The Essential Twitter Guide for New Users

So you’ve seen the fantastic ‘iPhone Twitter Giveaway‘ that starts this week and runs through July, but what’s this Twitter thing that everyone’s talking about?

Well, Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read other users’ updates – which are known as ‘tweets’. Every tweet has a maximum length of 140 characters. Still none the wiser? Well read on and hopefully things will become a little clearer.

The best way to understand the world of Twitter is to jump right in. So the aim of this post will be to take you through the basics of setting up and personalising your Twitter account through to creating “Tweets” and explaining some of the Twitter jargon.

So where do I start?

First of all you’ll need to visit www.twitter.com to sign-up for a free account. (You may have already done this so scroll down if you need to)

There should be a big green button somewhere on the page with “Get Started – Join!”

Step 1 - Grab yourself a Twitter account

Step 1 – Grab yourself a Twitter account

The sign-up process is incredibly simple and Twitter will ask you for a few details:

  • Full Name – This will help other people find you
  • Username – Keep this as short as possible
  • Password
  • Email

Once you’ve entered all your details you’ll be asked if you want to find people you know on Twitter through your Gmail/AOL/Yahoo address books. If you don’t use these services simply click on the “Skip this step” link at the bottom.

On the next page Twitter will give you a list of famous/popular Twitter users to follow to get you started, simply uncheck any that you don’t want to follow the click on the Finish button.

That’s it – you’ve now got an account and should be looking at your twitter page. If you chose to follow anyone on the previous screen you should see a list of the most recent tweets from those users.

Make it Personal

Now you’ve got your shiny new Twitter account you’ll want to personalise it a little. Firstly you’ll need to upload a picture be clicking on Settings then Picture then finding a good picture of yourself on your computer to upload. The file size limit is very generous at 700k so even fairly large pictures should be ok. If you need resize a picture you could always use this great online image editing application: picnik.

Now you’ve got a picture on your Twitter account you’ll have a much better chance of people following you back.

The other customisation you may want to make is to update your Twitter background image. There’s a really good article about creating these here.

Personalise your Twitter account with a picture of yourself

Personalise your Twitter account with a picture of yourself

Follow, Follow, Follow

Twitter is about following the updates of others as well as telling other people what you’re doing so you’ll need to find some great people to follow.

From the menu bar at the top of the page click on Find People.

This screen will let you search for people using Twitter, whether they’re friends, family, colleagues, famous people or companies (like Ebuyer!).

For example, if you wanted to follow the actor and technology enthusiast Stephen Fry, type in his name and you’ll get a list of all the Stephen Frys on Twitter.

On the returned list you’ll see a little blue tick next to the top entry stephenfry this means that this is a ‘Verified Profile’ and is indeed the real Stephen Fry.

Click on the Follow button to the right and that’s it, you’ll now see every tweet that he makes almost instantaneously.

Find friends, family, colleagues or celebrities on Twitter

Find friends, family, colleagues or celebrities on Twitter

Another really great way to find people you may find interesting is by using the search box on the right hand side of your Twitter page. Type in any term depending on your interest and you’ll see a list of people using that term. If you see someone you would like to follow, click on there name to go to their Twitter page where you should see the Follow button beneath their picture (or Avatar for its correct term).

Use the Search box to find interesting tweets and follow those who interest you

Use the Search box to find interesting tweets and follow those who interest you

As you start to build the amount of people you follow and the people who follow you, you’ll see the counter on your Twitter page increase. If you need to manage the lists of people you follow and people who follow you simply click on the numbers. Often people will find you from the things you talk about so it’s good to keep an eye on your Follower list and follow people back if you think they would be interesting.

As you start to follow and get followed yourself your Twitter page will be updated

As you start to follow and get followed yourself your Twitter page will be updated

Tweet, Tweet

I’ve covered a fair bit about Twitter but I haven’t covered the single most important aspect to Twitter – your tweets!

On your Twitter homepage at the very top you’ll see the question What are you doing? with an input box. This is where you write your tweets. As you begin to type in the box you will see the number on the top right decrease as it’s counting down the number of characters you have left (remember you only have 140 characters!). Try not to take the question too literally by the way, you can type whatever you like in here just try not to talk about what you had for lunch etc. as this is a sure way to lose followers!

When you’ve written your first tweet, hit the Update button and it will now enter into what is termed the Twitter Stream. i.e. Your followers and anyone searching will see your tweets on their pages.

What are you doing?

What are you doing?

You Talkin’ to Me?

Another great thing about Twitter is that you can talk to other users simply by using the @ symbol before their username. They will then be able to see the tweet that you directed at them by clicking on the @mentions button on the right of their page. Don’t forget though that Twitter isn’t a chat room or MSN so keep discussions as brief as possible and never be offended if people don’t tweet you back.

Click on this area of your Twitter page to see people talking to/about you

Click on this area of your Twitter page to see people talking to/about you

Sweet Retweet

When you’re reading through the many tweets from the people you follow, you may see something that really grabs you and you want to talk about it too so that your followers can see the same tweet. Twitter uses a very simple mechanism for this and it’s called a Retweet or RT (you’ll also see via a lot which is exactly the same thing). The following image shows a good example of an RT, notice that it’s been RT’d more than once!

Credit your Sources with an RT or via

Credit your Sources with an RT or via

Make a Hash of it!

The last piece of jargon I’ll cover is what is known as a Hashtag. Essentially it just means putting a # in front of words to make them more visible in Twitter and to allows the terms to be searched for more easily even if the content of the tweet doesn’t have the word in it. For example a tweet like this: “I’m just looking for a good currency converter app! #iPhone” would be a good use of a hashtag.

You’ll also see hashtags used for a Twitter phenomenon called #FollowFriday which involves recommending people you follow to your other followers. If you want to know more about #FollowFriday check out this great post from Richard Dewick over at Makakmedia.

Essentially you’re giving credit to the person who wrote the tweet originally and it also gives your followers the opportunity to follow them too.

A #FollowFriday tweet

A #FollowFriday tweet

My links are too long

One of the biggest problems you’ll encounter with Twitter is when you try to add a long link in your tweet. To easily solve this, you should use URL shortening services like bit.ly or is.gd

Spice up your Tweets

As Twitter has gained in popularity lots of different websites offering different Twitter services have sprung up, most noteably TwitPic which allows you to upload photo’s and tweet about them at the same time. You will always engage your followers a lot more if you can offer them pictures to go along with your tweets.

TwitPic is your friend!

TwitPic is your friend!

Don’t just use the Twitter site

Interestingly, the vast majority of Twitter users don’t actually use the Twitter page itself to publish their tweets. There are a whole host of applications that make the process of tweeting and reading tweets a lot smoother and more fun. Here is a very small selection of some Twitter applications:

And Remember…

Well that’s it from me. I hope you found my guide useful and if you have any questions about Twitter you were too afraid to ask please feel free to leave a comment!

Enjoy Twitter and remember, “You’re only as good as your last tweet”

@darylsws

25 Comments

  1. Crayonz

    Nice write up Daryl, now I know what all the fuss is about, and maybe I will be able to understand what youre on about all day every day now (lol). I am off to tweet about this post right now.

  2. Dave

    Hey Daryl, nice writeup for new Twitter users. If you truly are only as good as your last tweet, I’m screwed!

  3. Richard Dewick - @makakman

    Great guide Daryl. One thing that seems to occur is that new twitterers seem to get lost along the way so do persevere with your tweets. Also a one way stream is not of great interest to most people, unless you actually are @stephenfry, so do join in the conversation! Oh and keep an eye out for the #followfridays :o)

  4. Zen Web Solutions

    A great starter for people who either don’t understand twitter or who aren’t really using it to its full potential (hash tags, twitpic, retweets, etc). Also good to see another big UK company getting on board! Out of interest do you just use twitter for promoting offers or do you use it for connecting with unhappy customers/customer service issues? (noticed this tweet for example, http://twitter.com/Digitalise/statuses/2435193601)

  5. Daryl

    Hi Will (Zen Web Solutions), and Thanks a lot for the comment!

    We see Twitter as being an invaluable way of connecting with existing and new customers in terms of letting them know about the great deals we have (The Acer Aspire Netbook is a great example) but we also like the way we can quickly react to customers who have queries regarding orders etc.

    We are also very keen not to alienate existing followers, and although some followers are taking issue with our iPhone 3G-S giveway we think that this is such a good competition we really need to tell as many people as possible initially. Hopefully we’ll be tweeting less about the giveaway when people get the hang of it. :)

    Thanks again Will and especially for the great question!

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  7. Tattybats

    Useful stuff Daryl. It took me a while to work out that clicking on @tattybats showed posts mentioning me (ie. too me), and it wasn’t long before that, that I happened upon the DMs. I didn’t RTFM you see ;-) You’d never guess I was an IT geek in a past life would you.

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