Twitter-What Few Ever Mention

When beginning something new, there are often things we learn along the way…usually from mistakes we make.  I consider these learning opportunities :)  So often when we teach about Twitter we are limited on time and the really important pitfalls aren’t explained clearly at the beginning to enable others to avoid these mistakes.  That’s the purpose of this post.

1-Direct Messages

twitter toolbar2

You will recognize this graphic from an earlier post. Direct messages are like an email message sent through Twitter directly from one Twitter account to another…so no one else can see the tweet.  These messages are still limited to 140 characters. I’ve found this is the way younger farmers I serve prefer to ask me questions as they don’t wish other farmers to see their questions. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with direct messages themselves, but it is the #1 way that accounts get hacked. How does this happen?


This is an example of a direct message sent by someone I was following that would result in my account being hacked if I clicked on this link. Often these messages look like spam Facebook messages that often contain a question like “What?” “Did you see this picture of you?” “Want to Lose Weight?”…DO NOT click on any of these links. Yes, the link looks like it would be legit since it came from someone you know, but all it does is allow hackers into your Twitter account who then take over your account and spread spam through it. I will never forget being at a field day when Twitter seemed to “blow up” with several people within various commodity boards getting their accounts hacked and many of us at the field day getting direct messages from all of them. So what happens if you accidentally click on a link and your account gets hacked? Simply change your Twitter password as soon as possible and the hacking/spamming will stop. This is something most new Twitter users experience and I wanted to make sure you were aware of this so you could avoid it!

2-Unfollowing and Blocking People


All media tools can be used for good and for bad and I’ve always made sure to mention this but haven’t gone into detail. Here’s an example: Two young men in our system recently approached me saying some women retweeted their tweets so the men followed them as they seemed legitimate at the time. Then they noticed what they deemed as “inappropriate content” showing up from these women in the women’s tweets…even at times mentioning these men’s Twitter handles in these tweets…and the men wanted to get rid of them. You can unfollow anyone at any time even if you’re not interested in their tweets by simply clicking on your blue “following” button and it will change to a green button which says you are not following the person. However, with “inappropriate content” and if people are harassing you like I’ve experienced, I recommend blocking those people from Twitter so they can no longer follow you either. How you do this is right click on the “settings wheel” and then click on “Block”. You can also report someone if you’d like and Twitter will review and consider removing their account from Twitter.  Often “inappropriate content” or harassing occurs through direct messages but not always.  We need to also remember we are representing our organization with these professional accounts.


Something that I need to do more regularly is look through my “followers” to see if these are really people I desire to follow me or people that I want others to see are following me. There are people who will pay to obtain Twitter followers and who follow everyone in hopes of having everyone follow them back…it’s a number’s game…and you will notice some of these have 25,000+ followers. So periodically I go through my “followers” tab, click on profiles and look at tweets. If I see the tweets are mostly inappropriate ones, I choose to block that person. I also tend to block people who don’t have anything written in a profile, profile pic, etc. that I don’t know. It seems like a lot of Extension, commodity group, and ag folks learn how to tweet at various seminars/conferences and never complete their profiles. Normally I keep all of those unless I notice the tweets from the person are looking like spam. But it is an important thing for all of us to at least quarterly if not monthly go through this list as I realize how many people I miss who choose to follow me that I may wish to also follow back.



It’s important to also make sure you go through your security settings to ensure your Twitter profile is set up to the security level you prefer. You can do this by right clicking on your profile picture by the “tweet” button and click on “settings”.

protect tweets

You will then see a left-hand menu of various settings options that you can change for your Twitter profile and account. The first menu item goes to your account information (not shown). The second menu item is “security and privacy” where you can alter settings however you wish. For some Twitter accounts, you will notice a padlock icon by them indicating they are “protected accounts”. Some people choose this option because they wish to have extra security by screening who follows them and who sees their tweets. You may choose whatever security and privacy settings you desire. I just wanted to mention that particular setting does not allow for anyone not following you to see your tweets and may be counter-productive for us in Extension. It would be nice if we could choose this option to screen out the inappropriate stuff without limiting the reach of tweets, but that currently isn’t the case.  A few security settings to consider include:  allowing others to find you by your email address to improve discoverability, only receiving direct messages from people you follow, and deciding what you’d like to receive in regards to email and web notifications when people mention, retweet, or follow you.

4-Don’t be a Machine-Engage!

When I first started using Twitter, I was so excited to share as much information as possible thinking people wanted information.  What I missed was the fact that people quickly catch on to what each of us Tweets about, timing, and our attitude about it. It has been so much fun over time to meet various people at conferences in person after engaging with them on Twitter or seeing their tweets for months or even years!  In many ways, you feel like you have a connection because of what that person tweets about.

It’s also important to not schedule all your tweets.  Scheduling tools are great and I use them nearly every week…but it’s also important that others see you’re tweeting sporadically or your tweets seem more like a machine than like a real person behind the tweet.  Remember, your Twitter handle is your personal Twitter brand for the information you’re sharing.  Are you personable or robotic?

I say all of that to say, don’t be a machine in only spitting out information.  I often use Twitter to “lurk”…follow conversations between farmers who are tweeting to each other from their tractor cabs…sometimes I even jump in-which is the beauty of Twitter as these are all open conversations!  Engaging means asking questions of the people we follow, retweeting their information, mentioning them in a tweet and asking what they think about a particular idea, etc.  Twitter is a great way to gather ideas around a topic or to engage in thought-provoking side-conversations and questions during conferences/business meetings while others are speaking.  It’s a great overall resource!

About jenreesources

I'm the Agriculture and 4-H Extension Educator for Clay County in Nebraska with a focus in irrigated crop production and plant pathology.
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