10 twitter hints and tips for newbies

Yesterday I had my lunch with a few colleagues from work who were interested in learning a little more about twitter, what it is, how to use it, how not to, have a play around and ask questions of someone who might have answers. I really enjoyed the hour, and was struck by some of the questions they asked – which were completely great, and reminded me of how complicated and possibly overwhelming it can be to first discover twitter.

This morning I had a conversation with @PeterWanless who is today celebrating his three year twitter anniversary; apparently I was one of the first people to help Peter get to grips with understanding twitter, so I thought I’d spend lunch today throwing together some hints and tips that might be of use to anyone who is three days in, rather than three years in. I hope what follows is of interest, would be really interested in your feedback, and any additional hints and tips.

1) There are no rules

Lots of people have ways and means of using twitter that work for them. The reality is that there are no rules. There are ideas and suggestions, but definitely no rules. So please do read, digest, act on or discard any of what follows, they’re just ideas, for twitter to be of use it needs to work for you, so make your own rules!

2) You don’t need to read it all

Someone asked yesterday how I kept on top of my twitterstream and I realised that I take it as a given that I don’t! I assume popular items will be retweeted lots, thereby appearing in my stream regularly, but I definitely miss more than I catch on twitter at the moment. I tend to check twitter when the kettle is boiling/coffee is brewing in the morning, nearly always pop on at lunch, and have a scan early evening – but I definitely don’t read it all.

3) Nothing is private

Yes, you can have private accounts, and you can direct message (DM) someone, however, I’d stick with the assumption that anything that goes online could come back to haunt you! If you wouldn’t say it to your mum, or your boss, you probably shouldn’t share it with twitter. That said I do have private conversations via DM, confident in the knowledge that if they were ever found to be public, the context is what’s key – and it is an intentionally private conversation.

4) Following people is key

Twitter is a safe, but lonely place, of you aren’t following anyone. In fact if you aren’t following anyone you’ll see nothing. It is quite unlike any other network I’ve been involved with, the beauty of twitter for me is that you can connect with complete strangers, without asking their permission, or without trying to find a tenuous connection. I heard it recently described as like swimming, you don’t get it until you jump in – so just try.

5) Don’t be too self conscious, engage in the conversation 

Not dissimilar to the last point, in my own experience the value of twitter comes from the interactions, from the people you meet and the connections you make. It’s just like a conversation in real life to some extent, don’t worry too much about what to say, just talk to someone. If someone says something (it appears in your stream) that you have a view about – you might agree, disagree, find it funny, know of something useful they might be interested in – say so, let them know, and hopefully they’ll get back to you and before you know it, the conversation has started.

6) Don’t worry too much about your follower numbers and you don’t have to follow someone back

It’s not a popularity contest, and it doesn’t really matter whether you’re followed by five people or five thousand people, in my opinion the value comes from the quality of interactions and experiences you have. Some people can get quite hung up on the number of people following them, but it really doesn’t matter. We also had a discussion about manners – while some people might like you to follow them back if they follow you, there really is no requirement to do so – it’s back to hint one, there are no rules. So don’t feel obliged to follow any one.

7) Think about your manners

I’m not going to say mind your manners, because I’m not your ma and it’s not for me to tell you how to behave. That said, I really appreciate people who do say please and thank you, where possible. It’s always nice to be acknowledged or to know if something you said was helpful/funny/ridiculous – you can talk to someone direct by including @theirname in your message; give it a try.

8) Use hashtags to find things of interest

A hashtag is a symbol that is used to group or collate tweets around that topic. You can then click on a #hashtag and see all tweets related to that topic, you can put them anywhere in a tweet, as long as they are preceded by the # symbol. When demoing the potential powers and wonderfulness of twitter yesterday we looked at a hashtag from a recent conference I’d spoken at. We also looked at #lazyweb, a hashtag that people tend to use to ask the web for an answer, when they’re too lazy to find it themselves e.g. Anyone recommend a good quality, cheap external hard drive? #lazyweb

9) Don’t worry about unfollowing people

When you follow someone on twitter, if their profile is set to notify them they may get an email to say you have started following them. This allows them to get in touch and say hello, see who is interested, and can be useful for keeping up to date. However, twitter doesn’t send a message or email if you un-follow someone. This means that you can follow and un-follow at your leisure if someone doesn’t interest you, if they tweet too much, if they are rude or offensive to you. You can have a look at someone’s recent tweets by looking at their profile but the easiest way to decide whether you should follow someone could be to just give it a go, and un-follow if you’re not keen.

10) Add a photo and biography 

I suspect (this is made up evidence, based on my own behaviour) more people will engage with you if you include a photo/image on your profile. To add one, go to profile-settings-profile and pick an image to use. Likewise with a biography, I find it really helpful as a way to identify people, and to check whether they might be of interest to me – you can only put a few lines, but it’s worth a try.

Yesterday when demonstrating the wonderfullness (this may be a made up word) of twitter I asked people for their hints and tips and reasons for using twitter. I’ll add those into a post in the next few days, as there were some great suggestions that you may be interested in. For now, happy tweeting.

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3 thoughts on “10 twitter hints and tips for newbies

  1. Many thanks, this was useful. I’ve been blundering about on Twitter for a little while and although it feels wonderfully anarchic at times, I did wonder if there were any rules of etiquette being unknowingly breached. Better to be a tweeter than a twit. Enjoy your blog by the way.

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