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How to Start Using Twitter.

(If you aren’t familiar with Twitter, hop on over to Common Craft and watch this video.)

How to Start Using Twitter.

twitterheadSo you’ve gone over to Twitter.com and signed up.  Congratulations, you’re a Tweeter!  Now what?  What do you use it for?  How do you find people to follow?  How to get people to follow back?

First things first.  You must do the following 3 things when you sign up to Twitter:

1. Upload a picture (any picture will do, but one of your face is best.  G-rated helps too).
2. Fill out a bio, including Location.
3. Provide a URL, even if it is your MySpace page.

A picture, a bio, and a URL go a long way in making you appear to be someone who wants to join the community.  (I also advise new users to keep away from putting numbers in their username as this tends to look spammy.)

TIP: Don’t be afraid to change your bio sometimes.  I personally change my bio every few weeks.  It gives my followers some variety and a way to learn a little bit more about me with every tweak.  Still, I keep the common elements in the bio field (e.g. “writer” and “techie geek”).

OK, you’re all set up.  Now what?

Now you start following people.  To follow a person means that you subscribe to their feed; you see everything they tweet out in the public timeline.

Hopefully you know a person or two to follow to get you started.  If you don’t know a soul on Twitter, follow me!  If that isn’t enough for you (which, I can’t imagine), then start searching for people who share your interests.  You can do this in a few ways.

Search locally.  An ADOBE AIR application called TwitterLocal will show you tweets from people in whatever area you specify.   It doesn’t work that well but it does work enough for you to find some local people.

TIP: After you’ve downloaded the free AIR application, check out Twhirl and Tweetdeck for great Twitter interfaces.

Search Google with the following syntax to find a bunch of people to follow:  Term location site:twitter.com (replace “term” with “writer” “doctor” “juggler” or whatever you’re looking for, and put your city in the “location” part.  My favorite search is writer philadelphia site:twitter.com).

Twitter Grader allows you to put in your city and see the top Tweeters (I’m usually around #12 for Philly).  Follow a few that sound interesting.  Tweet them (type @ then their username, no spaces.  Type your message, then hit send).  Start conversations.  Most people usually follow back.

Twellow is a service that helps people find niches on Twitter.  There are so many of these types of sites popping up everyday.  Just look for them.

TIP:  Under the Notices tab in your Twitter Settings is the word “@Replies” next to a little pulldown menu.  [See picture]twitternotices.  Until you are very familiar with Twitter, I suggest that you set it to “Show me all @replies.”  This helps you find new people to follow.  If someone sends an @reply to someone else that seems interesting, check out the person they are @replying to.  Do this by clicking on the username or typing http://twitter.com/username in your browser’s URL (replace “username” with whatever came after the @ in the person’s tweet).  You may find that the person on the other side of the conversation may be just the kind of person you’re looking for.  Once you are comfortable with Twitter and have found enough interesting people to follow, then you can change this setting to “Show me @replies to people I’m following.”  Doing so will keep the noise in your stream to a minimum.

How to get people to follow back?

Usually people will follow back once you follow them.  If they don’t, don’t worry about it.  There’s way too much emphasis in the social media world about number of followers.  Follower numbers are not trustworthy; as cool as Twitter is, spammers abound, which send follower rates through the roof but make those rates totally bogus.  Don’t waste your 140 characters per tweet on desperate pleas for followers either.  Just Tweet out things that interest you: links, quotes, musings, etc.

TIP: Under settings at the very bottom of the page is a checkbox next to Protect My Updates.  twitterprotectDon’t check this box.  If you protect your updates right away, you won’t get any followers and it will be nearly impossible for people to have conversations with you.  Private tweeting is more of an advanced Twitter function and requires a little learning curve.

Don’t follow thousands of people.  To start out, try about 20 people on for size.  See how the timeline suits you.  See if people are following back.  One of the biggest mistakes that I see constantly is the Major Follow Move.  Newbies start on Twitter then click follow buttons all up and down the timeline like a squirrel hoarding nuts in November.  DO NOT DO THIS.  That’s a dead give-away for “spammer.”  In fact, the spammer Major Follow Move had gotten to be such a problem that the Twitter.com staff have now put a 2,000 person cap on new follows.  You can’t follow more than 2000 people if your follower::followee ratio is too out of whack.

So, as people follow you back, follow more people.  Grow your network slowly.  You can always watch the humongous public timeline if you’re bored (Japanese kids are writing novels on Twitter, so be forewarned if you want to absorb the world’s public tweets).

Last but not least, the big question:  What the heck do I use this for?

Great question.  Once you are familiar with tweeting, you’ll have learned that the simple answers to “What are you doing?” don’t really elicit intellectually stimulating conversations.  I don’t use that prompt much anymore myself.  Telling my followers “I’m getting my roots done” doesn’t really keep my anyone interested.   As a freelancer and stay-at-home mom, I use Twitter as my water-cooler, my board room, my lunch table, and my happy hour.  I send out questions to the group that sometime roll into heated debates among many users.  Sometimes I retweet a funny link someone else sent me.  Just wing it for now.  You’ll get into the swing of things.

TIP: Search the internet for 3rd party tools that work with Twitter (it’s ok to give your password to the apps, just make sure your Twitter password isn’t the same as your banking or email or any other password).  The Twitter search functions may help you figure out what you want to do with your account and who you may want to follow.  Check out this wiki to get started.

Twitter is one of those litmus tests in life: what you put into it will be what you get out of it.  Find your people.  Start connecting.

And try your hardest to avoid addiction.  🙂

Here’s the Better Philly video segment. It’s definitely a very cursory introduction and it is geared toward stay-at-home moms:

Second video, learn about Joey Fortman’s bubble tweet:

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • JoeCascio 12 March 2009, 2:02 am

    Great article, Christine, and spot on with the suggestions and the advice about follower numbers. Another great topic would be, “Yes, you *do* have time for Twitter!”. One of the most common reasons/excuses why people aren’t on Twitter is, “Oh, I just don’t have time for that.” They seem to think that Twitter is an activity you sit down and work at for hours. The last person that told me that went on about, “I have two children, and I do for , and I volunteer at “, yadda, yadda, yadda. I should have asked her, “Well, you just had time to tell me that, right?” “I saw you checking email on your Blackberry a minute ago. You had time to do that, right?”
    There needs to be an article on the actual experience of using Twitter from a time perspective. How often do you check? Do you use your mobile device? and so on. You’re a busy person, Christine, how does it fit into your day?

    • PurpleCar 12 March 2009, 5:15 pm

      Thanks Joe!

      I like your point about the crackberry. Twitter doesn’t take any more attention than email. People let email pervade their lives. “Constant partial attention” it’s called. By limiting email to twice a day and answering only the most important emails, you have time to build a social network that can help you way more than spending time forwarding chain letters.

      You asked how I fit Twitter into my day. My twitter usage goes like this, most days :

      Work a little bit.
      Tweet for 5 minutes. Answer any outstanding DM’s.
      Deal with Toddlerness and Gradeschoolness for the rest of the day.
      Work if there is naptime, tweet a bit if possible.
      Make dinner. Sometimes tweet during the lulls in cooking.
      Work after dinner.
      Tweet for a few minutes because I need ideas or a reference.

      (at least, this is what I’d like to think. See http://tweetrush.com/purplecar for my week’s stats and http://www.tweetstats.com/graphs/PurpleCar for my overall stats).

      I fit email in there too. Twice a day is my limit for email; I try my best to stick to that. But as you can see from my optimal twitter pattern above, I use Twitter as my water cooler. Sometimes we all need some adult conversation. Plus, the links people send to me in Twitter are key. They help me do my job better by keeping me informed.

      Some days I’ll get started in a Twitter conversation, so those days I tweet more. But there have been days that I haven’t written or Tweeted at all. I like to check the site daily though because it makes me feel good when I can provide information or a link or even just some encouragement to someone. It gives me what Malcolm Gladwell calls “meaningful work.”

      It doesn’t take all that much time. And to build a network like mine, you just do a little every day. Try to keep conversing with people, slowly build your follower list. In time, you’ll have an outstanding virtual water cooler that is a valuable source of info and support.



  • lilywarrior 14 March 2009, 8:39 am

    Bookmarked. Thanks for putting this together! =)

    My Twiiter use is (mostly) personal, but since I work for 14,000 REALTORS, I am also interested in using Twitter effectively for business (but not ALL about business – connecting without the dollar signs in the eyes). We include a Twitter section in our Online Client Connections class and I’ve shared Twitter during intermission of other courses.

    For myself, I find it a great way to be aware of great people, make new friends and learn A LOT. It’s fun! =)

    I still have “Am I doing it right?” moments. It is helpful to to follow an active and interactive (experienced?) Twitterer. For me it was @northernchick. She’s a mentor unawares! We can learn a lot by example.

    Most importantly: be yourself.

    And perhaps I’m strange, but after developing relationships and getting to know people, I *do* care about when they are drinking coffee, what they are listening to, how the kids are doing, how much laundry needs to be done, are they keeping warm, what they decided on for lunch, and what adult beverage they are indulging in on a Friday night. =)

    As for having enough time… well… we’re all busy with priorities. It’s important to spend our time on what enhances our lives. I get “behind” on tweets, but don’t get stressed about it. I receive tweets on my device, and review them in spare moments. I lock tweets for follow-up later. I have 43 locked tweets right now. =) You sent “How to Start Using Twitter” on Wednesday night. I locked it, and Saturday morning was my first opportunity to read, absorb and discuss.

    I’m looking forward to your facebook post. =)

    • PurpleCar 14 March 2009, 1:18 pm


      Thanks so much for coming and sharing your experience!

      Twitter is a bit complicated to explain, isn’t it? It’s harder than I thought, actually. My segment with Better Philly is due to air on Wednesday, March 18th at around 8:14 a.m. If you are in philly you can watch it to see how I did. The show is geared toward stay-at-home-moms so I spoke mostly to them.

      I see more and more real estate agents everyday on Twitter. You guys should put a wiki together. It’s always good for networking.

      As for doing it “right” I wouldn’t worry too much. Any person with a regular persona will be ok. Spammers, hard marketers are annoying. I’ll write up an etiquette post soon too. Eventually I’ll just put them all in an ebook. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. It’s pretty much that simple.



  • Destination Weddings Jamaica 1 March 2010, 7:19 pm

    Thanks so much for this! I was totally bewildered before reading!

  • Aasoog 25 August 2010, 3:26 pm

    thinking abt it.

  • Yogakitaplari 25 January 2011, 10:45 am

    Hi do you know a method of constantly following a term on twitter rather than people? Let’s say I want to be on the lookout for “hip-hop Boston” all the time so I type it in and with a gadget I keep getting tweets with such terms as if I was following the people tweeting/ is that possible? i know searching is possible but i just want to follow the search

    • PurpleCar 25 January 2011, 1:58 pm

      Sure. Go to search.twitter.com and put in the term “hip-hop Boston” then hit
      return. You’ll see the results come up.

      Do you know what RSS is and/or Google Reader, Netnewswire or other RSS (Really
      Simple Syndication) applications? If you do, then you can see an RSS symbol at
      the end of the URL on that search results page. If you click the RSS for that
      search, then you will get any new instances of “hip-hop Boston” sent to your
      reader automatically.

      The other option is to use Tweetdeck and to make a column with that search term.
      Get yourself familiar with RSS or Tweetdeck and see if you can figure it out.
      Come back here with questions or write to me christine (at ) purplecar [dot]


  • Tgoodman15 18 March 2012, 3:16 pm

    Does twitter show any dates on when you start following someone?

    • PurpleCar 18 March 2012, 4:59 pm

      Not that I know of. Sounds like an interesting API feature, though. If I find it, I’ll let you know.