How To Get Started With Twitter
NOTE: I originally posted this tutorial in April 2008, but with the recent wave of interest in Twitter because of people like Oprah and Ashton Kutcher, I thought I would reprint it, with some minor updates and edits. Please feel free to share this with your friends and associates that would like to get started using Twitter.
If a blog is like a roundtable discussion and Facebook is like a BBQ in the backyard with your friends, then Twitter is a cocktail party for text messaging! Twitter is by far my favorite social networking tool right now for several reasons that I will get into. I love the premise that conversations can be had with my friends, but they are limited in their size. Do you know anybody that takes 4 minutes to ask a really simple question that can be summarized in 10 seconds? I do. Twitter is the nemesis of these people because you cannot exceed the 140 character character limit. I love it! That’s even shorter than the standard 160 characters for text messaging! Before we look at the nuances of Twitter, let’s get you signed up.
Step 1: Create an Account
Go to www.twitter.com and click the green box near the bottom of the screen in the center that says “Get Started-Join”. You will be asked for some basic information, like your username, password, email address and verification of a captcha. This is the trickiest captcha I’ve ever seen, it took me a handful of tries before I got it right. Grrrrr. Regarding your username, some people (like myself) just use a real name. My username is ‘mattsingley’. Some people get cute with their usernames and go for anagrams and other odd usernames. Just use whatever you are comfortable with.
Step 2: Personalize Your Account
Once you are set up, go to the “Settings” tab, located at the top of your screen. This will open a window that will contain several tabs. We’ll go through each one quickly, with notes.
- Account: Do the world a favor and make your full name your real name, and make sure you have a space between your first and last name. If you don’t do this, you are going to be hard to find via searching.
- Username: You have already set this up, it should be in place. You can change it if you want, but don’t make a habit of this.
- Email: Already in place. Change it now if you have an email address you would rather use than the one you signed up with.
- Time Zone: Hopefully you know where you live.
- More Info URL: Put your blog address, MySpace or other domain page here
- One Line Bio: Keep it short! Only 160 characters.
- Location: Again, I’m hoping that you know where you are.
- Language: I’m tempted to use Japanese, but since I don’t know it at all, I’ll stick with English.
- Protect my Updates: WARNING: if you choose this option you have to approve people to see your updates. I have many friends that do this, but I prefer to remain on the public timeline.
- Make sure you Save your Preferences. On to the next tab.
- You can change your password if you want, but you just set up your account, so no need to do that now.
- This is very cool. You can set up your cell phone so that you can send and receive updates to and from Twitter via text messaging. If you don’t have a good text plan with your carrier you probably shouldn’t activate this option. I have unlimited texting through AT&T, so I do most of my updates via cell phone. I also have selected to not receive text updates between 10pm and 6am, which is a good thing I think.
- You may also set up options within Instant Messenger. I’m personally happy with updates going to my phone and via the web only, so I have not activated this.
- Save your preferences and we’ll move along.
- Auto Nudge: This is annoying, don’t turn it on. If you don’t realize that you haven’t updated in 24 hours then you probably don’t have anything good to say anyway.
- @Replies: Semi-self explanatory. I have only get @replies from people I am following, you can do more or less. Twitter has a good explanation here.
- New Follower Email: Check this
- Direct Text Emails: you get emailed when somebody sends you a direct message. Check this too.
- Email Newsletter: If you want info from Twitter, check this.
- Save and move on.
- Please, please, please upload a picture so we don’t all have to look at the generic brown smiley face. It can be a picture of you, or your company. Just know that most people that use Twitter prefer to see another human, so if you’re going to use a corporate logo, may I recommend that you incorporate a picture of a person into the avatar or at least the background (see the next point).
- This allows you to customize the look of your Twitter home page. If you look at this page and it seems scary to you, then don’t do anything to it. However, if you want to play around with colors and pictures, go for it! You can always choose “Use the Twitter default style” to bring you back to square one.
- That’s it! You are now personalized.
- This area will show 3rd party application that have access to your profile via OAUTH. No need to do anything here unless you are super geeky, and if you are, you’re probably not reading this tutorial anyway.
Step 3: Post updates
Twitter is very simple in that it asks just one question, “What are you doing right now?” To answer that question, click on the “home” link at the top of the page and type something into the text box near the top. Remember, you are limited to 140 characters, so get creative in what you have to say. In other words, instead of saying, “Since I am an unemployed bum I think I’ll stay home with Jack (my three year old) this morning and watch Playhouse Disney on TV with him and after I will go to the gym myself and get in a great workout” (61characters too long), you would say “hanging with Jack my 3yo watching playhouse disney, then off to the gym!” Go ahead and try it, post an update. What’s funny is that most people’s first update is something like, “Just trying to figure out this Twitter thing”.
Step 4: Find Friends to Interact With
Unless updates are protected (as explained above), anyone can follow you, and you can follow anyone. So how do you find them? First, if the person that you want to follow is a blogger, they probably have a link on their blog page to their Twitter account. Another way is to go to a person’s Twitter page (here is a link to mine) and look at the people they follow. If you see somebody you know or would be interesting to follow, click on their picture, which will take you to their home page. If you want to follow that person, click the “Follow” button directly below their picture. Once you see that you are following them, you can click the box again to expand it’s selections. You can now turn your Device Updates to “on” if you want their updates to go to your phone via text messaging (assuming you signed up for that earlier). If you don’t want that, leave the default “off”.
Two other ways to find people on Twitter. First, at the top of the screen is a small search box. Just put a name in there and his “search”. You may or may not come up with results. I find that it’s actually quite useful, and I’ve found more people this way than I thought I would. The other way is to click the “Find & Follow”button at the top (highlighted in yellow) where you can search based upon email address, or actually send invitation to people. I got several people to start on Twitter by sending them an email invitation, so don’t be shy about sending them out.
Step 5: Enjoy the Cocktail Party!
Now that you are signed up and you have friends on Twitter, just have fun! Beyond the fun side of Twitter is a very practical side as well. There are many large companies (e.g., CNN) that use Twitter to keep in touch with different departments. For me personally, it’s a lot easier to send a Twitter message out than to send several text messages or phone calls. Of course nothing will ever replace face to face conversation, IMHO, but Twitter does a fine job of keeping me in touch with my friends. If you run an organization, you can set up a Twitter account for that too!
I would like to strongly suggest the use of a third party application to keep track of your Twitter life, it will make you happy and far more productive. Go download Tweetdeck for your computer, then click here to read my tutorial about how to use it properly, with a slightly updated version here. Tweetdeck updates so often, usually my tutorials are outdated within a month of posting, but you’ll get the idea.
As you become more familiar with Twitter I think you’ll discover a couple of things: first, it’s not just a silly little app that the “young kids” use. It’s an incredibly powerful form of communication that is used across all demographics. Second, it’s somewhat addicting. There are scores of websites dedicated to all things Twitter, like Twitterholics. You can go there and find all kinds of different uses for Twitter.
Whatever you use it for…enjoy! And don’t forget to add me as a friend.
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