By Aliah D. Wright, an editor/manager for SHRM Online

In the summer of  2012, Curtis Midkiff, SHRM’s director of social engagement, and I led a discussion on social media engagement for HR professionals in Maryland. We discovered again that a great many people still have no idea how Twitter works. Well, as an advocate for social media I can’t have that, now can I?

So here’s a primer for those of you who haven’t dipped your toes into the twittersphere.

Using Twitter is like sending a text message or making a Facebook post. You have to keep your tweets to 140 characters or less (even though on smartphones now that old 140-character texting rule no longer applies).

Recognize the signs

The easiest way to understand Twitter, perhaps, is to dissect a Twitter message, like so:

RT @1SHRMScribe Follow @SHRMSMG to learn more about #some innovations. #SHRM members and #HR professionals @weknownext

1. RT means “retweet.” That is, the sender is repeating someone else’s twitter message: RT @1SHRMScribe means someone retweeted this message I sent (1SHRMScribe is my twitter handle).

2. @SHRMSMG is a reference to SHRM’s Director of Social Engagement Curtis Midkiff. (@SHRMSMG is his Twitter handle). The @ symbol alerts him that something has been written about him. He’ll be able to see what messages have been directed toward him by clicking on @Connect button at the top of, then selecting Interactions and Mentions. This is how he can see who either mentioned him in a post or has followed him.

3. @weknownext is a reference to SHRM’s public relations campaign “We Know Next.” You can follow it on twitter to get the latest HR news, trends, tips, and innovations. Let’s say you’re looking for a journalism job or you are interested in related career advice. You can follow @NPRJobs.

4. The # symbol means “hashtag.” It is the conversation reference for any conversation. People typing in #SHRM are looking for discussions about SHRM. So anyone looking for tweets about SHRM or HR will see them if the hashtag #SHRM, for example, is placed in the search box at the top of the Twitter page. If you’re tweeting about something and want SHRM members to see it, type #SHRM at the end of your post. You can engage in chat discussions on twitter by searching for #nextchat. We Know Next hosts next chat with HR professionals a few times a month. #some refers to the “social media” hashtag.

5. When tweeting, users can send one-on-one or private messages directly to a person. With’s recently revamped interface, I recommend you go the top of the page, click the symbol that looks like the silhouette of a person, and click on Direct Message.

Oh no, you didn’t

6. Rule of thumb: Don’t tweet anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother or your spouse  to see.  This way, you won’t make a mistake and send it out to the world. Of course, if you’re going to send a message to the world, exercise good judgment. And know that even deleted tweets can be retrieved. Remember former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner? See CNN’s video: What was Weiner thinking?

7. When you click the silhouette, a box will pop open. Click “new message” and then type in the Twitter handle of the person you want to reach.

8. Only the person addressed can see the message. Example: @SHRMSMG what conference session are you moderating at #SHRM12? Is a message to Curtis that only he can see. #SHRM12 was the hashtag for this year’s SHRM Annual Conference in Atlanta. People who didn’t go created their own hashtag #notatshrm.

9. Keep in mind, people make mistakes. Be careful what you say and what you RT! I generally do not retweet any links that I haven’t clicked on first – just so I don’t send out spam or worse, a virus.  Be skeptical of tweets that mention conversations or photos of you from people you don’t know. If someone tweets something odd at you, click on that person’s photo and read their bio before you click a link they’ve sent you. I don’t follow people without bios one and it’s probably not a good idea to click on a link from a person who doesn’t have any followers.

10. On Fridays, Twitter users promote the people whose messages they follow by using the hashtag #followfriday or #ff followed by the @ symbol and the person’s Twitter handle. I know it looks confusing. Here’s an example:

Thanks for connecting! #FF these folks: @1SHRMScribe @SHRMSMG @SHRM_AMO @weknownext.  Make sure the @symbol is right next to the handle

Remember, follow people back! Retweet things you think your followers might find interesting. You can add them to lists, too. People like that and engage people, don’t just tweet inane things at them (like where you ate – save that for Foursquare or your Facebook friends). Share things you think they’ll find interesting. People love statistics and news and all things social. Keep an open mind.

Happy tweeting! If you’re reading this post and think I’ve left something out, please, add to it!

For more employment news and social media tips, like my fan page at 

(Don’t worry, I can’t see your Facebook page or your updates).