A guide* for Twitter newbies: 10 things you need to know

twitter guide
Twitter can be confusing for newbies…

People often ask me about Twitter and how it works, because they are either on it, have tried it and don’t get it. Or they are not on it and don’t get it. Or they are on it and it’s not doing what they think it could, would or should. Or they think it’s just about telling people what you had for breakfast (it isn’t).

The best explanation I can come up with is that using Twitter is like sending an SMS to the world about stuff that interests you, and the world can respond (providing you don’t protect your tweets). It’s a bit like updating your Facebook profile on a global stage. By the way, I like Twitter much more than Facebook because it is such a dynamic medium. I use it to find and share information and connect with like-minded people. And it’s been fantastic for attracting readers to this blog!

So you’ve signed up for Twitter account, now what?

Firstly, download and use a Twitter client on your smart phone. It’s a much better experience than using native Twitter on the web. Popular clients are Tweetdeck, Seesmic and Echofon. I am currently using SimplyTweet and Echofon. Others swear by Tweetbot and Hootsuite. The secret is to try a bunch out and then use the one that suits you.

1. Learn the language of Twitter

  • You can have a conversation with someone by putting an @ in front of their Twitter handle.
  • All the people you follow will be in your feed, but you can organise them into lists if you want to.
  • If you like what someone says you can RT (retweet it) with or without your comments.
  • Use a URL shortener like bit.ly when you post a web link. Use a text expanded like Twitlonger (but not too often) if you have something you can’t say in 140 characters.
  • Use DMs (Direct Message) if you want to talk to someone privately, but don’t use them to spruik your business (see below).
  • Hash (#) tags have two functions: as a search medium or to give a context to your tweets.

2. Tell us who you are!

Get rid of the Twitter egg avatar and post something – anything! – in its place. It could be scenery, a cartoon, artwork, even a real pic of you. Take time to put in a bio, as well as your location. Add a blog link or your website. Show us you care! Experienced tweeters will only (generally) follow someone if all these details are present.

3. Get in amongst it!

The great thing about Twitter is you can follow anyone from thought leaders in your industry or profession, to celebrities and politicians, to local lads and lasses. Just find what interests you and search for it. If you want to know who to follow and what’s going on locally, just type in the name of your town or city. If you follow conversations, you’ll work out soon enough who you should follow. And the beauty of Twitter is that if they cease to be interesting (or become obnoxious or annoying) you can unfollow and even block people if you have to. Reply to tweets and conversations and links that interest you. Jump in! The water is warm and the natives are (generally) friendly.

4. Don’t send DMs

I should clarify: if you are a business, don’t send DMs thanking people for following you. Or spruiking your latest eBook. Or a link to your Facebook page. It’s one of the things that experienced tweeters hate, and it will probably get you unfollowed quicker than you can say “You suck, spammer!”.  And people tweet about how annoying you are (I do!).  As a business, it is better to follow people back, and actually talk to followers. Twitter is about conversation. Dialogue. Interaction. I say something, you respond. You say something, I respond. That sort of thing.

5. Follow back

If you are talking to someone on Twitter, follow them back. If they have RTd something you tweeted, follow them back. If you gain followers from FollowFriday, (#FF) follow back. Check your follower lists often to make sure you stay on top of them. Use tools like Manage Flitter TwitCleaner or Friend or Follow to help you manage your followers if necessary. Equally, unfollow anyone who doesn’t follow you back (unless they are super interesting like @groovybruce). But don’t follow spammers or scammers – report and block those nasty types. Most celebrities/politicians/media types don’t follow back, so unless you are a huge fan or a stalker, I wouldn’t bother.

6. Think big picture

If you are using Twitter to build your business (or your profile) make sure you are interacting with lots of people, not just the ones you think will be of use to you. You never know what projects people get involved in. Conversely, though, if you run a small dry-cleaning business in Sweet Home, Alabama, why would you be following me when I live in Adelaide, South Australia? I won’t follow you back because you are not relevant to me, especially if all your tweets are about your business. Be clever, be strategic. But most of all, be engaging and conversational.

7. It’s not just about you

Which leads me onto my next point. There is nothing more annoying than businesses on Twitter tweeting only about their business. For God’s sake, don’t just tweet out links to your website or your Facebook page or your blog or your YouTube channel or your daily dinner specials or your prize-winning documentary. You get the picture! It’s boring. No one wants to read it, and you will lose followers. And do not, on pain of death, use Twitter to push an advertising message. That’s old school broadcasting that just doesn’t translate in this medium. Most politicians use Twitter this way, and it just doesn’t work.

8. It’s all about the numbers, but it isn’t

Everyone argues about whether Twitter is about numbers or not. Let me put it this way. If someone follows me who has 55,0000 followers and follows 57,000 people, but has only tweeted 5 times and there is no conversation (and the tweets are links or quotes), then this is a crap person to follow (aka spambot or spammer). Someone who has 300 followers and is followed by roughly the same number, and has tweeted 15,000 times (and it’s meaningful conversation and interaction with other tweeters) is going to be much more valuable and interesting (although some tweeters won’t follow more than 400 people because it just gets too noisy). Don’t get me wrong: I love seeing my follower count increase, but I want quality, interesting followers, not spambots.

9. Use your manners!

Respond to @mentions and say thank you. It’s not that hard to do and you will win friends and influence people with your skillful application of courtesy and respect! Actually, this advice is not just for newbies. More experienced users: please check your self-indulgent, narcissistic tendencies at the door.

10. Follow me

By the way, if you want to follow me on Twitter, my handle is @dileeshus. I will always answer questions about Twitter (among other things!), and you’ll find me quite the chatty lass. If you do follow, say hello! I’ll be expecting you 🙂

*This piece was originally posted to my Tumblr. In an effort to consolidate in 2012, I have reblogged it here.

5 thoughts on “A guide* for Twitter newbies: 10 things you need to know

  1. Quite the chatty lass ey? Really? And you could have mentioned that following people on Twitter can spill over into real life with meetups and the like.

  2. What a great little Twitter ‘how to’ you hit everything right on the nail Diane and I feel a lot better about a few things that I do and for that matter, don’t do…..lol I wish I could have read this just as I got started, it would have made things a lot easier from the start, in regards to generally accepted twitter etiquette and such 🙂

    1. You’re very welcome, Mary. When I started, I was clueless. Hopefully this will help those new Twitter (and not so new!) feel more comfortable using it. And you are a natural on it! Taken to it like a fish to water 😉

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