Twitter guide for beginners

The ultimate Twitter how-to

So, you want to be on Twitter. It all seems a little overwhelming. Where do you start? What’s a “DM”? An “RT”? Who’s on my “list”? How do I get followers? What on earth do I tweet about?

Not to worry. We’ve got all the answers. Well, not all the answers, because Twitter’s constantly updating its features. But this simple step-by-step guide is more than enough to get you started and fully equipped to enjoy and evolve with the fun, powerful and addictive social networking tool that is Twitter.

Step 1: Set up your profile

When you’re setting up your profile, there are a few things to consider: your name, your bio, your photo and your particulars (website and location).

What’s in a name? In deciding on your Twitter name (a.k.a. “username” or “handle”), choose something that is succinct. After all, you and your future Twitter buddies only have so many characters to tweet with ― 140 to be exact. So you want your name to take up as few of those characters as possible. Make it easy for your friends to tweet with you by choosing a name that is relatively short, sweet and easy to tweet.

Many people use their full name as a Twitter handle. That, of course, is fine and can be beneficial. It may not be the shortest Twitter name, but there will be no mistaking you for a spambot, and it will be easy for others to search and find you. (Although, you could always offer your real name as your “display name” and use a shorter version of it as your Twitter name.)

Zen bio:  In writing your bio, try not to stress. You can change it at any time. But be sure to put some key words in there. If you’re a mom, and you want to tweet with other moms, make sure “mom” is in your bio. If you’re a yoga enthusiast and want to attract and tweet with other yogis, put “yoga” in there. Foodies should include “food,” and so forth.

Fancy photo: As soon as you can, get rid of the generic egg avatar they’re using now and replace it with a photo or image that best represents you ― and maybe even makes you stand out.

Location, location, location:  In setting up your account, you’ll be asked to indicate your website. Bloggers should absolutely list their blog address, and businesses their business address. Twitter is an extremely efficient way of spreading the word about your blog or business.

Location is also important because it gives other tweeters – or potential “followers” – a sense of who you are and that you’re an actual person, as opposed to a Twitter “spambot.” You’ll also attract other followers with the same location.

Write now, design later:  When setting up your account, you will also have a chance to choose a background design (or wallpaper) for your Twitter account. But it’s a little early to fuss about that. Start small. Creating a profile that paints a good picture of you as a person, and that will best attract the tweeters or “followers” you want to engage with, is an essential first step.

Coming up: Your first tweet

Before looking for followers or engaging anyone too much on Twitter, it’s a good idea to start tweeting a little. This way you’ll familiarize yourself with the terrain and begin the important process of finding your Twitter voice and comfort zone. You can tweet about what you’re doing, funny things your kids say, philosophical epiphanies, what you had for lunch – anything! You might even want to tweet a link to an article you’re reading or post a photo.

Mini blog: Bloggers do well to think of the bulk of their tweets as mini blogs, or “microblogs” ― 140-word blog posts that their readers can enjoy in between their regular blog posts. Just like blogs, microblogs offer a little more than what you had for lunch or where you took your kid for her afternoon activity.

Keep it short:  When you want to add links to articles in your tweets, you’ll probably need a link shortener to help you stay within the 140 character limit. Some Twitter platforms (that you may want to explore later on in your Twitter career) like Tweetdeck have link shorteners built in. But for now, you can go to sites like bit.ly  or Ow.ly: simply type in your long URL in the space provided, and out pops a short, beautifully tweetable link.

Coming up: How to gain Twitter followers

Now that you’ve created your Twitter identity and tweeted a little, it’s time to get out there and interact.
 
I follow you, you follow me The best way to get followed is to follow others. And if you really want someone to follow you, try engaging them in some tweets (see Step 4).

Tweet: Simply by tweeting, you will start to attract followers. Twitter has evolved to include features similar to Facebook, which make it easier to find and be found ― such as the friend suggestions and the “Browse interests” and “Find friends” links in your sidebar. By all means, take advantage of these features. Also, tweeting alone will bring in some followers: your tweets will show up in public and search feeds; if someone likes them, he or she may follow you.
 
In real life:  Look for some of your real-life friends. Follow them, and follow some of the appealing people they follow.
 
Follow what you like:
  Go to your favourite websites and blogs to find a link to their Twitter account, and click it! Again, check out who they’re following.
 
To follow or not to follow:
Don’t feel obligated to follow everyone who follows you. Indeed, if there’s someone following you who acts inappropriately or who has an inappropriate profile picture? Don’t hesitate to use the “block” feature.

Privacy: The only way to stop people from following you or from viewing your stream is to privatize your Twitter account. This feature enables you to monitor who follows you. Every time someone follows you, you will have to approve his or her “request.” This is a good feature for people who only want to tweet with a select group of friends and family.

Block:  You may see some unwanted followers interacting with you or showing up in your list of followers. Twitter has gotten better and quicker at eliminating these spammers. But, in the meantime, don’t hesitate to use the “Block” feature when someone is interacting inappropriately with you. The block feature is located in the drop-down menu box at the far right of the person’s profile. It doesn’t stop anyone from viewing your feed, but it does stop them from interacting with you.

Coming up: Interacting with other people on Twitter

It’s time to interact with others ― which is not only another great way to get followed (as noted above), but also the most enjoyable and rewarding aspect of Twitter. You can now engage with friends, bloggers you love and even companies that otherwise seem unapproachable.

@what?:  If you want to tweet someone on Twitter, all you have to do is place the “@” symbol before his or her Twitter handle. Let’s say, for example, you want to connect with canadianparents.com . The “@” symbol preceding the Twitter handle will enable you to do that, as follows: “@Canadianparents I think you’re awesome.”
 
Say @what?:  In the above example, only you and your followers who also follow Canadianparents will see that tweet in their stream or “Home Feed.” If you want all of your followers to know you think Canadianparents is awesome, you must place a character (or more) before @canadianparents, as follows: “Hey, @Canadianparents, I think you’re awesome,” or even “.@canadianparents I think you’re awesome.”
 
Mention me!: Interacting with others can involve more than engaging them directly. Any time you mention a person/company/website with a Twitter handle in your tweets, use the @ symbol before the handle so that they see the tweet. If you want to tweet that you love Canadianparents.com’s  article on Curious Toys, for example, you may want to do it like this: “Just reading @canadianparents’ article on Curious Toys, and it is hilarious! ― http://bit.ly/g1oPVN.” Note that bit.ly shortener was used here too.

Quick replying:  A simple way to reply to a tweet (whether or not the person is interacting with you or “mentions” you) is to click the “Reply” symbol ― an arrow ― to the right of the tweet you wish to reply to. Once you click on the arrow, you’ll see the person’s name preceded by the “@” symbol appear in the tweet box (that is, the box in which you compose your tweets). You can reply to more than one people at a time.

DM me!: DM is short form for “Direct Message” or “Message.” Any time you want to tweet someone something private that you don’t want anyone else on the internet to see, be sure to Direct Message them. It’s a great way to connect with someone if you don’t have his or her email on hand. The person, however, must be following you to receive the DM. You cannot DM someone who is not following you.

RT love:  A great way to show another tweeter some love is to RT, or “Retweet,” a tweet of theirs that you love. By RT’ing a tweet, you’re sharing it with all of your followers. You can either RT a tweet by using the RT feature located just underneath the beloved tweet, or you can simply cut and paste the tweet into your message field, and add RT at the beginning. For example, you like @CanadianParents tweet about their giveaway: “How did you like our Dec. giveaways? We have another one for you this week! Check it out- http://cot.ag/hkp7Jj.” To RT it, you might say “RT @Canadianparents How did you like our Dec. giveaways? We have another one for u this wk! Check it out- http://cot.ag/hkp7Jj.”

Coming up: Reading your tweets

Timeline: To read all those you follow, or your “home feed,” simply click on the “Timeline” tab beneath the tweet box and enjoy reading tweets by everyone you follow. Other terms for Timeline include “home feed” and “Twitter stream.”

Mention: To read all the tweets that “mention” or “@” you, click on the “Mention” tab beneath your tweet box.

Coming up: Enhancing your Twitter experience

Now that you’re basically a pro at Twitter, it’s time to enhance your experience with some cool Twitter platforms, tips and tricks.

The photos: By all means add photos to your tweets. This makes your Twitter stream more varied and interesting for you followers. The best way to do this, to start, is to use Twitpic.com. Create a profile there, and begin loading photos and creating tweets directly on that website. These photos, and your clever captions, will then show up in your twitter stream.

The hashtags: Sometimes you’ll see Twitter hashtags following people’s tweets. They are terms or phrases (with no spaces in between words) preceded by the “#” symbol. Hashtags can be used track all of the tweets using the same hashtag, or they can be fun or snarky additions to tweets. For example, when the mayoral vote in Toronto was happening, everyone tweeting about the election added the hashtag “#VoteTO” to their tweets. So “#VoteTo” became a link that you could click to in order to read the entire stream of tweets about the election; you could even read tweets by people you don’t follow (and maybe follow them if you like them!). Adding hashtags in this way is therefore another good way to find, follow or become followed by people with similar interests.

The lists:  Lists are a way for you to organize your timeline. If you’re a foodie, for example, you can put all your foodies on one list and enjoy perusing only their tweets. Or if you enjoy celebrity gossip, you can place all your celebrity news “tweeps” (or people who tweet) in one list, and catch up on all the hottest stories in a flash! By clicking on the “lists” option (beneath your tweet box)

The platforms: There are a lot of Twitter platforms out there that make tweeting even more fun and user-friendly. They enable you to automatically shorten links and to add photos right then and there. Some of our favourites are Tweetdeck.com, Seesmic.com, Hootsuite and Openbeak.

The mobile: Take Twitter on the go by downloading any of the above platforms onto your mobile device. Snap a photo and download it instantly, or pass time waiting for a bus by perusing your stream.

Tweet tweet! The best way to learn Twitter, in addition to our handy guide, is to read your “timeline” and other people’s Twitter streams. Pick up on their tricks, study how they use the tools and interact with others. Enjoy!

This article orginally appeared on CanadianParents.com.