Twitter for absolute beginners

I’ve been asked the same few questions by so many friends now, I thought I’d share what worked for me in 10 easy tips:

1. It’s not like Facebook or LinkedIn – there are no easy hooks like old friendship or job networks that give you a quick start – you have to do some work yourself to start things off, but it gets easier once you have some momentum.

2. Your profile: entirely up to you whether you use your real pic or a memorable avatar. Likewise your name or a catchy pseudonym. My network has a complete mixture, and I love them all as they are ;-)

3. Start by dedicating a couple of hours to building your first network. Aim to follow around 100-200 people who might be interesting. But how do you find them? Well, find some that you know already using “Find People” (who springs to mind as a likely socially-networked type?), and follow who they follow. If you don’t know anyone, search for topics that interest you: ‘Search’ is hidden way down on the Twitter.com bottom menu bar. Who’s tweeted about it? Follow them.

4. Throw away any preconceptions about ‘following’ being like ‘Add Friend’ on Facebook. Following/unfollowing has less emotional baggage than Facebook friendships – people don’t think it intrusive if you follow, or get too curious as to why; occasionally you’ll get a nice, “@ message me to tell me why you followed me” response, but this is just a low-key way of determining what networking approach is working for them. So follow freely. Sometimes people use Qwitter to report when you stop following them. I don’t. Judge for yourself whether you want to rake over the reasons for every ‘un-follow’ or just let them go. (Tip: the latter will make you happier.)

5. Look for the thought leaders [ghastly phrase, but there it is] in whatever space it is that you’re interested. You might know them already, or find them through searching, but here’s a top tip for expanding your network. Go to tweetstats.com. Put in a Twitter username that seems like a good one you’d follow. After a while (zzzzzz) you’ll get a chart (the bottom left one) of the top 10 people that person regularly corresponds with. So there’s 10 more people for you to follow straight away. Repeat as required.

6. Keep your updates visible to all until you have a reason not to.

7. Do put something in your profile! You’ll probably get a few follows in return for all the following you’ve done under the instructions above – your chances of this will be much greater if you give people a clue who you are and what you’re interested.

8. Follow back those who follow you (when that starts happening) – not just good etiquette, but essential, particularly in your early days. It shows you are interacting, and allows people to DM (direct message) you. Except if they’re spammers (you’ll know when they are – their tweets will be a deluge of links, ‘viral video’ entreaties, and in some cases avatars featuring ladies in unseasonal dress). But don’t block them straight away. Your number of followers will to some extent show the casual observer that you’re actually interacting, so use the unlikely gift the spammers have given you. At first. Once you’re rolling, block them with impunity.

9. Target some of your tweets at specific people. But how do you actually send a message to someone? (How many times have I been asked this one?!) Simple: just include @theirusername anywhere in your tweet. Twitter is a really simple way of gathering lots of 140-character-or-less messages so that clever things can be done to give them a structure to make them collectively useful. The clever bit happens because @xxxxx and #yyyyyy in the tweets can be used by your client (the program to access Twitter on your PC or mobile) to bring together relevant messages: in the former case relating to a particular user; in the latter, to a particular topic. Once people are following you, you can Direct Message them – but only they will see the message. Try that once you have some followers, but remember the real value comes from the open cross-pollination of messages. So @ messages will be much more beneficial to you in your early days.

10. Use hashtags. A hashtag is just a word or phrase (with no spaces), preceded by a hash (#) sign. Anyone can create one, just by typing the # sign and whatever you want it to be called. Basically, it then works like a web link: when you click on the hashtag phrase you effectively perform a mini-search for all tweets containing that hashtag (without having to go to the Search function, which would also work the same way). It’s a quick and easy way to bring content together on a particular theme. Very useful for conferences or silly word games (#cheesefilms etc.) Because anyone can create a hashtag, no one really “owns” them as such. They can be used, and misused, spammed or fought over. See here for a cautionary tale.

I’ll leave it there. I haven’t covered retweeting (RT), how often you should tweet, what to tweet(!), what client to use, or a bunch of other things. Because if it’s working for you, you’ll work it out for yourself. Do ask me (email p@ulclarke.com – or with a comment here – or by tweeting @paul_clarke) for advice. Or ask the Twitterverse. It’s a pretty friendly place, and you’ll make a lot more connections than you’d imagine. And don’t get hung up if it doesn’t work for you. It’s not for everyone. (It took me 9 months of not-tweeting-and-just-being-mildly-curious to realise it probably was for me.)

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4 Responses

  1. On the ‘not like facebook’ front, the tendency to explain Twitter by referring to FB status updates is strong, but I’m comoing to realise this is pretty misleading.

    It’s absolutely nothing like status updates on facebook for several reasons.

    – Facebook is purely social/personal. Twitter tends to be the place you allow your worlds to collide

    – Facebook is updated infrequently, Twitter as frequently as possible

    – Twitter is a conversation – a constant, current, topical conversation. Your little profile page in FB is not.

    – You would never contemplate adding your FB profile link to your email signature – but Twitter is becoming an equivalent to email. (It’s actually a better way to contact me, often, than email).

  2. rachaelwest says:

    Where your worlds collide – I like that. Sums it up perfectly!

    Paul, great work on an intro to Twitter. Will Twitter for not-quite-but-nearly absolute beginners be following soon?!

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