15 handy Twitter tips and tricks

Get more from Twitter with these hints and tools

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Twitter's immediacy and ability to put people in direct contact make it a powerful tool, but there's much more to it than simple status updates, retweets and replies.

Here are 15 Twitter tips to help you to get more from your account.

1. Run a Twitter search

Browse to http://search.twitter.com and enter your keywords in the search bar. You can include Twitter usernames beginning with '@', or hash tags. Click 'Search'.

The results are sorted by time of posting, with the most recent first. You can filter by language and translate tweets into English.

2. Advanced search

Advanced search

A simple search may be enough for most occasions, but sometimes you need to dig a bit deeper to get high quality results that are relevant to you.

Follow the link marked 'Advanced search' and you can specify the location of the tweets returned and a date range. You can also set the attitude of the tweets you're looking for (whether they seem generally positive or negative), and specify the author by Twitter username and any recipient.

3. Back up tweets

Twitter backup

If you've been using Twitter for some time, you may be surprised by the number of tweets you've accumulated. You may well find that you've posted enough messages to fill a novel or two.

Backing up your tweets is a sensible precaution to take so you have a local copy in case anything goes wrong. Twitter Backup is a Java program that downloads all your existing tweets to an XML file. Just enter your username and password, then provide a filename for the results.

You'll need to log into Twitter in your browser and authorise the application, which includes obtaining an authorisation code to paste into Twitter Backup. The backup is stored on your PC.

4. Online backup

If you'd rather entrust your tweets to a cloud based service, try Tweet Backup. It's an online service that you can use to back up your tweets on a daily basis.

You need to register using your Twitter credentials via OAuth. You also need to supply an email address for contact purposes.

Once logged in, go to the 'View posts' tab to see your 50 most recent tweets. Choose 'Export' and select a file format to download your most recent backup file. You can download your tweets in plain text, HTML or RSS format.

5. Send a gift

Do you have an online friend who you'd like to send a gift? Perhaps you have a demo or portfolio that you'd like a potential client to see. It's quite common to need to send or receive items at a time when either party might be a little concerned about revealing their full contact details.

Send Social acts as a trusted go-between, arranging to courier your items without sharing addresses. You can request a shipment despite only knowing your contact's email address or Twitter handle. Send Social contacts them and arranges delivery via its courier partner.

6. Share from Chrome

Twitter is great for sharing things that you've found online, but copying a URL, shortening and pasting it into a tweet can be a clumsy affair. Even if you have a URL shortener built into your Twitter client, you still have to copy and paste the full URL of anything you want to share.

TweetRight is a Chrome extension that makes it easy to send links to Twitter. Right-click the item, choose 'Tweetright' and then click 'Post link to Twitter'.

7. Try Echofon for Firefox

Echofon is a Twitter client that works directly inside Firefox. Once you've installed it, you'll see an Echofon icon in the status bar of Firefox. Double-click it to open your Twitter program.

It will appear on top of the web page that you're viewing. As tweets appear, you'll be updated with a popup message showing their number and a brief preview. Echofon is also available as an iPhone client, and standalone client for OS X.

8. Find a lost pet

It's distressing when a pet goes missing, but the people at DogLost will do all they can to help you find an errant animal. Register with the site and provide a description of the missing animal, including pictures, and Dog Lost will publicise it on this site and via Twitter.

Follow @DoglostUK for updates or check the site for a list of found pets to try and match them with a missing animal. It's a simple idea, but very effective.

9. Examine hash tags

WhatTheTrend

Find out the meaning of popular hash tags by visiting www.whatthetrend.com. You can choose trending topics, or search for a term. To learn more about a tag, try the Archivist.

Enter your search term and click 'Start analysis' to see key statistics on the tag's use, including popularity over time and top users tweeting the term. You can check recent tweets too. Summarizr searches the Eduserv archive to provide statistics on a tag or user. You can see top conversations including it and the term's geographical distribution.

10. Simplify the interface

Dabr is an alternative web frontend to Twitter.com that's been optimised for mobile use. It's not as pretty as the main Twitter site, but it's quick and efficient.

It offers many of the functions that some third party clients provide and many users on laptops and desktop PCs opt to use Dabr because of its speed and ease of use.

Browse to the site and log in with your Twitter credentials. Icons next to each tweet enable you to quickly reply, retweet, mark as a favourite or direct message the user. TwitPics appear as thumbnails in the timeline.

11. Predict followers

Want to find out how many followers you're likely to pick up by next month? Twitter Counter analyses your account and provides the number of followers over time plotted on a graph.

It uses this information to extrapolate your likely follower growth in future. You can also find statistics like your current ranking on twitter according to follower numbers and compare this to the most popular users on the service.

You can also enter a friend's username and compare your progress, checking follower numbers and number of updates.

12. Tweet your blog posts

If you have a blog, it's a good idea to let people on Twitter know you've posted an update. You can tweet a simple link, but doing so manually can be a hassle.

Twitter Feed lets you automate the process by linking your blog's RSS feed to your Twitter account. You can sign in using OpenID and link Twitter to your blog. You can check for updates at hourly or daily intervals, and include your blog post title in the tweet.

13. Find more stats

Twitalyzer

Continuing the theme of Twitter analysis, Twitalyzer provides a different set of statistics to those offered by Twitter Counter. Browse to the site and enter a username to analyse it. This can take a few minutes.

Results are presented in five areas: Influence, Signal, Generosity, Velocity and Clout. Signal is the proportion of tweets that contain information, Generosity is how willing the user is to retweet. Velocity is how regularly tweets are made, and Clout is how often the user is referenced by others. Influence is a combination of these scores.

14. Find out who's unfollowed you

Who followed you initially and sneaked off when you followed back? Friend or Follow helps you find the answer.

Go to the site and enter your username. Friend or Follow analyses your account and presents three lists: people you're following but aren't following you back; people who follow you who you aren't following back and people you're following who are following you.

15. Schedule tweets

It can be handy to set up tweets in advance. The easiest service to use for this is SocialOomph, because you don't need to leave your PC running for the scheduled updates to show.

Sign up for an account and then enter your Twitter account details, authorising via OAuth. You can now select the account you want to use and set up a message.

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First published in PC Plus Issue 309. Read PC Plus on PC, Mac and iPad

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