Twitter is a microblogging platform that lets you broadcast short messages to your “followers” (the equivalent of a friend or connection). If you don’t already have an account, I recommend you get one, at least to see what all the fuss is about. It’s all over the media, has become part of major companies’ interactive marketing campaigns, your coworkers are talking about it, and even celebrities are using Twitter.
But I’ve talked to so many people who haven’t joined or gave up on Twitter because they didn’t know where to start. The interface is almost too simple, and it’s not always obvious what to do next. So here is a newbie’s guide on how to use Twitter.
1. Create a Twitter account
Go to http://twitter.com and click “Get Started—Join!” Enter your full name and create a user name. I suggest using your full name (firstlast) if it’s not already taken. There’s a time and place to be anonymous, and Twitter isn’t really it; one of the major opportunities of Twitter is the networking aspect. Still, if you want to create a fake identity, go for it. Then fill out the remaining required fields.
2. Skip the next two prompts
After signing up, you’ll be taken to an import contacts screen, followed by a suggested user prompt. I recommend writing at least a couple tweets and uploading an avatar before following anyone. People will be more likely to follow you back if they know at least something about you besides your username. You can come back to these screens later.
3. What are you doing?
I don’t think anyone has joined Twitter without staring at that text box wondering what the heck to say to audience of nobody in 140 characters or less. Maybe you’ll start out with the obligatory “Figuring out this Twitter thing.” You can get some ideas for what to tweet about in my article What You Should Tweet About, so I won’t get too in depth about it here. Start out by posting a link to an interesting article, commenting on some current event, and asking a question (perhaps a question you have about your industry).
Leave your most recent tweet as an open-ended question right before you start networking. Once you follow people, they’ll look at your profile to see if they want to follow you back. For however many seconds that takes, you will have their attention, so this is a great opportunity to get a good number of replies.
4. Customize your Twitter page
The next thing you’ll want to do is customize your Twitter page.
- More Info URL – submit the URL of your website or blog.
- One line bio – since you only have 160 characters here, this isn’t a good place to be too descriptive. Instead, fill most of the space with keywords to describe what you’re interested. This will make it easier for like-minded people to find you.
- Location – enter your location (pretty self-explanatory).
- Picture – Upload a photo that will be used as your avatar. I recommend this being a picture of you. People on Twitter want to be following other real people, so using a real photo will show that you’re a real person, that you’re not just a bot or scam account.
- Design – Twitter has some basic backgrounds to choose from, but I think your backgrounds should represent more of who you are since your bio can only be 160 characters long. Many people) also include links to other social network profiles and contact information. You can find some customizable backgrounds here, and more are coming soon!
5. Set up mobile Tweeting
To set up the mobile features, go to “settings” and then “devices.” Enter your cell phone number and then follow the instructions to validate the phone. Then you can send an SMS message to 40404 any time you want to tweet and you’re not at a computer.
You can also turn on notifications when anyone sends you a reply or direct message, but this can get extremely annoying if follow a lot of people. It’s better to turn this feature off and check Twitter whenever on your mobile web, if you have it.
6. Follow people you know in real life
The first thing you should do is to connect with people you already know. On Twitter, this is called “following” someone. Not everyone you follow will follow you back (unless you’re just super awesome like that). If they know you in real life, they’ll probably follow you back, so let’s start there.
In the top navigation, click on “Find People,” then “find on other networks.” Enter your main email address and password to see which of your contacts are on Twitter. Of those, you’ll be able to select which you want to follow.
If you know that some of your friends are on Twitter but they’re not in your address book, you can click “Find on Twitter” and type in their names or usernames.
7. Follow people with similar interests
Next, find people with similar interests who you don’t necessarily know in real life, nor will probably never meet. These can be people who work in the same industry as you, share the same hobbies, like the same television shows, also run marathons, share your love of knitting; you get the idea.
There are several ways to find these people. You can do a Twitter search for topics of interest to see who’s been tweeting about them, and then follow them. Then there’s Twellow, a twitter directory where you can type in a keyword or phrase and see the most influential tweeple in that category. There’s also Twellowhood, where you can find people in your neighborhood or city who are also on Twitter.
Everyone’s Twitter experience is different because everyone has different interests, and follows people accordingly. If you follow people for the sake of building your numbers, the conversations won’t be as engaging, the article links won’t be as interesting, and what you learn from your Tweeple won’t be as relevant to your interests. Also remember, you don’t have to follow everyone who follows you.
8. Interact with your Tweeple
You can talk about anything on Twitter, but remember not to just talk AT your followers. Interact with them. Then they’ll be more likely to reciprocate.
Replying: Begin your tweet with @username to reply to that user or say something specifically to them. You can have more than one @username in a tweet if you want to say something to multiple people, but keep in mind your 140 character limit.
Direct Messages: Send someone a private message using the direct messaging feature. Begin your tweet with d username to send someone a direct message. You can only send direct messages to people who are following you back.
Retweeting: You can also retweet someone’s tweet, meaning you can repost a message already posted by another Twitter user. This will look like “RT @username whatever the message is.” People usually retweet interesting links, breaking news, and announcements. Sometimes people even ask for their message to be retweeted (“please RT!”).
9. Organize your Tweets
Use the hashtag feature (#) to organize your tweets. Most of the time, hashtags just help categorize your tweets so others can easily find it. For example, I tend to tweet about #Lost on Wednesday nights, and I like to read other people’s #Lost comments during commercial breaks. And on Friday’s, you’ll probably notice the tradition of #followfriday, where people recommend other tweeple to follow.
You can also participate in a conversation about a specific topic with hashtags. Sometimes this will be an actual conversation, such as when you’re at a conference, concert, or any public event. You can add commentary by including #topic in each tweet, and then view other people’s comments at Twitter Search.
10. Learn the Twitter lingo
Here are the most common terms used on Twitter that you’ll eventually come to be familiar with. Some of them have been sprinkled throughout this article. You can see a complete list at the Twitter Language Guide.
- DM = direct message
- ReTweet or RT = to repost a message already posted by another Tweeter
- Twaffic = traffic you get from Twitter
- Twat = a Twitter spammer
- Tweeple = people on Twitter, Twitter users… basically anyone who uses Twitter
- Tweeter = one who Tweets, or one who uses Twitter
- Tweet = a message on Twitter
- Tweeting = the act of writing a message on Twitter
- Tweetup = an in-person meetup of Twitter members
- Twestival = a coordinated Twitter event in cities around the world, and the money raised at these events go to charity
What is one tip you would give to a new Twitter user?