Dirk Riehle's Industry and Research Publications

Patterns of Effective Tweeting and Retweeting

These are patterns and practices of getting the most out of your 140 characters on Twitter.

dirkriehle: Examples are in-lined using blockquote like this; the author is named first

Table of Contents

  1. General Principles
  2. Informational Messages
  3. Directed Conversations
  4. Social Filtering
  5. Global Communication

General Principles

First, some general principles:

  • Stick to the 140 character limit

There is nothing more annoying than split-up messages that take effort to piece together.

  • Tweet to be understood by your reader
  • Tweet to most effectively reach your intended reader
  • Choose your user name in accordance with your purpose of using Twitter

As to choosing your user name, there are basically three categories

  • Function. Choose a term that describes your particular business or your function
  • Professional. Choose your real name as your user name to help people find you
  • Personal. Choose a screen name that only your friends know

The boundaries between the professional and the personal are increasingly getting blurred, so you may want to tweet under your real name both for business purposes and for personal gratification. You just need to understand that this may affect your followers and may be suboptimal for your overall reach.

Informational Messages

You want to get the message out or just tell the world how you are feeling:

  • Use simple straightforward sentences
  • dirkriehle: Remember Strunk and White? Omit needless words!

  • When hitting the character limit, pronouns are the first to go
  • Prefer rephrasing with shorter words over removing characters from words
  • wikisym: Come to WikiSym 2009, the conference for wiki research and practice! http://www.wikisym.org

You can help your message to be more effective by tagging it appropriately:

  • Append a hashtag as a shorthand for how you feel about what you described
  • dirkriehle: SFO to FRA flight significantly overbooked; got a free upgrade to business class; thank you Lufthansa! #happy

  • Append a hashtag to send your message into a particular channel
  • marclaporte: I wonder who else will be attending the Wiki Symposium this year? #wikisym

Hashtags serve (at least) these two purposes:

  • as a shorthand for a situation or emotion of yours, and
  • as a label for a channel into which your tweet is sent

“Channels” do not exist directly but are realized by standing searches for the hashtag, more below.

You can cautiously pull someone into a directed conversation or global communication.

  • Open the message for discussion by addressing someone within the tweet (but not at the beginning)
  • dirkriehle: Oh no, Thai Café gone? What’s next to go, Moonbeans? RT @Stanford Thai Café displaced after 22 years: http://bit.ly/rGsxT (via @Stanford_Daily)

Supplementary information is provided as links:

  • No link without good description of what to expect when clicking
  • If you are running out of characters, use a URL shortener to reduce link size
  • osmb2010: Open Source Meets Business calling for submissions for OSMB 2010 http://ur1.ca/5pje

  • Still, prefer full URL over shortened URL if you can fit it in
  • wikisym: Track the WikiSym 2009 program on the event wiki at http://www.wikisym.org/ws2009/ and contribute!

It is common practice to summarize and announce a blog entry using Twitter.

Directed Conversations

A directed conversation is between you and some other person, addressed using the @ sign:

  • Put @someone at the beginning of your tweet when you are starting a conversation
  • dirkriehle: @nadyne Congratulations on getting married!

  • Keep @someone at the beginning of your tweet if you want to ensure that person’s attention

Not putting @someone at the beginning of the message opens up the conversation, making it an informational message open to global communication.

  • If space permits, when answering, retweet the prior message sent to you
  • dirkriehle: Anytime! More talks here: http://ur1.ca/7bev RT @OSMB2009 Thank you for your OSMB presentation on open source labor economics

  • Create context and history in your message to keep casual readers clued-in
  • dirkriehle: Yes, but that’s a policy issue, not a personal one RT @chanezon It is harder for women to maintain work life balance http://bit.ly/vT4CE

  • End the public conversation if its value to readers has been declining significantly
  • Say thank you by direct message, not by public message

We all get overloaded with information we don’t care about. Yet, it is precisely that informational ambience that creates much of the value of Twitter. Hence the following two contradicting patterns:

  • Switch to direct messages as soon as you see the public value of your conversation degrading
  • Keep the conversation public as long as possible to aid serendipitous informational encounters

Hopefully, future technology improvements will make filtering easier.

Social Filtering

Social filtering, a.k.a. retweeting, is a major feature of the Twitter community:

  • Only retweet if you think your followers will benefit from the information
  • When retweeting, include the tweet’s lineage using RT @someone
  • peterthoeny: Funny! RT @dirkriehle @lmaugustin @dhohndel @davest: 11 Undocumented Features Of Google Chrome OS – http://shar.es/Cgvq

Tweets get shortened along the way. Thus, it is important that you can go to the source of a tweet.

  • If the sequence of retweets gets too long, reference the original source only; use (from @someone)
  • asbruckman: Outstanding! 2009 Turing Award winner Barbara Liskov to speak at OOPSLA + WikiSym! (via @wikisym)

  • If the sequence gets too long, and you want to pay tribute to your source, use (via @someone)

Global Communication

Twitter is maybe the best example of the real-time web. It allows for commentary and discussion of whatever is going on right now. This applies to global issues and niche communities alike.

To join a particular discussion, you need to find the matching channel to tune into.

The channel is defined by the dominant hashtag you can see in the tweet stream.

  • If you want to join a discussion, tag your message accordingly
  • If there are multiple hashtags, use all of them, until one has won out

Typically, the shortest hashtag will win.

  • For an annual event, drop the year unless it has important meaning

Smart event organizers announce the dominant hashtag on the event’s website.

  • Create a standing search for the channel using Twitter Search or your tool’s facilities
  • To follow the discussion, observe its channel and act accordingly


I’m sure these patterns and practices are just the beginning and they’ll keep changing. What I put down here came off the top of my head. Thanks to @umityalcinalp, @ccmehil and @jnassi for feedback and encouragement. I’m sure there are other collections like this out there so feel free to post them in the comments section. Any feedback is welcome!



  1. […] space. However, hashtags and lists can be a post all on its own. For now, I will leave you with a good post by Dick Riehle on tweet structure and […]

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