Twitter is a micro-blogging service available online or via various apps. It was created in 2006, but real growth in user numbers didn’t start until early 2009 which is about when I joined, a year later I started a company account which I ran for about two years.
I use my personal account (@changememe) to find new content, to post my own content (I will be tweeting this blog post), interact in regular chats and to share things I’ve found online. I’ve met new people, solved service issues, and been invited to speak at a conference via twitter. For me it’s been a positive experience and I use twitter every day. Here’s the basics to get started, I’ll make another post next Monday with some more advanced tips.
1: Your profile
There are a few things you need to figure out when setting up your profile, if it’s a brand new account it will have the new format, if it’s an old account it will soon have the new format so I will focus on that here.
Your twitter handle – essentially what are you going to call yourself. The maximum length is 15 characters, but shorter is better particularly when it comes to retweets. You can only use letters, numbers and the underscore (_), you can change your name at any time. With millions of users a lot of the “obvious” twitter names are already in use so you will have to come up with something new; there’s a tool to help you with that.
If you are a company and someone has the twitter handle of your company name you may need to come up with a creative version of your company name. Exceptions are when the account is being used as a spam account, or when the account is inactive.
Your avatar – the picture beside your name. Twitter recommends an image size of 400px x 400px, this means it will look good on your profile page and be resized for all other uses. I suggest checking how it looks after upload though – you still want it to look good in the 73px x 73px as it appears in the stream.
Not uploading an avatar means you’ll get an anonymous silhouette image, some people won’t follow accounts that have not bothered to upload an avatar.
Header image – the large image appearing at the top of your profile page. The dimensions for this are 1500px x 500px, but you do have an opportunity to resize and adjust the image after uploading.
Describe yourself – you can add your real name, location and a website link. You can also describe yourself in 160 characters or less, you can use hashtags in this space as well if you want to link to a theme of content.
For personal accounts there seems to be a trend to mix the professional, the personal and the humorous or surprising, as exemplified on Madeleine Albright‘s current twitter profile. Some companies try to follow this pattern, oreo manages to add humour to their profile.
2: Conventions for tweeting
Once you’ve got your profile set up it’s time to take a deep breath and start tweeting. Here’s a few things you need to know to get started.
@someone – beginning a tweet with someone’s user name means your tweet is brought to that person’s attention. So if you send a tweet with @changememe in it, I will see it in my notifications. This is important because I don’t watch my twitter stream all the time and if you don’t use this method I probably won’t see your tweet.
The dot – if you begin a tweet with the “@” sign the tweet will only land in the stream of the person (or people) you’ve mentioned. If you put something before the “@”, a full stop for example, the tweet will more widely seen.
|Seen by @josecelades, he gets a notification. Seen by people who follow both @josecelades and me.||Seen by everyone who follows me (and @josecelades still gets a notification)
Hashtags – these are ways of adding a subject to your tweet, simply put “#” in front of the word you want to connect to. Twitter users use hashtags to find relevant information, to have conversations and to add humour to a tweet. They’ve also been used for political effect, as I write this #YesAllWomen is trending.
RT/MT/HT – the most common is “RT”, which means I’m retweeting someone else’s tweet. You can now retweet from the twitter platform, which gives a nicer format to the retweet, but the tweet remains the same.
MT is short for “modified tweet”, a rather rare cousin of the RT. It’s used if you’ve altered the original tweet in some way. I do this if I’ve taken a tweet in Dutch and am retweeting it in English for example.
HT is short for “hat tip”, it’s a nice way of giving credit to a fellow tweeter or other source.
In all cases you should include the username of the original sender, and when you do this it shows up in their notifications.
3: Who to follow?
When you first join twitter it seems weirdly empty, until you start following people. Here are some ways to find people to follow.
Search hashtags – search for hashtags relating to your interests or your company interests, when you see some tweets of interest follow whoever tweeted them. Conferences are a fertile ground for this as they will often use a specific hashtag making your search easier. In addition the audience has already identified themselves as being interested in that theme, and the posting frequency is high for the duration of the conference.
Find Experts – who are the leaders in your industry? who would be the most influential thinkers? look for their twitter accounts, you’ll have an instant stream of content if it happens to be Guy Kawasaki.
Follow people those experts follow – or the people who are interacting and retweeting their content a lot.
I always do a quick check of the person’s profile and recent tweets before clicking the follow button, I don’t want to follow any fake accounts and I generally avoid the crazies.
Follow people back – as you start adding content to twitter and interacting with others people will start to follow you, it’s polite to follow back.
OK, that’s the basic “how to” next week; constructing a good tweet, building a following, tools for twitter use. Also fakers, trolls and scams.