1. On a PC/laptop/Mac, go to twitter.com and sign up. You don’t need to sign up under your real name but you will need a legitimate email address which can be your current one or a brand new one set up in advance for this purpose. Your twitter alias or username will be, for example, @FredBloggs but you can also separately show your real (or assumed) name. TOP TIP: Try and keep your username short. Mine (WhiteWednesday) is actually a bad example of a Twitter username. Some manage to keep it short (even as short as 4 characters) through deft use of numbers and letters.
2. Change the default ‘egg’ profile picture almost immediately and fill in your profile using one or two keywords like Brexit or EUref. Just helps others ‘locate’ you and take you more seriously. TOP TIP: Try and avoid changing your Twitter profile picture all the time. People tend to visually latch onto your picture as much as your username (maybe more so) so if you keep changing, to some extent they have to keep relearning who you are. It doesn’t have to be an amazing profound picture – it’s just a visual hook.
3. Start following people. You can find them through the search facility by either typing in a specific name or typing in a key word e.g. Flexcit; Brexit; etc. When you find someone (e.g. @RichardAENorth) look at who they are following as that will give you ideas on who else to follow.
4. Whenever the people you follow write something (or tweet something, to use the right term), you will see it appear in your timeline. A timeline is basically just the list you see of everything you and the people you follow have tweeted.
5. A tweet can only ever be 140 characters long. Web links to say EUreferendum.com or a newspaper website do however get shortened by Twitter to a fairly standard length so you don’t get unduly penalised if the link happens to be very long set of characters.
6. Other key concepts on Twitter are: retweets, likes, replies, mentions or notifications, direct messages and hashtags.
a. A retweet is when you want to echo what someone has tweeted. I would say “you want to repeat what someone has tweeted” but that implies you have to type it all out again (which you don’t). You just hit a retweet button. The purpose of this is to “spread the word” to your emerging band of followers who may not follow the same people you do. Note that a retweet does not automatically mean you approve of what is being said. Well-known tweeters sometimes use retweeting as a kind of weapon when someone has sent them a very rude or hate-filled reply. They retweet the venomous reply so all their followers can see it (and then those followers often pile in to attack the source of the venom). So a retweet can be simply to highlight a tweet (for whatever reason) to your followers.
b. If you ‘like’ someone’s tweet, it doesn’t necessarily mean you like it (in the proper sense of the word ‘like’). It may mean you simply acknowledge it. This can be useful at the end of a conversation or to just effectively say “I’ve seen this” when you don’t want to give a full reply. Perhaps someone has replied to your tweet saying “I loved that tweet!” in which case, marking their reply with a ‘like’ is basically saying “Thanks”. ‘Likes’ are also often used by people as a method of bookmarking tweets so you can go back and find them later.
c. A reply is what you might assume it is. Someone tweets something, you hit ‘reply’ and it allows you to send them a reply. But please note if you start ANY tweet with the @ symbol. Twitter assumes you are having a side-conversation with that person and that not all of your followers want to see that conversation. You will therefore sometimes see people replying to a tweet but starting the reply with a dot or some other character….or they will simply put the @username they are replying to somewhere else in their reply. That way, their followers also see the reply to that person.
d. A mention or notification just means that your username (@FredBloggs) has appeared in a tweet, reply, retweet or like.
e. A direct message is a private message you can send at any time to someone you follows you. You can’t send a direct message in any other circumstances. e.g. if you only follow them but they don’t follow you back.
f. A hashtag is something you can add to a tweet that may make it more searchable and topical (although it does chew up characters from the 140 character limit). A hashtag looks like this: #Thisisahashtag. A good hashtag is therefore short. E.g. #EUref (for EU referendum-related tweets), #Brexit, #Flexcit, #UKIP. The lower case or upper case is irrelevant. #euref and #EUref will be considered the same hashtag. Most news or current affairs TV/radio programmes now have an associated hashtag. For example, #BBCQT is BBC Question Time’s hashtag. People ‘live tweeting’ while the programme is on will often keep an eye on other tweets using that hashtag (so opportunities for others to see what you are saying).
Other starter tips
1. There are examples of some quite profound wisdom that can be squeezed into the 140 character limit (and it allows you to relearn the old skill of précis). Remember that when writing a tweet.
2. For Gawd’s sake check for spelling, missing words etc before submitting a tweet. Regular mistakes – for some people in almost every single tweet – just marks you out as a weirdo who should be ignored.
3. Explore what you can do in the Settings and what alerts you can switch on and off. Last time I looked alerts are all switched on by default.
4. Adding a picture to a tweet tends to draw more interest – and a picture can mean a screenshot of a piece of text that you perhaps couldn’t otherwise squeeze into 140 characters. But use screenshots wisely and edit if necessary using a graphics editing tool – even Microsoft Paint on all Windows PCs/laptops can crop an image down to its bare essentials. For example don’t take a screenshot of your entire PC screen and expect people to find something in the bottom-left quarter of it.
5. You don’t have to reply to people who address a tweet at you – perhaps they’ve replied to you. Especially if you think it’ll just draw you into a conversation with a muppet. We all do it but it’s often fruitless. And replying is drawing attention to you and the muppet.
6. DON’T SHOUT
7. Don’t underestimate your tweets. These days there is something called Twitter Analytics which often shows me that despite no one retweeting or “liking” my tweets, I can see they are being read. Before Analytics, it often felt I was just talking to an empty room.
8. Also follow @eureferendum, @mrbrexit, @PWilliamsTBF and @WhiteWednesday for starters and look at who we are following and retweeting. The group is really starting to expand. If I tried listing all of us I’d forget someone.
9. Follow @rebuttalunit – an account that’ll come into play some way down the line
Making Twitter work for you
1. If you have a smart phone (Apple iPhone, Samsung, HTC etc), download the Twitter app and log in using your username/password that you set up on the PC/laptop/Mac. This is where using Twitter really comes into its own because such apps make the whole Twitter experience very accessible for busy people and as Twitter is “quick and bursty” it means you can engage on Twitter in tiny bits of spare time (e.g. when waiting for the kettle to boil). But beware, it can become addictive.
2. Some people have a thing about following back. In other words if they follow you, they expect you to follow back. Some even say in their profiles “we always follow back” or similar. You will see that a lot of people have a very similar number of followers to followees – sometimes running into thousands. There was a time when following back was a real pain because it just meant your timeline filled up with more and more tweets making it impossible to really follow (in the normal English sense) what everyone was saying. These days you can follow someone but also mute them without them knowing. Thus they feel better that you have followed them but now your timeline doesn’t get overwhelmed with more and more tweets. The vast majority of people on Twitter follow more people than follow them. But if you do follow anyone who follows you, it tends to mean you build a bigger set of followers more quickly.
3. Follow and sometimes reply to some big name accounts such as Nigel Farage, Daniel Hannan, Andrew Neil and many others with high numbers of followers (compared to how many they follow). If you can reply within 1 minute of them tweeting, it means you get to the top of the replies and others on Twitter are more likely to look at what you’re saying. It does mean you need to keep watching closely though. Sometimes you just get lucky when taking a look at your timeline you see a big name has tweeted in the last few seconds. That’s a good time to reply. But don’t reply for the sake of it – say something useful
4. Do follow pro-EU accounts like @Britinfluence. Note what they are saying and what they are assuming. Hint: they nearly always (conveniently) assume that leaving the EU means leaving the single market. If you get past that, they then assume that just accessing the single market (like Norway) means no influence. And of course they assume Britain has major influence inside the EU. They are exposed on these three flanks but note that @Britinfluence run by @eurorealist can actually be quite good at engaging with people on Twitter….and batting away anti-EU replies.
5. Timing your tweeting activity makes a difference. Peak times when many people are looking at Twitter is as you’d expect: 6.45-9.00am, 12-2, 4.30-11pm. Tweet outside these times and your tweet is more likely to be largely ignored. In some smartphone apps used for Twitter (e.g The main Twitter app, Hootsuite, Tweetcaster, Echofon etc), you can write a tweet outside these times and save it to draft. Then release at a peak time.
Note that even within these three time periods there can be “high peak” periods. So 4.30 – 5.00pm and then after about 7.30pm with a particular peak after 9.30pm. Remember that people have jobs, partners, and families. We all run to a similar routine.
6. Watch when key people are actively tweeting/retweeting on Twitter if you want to get their attention. There’s usually no point directing a tweet at somebody (say @DouglasCarswell) when he’s not online. When he next logs on via his iPhone, he’ll see 50 ‘mentions’ or more in his app and will probably ignore many of them. However when someone like this is actively tweeting, they do look at replies, and sometimes engage with them. Some of the well-known people are better than others at this. You get to soon learn who is “aloof” and who isn’t.
7. If you want to get the attention of journalists, think-tankers, MPs or MEPs then tweeting and replying to these people outside peak periods (and watching what these people are saying in non-peak periods) can be useful.
8. Be on Twitter when something is happening on TV/radio: Question Time, PMQs, Newsnight, The Daily Politics, The Marr Show, and use their hashtag while the programme is live. These days they will often quietly show the hashtag on screen and the presenter may even mention it. If there is ever a more “unique” political programme (like the Clegg vs Farage debate), be on Twitter for it and again use the published hashtag.
9. Use Search quite a lot. You can search for any words, hashtags, people. You can even search for something you might have once said. So to find if I once used the word ‘pillock’, I search for @whitewednesday pillock. And it seems I’ve used it about three times in five years! There is also an Advanced Search facility which can be hard to find at first. If in doubt google Twitter Advanced Search.
10. As you become more adept with Twitter, find an app called Tweetdeck for your PC/laptop/tablet. It can allow you to watch various timelines and hashtags all on one screen.
11. Ultimately, don’t be on Twitter just to endorse what people who agree with you are saying. Say something useful (or perhaps go back into someone’s old tweets and use something they’ve previously said). Write interesting replies to well-known tweeters. Maybe tempt some pro-EU people into conversation. What are they assuming? What prejudices are driving them? Work out what broad messages the pro-EU camp keep using e.g. business uncertainty; worries about closed borders; etc.
12. You can daisy-chain your tweets, perhaps to build a bigger point or mini-argument. Do this by posting a tweet. Then hit ‘reply’ to your own tweet and remove your own username that appears in the reply box. Then type out the new tweet and post it. The two tweets will appear to be joined together in the timelines of anyone following you. Or maybe someone finds one tweet due to some keyword you used….and they therefore find the other daisy-chained tweet. You can daisy-chain many tweets in this fashion by constantly replying to the one before.
Don’t tweet/retweet anything by the Express or Breitbart London. They occasionally get things right and one or two bits are good but all the rest is misleading crap. And it’s not always obvious to someone new what is OK and what is crap. So just avoid them.
I generally avoid engaging with anyone who hasn’t changed their profile picture from the default ‘egg’. If they can’t be bothered then nor can I. That’ll sound harsh but you will quickly find there are some people on Twitter who just spend their lives irritating others, never read/absorb what others say, and basically waste everyone’s time. What they get out of this, Lord knows.
Avoid anyone who has anything in their profile about muslim invasions or EUSSR. Those are the more obvious signs. You get to learn over time who are the headbangers, some of whom are in UKIP and some of whom are not (and some who were once in UKIP but were thrown out – yes they can find their voice once more by using Twitter to carry on with their toxic nonsense). Some other particular accounts to avoid retweeting (for various reasons):
@frank_fisher, @pperrin, @DavidJo52951945, @2tweetaboutit, @Mikkil, @GaryJRobinson,
Also please avoid retweeting any individual tweets suggesting we can get can get a “better deal” than Norway, Switzerland etc. One core theme of Flexcit is that we can’t. You will find this comes up a lot, with various countries being suggested that the UK can be like (within 2 years) e.g. South Korea, Mexico, Chile.
Another Flexcit theme is that we can do things about immigration but not to the extent that would satisfy the hardliners of the Brexit movement. And also not at the exact point of Brexit – it would come straight after exit when we could review adherance to the ECHR and also review pull factors (and to some extent, push factors too). Beware retweeting people who insist that something has to be done about free movement as part of the exit negotiations (the EU will not give way on this). A related theme of Flexcit is that very little can be achieved in terms of a “bespoke trade deal” in 2 years. These things take 5+ or 10+ years. And as we would be trying to do this from a position of 40 years of entanglement (i.e. a mess) and negotiating all sorts of other things beyond “mere” trade, it will take a long time. Again, avoid retweeting anything that suggests it can be done in quick time.
Avoid anything that says we can save all our membership fees and spend it on nurses/defence/whatever.
Avoid anything that suggests we can have a bonfire of regulations after exit. A core Flexcit theme is that a lot of these regulations are now made at global level for which an EU exit will, in reality, make no difference.
Twitter does have its limitations. You can’t conduct a serious discussion of any depth on it – not without also linking to blogs/articles that also make your case. Even then you’ll find you soon hit a wall. Some liken tweeting to rolling up at red traffic lights in a car, shouting out the window at a group of people on the pavement before driving off when the lights turn green (perhaps after a little dialogue). That’s not a bad summary.
Twitter is however the place to be these days. For us, it is the Westminster bubble online, except with real people like us also participating unlike the old days when journalists, MPs and others would meet around Westminster and discuss/debate between themselves. That still goes on of course but one can sometimes see opinions forming in front of you or more likely a theory that particular journalist is going to put in tomorrow’s newspaper first turning up in a tweet the day before.
You can really see what is going on and what people are thinking. And yes you can sometimes persuade them.