It's tough monitoring the Internet. Google Alerts has pretty much died (to be taken up by the better but pricey Mention) and Hootsuite has stopped enhancing its aging service for anyone not paying hundreds of dollars a month.
Luckily, I've developed a kick-ass system for monitoring everything I need to on Twitter -- and I use Tweetdeck to do it.
Here's why I love Tweetdeck and why you should too:
So that's it! The Ding and Clear method works wonders: It's fast, free, and nimble.
The various Twitter shorthand--from DMs and RTs to #'s--can be puzzling to Twitter newbies. Here's the basic terminology you need to know: "RT" stands for "<a href="http://support.twitter.com/entries/77606-what-is-retweet-rt" target="_hplink">retweet</a>," in which a user shares another tweeter's post, verbatim, while crediting the original tweeter. A retweet appears as "RT @[username]" followed by the tweet. A "DM" is a direct message--a message up to 140 characters in length that is sent only to another specific user, not to all of a user's Twitter followers. (A "DM fail" describes direct messages that were supposed to be private, but that were accidentally shared with all of a tweeter's followers.) A hashtag is created by using the # symbol ahead of a word or term. As <a href="http://support.twitter.com/entries/49309-what-are-hashtags-symbols" target="_hplink">Twitter</a> explains, a hashtag "is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages." Hashtags might be used to add color or personality to a tweet (like "#fail") or it could be used to tie a tweet to a specific, broader topic ("#Jan25"). Some use hashtags to track all tweets from a specific event (i.e. "#SXSW")
Want to share a snapshot of a concert? A screenshot? Or any other sort of media? Twitter enables you to share images (and videos) in tweets by embedding the media as links. One option is to use third-party image sharing services like Twitpic, Twitgoo, TweetPhoto, Yfrog, and Picktor, which allow you to upload photos or videos, then generate a link to the media (i.e. <a href="http://twitpic.com/31vyum" target="_hplink">http://twitpic.com/31vyum</a>) and will send a tweet to your account with that link. Users can also use these services, as well as others like Posterous and Mobypicture, to email or SMS photos and text, then have this information appear as tweets. Twitter's mobile apps, such as Twitter for iPhone and Twitter's Android app, also include photo sharing abilities, allowing users to embed links to photos in their tweets.
Given Twitter's length limit, each character in a tweet is key. Rather than tweeting unwieldy URLs--which can run 120 characters in length--condense your URLs with a URL shortener before you tweet them. Services like bit.ly,<a href="http://goo.gl/" target="_hplink"> goo.gl</a>, and <a href="http://is.gd/" target="_hplink">is.gd</a> will "compress that address" (See the fastest URL shorteners <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/01/7-fastest-url-shorteners-_n_776956.html" target="_hplink">here</a>). URL shorteners will also display stats on how frequently and over what period of time your link has been clicked. To take advantage of this feature using bit.ly, for example, enter the shortened URL followed by a plus sign to check on the stats (i.e. "http://huff.to/fhlo5M+")
Hashtags (such as "#SXSW" or "#Facebook") offer a way to "tag" tweets to a particular event, topic, trend, or location, or as a way of adding color or personality to a tweet. Hashtags can help your tweet get attention and traction--for example, some users might track all tweets from "#TED"--because, as Twitter explains, "if Tweet with a hashtag on a public account, anyone who does a search for that hashtag may find your Tweet." However, it's possible to include too many hashtags, which can turn some users off of retweeting (or even reading) a tweet. Three hashtags is generally the maximum number recommended per tweet.
Sometimes, you really do need all 140 characters to get your point across in a tweet. But other times, it's worth thinking about how you can keep your tweets a bit pithier, as there can be a downside to using all of your allotted characters: maxing out the 140 character limit makes it harder for other users to retweet your posts, as their retweet will add at several extra characters to the post--RT @yourtwittername. When you tweet, think about leaving som extra room (around 20 characters) to make your post more share-able. Alternately, if you are tweeting several 140 character posts in a row that are all part of a single thought o theme, alert your followers that the tweets are part of a series by including "1/3" or "2/3" in the tweet.
It can be overwhelming at times to follow the firehose of tweets coming from the varied sources you follow, from friends to politicians, brands to pundits. Instead of having to absorb a wide range of tweets from the perhaps hundreds of tweeters you follow, users can use Twitter Lists to better organize the content that is shared and zero-in on a particular topic. Twitterers can create their own lists, or follow lists other people have created of tweeps tweeting about everything from Apple news to the unrest in Egypt. For example, for the latest tech news, you might follow HuffPostTech's<a href="http://twitter.com/#!/HuffPostTech/tech-journalists" target="_hplink"> "tech journalists"</a> list, or tune in to TIME's<a href="http://twitter.com/#!/TIME/funny-people" target="_hplink"> "funny people"</a> list for a laugh.
Want to respond directly to someone's tweet? Start a conversation on Twitter with an "@ reply" directed at the tweeter you're replying to. To send an @ reply, start your tweet with "@username." For example, if @HuffPostTech posed a question on Twitter about people's first smartphones, a user could tweet back "@HuffPostTech my first phone was an iPhone." Note: @ replies will not be viewed by all of your followers. A tweet that begins @username is only visible to a subsection of tweeters. As <a href="http://support.twitter.com/entries/14023-what-are-replies-and-mentions" target="_hplink">Twitter</a> explains, "People will only see others' replies in their home timeline if they are following both the sender and recipient of the update."
Let other Twitter users know you're tweeting to them or about them by including users' Twitter usernames in your tweets. For example, instead of saying "Going to dinner with my friend Bianca," you might tweet "Going to dinner with my friend @bbosker." Mentioning another account by its Twitter username can help that account gain followers--others can see that user's tweets and profile with just a click--and can also help you get other people's attention on Twitter. Many tweeters monitor their @ mentions to see what others are saying to them or about them, and in turn people use @ mentions to communicate with brands, media outlets, individuals, and other accounts. You can see your @mentions by clicking the "@mentions" tab on your homepage on Twitter.
Rather than go to Twitter.com to track what's happening on Twitter, there are a host of third-party Twitter applications that can help you to better monitor--and tweet from--various accounts, as well as keep track of various social media platforms all in one place. Tweetdeck, Seesmic, and Hootsuite are just a few of the <a href="http://lifehacker.com/#!5368817/five-best-twitter-clients" target="_hplink">options</a>.
Follow Tod Maffin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/todmaffin