Ten Twitter Secrets

You might think you know Twitter. But it has secrets. I know ten of them. And I can never keep a secret. So here they are:

Your username – Fed up with that username you chose in a hurry when you signed up? Or maybe you changed your name from ‘John Smith’ to ‘James Bond 007’ and want your username to reflect that? Well, you can change it to anything you want – as long as it isn’t already taken by someone else. And you get to keep all your followers. It’s easy to do. Just go to the web-based version of Twitter, access ‘Settings’ and then ‘Account’. Your username will be there in a box. Just delete your current username and type in your new one. Twitter will tell you if it’s available or not. If it is, you can ‘Save changes’. That’s it. Goodbye, John Smith. Hello, James Bond 007. But that doesn’t mean you have a licence to kill. Only tweet. Sorry.

But be warned, 007– there are consequences to consider. For example, your old username will now be available for evil geniuses and others to obtain (although you could sign up for it – using a different email address – and use it to re-direct people to your new account). Also, previous mentions of your old username in tweets won’t direct people to your new account. So do some secret agent research and make sure this is right for you.

Your Twitter biog – We all love writing about ourselves. Because, let’s face it, we’re the most interesting person we know. But Twitter only allows you 160 characters for your biog. However, you can extend it. In your profile, there is a field for your location that allows up to 30 characters – but it doesn’t require the content to be an actual place. You can write what you want. So go to it, my super interesting friends.

Pinned tweets – You can choose one of your best tweets and pin it to your profile. That means it will always appear as the first tweet on your timeline when people visit your profile. You should use it along with your biog to showcase what a brilliant, social media hotshot you are. And I know you are – because you’re reading my blog. Just access the tweet, go to settings and choose the ‘Pin to your profile’ option. You can unpin it any time you want from the same menu. Or simply pin a different tweet. I know what you’re thinking: ‘What did we do before pinned tweets?’ They’re amazing.

Photos – You can now attach up to four photos to a tweet…and it won’t count towards your 140-character limit. Woohoo! Sorry. I’m easily excited. You can also tag other accounts (if their privacy settings allow you) in those photos. This allows you to include a reference to another account without eating into your 140-character limit. For info, the best size photos for sharing on Twitter are 1,024 x 512 pixels (a 2:1 ratio for the mathematically-minded amongst you). So try and choose photos that size (or crop them before you post using Photoshop, Paint or something similar.) If you don’t post properly proportioned photos, your pics won’t preview properly (that was a lot of p’s, I know – I’m a writer and I like to do these things sometimes).

Analytics – Twitter lets you check out lots of cool analytics for your tweets. This includes number of tweets, tweet impressions, profile visits, mentions and follower numbers over the last 28 days. You can get data for individual tweets: as well as retweets and likes, you can find out how many times any links were clicked in a tweet or your Twitter profile was accessed from it. You can visit https://analytics.twitter.com for overall and individual tweet analytics. Or view analytics about individual tweets via the Twitter App – just access a tweet and look out for the ‘VIEW TWEET ACTIVITY’ link below the tweet. No, sorry. I can’t think of any jokes about tweet analytics. So I’ll move on quickly.

Other people’s retweets – Do you follow someone who is retweet crazy? There’s a simple solution that doesn’t involve unfollowing them or standing outside their house and screaming ‘Lay off the retweets, will you?!’. How? You can simply turn off their retweets in your timeline. Just go to their profile and select ‘Turn off retweets’ from the settings menu. Now you’ll just see their words of wisdom – assuming they have any.

Blocking – Think that blocking someone means they can’t read your tweets? Think again. Believe it or not, they can just Google search your Twitter username and that will reveal your latest 140-character words of wisdom – including any links in them. Or if you have a website or blog with a live Twitter feed, they can view that. They could even just set up another account and follow you anonymously. In other words, all blocking really does is stop people following you and replying to your tweets directly. So be careful what you tweet – someone can always find it, if they really want to. Even if they’re blocked.

Timeline – Firstly, you may not be seeing your timeline in real time. There is a ‘Show me the best Tweets first’ option within settings, which involves Twitter making decisions about what’s best for you. But it’s easy to change, if you believe you know best – just uncheck the box. Secondly, you may be seeing tweets from accounts you don’t even follow (and we’re not talking about retweets here). According to Twitter’s help pages, they may identify popular tweets and add them to your timeline even if you aren’t following them. There’s nothing you can do about that – in fact, it’s probably a good thing. So don’t panic if one of my @IamTheHuman tweets appears on your timeline and you don’t follow me. Hang on a minute, why aren’t you following me? Okay, don’t follow me now. Later. You’ve got to finish reading this and check out my book and other stuff.

Twitter Search – There are all sorts of useful things you can do via Twitter search. You can use it in a similar way to Google and, for example, filter results by excluding words. You do this by putting a minus sign in front of the word you don’t want featured. For example, searching for ‘Donald Trump’ and ‘president’ would only return results about Donald Trump that didn’t include any reference to ‘president’ (and, believe it or not, there are a few – I’ve checked). You can include search terms in quote marks if you want results with that exact phrase, such as “please buy my e-book” and “It’s only £1.99”. You can also search for your username and someone else’s – to see what you’ve tweeted about each other (just enter both your usernames in the search box). Or search for hashtagged words such as #IamWriting. There’s lots more. Just Google ‘Twitter advanced search’. It’s hours of fun for all the family.

@ Replies – Okay, listen carefully because this is a bit weird. If you reply to someone’s tweet, only people who follow both you and the person you are replying to will see it in their timeline. So if A replies to B, and C follows just A or B, he won’t see it. But D, who follows A and B, does have the opportunity to see it. To get round this, just insert a full stop / period before the first username in your reply (so it’s the first character of the tweet). It will still show as a reply to that tweet, but all your followers will see it. See – I told you it was weird. Twitter might be changing this in the future, to avoid millions of brains hurting while they have to process this weirdness. Let’s hope they do.

Tip: If you do this, try to make the reply understandable in itself. That’s because many people will see it without the original tweet as context. For example, rather than replying ‘Wow! Your book is a fantastic comedy-thriller novel!’, you should tweet ‘Wow! “We Have Lost The President” is a fantastic comedy-thriller novel!’ Okay. I know. That wasn’t subtle. But I’m a writer, guys. I don’t write brilliant blogs purely for fun. Okay? Good. We’re cool. Hmm? What’s the book about? I thought you’d never ask. Take a look here.

How to be a Twitter Blade Runner – Hunting Fake Followers

Some people say robots are the future for mankind. But not on Twitter. Bots are a pain in the timeline. They infiltrate your Twitter account and, before you know it, you’re being swamped by an army of robots who spout more nonsense than your really annoying school friend who tweets non-stop about their cat. Not just that, Twitter bots encourage other fakes to follow you – like you’re some kind of robotic Pied Piper of Hamelin. And when they’re following you, these robots never even say ‘Good morning, how are you today?’, like all those polite robots in the movies. No. They just shout at the world and don’t want to listen to anyone else – like that guy you worked with, who got a promotion.

I’ve been battling bots for the last 18 months across my five Twitter accounts (including my writer’s account @IamTheHuman and my novel’s account @IamTheNovel). I’ve spent the last 18 months tracking down fakes, Blade Runner style, and dealing with them in much the same way that Rick Deckard deals with replicants. I blast them. Well, I block them…but I like to pretend it’s blasting. It makes me feel like I’m Harrison Ford.

So here are the different categories of fake followers, as identified by this experience-hardened, Twitter Blade Runner. Bots will usually display several of these characteristics. So it’s easy to keep your account bot-free, if you become familiar with them.

The ‘Buy Followers’ Bots– These are the worst kind of fakes. They encourage real people to be followed by hundreds and thousands of their own robot kind – because that’s what you get when you buy followers; 100% fakes; not a real person among them. So there’s a simple rule: if the user’s profile urges you to buy followers (usually in a weird typeface) it’s 99.99% going to be a fake. (Lately, I’ve noticed one or two offer Facebook or Instagram followers – treat them exactly the same.) Even if they are a real person, they trade in fakes. So they should get what they deserve. Smoke ’em.

Advertisers – These robots are smart and will often have genuine-looking usernames and well-written biographies. But all they do is re-tweet content from a small pool of websites – often tedious corporate nonsense or lightweight features of the  “10 things you don’t know about…” or “5 silly photos of…” variety. While they can be tricky to initially identify, they are almost all non-likers (see below), so combining these two tests will get you your bot.

The Formulaic Biographers – These fakes have computer-generated personalities. Their Twitter biogs are a list of their favourite things with a word attached to highlight a strong interest. Common things include: internet/web, Twitter, alcohol, coffee, ice cream, beer, bacon and zombies (which is ironic really, given that they’re the Twitter undead). Common highlighters include: addict, aficionado, evangelist, expert, fan, guru, practitioner and specialist. So, if your follower is an ice cream addict, bacon specialist and internet guru, they are a guaranteed fake. You know what you’ve got to do.

Nonsense Tweeters – Any account who tweets a mish-mash of letters and/or numbers is a sure sign that the robot’s programming has gone crazy. Or their tweets cut off halfway through a sentence. Or they refer to comments, links or photos without linking to them. Put it out of its mechanical misery. Blast it to kingdom come.

Non-Likers – These bots appear to be established accounts, with large numbers of followers and / or followings. But when you click on their ‘Likes’, it’s a big, fat, robot zero. That’s because churning out automated tweets and re-tweeting is easy. But ‘liking’ other accounts’ tweets is much tougher. In fact, Twitter’s robots very rarely like anyone. Which isn’t a surprise. Because we don’t like them.

Non-Repliers – Another sure sign that the accounts are bot broadcasters, rather than human listeners, is that they never reply to anyone’s tweets. (In other words, they never start a tweet with someone else’s username.) These imposters don’t belong in your world. Do what Rick Deckard would do. Even if they have a pretty face like Pris the snake lady. Show no mercy.

Blanks – Your Twitter profile is how you gain more followers and tell the Twitter-verse who you are. But blanks are an unsophisticated breed of bot who don’t have a profile. They may also be an egghead (see below) or have a profile photo lifted from the internet – often a good-looking male or female. Real humans can decide not to have a profile – but that’s a pretty dumb move when there are Blade Runners around. A bit like not carrying your human ID in Los Angeles, 2019.

Eggheads – These guys are simple bots that don’t bother with a profile photo. Think of it like a faceless android. There are plenty of humans who choose to hide their identity behind the egg mask, too. So use it as a sign, rather than definitive proof.

Copycats – These accounts lift tweets from other accounts. It won’t be immediately obvious. But if you copy one of the individual’s tweets and paste it into Twitter search, it will produce at least one search result that is not from them. Experience will teach you what kind of tweets are copied, but they are usually of the ‘Me, me, me’ or advice for life variety. And no one needs a stream of that in their Twitter feed.

The Feb 2015 Crowd – Don’t ask me why, but many fakes I encounter have a last tweet from around this date. Maybe this is when the Twitter war between humans and the Twitter replicants began?  In practice, if the last tweet is more than about a year old, it’s suspicious. So proceed with caution, trainee Twitter Blade Runners.

Twitter Bombers – These robots issue a constant stream of regular tweets, often with no relevance to each other. Real people who have no idea what they’re doing on Twitter can, occasionally, imitate this behaviour. Check their most recent tweets for other tell-tale signs of automation. Once satisfied it’s a genuine Twitter bomber, you only have one option. Neutralise it.

Name / Username Mismatchers – Their name is John Smith or Jane Green, but the username is different or a string of total nonsense. Or maybe the photo is of a male and it’s a female name, or vice versa. Don’t waste time with this particular breed. Even if they’re as good-looking as Rutger Hauer. Blast them to Twitter oblivion.

Some additional advice for you all, my budding Blade Runners. If in doubt, put the suspect account under surveillance. Don’t follow back. Just keep an eye out for any suspicious activity. During this period, as well as the characteristics above, one thing to look out for is other suspicious accounts following you. That’s a sure sign that the suspect is a bot and is calling in his buddies.

So, that’s it. You’ll soon develop an almost sixth sense for who’s real and who’s fake. Just like Rick Deckard did for replicants. So good luck on your Twitter travels, my friends. And don’t forget your blaster!

P.S. If you enjoyed this blog, don’t forget to check out my novel. It’s apparently quite funny. Thanks!