Are there things we shouldn’t tweet about?

Mathew Ingram at GigaOM wonders, given some recent controversy over a Boston reporter tweeting from a public figure’s funeral, whether there are some things we just shouldn’t tweet about, not even if you’re a reporter.

He notes:

All of these incidents may seem like classic cases of what Twitter critics call “over-sharing,” but the lines of what should remain private and what should become public (to the extent that a Twitter post is public) are continually being redrawn, and in many cases differ from person to person.

A few of you have expressed concerns in our meetings over what should and shouldn’t be tweeted. Given these examples, where do you think we should draw the line?


Twitter and you: Searches and lists

Welcome to the latest in my series aimed at teaching you more about Twitter so that you can use it effectively as a tool in the newsroom. In case you’ve missed any of the past posts, here’s the list:

You can access the two features I'll be discussing today, lists and saved searches, from the tabs located just above your Twitter timeline.

Today, we’re going to talk about searching Twitter and how to organize people on to lists. Both of these will help you better sort through the avalanche of tweets that flow through Twitter every second of every hour of every day.

Searching Twitter

Millions of tweets are created each day by millions of users all around the world. However, to a new Twitter user, the place can seem awfully quiet. After all, you’re not really following that many people yet, so your timeline looks a little deserted. How can you find all this great/interesting/newsworthy stuff?

Notice that at the top of each Twitter page there is a search bar. The fact that Twitter puts this bar above the place where you actually type in the tweets should tell you how important search is to Twitter. Without it, most of Twitter’s users would just be shouting into the ether or hoping word of mouth (word of tweet?) would spread their posts to new readers.

This search bar works like any other search bar on the Web. Just type in any words you’d like to search for. For example, in the following image, you can see that I typed in the word Bozeman.

Twitter immediately returns a list of the most recent tweets containing the terms in your search. In this case, a tweet from our own Ted Sullivan and another from MSU happened to be the most recent results.

You will note that above the search results, there is a button labeled “Save this search.” This is where search can become almost like an bookmark in your Web browser. You can save any search you perform on Twitter and then come back to it later. It will always be updated with the most recent tweets matching your query.

For example, I have three searches saved on my account:

  • #wjchat – a search for the a hashtag for Wired Journalists Chat, a weekly conversation held mainly on Wednesday nights on Twitter
  • #mtleg – a search for the Montana Legislature hashtag that was used by everyone tweeting from the capitol during the most recent session
  • #KDMCmobile – a hashtag for the Knight Digital Media Center mobile journalism workshop I went to in Missoula a few months ago

As you can see, I mostly save searches for hashtags, but you can save a search for anything you want, including tweets posted from a certain geographic area (such as within 50 miles of Bozeman) or tweets in a certain language.

This can be useful if you want to keep track of a certain issue or topic that people are tweeting about but you don’t know or can’t predict who will be writing about it. Checking back on a saved search might also clue you in to people you should be following, people who are tweeting regularly about things you’re reporting on or things you’re interested in personally.

To learn more about how to perform advanced Twitter searches, visit Twitter’s full-fledged search page at and click on Advanced Search. From there, you can find the list of search operators that will allow you to custom tailor your searches.

Twitter Lists

Lists are one of the most useful and most confusing parts of Twitter. They are useful because they allow you to organize people on Twitter into groups — essentially acting like a filter for the fire hose blast of tweets that your main Twitter timeline can become. Lists are confusing too, because they basically provide a way for you to follow another user without actually “following” them. I’ll explain.

Say you want to create a list of people who tweet about knitting. You’d use what you learned in the search lesson above to find a few people to follow who are tweeting about the subject that interests you. But you’re also following a lot of other people whose tweets appear in your timeline, pushing the knitting tweets down the list and perhaps out of sight before you can read them. How can you improve your chances of seeing those knitting tweets?

Put the knitting tweeters on a list, that’s how. If a saved search is like a bookmark containing an ever-changing gallery of Twitter users, a list is a bookmark that contains the same people all the time.

The image at left, for example, shows what I see when I click on the Lists link in the tabs just above my main timeline on the Twitter website.

This drop-down menu shows all the lists I have created to organize the people I am interested in (the section marked “Lists by you”). It also shows the lists I follow that have been created by other people, as well as a link to a list of lists that include little old me.

Clicking on any of these links takes you to the page for that list, where you will have the option of following that list and, if you are the list’s creator, of managing the list — adding or removing people from it.

Twitter offers the choice of making a list public or private. As you can see by the padlock icon next to the first list on the menu, I have just one private list. That means that only I can see the contents of that list, and no one else can subscribe to it.

OK, by now you should understand what a list is and, basically, where to find the menu of lists on your page. Now, how do you add people to a list?

As an example, l clicked on Ted’s photo in one of his tweets that happened to be showing up in my timeline. (As you know from the previous orientation post, this opens up a little box in the sidebar with more information about what you clicked on.)

This brings up information about Ted’s twitter profile. In the gray bar that contains the big green Following button, you can see that there is another icon on the right side that looks like a silhouette. Clicking on that icon brings up a little menu that includes the option “Add to list.”

Click on the “Add to list” link and Twitter will pop up a small window where you can either choose a list or lists that you’ve created already or choose to create a new list to hold Ted.

If you want to learn even more about lists, feel free to check out the relevant help page on or just ask.

Wrapping up

That’s about all I have for you on searches and lists tonight. The next post will deal with some of the other ways you can interact with Twitter, including apps on your phone, text messaging and third-party programs you install on your computer.

Until then, I would urge you to subscribe to the following two lists on Twitter:

  • Chronicle Tweeps – a list containing all the Twitter users at the Chronicle
  • Newsy – a list of news-related people in Montana with a few national news sources thrown in for good measure

Verifying a tweet

There may come a time in your journalism career when you will have to start a story based on something posted to Twitter or another social network. Or, perhaps, you’ll simply have to refer to a tweet in a story.

Don’t laugh or think it’ll never happen. With the rate people are using social networking sites these days, it’s not a matter of if but when.

When your turn does come, refer to this handy blog post from Twitter Journalism that offers quite a few handy things you can do to make sure the person tweeting is tweeting the truth.

Results of Twitter homework assignment

Yesterday, I asked all you Chronicle news reporters to join Twitter, follow the Chronicle’s account and post your first tweets. I am happy to report that everyone played ball, and we now have the entire news staff posting 140-character updates.

You can check out the crew’s aggregated tweets via the widget that is now displaying on the Chronicle’s homepage. If you aren’t following all of our colleagues, you can click on their names in the widget box and then subscribe to their updates.

Also, you have all been added to a Twitter list that collects everyone tweeting from the Chronicle. You can follow that list as well, if you like. (If you have no idea what a Twitter list is, no worries. That will be the subject of my next tutorial post, coming — I hope — later today or tomorrow.)

Twitter and you: Vocabulary lesson

Welcome to the third post in my series introducing you to the wonderful world of Twitter. In case you missed the previous posts:

Here in part three, we will look at some of the jargon that goes along with Twitter. Learning the difference between a “DM” and an “RT” will help you decipher the posts you’ll see coming from the ever-increasing number of people you’re following. (You are going out there and looking for new and interesting people to follow, aren’t you?)


Thankfully, Twitter itself has seen fit to produce a glossary for users. I’ll just steal a few of the relevant entries and encourage you to check the official glossary whenever you run into something you don’t understand.

  • @ – The @ sign is used to refer to other Twitter users. It is placed before another person’s username, such as @mattgouras or @bozchron. When you use the @ sign with another user’s name, Twitter will notify that user that he or she has been referenced in your tweet.
  • Mention – Whenever you put an @ sign before another person’s username in one of your tweets, it is called a mention. Twitter notifies that other user that you have mentioned them in your tweet.
  • Reply – When you put the @ sign and another person’s username as the first word in your tweet, it is considered a reply to that person (whether or not you are actually replying to something they said). All replies are mentions, but not all mentions are replies.
  • DM – This acronym stands for direct message. Whereas all tweets are public, DMs are private and are only between the people referenced in the message. If tweeting is akin to shouting across a room at someone, sending them a DM is like passing a note. To direct message someone, start your tweet with d username. Learn more about DMs.
  • Retweet – Also known as RT or R/T, this is a way of forwarding a tweet you find interesting to your own followers. That will make the tweet visible to your followers whether or not they follow the person who actually penned the tweet in the first place. The number of times your tweets are retweeted is typically seen as an unofficial measure or your influence or importance on Twitter.
  • OH – You’ll often see this abbreviation in tweets. It’s short for “overheard.”
  • HT or H/T – Short for hat tip. It’s a way to give credit to another user for posting something first. This is sometimes used by people who want to share a link that someone else has posted first but don’t necessarily want to retweet that person for some reason.
  • Followers – Your followers are the people who subscribe to your tweets. You are, conversely, a follower to the people whose tweets you subscribe to.
  • Hashtag – These are so important, they’re going to get their own section below.
  • URL shortener – A URL is the technical term for a Web address, such as These days, URLs can be very long. Since Twitter limits us to 140 characters, lots of services have popped up out there that will shorten URLs to something that will fit in a tweet and still leave room for you to type in a few words of your own. If you are using, you will be stuck using Twitter’s own shortening service. This is OK, and it’s automatic, so you won’t even have to be concerned with it if you don’t want to be.


Hashtags are a special way of organizing conversations on Twitter. Twitter’s definition of the term hashtag goes like this:

Definition: The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages.

So hashtags are any words that you precede with #, such as #election, #tcot and #WhenDidItBecomeCool. Putting in that # tells Twitter to turn that word into a link that goes to a search page containing all the most recent tweets containing the same hashtag.

So, say you’re watching the season finale of American Idol and have your laptop or smartphone tuned to Twitter at the same time. You could do a Twitter search for “American Idol,” read through the tweets to see what hashtag the majority of people are using and then click on the hashtag to follow along. You could even join the conversation by including the hashtag in your own tweets.

What does American Idol have to do with journalism? Not much for us, but hashtags can be extraordinarily useful for news. Consider that during the Downtown explosion, everyone tweeting about the disaster used the same hashtag, #bozexplod. By doing that, it made it easy for anyone who wanted to find tweets about the situation to do so.

But the usefulness of hashtags doesn’t have to be limited to big breaking news events. Just using a hashtag with your location, such as #Bozeman, will put your tweets in front of the eyes of local people who are already checking the #Bozeman hashtag regularly.

Or, if you are covering and live-tweeting a regular meeting, such as city commission, you could invent a hashtag and use it every week so that people would know where to find your reports. You could also invent a hashtag for your beat and use it whenever you post about your coverage area.

It may seem silly or presumptuous for you to create hashtags out of thin air, but remember, being a journalist on Twitter is about making content available to your audiences, whether it’s links to your stories or live reporting or crowd-sourcing. You may not think hashtags are important, but a majority of Twitter users do. When in Rome…

Twitter and you: Orientation

In the last Twitter post, I covered the basics of what Twitter is and how it can be useful to you. I assigned you the task of starting a twitter account and making a few tweets, just to get you familiar with the basics of how to use the service.


When you first logged in, you were probably presented with a screen similar to the one below, which is what it looks like when I log in to There are a lot of links and a lot of icons on this page. Let’s find out what they do.

Item 1 on the image above is the tweet bar. This is where you type in your Twitter posts. Just click in this box to put the cursor there and get started.

As soon as you click on the box, the Tweet button will appear on the right bottom of the box, as well as a number. This number starts at 140, which, if you remember from my previous post, is how many characters a tweet will hold.

Item 2 in the above image is your “timeline.” This is where tweets from the people you subscribe to — or “follow” — will appear. So if you’re following Paris Hilton (for some reason) or cable news host Keith Olbermann, their tweets will appear in this area for you to read.

Hover your mouse over any of these tweets, and it will highlight that tweet and cause a few new buttons to appear. Check the image below to see what I mean.

These are the ways you interact with a tweet. You can add it to your list of favorite tweets. You can “retweet” it — meaning to forward the tweet on to your followers, who may or may not be following Mr. Olbermann. Or you can reply to Keith directly and start a conversation.

If you click on some part of a tweet that’s not a link, it will bring up a bigger version of it in the sidebar area next to the timeline, as you can see in the image at left.

This sidebar tells you even more about the tweet by placing it in context. Was this tweet a reply to someone else’s tweet? Did people respond to the post? Who else has retweeted the post already? The sidebar will tell you all this and give you the favorite/retweet/reply options for every tweet listed.

As an aside, did you notice that there is a little blue check mark next to Olbermann’s name? This check mark means that this is a verified user, meaning that it’s really Keith Olbermann. Twitter has gone ahead and made sure that it’s not some kind of imposter. So, when you see the little blue check mark, you’ll know you’ve got the real person.

Finally we get to Item 3 in the big image we started with: the sidebar area. This area will be filled with information about your Twitter account: how many people you follow, how many are following you, how many tweets you’ve posted and what topics are popular or “trending” on Twitter right at that moment. The sidebar also has a list of people Twitter thinks you might like to follow, based on the people you’re already following. The information in this area changes based on what page you’re on, so keep an eye on it.

How do I follow someone?

Say you spot someone in that Who to Follow area in your sidebar and you want to subscribe to their updates. How do you actually follow them?

For example, Twitter thinks I’d be interested in following Matt Gouras from the Associated Press or Jamee Greer from the Montana Human Rights Network. Following either of them would be as easy as hitting that little “follow” link next to their names.

Alternately, I could click on the link to Matt Gouras’ profile (that’s the “mattgouras” in bold type next to his picture). This would take me to Gouras’ profile page on Twitter, where, right below his image, there’s a big Follow link.

Any profile page you visit on Twitter that belongs to someone you don’t already follow will have a similar link. If you are already following that person, the options that appear below their profile picture will differ — basically offering you options for unfollowing that person, organizing them on lists or, if need be, reporting them as spammers. I’ll explain the details of this in the a future post.

OK. That’s a bare-boned orientation to the Twitter website. I’ll delve more into the process for interacting with other users and starting conversations in the next post. Until then…

Twitter and you: Introduction

No doubt, I will mention Twitter a lot on this blog. Get used to it. Facebook are the top dogs in the social networking game, and that’s where the people are, digitally speaking. So if we want to be in the social media game, we need to have a presence on those two sites.

Do we want to be in the social media game? Absolutely. If you’ve been reading my weekly Web stats reports, you already know that Facebook sends about 4,000 to 6,000 visitors a week to our website. It is second only to Google as a source of readers for us. Twitter, for its part, is usually in the top 10 sources of traffic to our site.

Beyond that, though, Bozeman is a tech-friendly town. The city has an active Twitter community, full of people carrying on conversations and sharing information with each other. Twitter in Bozeman is also full of businesses who are doing their best to bring in customers by tweeting specials, coupons, deals and other information — basically just being there.

Those businesses know that there is money to be made on Twitter in exchange for relatively little effort. We should be taking advantage of that arrangement too.

What is Twitter?

Just in case you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past five years, Twitter is a website that allows you to post short messages that are immediately visible to the people who subscribe to you. The messages are limited to 140 characters in length, meaning they need to be on point.

Millions upon millions of people around the world use Twitter, from movie stars to politicians to rebels fighting the Egyptian government. It has gained such ubiquity because Twitter works so well with mobile phones — specially with text messaging. This is what has allowed protesters in the Middle East to use Twitter to organize themselves; while they may not have Internet-enabled smartphones, they do have text messaging plans which make connecting to Twitter easy.

Now the next thing I’m going to say is important, so I’m only going to say it once. If your major argument against using Twitter is that you ‘don’t need to know what people had for breakfast,’ then you are using Twitter wrongly. Period.

Twitter is a tool. You will get out of Twitter what you want to get out of it, and what you get out of it will be limited only by your willingness to learn how to use this tool.

What can you use it for?

For me, Twitter is a news feed. If I were to pay attention to it all day, I would find no shortage of interesting and important things to read, posted to Twitter by some of the top minds in journalism today, such as Jeff Jarvis, Mathew Ingrahm and Jay Rosen.

Twitter is also a way to broadcast links to your stories and to let people know what you are working on. In that way, you develop an audience for what you have to say and will be more likely to read your stuff. The social networking gurus call this building your personal “brand.” That way, should you ever leave the Chronicle for greener pastures at another news organization, you’ll take some fans with you who will read you regardless of who you’re writing for.

Twitter is also a means for having conversations with people. What do you talk about? Pick something interesting, do a Twitter search and start responding to people. You’ll find yourself in whatever kind of conversation you want. More importantly, though, Twitter is a way to converse with the people who read your stories, to answer their questions about your writing and to solicit story ideas from them. (When used well, Twitter can also be a nifty place to connect with sources for stories too.)

Looking ahead

Learning to use Twitter takes time. It is full of jargon and little technical details that may not be apparent right off the bat. That’s why this is only the first in what I intend to be a series of Twitter-related posts. The next post I have planned will cover the basics of how to use Twitter, from retweets to hashtags.

However, just because I have covered those basics yet, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it out. Here’s some homework for you: Start a Twitter account today. Get signed in and send out a few tweets. Don’t worry about them being worthy of a Pulitzer. Just get used to doing it. Find a few good people to follow and see what they have to say.