Nomenclature and basic functions of Twitter

This post is brought to you by the word:

argot (ahr-goh) /ˈɑr goʊ / -noun

  1. a specialized idiomatic vocabulary peculiar to a particular class or group of people, especially that of an underworld group, devised for private communication and identification.
  2. the special vocabulary and idiom of a particular profession or social group: sociologists’ argot.


Using Twitter professionally is very rewarding. I’ve learned more from a short time on Twitter than at any number (and possibly ALL) of the conferences I’ve EVER attended. But Twitter can be a bit confusing at first.  The concept is extremely simple: say anything you want in 140 characters or less. And it is this simplicity that is appealing about Twitter; it’s brevity.  However, once you launch yourself into the Twitter community or Twitterverse, you may find that there are many little things that make Tweeting better.  

In my last post I explained how I, personally, use social media to build my own PLN (personal learning network). By the end of this post I hope that you will understand how to use Twitter on a fairly basic level. I will talk about more advanced features and functionality of Twitter as well as the social rules and general tipsto remember in future posts.

Decide early if you want to use Twitter primarily for professional information to build yourself a PLN, for personal interest, or for both. This doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind later, but it will help you to enjoy your Twitter experience sooner.  I chose to join Twitter for professional purposes so I rarely post anything to all of my followers that isn’t related to my profession somehow.  I am always thinking “What does this tweet contribute?”. But I am a person and I’m connecting socially with others so the occasional tweets about something funny or interesting not related to my profession helps people see that I’m not a tweeting robot (note: twitter actually has such things, known as ‘bots’). Also, conversations between people don’t necessarily go out to all my followers (see below) and that is where I allow myself to stray, sometimes liberally, from this rule. Conversation with others in my PLN accounts for most of my tweets. You don’t always have to be serious – the #SLPeeps like to have fun too!

This is a good time to remind you that twitter is public.  Let me repeat that: TWITTER IS PUBLIC. This means that anything you tweet can be seen by anyone at any time in a multitude of ways (except for direct messages and protected tweets, although they can be subpoenaed by a court of law). If you are using Twitter professionally (and even if you’re not) please don’t forget its public nature.  I am reminded of this whenever I’m having a conversation with someone that “feels” private and a company “butts in” on the topic.  You can search any keyword and see tweets that use that keyword. Thus companies are, logically, using this feature to monitor any potential conversations about their product or client. I’ve had good and bad experiences with this, but usually good experiences.

What’s in a tweet?

Twitter traditionally asks you to answer one question: what are you doing? If you’re tweeting professionally, however, I would suggest that you answer the question: what interesting idea/information have you recently been exploring? If you think this way, you’re more likely to share meaningful information with your PLN. Don’t forget that once you’ve developed a community you can pose questions to the community and get great replies.

What do all these new terms mean?

In Twitter there is a new lexicon that users must learn to really understand what’s going on. Here is a fairly complete list you need in order to understand what people are talking about.

General Lingo

Timeline/Feed – all the tweets from people you follow are seen in what’s called your timeline or your Twitter feed.

Handles – this is the name you have on Twitter and how people find you and interact with you. They always start with the ‘@’ symbol. For instance, my personal handle is @SLPTanya. Notice how I have used a mix of capital and lowercases letters to make it easier to read. It is not case sensitive, however.  If someone writes @slptanya, I will still see that tweet in my mentions column (see below).

Following – You can see updates from people in your timeline if you ‘follow’ them, similar to being ‘friends’ with someone in Facebook (Tweetdeck even calls them ‘friends’), except that this can be unidirectional. Technically, you can see anyone’s tweets (unless they are protected) by going to their profile page. In order for their tweets to automatically show up in your timeline or twitter feed, you must “follow” them. You can follow someone without them having to follow you and vice versa. There is a fairly comprehensive list of SLPs in my Blogroll. You can use it to find people to follow quickly if you’re starting up (or even if you’ve been on for a long time). I wish I’d had this when I started up a year ago to save time searching for people!

Followers – This is a term that turns people off of Twitter because it “sounds like a cult”. But ‘followers’ simply means the people who want to see your tweets. Anyone who is following you will see your tweets in their timeline, so long as the tweets are not directed at anyone in particular (see below for mentions and direct messages). As you gain more followers, you have more people who will potentially respond to any questions you may pose to the Twitter community.

Favorites – If you see a tweet you really like, click ‘favorite’ to keep it forever. As far as I can tell, favorites never go away and are available to you whenever you want them. You can link your site to Twitter so that any links in your favorited tweets will automatically be saved to your Diigo account.

Twitter Clients – a ‘client’ is anything you are using to access Twitter whether on the web at or in a desktop or iPhone version like TweetDeck. I will blog more about these in the future but I prefer TweetDeck and find it much easier to manage flow of information with the use of this (free) Twitter client.

Learning to play with friends

Mentions – if someone uses your handle in a tweet, you can see that under ‘mentions’.  There are a few ways to use this feature to different effects:

Directing tweets and replying: if you begin a tweet with someone’s handle, that tweet will show up in their mentions page/column and is not necessarily seen by all of your followers. If someone is following both you and the person to whom you are directing your tweet, they will see your message/conversation. However, if someone is following only you OR the other person, they will not see your conversation in their timeline. If you click ‘reply’ to comment on someone’s tweet, it will automatically put that person’s handle at the beginning of the tweet. When you do this, the characters in their handle are counted in your 140 charactersChoose YOUR handle wisely for this reason. The shorter, the better.

For example, let’s pretend I follow @SLP1 and @SLP2 but not @slp1Mom.

@SLP1 sends a tweet directed to @SLP 2

@SLP2 what tests do you use to assess language skills?

Then @SLP2 replies to @SLP1

@SLP1 I use the CELF-4, the TACL-3 and the TOPS.  You?

I will see this conversation in my timeline and could ‘butt in’ if I had anything meaningful to contribute. I can reply to both users if I include both of their handles in the tweet.

@SLP1 @SLP2 butting in, but I just got the WABC and it’s great for assessing concepts

Now pretend that @SLP1 sends a tweet directed to @slp1Mom

@slp1Mom we’re going to grandma’s tomorrow, are you able to come too?

I will not see that tweet (or any of @slp1Mom’s replies to @SLP1) in my timeline, because I do not follow @slp1Mom and Twitter assumes (usually correctly) that I’m not interested in those conversations.   

Mentioning: you can include someone’s handle ANYWHERE in a tweet and it will show up in their mentions feed. If you begin your tweet with anything other than a person’s handle, it will go out to all of your followers. Mentioning is a good way to ensure a particular user sees your tweet or to give that user credit for information you learned from them. Including someone’s handle at the end of a tweet is a way to include them, but let them know that you are not directing your comment at them specifically.

Direct Messages (DM): you can send a private tweet to someone by starting the tweet with ‘D’ and then their twitter handle (e.g. D SLPTanya). Only the person who receives the DM will see that tweet.  You cannot (yet) send DMs to more than one person in a single tweet. NOTE: The person has to be following you for you to DM them. If you want to send a message to someone who does not follow you, the only way is to direct the tweet to them (i.e. start your tweet with their twitter handle). However, they can reply to you in a DM if you are following them.  The characters in their handle DO NOT count towards your 140 characters in a DM.

Playing nice (Don’t be an idea thief)

Retweet (RT): A retweet is a way to broadcast someone’s tweet to all of your own followers, while giving them credit for the original idea/information. Retweeting is extremely important in Twitter; it’s how information circulates quickly (e.g. during a major event) but, more importantly, it allows ideas to spread – which is why many professionals are using Twitter.

The best use of a RT is as a sort of informational democracy; like a vote for that idea or resource.  Retweeting someone tells them that you like their idea and want it to spread. Of course, it doesn’t mean that if someone does not RT you that your information is not something they liked.  In a community like the #SLPeeps, there is a tendency not to necessarily RT something people like very much.  This happens because many people are all following each other, and thus they assume that everyone else saw the tweet. This is not the best approach – although I have also fallen prey to that manner of thinking – because someone may have missed the tweet and are not catching up on what they missed.  More importantly, however, if a RT is thought of as a sort of ‘vote’ for the information it contains, than you should RT it to indirectly say so, regardless of the fact that everyone may have already seen that tweet. Besides, repetition is a virtue. I have frequently glanced over a tweet and thought “sure, that’s interesting” but when I see that someone else has retweeted it, I may take more notice of the information or idea and explore it further. The fact that I saw the same tweet more than once gave it more weight. And remember, repetition is a virtue. (Also remember that TWITTER IS PUBLIC).

A good rule of thumb is to leave enough characters in your tweet to accommodate a RT and make it more likely to be retweeted.  For example, I must leave 14 characters in a tweet to make it easier to RT (this is exactly 14 characters ->RT_@SLPTanya:_).

Old Style RT: This is the old way that Twitter allowed tweets to be RTed – you could modify the information in the tweet before sending it out. This is nice if you want to make a comment of your own about the tweet. You cannot do this from Twitter web currently (unless you cut and paste the tweet and add the RT information yourself). Twitter clients such as Tweetdeck allow you to choose this as an option and I suggest enabling it.

New Style RT: You cannot change the tweet at all when you RT it. The one advantage of this is that you can RT someone who has not left enough character spaces. The disadvantage is that it will not allow you to add your own comments. This is the way it is currently in the web based version at

Modified Tweets (MT): if you change the wording of someone’s tweet in order to make it flow better or to get around the character limit, you can use MT to signify that you are sort of paraphrasing. Similarly, you can add “(via @handle)” to a tweet instead of MT to show the source of your information/link and not be rude.

Shorties (not the girlfriends)

Because you are only allowed 140 characters at a time, people tend to use many short forms and acronyms. Here is a list of some of the more common ones for the #SLPeeps community, but you can always ask or Google them to find out others as you come across them. Please feel free to add others that may have confused you in the comments section

  • ppl = people
  • IRL = in real life
  • tx = therapy/intervention
  • ax = assessment
  • dx = diagnosis
  • ped/pead = pediatric/peadiatric
  • FF = Follow Friday – Fridays are designated days for people to give shout outs and recommend people to follow.
  • pt/pts: patient/s
  • CA = chronological age (but use context to know if it may mean California, obviously)
  • biz = business
  • plz = please
  • smh = shaking my head

In addition to short forms, you should shorten all linkswith or a similar platform. Tweetdeck and other Twitter clients will automatically shorten links for you when you add them to your tweet. Shortened links work exactly as longer ones do but take up less space.

Tagging (without spray paint)

You can include a ‘hashtag’ or’ tag’ to a tweet to mark its topic and make it more searchable. Hashtags always start with the # sign and cannot include any spaces or dashes. Common ones used by speech pathologists include #slpeeps#slpchat, and #FFbut there are many others. For instance, if you are tweeting about autism you may want to include #autism in your tweet. Efficient tweeters include hashtags as part of the tweet (e.g. Hey #SLPeeps, check out this new #autism awareness site) but more often they are tacked on the end of a tweet (e.g. I found this great site for autism awareness #autism #SLPeeps). Like handles, hashtags are not case sensitive, but sometimes easier to read if you use capitalization for effect. People also use hahstags to make jokes (e.g. #SLGeek) or offhanded, witty remarks. Sometimes you’ll see entire sentences as a hashtag to varying degrees of comedic effect.

You can search for a given hashtag and ‘follow’ that tag.  For instance, I follow #SLPeeps and #slpchat so that I see tweets that include those tags. I’ll also follow a conference hashtag leading up to and during any given conference (e.g. #CASLPA2011). You can search for any keyword, however, regardless of a hashtag. I’ve had companies tweet me in response to a tweet I made about their product on several occasions such as Super Duper Inc, Pearson Assessment, and even Dyson. This is a good time to use the virtue of repetition: Twitter is PUBLIC. I’ve even seen my tweets or those of friends on websites related to the topic of our tweet or in Google searches.

To protect or not to protect…

If you want to, you can choose to make your tweets private. People who do this are considered “Protected” in Twitter.  You must request to follow protected users and they must approve your request in order for you to see any of their tweets. There are obvious pros and cons to this option.


  • You don’t have to worry as much about the fact the Twitter is public. Your profile and tweets will only be visible to people you’ve approved.
  • If colleagues or your boss are on twitter and you think it may cause a conflict, they would not see your tweets.
  • You don’t tend to get any spam tweets (but you are not completely immune).
  • You have the opportunity to “pick” your followers so if you don’t want businesses (or the individuals with only 5 tweets who is following 10,000 people) following you, you can decline their request to follow you.
  • You know your messages are being seen by the target audience, not every person with a twitter account.


  • Your ideas/tweets are limited in who sees them.
  • It is more difficult and takes more effort to build your PLN because Some potential followers may not follow you as quickly if they have to request permission.
  • You CANNOT direct a tweet to someone who follows you, even if you include their handle in the tweet. So, you cannot effectively comment on a non-follower’s tweet or ask them any questions.
  • You have to research and approve EVERYONE who follows you.
  • You cannot properly participate in chats such as #slpchat unless you go to your settings and unprotect your tweets temporarily.

You can turn protection on and off whenever you want but each option affects all tweets (e.g. either all protected or all unprotected). I strongly discourage you from protecting your tweets if you are trying to develop a PLN. The entire point of Twitter is to interact and protecting your tweets limits your ability to interact with everyone. However, you may have a good reason to protect. It’s a personal choice. Also remember that you can protect your tweets, but you can’t stop your followers from retweeting your tweets, which effectively makes them public. Just because your tweets are “protected”, it doesn’t mean they are private.

In my next post I will talk about the social rules of twitter and how to tweet effectively in a PLN.

Other sources for this information:

About the Author of this post:

Tanya Coyle, M.Sc., S-LP(C), is a speech-language pathologist employed in schools in Southern Ontario, Canada.  A 2004 graduate of the University of Western Ontario, she originally intended to work in stroke rehab but ended up working with preschool and early intervention and now in school age populations and hasn’t looked back.  Ms. Coyle is also part time faculty in the CDA program at Lambton College.

Ms. Coyle is a life-long learner who actively networks with other SLPs via social networking, is co-founder and co-moderator of the #SLPChat discussion groups on Twitter and is co-founder of the SLP Resource Share and SLP Goal Bank. She is the resident ‘techie’ in her office and often creates computer-based programs to make data scoring, interpretation, and management easier for her and her colleagues.

Ms. Coyle can be contacted at


3 thoughts on “Nomenclature and basic functions of Twitter

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