Posted by: Kristen Ridley | November 8, 2013

Twitter – Part 2 – Getting started

Love TwitterMy previous post – Twitter – Part 1 – Why I love it, talked about why I think Twitter is awesome. Now that I’ve *hopefully* convinced you to give it a shot, part two gives my suggestions for Twitter newbies to get the most out of it. Just to clarify, my suggestions are intended for individual users. I do not run a business, so my recommendations aren’t created for folks who may want to use Twitter to build or market their business.

That said, I hope some of these ideas will be helpful for people who keep hearing about Twitter, and think it might be interesting to see what it’s all about, but aren’t quite sure how to jump into the Twitterverse and feel intimidated by it. These are things I learned when I first started tweeting and I hope they will be helpful for others. Happy Tweeting!!

The rules of Twitter are:  there ain’t no rules!! – the biggest thing I’ve learned in playing around with Twitter, is that you can, and should, do what works for you. There are plenty of people out there who will try to tell you that it’s “polite” to follow everyone who follows you [more on that further down] or that you “ought” to be tweeting on a certain schedule, or any number of other arbitrary rules that may feel oppressive and confusing, and might scare you away if you’re just starting out on Twitter and feel like you MUST follow them. It could be because I dislike rules just on principle, but my advice is to call “bullshit!” on any rules [including these] that anyone tries to tell you that you have to follow that don’t feel right or sensible or helpful to you. Your Twitter account is precisely that – YOURS!! So you can use it however you like. The point of being on Twitter in the first place after all is for you to get something from it that makes it worth spending your precious and limited time there – so figure out what works for you and don’t spend a second feeling bad about doing just that.

Start in stealth mode – Even if you are active in other social media environments, Twitter does have some unique and, for some, unnerving aspects to it. The 140 character limit alone is different from almost all the other sites. So when you are first starting out, it’s perfectly okay to do lots of looking around and not much else to get a handle on what goes on there. When I first joined Twitter, I think it was a couple of months before I tweeted at all and some months more before I started tweeting regularly. I looked at lots of other people’s tweets, I clicked into all the clickable things on Twitter to see what they were, what was in them and how I might want to use them. One of the cool things about Twitter is that you can look at other people’s tweets without actually having to interact until you feel comfortable. Take advantage of that and do the looking until you feel ready to tweet.

Setting up your profile – as with any other social media site, your profile is how people will see you and connect with you in a social media environment so you want to do all the usual things, i.e. upload a picture, fill in the bio section, maybe add a header photo, etc. The one thing to consider on Twitter that is unique, however, is the length of your Twitter name. Because Twitter has a character limit, if someone else wants to re-tweet, i.e., share, something you’ve tweeted on their own page, your twitter name forms part of the re-tweet, and therefore is included in the character limit. So if your Twitter name is really long, that could make it hard [or impossible] to re-tweet something you’ve tweeted due to length. If you have a long name, or plan to use a cool or clever Twitter handle, do keep length in mind, especially if you like the idea of people sharing things you Tweet [you may not think you care in the beginning, but it does feel cool and flattering when you see people sharing something you’ve tweeted to lots of other people, so making it easier to do that isn’t a bad idea].

Deciding who to follow – This was one of the hardest things for me to get my head around in the beginning. I was lucky enough to have friends who were avid Twitter users and they gave me advice, to which I’ll now add mine.

  • People & Topics – The first thing I found helpful was making lists of both people and topics. People were anyone I am already connected with in the “real” world, as well as people I know “of” and who I thought might have interesting stuff to see on Twitter. Then I logged into Twitter and searched all of them to see if they had a Twitter page, and, if they did, whether the things they were tweeting were of interest to me. Where topics were concerned, I just entered each topic into the search box at the top of the page and randomly looked at the Twitter pages that came back to see which, if any were tweeting things that interested me.
  • Start slow – It the beginning I was very judicious in how many people I followed, but now, if I look at someone’s page and their last 10-15 tweets are all or mostly interesting, I will follow. Keep in mind that unfollowing is just as easy as following [one click], and as I said earlier, I don’t feel guilty about unfollowing someone who stops tweeting things I want to see, or not following someone just because they follow me. My main yardstick for twitter is: does this person consistently tweet things that I find interesting or helpful now? That makes it very simple for me to decide.
  • Look at who your connections follow – once you’ve started to get comfortable with a group of people you  are following on Twitter and you feel like you want more stuff to look at in your feed, go individually into the Twitter pages of the people you follow, and look through the list of people THEY are following and see what those people tweet about. [HOW TO: Click on the person’s name/handle, then click on “Following” once in their page] Chances are, if you like most of what the person you are already following tweets, there will be at least one or two people they follow that might be interesting to you as well.
  • Trends – When you set up your Twitter page, you will have the option to give your location to have tailored “trends” show up on your page. I recommend doing this, as it offers another way to come across topics that may be interesting to you. Once you’ve done this, Twitter will use both your location and the people you follow to suggest a list of subjects that are trending on a real-time basis that you can click on and see all the tweets [whether you follow the tweeter or not] about that topic. It’s an easy way to find new things.
  • Follow Friday (#FF) – on Friday, people will tweet a list of people they recommend as “follow-worthy”. Sometimes they will give an explanation, i.e. if all the suggestions are related to a topic, for example, but often it’s just a list of the people that person really enjoys following.

The above are just a few easy ways to get started filling your Twitter feed with interesting stuff. As you get more comfortable on Twitter, you will find your own best ways to continue to discover new people to follow.

Hashtags – When you use Twitter you will see the word “hashtag” . Basically a hashtag is the number sign – # – in front of a word or words [if multiple words no spaces between words] to put the tweet in with every other tweet by anybody that includes that same word or words. For example, let’s say it’s an election day where you live. If you want to see what EVERYBODY is saying about the election, you would type – #Mycountry’selection – in the search box. You will then see ALL the tweets anyone has sent with those same words in them. This can be fun and very interesting, if some big news has broken. Using the hashtag and continuing to refresh that search will give you continuous, real-time views of how people are reacting to the story. And because it’s all the tweets, you get opinions and perspectives from people all over the world if they are talking about that subject, and you get those opinions instantly.

Don’t take anything personally – At this point I’ll reiterate that Twitter is a vast unconstrained ocean of people and opinions. While the lack of barriers is sometimes a good thing, it also means that people can and will let fly with immediate and uncensored opinions and reactions to things others say. So, if you tweet something and you see somebody you don’t know pop up in your feed with some rude or nasty retort, don’t let it bother you. There are rude jerks on Twitter, just like there are in virtually every other aspect of life. If you feel like engaging those people in a continued conversation – myself I like a good virtual bar-fight every now and then, especially on subjects I’m passionate about, but that’s me – go for it. If not, shrug your shoulders, dismiss the jerks and move on to other tweets – remember, the parade never stops so the very next thing in your feed is likely to be so interesting you’ll forget all about the nasty people.

But try to be respectful – The previous point notwithstanding, I generally find that being polite and respectful on Twitter, even when I’m having an animated discussion, goes a long way to making my overall experience a good one. Most people on Twitter are basically good folk, and if you remind yourself that just because you are interacting online, and aren’t face-to-face with people, you ARE still talking to other human beings, and they have feelings and foibles just like we do. If I’m tempted to let loose with a snark on Twitter, I try to stop and think: “If that person was standing here in front of me, would I still feel comfortable saying that?” If the answer is no, I rethink the Tweet.

Have fun – my final suggestion is to just enjoy Twitter. It can be many things to many people, and it can change depending on the day, the people you follow, and what’s going on at any given moment. But bottom line – most of the people on Twitter aren’t curing hunger or saving the world. It can, and has, been an important part of some of the things happening in the world and that’s exciting. But most of the people I know on Twitter use as a tool to get information, share information, find something interesting, and basically have some fun. For myself, life’s too short to voluntarily do things that aren’t fun. So to reiterate my first suggestion – make Twitter something that works for YOU. You are a King [or Queen] of your Twitter feed.

Happy Tweeting!

P.S. If there are other suggestions for making Twitter a great experience, I’d love for you to add them in the comments.

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