Getting Started on Twitter

twitter-1Twitter is the easiest social media to get started in, and it’s definitely got the cutest graphic. It’s all about communicating in 140 characters or less. At first this floored me. How could I possibly say anything meaningful in 140 characters? The idea was laughable.

But I learned how and you can, too. I’ll put it into steps, so you can skip over anything you’ve already done.

1) Go to twitter.com and sign up. You’ll need an email and a phone number, but they won’t display publicly. And you’ll need to come up with yet another password. And you’ll need a name. If you’re tweeting to promote yourself professionally, I’ve read articles that recommend you don’t use numbers because it makes you look like an also-ran. I personally shrug this off, because the feed shows your first and last name before your username anyway. But I thought I’d pass it on in case you agree.

Put something in your bio. You’re limited on characters here, too, so it won’t be much. Just something about your interests to give you a little personality. If you have a blog, it’s a good idea to mention it there.

2) Twitter will offer a bunch of sites for your consideration. These will be the first “people” you follow. I was careful at first not to choose too many, but you don’t have to be. Select anything that looks interesting. Changing your mind later is easy.

The reason is simple–your Twitter feed only shows posts from people you follow. If you aren’t following anybody, you’ll have nothing in your feed. And we all have better things to do than to stare at an empty screen. If you decide later you don’t like the feed from someone you’ve followed, all you have to do is unfollow them. It just takes is a click.

CopyofATT000033) Before you tweet, LOSE THE EGG. Everyone is given a blank egg in front of a blue screen to begin. You don’t want to tweet with those. Spammers abound on Twitter, and many of them have the egg. Having one as your avatar almost guarantees you won’t be followed. And while you’re at it, I’d suggest picking a background as well. It gives you some personality online.

Most people go with pictures of themselves; I like using my Red Riding Hood avatar. If you don’t have an avatar or photo already, I’d recommend you go to Photobucket and open an account. You’ll need a ready source of images if you’re going to spend time online anyway. There are other good image sources out there, but Photobucket is free, and I’ve never had any problems with them.

It’s easy enough to change either your avatar or your background later. For the time being, just make sure you have one.

Twitter14) So now, you’ve gotten your feet wet. You’ve got an account, an avatar, and a background. Are you ready to tweet?

Not quite.

First, you need to understand about followers. Remember what I said before about twitter only showing the feed of people you follow? This is actually a good thing, because if it turns out that someone is a bore or a spammer, you just unfollow them, and you never have to see their tweets again. But as a Twitter newbie, it’s inconvenient. Right now, if you tweet, it won’t show up on anybody’s feed.

It won’t even show on the feed of people you’ve chosen to follow. You’ve followed them, but they haven’t followed you. To have people read your words, you need people to follow you. If a person follows you in Twitter, it just means they’re paying attention to you. If you follow someone else, you’re paying attention to them. So how do you get followers?

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5) Well, the easiest way is to ask people you know in real life if they tweet. If they do, get their Twitter name, and ask them to follow you once you follow them. To follow someone when you know their username, simply enter it into the search box on the right hand side of the top menu bar. A drop down screen will show names of those who are close. Once you select one of them, their home page will show up. From here, you can read their posts and see who they follow and who follows them. Then there’s a little button that says, “Follow.” Click it and you’re a follower.

They’ll get a notification that you followed them. At that point, if they know you, they usually follow you in return. It’s a coin toss if they’re someone you’ve never met.

6) Other than that, hashtags are your friend. I didn’t know any real life friends who tweeted. I added a dozen people from my online writing group, and they were all kind enough to follow me back. Eventually. (Not everyone tweets every day.)

To the left of your screen that shows the main Twitter feed, there’s a list under trends. These usually have hashtags, which are just words following the pound sign (#). If you tweet using a hashtag, everyone can see your words.

Just remember, if you’re tweeting, it’s a lot like being at a party. It’s fine to walk up to people you don’t know and start talking with them, but it’s expected that you’ll reply to something somebody else has said. Enter the conversation gracefully. Favorite things other people have said by pressing the little heart at the bottom of the tweet. Reply to a given speaker by pressing the little arrow at the left, at the bottom of the tweet.

If you really like something someone has said, or an image they posted, you can retweet it by clicking on the icon on the bottom, second from the left, that has two arrows. You’ll be given an option to add a message; I usually do–something short like cute pic, with the little internet smiley [:)]. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; everyone I’ve retweeted so far has appreciated it.

twitter (6)7) In time, if you follow people, join their conversations gracefully, favorite and retweet them, you’ll gain followers. But that doesn’t mean you want to follow them back, just because they followed you. Click on their name and bring up their profile. Do they do nothing but sell stuff? In that case, all you’re adding is commercials to your feed. I only follow people who are people sometimes on Twitter.

8)You can use Twitter to promote yourself and others–that’s fine, and everyone expects that. But I try to go on there sometimes and just be a person. People will pay more attention to your blog post tweets, etc. if they’ve already interacted with you as a person.

Also on that note–avoid derogatory and inflammatory statements. Just like at a party, most of us avoid people who are putting others down or speaking contentiously. Be fun to tweet to and you’ll have lots of Twitter friends.

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Avid writer and reader, especially of fantasy. Learning about social networking and always interested in honing my writing skills. Contact me at cathleentownsend.com.

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