe me, they weren’t I dropped away too. This neato little tool first asks you to follow them so they can DM you. (DM–direct message, remember? It’s a private message between two people who follow each other, and, frankly, a lot of what’s tweeted on Twitter should really be done through DM because people are having conversations we don’t all need to see in public.) Then they go through everyone you’re following, and based on the kind of tweeting that Tweeter does, they suggest who has “dodgy behavior,” who tweets nothing but links, and who hardly follows anyone, and who’s self-obsessed. (@NJDoc–they suggest I unfollow you because 70% of what you do is retweet). Then they do a report on you. Mine said:Make my day!  Thanks.

3. Who’s reading my tweets? Unfortunately, the answer might be no one. It depends on how you’re tweeting. If you have friends, who have more Twitter followers than you, and they’re retweeting you, then maybe lots of people. But if you’re just starting your tweet @DearFriend with no character before the @, then probably no one is seeing your tweets. Some people asked me to look at their tweets and tell them what they were doing wrong. This is the most common error. So begin your tweet .@DearFriend or /@DearFriend. That way everyone who follows you will potentially see it. Except the Twitter stream goes by fast. Here one minute, gone the next. Most people don’t bother reading their whole stream if they’ve missed 357 tweets. Some people check their @ mentions and retweets. Most famous people don’t. So if you’re tweeting @Aplusk, he’s not reading it, believe me. I found this fantastic explanation: It’s visual and well done.

4. How can I get more followers? Jeesh. Wish I knew. You can buy them. Lots of people do. (Yeah, Mr.BabyBoomerPretendExpert,  I’m on to YOU.) Or you can do something and get famous. I know lots of writers and journalists. The journalists who work for well known outlets have tens of thousands of followers. Those who are columnists and write books have even more. And if you’re @NickKristof, you have over a million. Taking a class where you meet fellow Tweeters helps. So does taking part in Twitter Chats. I’ll discuss these more next time, but meanwhile you can Google it. Some people tweet at the people they’re following constantly, thinking that the person will notice them and follow them. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes they just ignore you. What’s true is that the more you tweet, the more followers you will get. The more you give content–links to things that are interesting, links to your blog–the more followers you’ll get. The more self-obsessed you  are, like you are so obviously trying to be clever, well, you’ll bore people. I know because I do that. I get pretty snarky, and I lose followers. But here’s something I know–followers come and go. Most of the ones who go were only following you because they wanted to be followed back. Or they’re bots. So today you had 33 followers and tomorrow you have 31. Doesn’t matter because probably only half of them, at most, are reading your tweets.Meanwhile, though, here’s an interesting blog about people who rack up the followers (though still not guaranteed they’re reading you): “How to Spot a User With a ‘Fake’ Follower Count”

5. What’s a bot? A robot tweeter. I mean, sometimes there is actually a person behind the bot, but mostly it’s just a computer generating a picture with a sexy woman, and the tweet is either a link to a product, to pornography, or worse, to something that takes over your Twitter. NEVER CLICK ON A LINK IN A TWEET UNLESS YOU KNOW WHO IS SENDING IT. Also, Tweeters with eggs instead of pictures, well, either they’re trying to keep their identity anonymous so the Syrian police can’t find them, they’re real newbies, or they’re bots.

6. How do I get rid of bots? If you’re still under 1000 followers, this is easy. Someone new follows you. Her picture is either an egg or a sexy woman. You click on her. An enlarged version of her picture appears on the right hand column. You notice she’s only tweeting links. Or three words and then a link. Or she’s following thousands but only a few are following her back. Go to that little person icon and click. The last option is “report for spam.” Click on that. She’ll be gone. Yeah, your number of followers will go down by one, but you’re doing yourself a favor, and you’re doing a favor for other Tweeters. Many times these “bots” haven’t even tweeted yet. But if she has, NEVER CLICK ON A LINK IN A TWEET UNLESS YOU KNOW WHO IS SENDING IT.

7. What’s Klout. Next time. Forget it for now.

8. How do I know who’s unfollowed me? Great tool for this. Go to and sign up. They send a list to your mailbox every couple of days. This is a startup company that seems to operate on a shoestring budget. You won’t recognize most of the names, but no matter. They’re mostly bots or people trying to get followers in the way described in the article I mentioned above. So don’t invest in this emotionally.

9. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned on Twitter this week? Actually, I have an answer. The other night when the world was following the anti-death penalty protests in Georgia livestreamed via DemocracyNow, and I was tweeting about it, I received a tweet from someone called @DeathRowInmates. He tweeted follow him back. So I did. There was a link. According to him, his father is on death row and his father is innocent. He was tweeting and tweeting, and in the urgency of the moments before Georgia executed someone who may well have been innocent, his tweets seemed compelling. The next morning he had over 20,000 followers, and he was tweeting about his lunch. If this person is not a complete hoax, he is really young–21 he says–and in a terrible situation. He also has a bad attitude and doesn’t know how to tweet. His girlfriend sent me this  insult (gotta love her hashtag):Of course people can tweet whatever they want, but if you start out asking people to follow you because you’re part of a cause and then you tweet about chicken fingers–you’re doing it wrong. Yes, if this guy is for real seeing him through his tweets as a real person would be great. But give us something besides chicken fingers. And not chicken fingers a few times a minute because you have Twitterhea and think it’s cool when Twitter stops you for a bit (Twitter Jail, people call it). This guy thought Twitter Jail was funny. So I unfollowed. I am interested in anti-death-penalty advocacy; I might even find it interesting to follow someone whose father is on death row. But I don’t need to hear about what you had for lunch (unless you’re Mark Bittman or a bunch of other foodie types).

10. Who do you like best on Twitter? My answer here isn’t going to be your answer. I really like Andy Carvin (@acarvin) of NPR because he is doing something completely new in the way he is crowdsourcing information. I like the comedian Andy Borowitz (@BorowitzReport). I appreciate the efforts of @NPR @Reuters @BBC @Guardian @NYT to keep me informed. I love the headlines from @NewYorkPost. I love discussing journalism with super social median Mo Krochmal (@Krochmal). Amy Vernon (@AmyVernon) cracks me up with what she’s found on the Internet and then posts to her Tumblr. I love it that I have total conversations with @LaurenAradi, though I have never met her in person. I appreciate some of my original Twitter folks, like @AxelDiewald. @ESills and @KJohnson04. I’m grateful that @awshuttleworth and I share some of the same obsessions about language. But this is my list. You will develop your own.

In the meanwhile, keep tweeting–but only if you like it. You can ask me questions in the comment area below or, as you do, on Facebook or by email. Friend me on Facebook: and tell me who you are. My Twitter is @wordwhacker.

BTW–you should also be following @TweetSmarter, @AllTwitter, and @AskAaronLee for the latest and best links on using Twitter.

Twitter for Boomers, Lesson 2

A couple of weeks ago, when nature was wreaking havoc on the Northeast in the form of earthquakes and hurricanes, I wrote a post about the importance of Twitter and outlined the basics for opening an account. Now that you’ve had a couple of weeks to play around, it’s time for a few more tips.

First of all, you’ve probably been making lots of mistakes. But that’s OK because I’m pretty sure almost no one saw them. The most difficult thing about Twitter–and really, it’s not hard once you catch on–is figuring out how to talk to people, how to use the @ address (or mention), how to tweet and retweet, and what tone you should take. As I’ve said, Twitter is only as good an experience as you make it, and the Twitter experience completely depends on who you are following and who is following you back. So to review:

  • Following people. You should start out by following about 100 people/organizations, unless you’re Yoko Ono, who follows everyone who follows her, nearly 700,000 people at the moment. First find out if anyone you know is on Twitter. Easiest way is to ask. Or put up a Facebook status asking. Or try the tips in this article from, “10 Ways to Find People on Twitter.” Next choose a few news organizations you like–your local paper, the Associated Press, Gawker, whatever. If you like fashion, then follow fashionistas. If you like tech, well, you won’t be reading this, but follow Tech Crunch. There are organizations you can follow for dog lovers or knitters or whatever. See the Search box next to the blue Twitter bird on the top black bar? Type anything into it and you’ll get results. Fiddle around a bit by clicking on this and that and you’ll find the ASPCA, who along with the Huffington Post, will provide you with pictures of adorable kittens.
  • Getting followers. You see, in Twitter, you can follow almost anyone–unless that person has a protected account (will explain at a later date, but forget it) or has blocked you. People get blocked for being obnoxious (being a “troll”), sending spam, and stuff like that. Otherwise, people don’t bother to block their followers, generally. (I suppose there are some picky people and, actually, even I do a filter thing to get rid of people I’m following who might be dicey. More on that at another time.) But getting followers is hard, unless you’re famous. A good method is to take a social media class at your local Y or community college. That way you’ll start out with a group you can learn with. So to get followers, you have to have some to begin with. Then you have to tweet interesting things–but in the right way. It’s a “if you build it, they will come” kind of thing.
  • About famous people you follow. Know they will not follow you back or even read your tweets. Most famous people have someone who tweets for them. At most they look at their @ mentions, that is, tweets addressed to them. They won’t bother to read these tweets unless they know the sender–or unless you catch their attention.
  • Catching their attention. Well, you do this by commenting on something they’ve said. Using the retweet button at the bottom of a tweet is nice for the person you’re retweeting because for people who count these things, the number of retweets increases a person’s influence online. But look at this: I tweeted the publisher WWNorton this evening:I was being silly. Sort of Tweeting into the stratosphere. Sort of telling my Twitter friends who might be reading through their stream at that moment that I was tired. But, then, this appeared:Somebody at WW Norton read it and was amused. The more you tweet, the more likely things like this will happen. I tweet about Baby Boomers–the AARP follows me. It kind of begins to work like that.
  • Remember, Twitter isn’t about you. Sure, if you’re the star in your local drama club’s production this weekend, tweet about it. But people don’t want to hear about how wonderful you are. They want to interact. Twitter is really social–people make friends. The other night I witnessed the first face-to-face meeting of two women who had been Twitter friends for years. I mean, they really know each other well. Then they finally met. It was kind of awesome. (Yeah, @AmyVernon and @TheWordIsBerry.) If you’re being too obvious about how clever you are, well, any followers you may have will be bored by the tweet. If they even see it.
  • The trick of the retweet. This is how you’ll get noticed–with the manual retweet. That means copying a tweet and pasting it into the “what’s happening” box. You begin by saying something short. Then you type RT (meaning retweet) @ (wherever it came from). Here’s an example: No way I  think Slate magazine was going to read this. But some of my Twitter friends did. And that was what mattered. I’m talking to people I know. Notice that I’m also passing on information, an article from Slate.
  • Tweet essentials. So what does a good tweet have? To quote Sree Sreenivasan, who practically invented social media (follow him at @Sree or @SreeTips), you need to be succinct and give information. A tweet, he says, should be useful or funny. You’ve got to keep it under 140 characters; Sree advises 120, which gives room for retweets.
  • Sending Tweets. So this is where it gets a little complicated. If you start a tweet with @goodfriend, the only person who is going to see that tweet is goodfriend and someone who follows you and goodfriend. Now, when a whole bunch of you are following a famous person, you’ll see the tweets. Remember, the famous person probably won’t bother (though, as I said, people check their @ mentions; you might really hear back). So what you do is put a “character”–a period or anything before the @ mention, like this: Everyone who follows me could see this, although I was really sending it to my friend. But people saw it and retweeted it–kind of like dropping a stone into a lake. It ripples. Sometimes, though, I don’t bother with the .@ and just use @. I do this when I’m being dumb and not thinking, when I’m really talking to one person, or when I don’t really care. Like this:MarcIsGod is my daughter’s friend. This was a conversation between the two of us. Probably we should have been Direct Messaging.
  • Direct Message. Did you know that all Tweets are going into the Library of Congress–except for private ones, called direct messages. You send a Direct Message by putting D before the @, like d @goodfriend. Thing is, you can only direct message someone who is following you. So it really is a friend-to-friend thing.
  • About links. A good Tweet often contains a link to an article or website that gives more information. I’ll talk about link shorteners and stuff in another post, but you can copy the URL of whatever you want to send out and paste it into your link. (Don’t just send links, however. That’s what spammers do. If someone is sending you only links, block him. I’ll get to that later, too.) Also, never click on ANY link unless you know where it is coming from. There’s a lot of bad spamming stuff going on in Twitter. So be careful. Also, if you are manually retweeting and there’s a link you’re including, you’ll also probably have to manually add http://–the magic characters that make a link clickable. This has been a problem in Twitter for a while now.

So, in general, find good people to follow and just play around. Have fun. I’ll recommend this wonderful article on the basics of Twitter by @TweetSmarter. I’ll give the link in full so you can see the title: Follow @TweetSmarter. He’s the smartest. But Twitter is only hard in the beginning, and only if you don’t take advice from people like @TweetSmarter.

Let me know how you’re doing with Twitter. As long as I don’t get too many questions, like under 100, I’ll answer them personally. I love hearing from everyone by email, Twitter, and Facebook, but there is that comment box too. In case you forgot, I’m @wordwhacker.