My Beginner Guide To Twitter

Twitter is an amazing resource, but not overly friendly to newcomers. Personally I’ve been using it for several years, and have seen how powerful Twitter can be. I remember back when HP had their fire sale of tablets and I raced down to Harvey Norman to grab a bargain. The local store had no idea why a giant line of people had formed, and started to send people away. I sent a quick tweet to @HarveyNormanAU who were on the phone to the store within a minute, and the giant queue of people were able to grab their bargain tablets.

This isn’t the only story I have which shows how useful and powerful Twitter is – from a business sense I’ve made plenty of contacts, and it even kickstarted my writing career by having a quick and open way of engaging with other writers and publishers, compared to the more intrusive one to one of email.

I’ve been quoted by news.com.au, I’ve won things like a Windows tablet, a digital radio, an Xbox One and several other items I can’t even remember. I’ve spoken to experts in the industries I care about for finding answers to questions, and now have a steady enough stream of devices to review for my blog and other websites from great companies like Microsoft, Lenovo and Intel.

On top of that, I’ve made some great friends and contacts. One has given me a spare phone for a project I was working on around a baby monitor, and others have selflessly helped me troubleshoot problems or be a great sounding board. Others are just great to catch up with when I get to travel interstate, or to conferences like Microsoft TechEd/Ignite.

In turn, I’ve tried to help others where I can. If I see someone ask for information or an opinion on something, I’m happy to share it. I’ll retweet interesting things I find, and share solutions written on my blog and other places too. I’ve passed on tickets to events to others when I couldn’t go.

I don’t say all the above to brag, but to highlight that this is available to anyone who puts the effort into Twitter. I didn’t sit back and wait for these things to come to me, but Twitter was the simple platform that enabled all these things to occur. These rewards of participation aren’t instant – they take time to build up, and this is often the reason people give up on Twitter early on. Facebook as a comparison gives you instant gratification from family and friends, with ‘likes’ on everything written in an instant.

Because of all this, I’ve decided to write a brief intro guide to Twitter of tips and tricks to someone new to the platform.

  • Start following a bunch of people. Don’t just pick 10 or 20, chances are the ones you pick will only post occasional tweets. Twitter should be a constantly new experience every time you read it, even if you read it half an hour ago.
  • If you don’t know who to follow, look up a few celebrities/companies or do searches on keywords/topics that interest you. Celebrities and companies are good for a source of ‘news’ but generally not good for interraction. Katy Perry isn’t going to respond to anything you say to her, with her 76 million followers.
  • Follow even more people – if there’s someone who tweets interesting things, look at who they follow and follow them. Don’t bother trying to hunt down all your friends and family, that’s what Facebook is for.
  • Make Twitter a positive experience. Don’t dwell on negatives, that’s not much fun for anyone involved. If there’s someone tweeting things you don’t like, or opinions you don’t agree with, just unfollow. You can try having a discussion which will work occasionally, but don’t expect to change someone’s view. There’s plenty of other people to follow instead.
  • Unfollow without concern. and apply liberally. You’re not on Twitter to read about things you don’t like, so just click the Unfollow button. They won’t care you unfollowed them, and they may not have been following you anyway.
  • When you start a tweet with someone’s Twitter handle (e.g. if you were tweeting at me, you’d start with @AdamFowler_IT), only people who follow both you and the person you’re tweeting to, will see the tweet in their main feed. This is confusing when you first start using Twitter. If you want everyone to see your tweet in their feed, don’t start it with someone’s handle. The tweets that start with someone’s Twitter handle (known as a mention) are not private, they can still be viewed by anyone who looks directly at YOUR feed.
  • Don’t expect a response from a tweet. You may get one, but don’t get stuck up expecting something back – and if you do, it might not be for hours. Think of it more as idle chatter.
  • Favoriting a tweet (that little star) has turned into Twitter’s “like” button. It doesn’t do any harm to favorite a tweet, so use liberally.
  • A retweet is not an endorsement. If someone retweeted something, it might be because they liked it, agreed, thought it was interesting, or it’s their way of pointing out something ridiculous. Don’t get worked up about a retweet, and if you really don’t like what someone retweets, there’s the option to ‘turn off retweets‘ on a particular user.
  • Share interesting stuff. Post links to websites on things you find interesting, while making your own commentary. Make your own comments on things that interest you.
  • Don’t go hashtag crazy. Hashtags are just a way to easily search on something, so if I was tweeting about Microsoft, I could use #Microsoft to make that text searchable via a click, or easy to find if someone else is searching on that topic. The thing is, people can still search on the word Microsoft anyway. #Reading #Things #With #Excessive #Hashtags hurts the brain, makes it hard to read, and quite frankly would receive an unfollow from myself. Marketers are the biggest infringers of hashtag madness, which is another reason to ignore them. Hashtags do make sense when you’re at an event or talking about a specific topic, but this is only for timely things. It’s why a hashtag makes sense for a TV show – you can connect and read or chat with others who are having the same experience as you.
  • Once you’re used to the Twitter basics, try Tweetdeck. It’s now web based, and owned by Twitter. It gives you a lot more visibility of what’s going on, by showing multiple columns of information at once. You can see your feed, your mentions, direct messages and a bunch of other stuff all on one screen. It’s a bit confusing for a new user, so get used to the standard twitter.com interface first.
  • Don’t set up automatic messages. Getting a direct message (which is a private message to you) from someone just because you followed them is annoying. My rule is to unfollow anyone who does this, because it’s an indicator they’re probably a marketer in some sense, or will just not be a good person to follow due to their content. This applies to other systems like Fitbit/runkeeper, TV shows, or how many followers you have. Generally, people don’t care about these things apart from yourself and don’t want to see an automated piece of information about you daily. One of the worst is seeing people’s daily horoscope… just don’t do it!
  • If you’re not sure about something, ask. Twitter folk are generally very friendly and there to socialise and learn, and are happy to help others.
  • Change that egg avatar that you get by default straight away. You won’t be taken seriously with it, it’s very impersonal and often used by lazy spammers who haven’t scripted a different photo to be set up on their fake accounts.

All this can seem a bit daunting, but if you put in a bit of effort, stick with it and follow people who interest you. I’m sure I’ve missed a bunch of things, so feel free to add any comments of your own or ask any questions!

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