So you’ve decided to sign up for a Twitter account (maybe you decided to build your presence online). Congratulations! You’ve just bought in to the world’s greatest time-sink information network. But now what?
The hardest part of Twitter, the reason most people never go back after initially creating their account, is that it’s really hard to figure out how to use. There’s a ton of people, a lot of applications, lots of sandwiches being eaten, and so on and so forth. It’s all overwhelming!
Let me help. Here’s how to get started with Twitter, in six easy steps.
1. Pick a name
This is a decision that is too often taken lightly. Bear in mind, here, that you’ll forever be known on Twitter as the name you choose (though you can change your name if you need to), so kittykittylicklickxx33 might not be the best decision. Names are getting increasingly hard to come by, but there’s always a few good ones to try:
- Firstname (david)
- Firstnamelastname (davidpierce)
- Lastnamefirstname (piercedavid)
- Yourbrand (digitizd)
- Nickname (danceparty) (Don’t ask) (That one’s not a nickname. Really, don’t ask.)
But, obviously, it’s ultimately totally up to you. The Twitter sign up page will let you check to see if a given name is available, so feel free to try any combination you can think of. If you’re debating between two, it’s a good idea to go ahead and register both–you can always switch later if need be.
Personally, I picked the wrong name (davep3355), and then the wrong name again (the20life), before finally settling on what I think is the right one (piercedavid). I changed names like Tiger Woods changed partners, and I don’t recommend either one.
2. Fill out your profile
On your Twitter account, click “Settings,” and then fill out all the information there. Upload a picture—not having a picture makes you look like a scammer, and no one will pay any attention to you.
Write a sentence or two about yourself, link to your site or your Facebook account or whatever, and save your profile. You’ll look like you’ve been there a while, and seem both more personal and more interested. It really does only take about two minutes, and it’s definitely worth the time.
3. Find people to follow
This is the biggie, the thing that really makes Twitter great—it’s all about the people you follow. There are a bunch of ways to find interesting and cool people, none of which are made easy or obvious, but that work pretty well.
The first is to start with, say, 10 people. 10 people who you know you’re interested in, whether they’re athletes, or in your field, or just people you know. Google “whatevertheirnameis Twitter” and you’ll find ‘em. Then, once you find someone you want to follow, click the link that says “Following” on their profile, to see all the people they follow on Twitter. Interesting people tend to follow interesting people, and you’ll head down a rabbit hole of discovery, finding your own niche within Twitter.
The second way to find interesting people, and probably the easier way, is Lists. Twitter’s Lists are essentially curated groups of people grouped by a certain topic—Tech News Brands is one I follow. To find thousands of lists, head over to Listorious, where Lists are grouped by topic, and you can see what’s being said about them. You can follow an entire List, and it’ll show up on your profile, or you can pick and choose individual people from within the list to follow.
4. Find an app
So you’re armed with people to follow, got a pretty ol’ profile, and what’s next? Stop going to Twitter. Instead, download one of any of the 12 million (approximately) third-party applications available to Twitter users, nearly all of them free. They’re an easier way to manage your friends and followers, send and read tweets, and immerse yourself further into the network.
Not sure which app to get? Here are my favorites for all the operating systems I’ve tried:
- Windows: Seesmic for Windows
- Mac: TweetDeck
- iPhone: Tweetie 2
- Blackberry: UberTwitter
- Android: Seesmic
- Windows Mobile: Tiny Twitter
- Web: Brizzly (yep, still better than Twitter.com)
Those are the biggies, certainly, but please contribute your own choice or OS in the comments!
Once you use a third-party app, twitter.com feels kludgy and slow, and the lack of notifications or the ability to see everything at a glance is killer.
5. Learn the lingo
There are a few things that have become relative commonplace on Twitter, that you’ll probably see over and over as you start to use the service. Most you can pick up, but here’s a few you’ll come across over and over.
- Reply: a public message, that all of your followers can see, but that is addressed to a particular person, and shows up in a separate “Mentions” column for them. It’s like a Wall Post on Facebook.
- Direct Message: a Direct Message, or DM, is a message that goes only to the other person (if they’re following you, otherwise it bounces), and is private. It’s like a Message on Facebook.
- Retweet: someone passing on another person’s tweet to their followers. Basically like quoting someone (usually starts with RT @theirusername, to show who it came from)
- @: The @ symbol comes before a username to show (and link to) the user being referred to. For instance, I’m @piercedavid, not just piercedavid.
- #: The # gets put in front of what are known as hash-tags, which are little words or phrases that are rallying points for a specific kind of talk. When you click a hashtag or search for one, you get a filtered view of only those tweets – they’re frequently used to let people follow a conference, or create something of a meme, like #fail.
- FollowFriday (#ff): This is dying slightly, but Follow Fridays are the time when people recommend their favorite twitterers to other people—it’s a great, and popular, way to recommend and discover people.
- Trending topics: a list, maintained by Twitter and others, of the most popularly discussed topics (usually by # tag), at any given time. Some are interesting (#haiti right now, for instance), some are dumb (“good night” basically every dang night.)
6. Start Tweeting!
This one doesn’t really count, because it’s kinda obvious. But start tweeting, and you’ll immediately see how useful it can be. For the love of everything holy, do not tell me you’re having a sandwich, though.
Instead, ask questions, share ideas, talk to people, and be amazed at what Twitter is making possible! And then go outside before you get too sucked in. It’s too late for me, but save yourself!
Twitterers: what’d I miss? What else do people need to know to get rolling on Twitter?