10 Steps to Start on Twitter
Maybe you heard it from a friend or coworker: "You have to use Twitter."
You've mastered LinkedIn and Facebook, so why bother with yet another online social network?
As it turns out, there are plenty of reasons, enough that in the past six months, the number of U.S. adults on Twitter jumped to 13 percent from 8 percent, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center. Among people 30 to 49 years old, the increase is even higher, doubling to 14 percent since November.
The 5-year-old social media site, which lets people share brief messages of up to 140 characters within a network of followers, is a good place to search for a job, read the news or browse for information online. Businesses tweet to advertise deals and handle customer service. Twitter played a role in recent uprisings in Egypt and the Middle East. This week when Shaquille O'Neal announced his NBA retirement, the first to hear were his 3.8 million Twitter followers.
To keep people signing up, Twitter continues expanding its services. New features include a better search function, photo sharing and a "Follow" button that individuals and companies can add to their websites to make it even easier for people to follow them.
But back to basics. If you still haven't tried Twitter, here's what you need to know:
1. It's free and simple to get started. To create an account, go to www.twitter.com, enter your email address and choose a username and password. On your "Profile" page, add your location, photo and short description of yourself. It's not required, but if you give people a taste of who you are, they're more likely to connect. Next, add a link to your blog, company's website or your LinkedIn page -- anywhere people can find out more about you.
2. Your tweet stream is only as good as the people you follow. For Twitter to work, you need to follow people. Once you follow them, you'll be able to read what they're saying in your Twitter homepage's timeline. If they follow you back, they'll be able to do likewise. Use the search box at the top of your Twitter home page to search for people you know. Once their profile comes up, click on the "Follow" button to add them to your "Following" list. You can also use the "Who to Follow" tab on the main Twitter navigation bar to add contacts from your Gmail, LinkedIn, AOL, Yahoo or Hotmail accounts, or to send someone an email invitation. You can also use the "Browse Interests" link to find and follow well-known Twitter users based on your mutual interests.
3. Write about what you're doing. Twitter messages are called "tweets" and consist of just 140 characters, including white space. Your updates don't have to be about what you had for breakfast. They can be about accomplishments at work, something you read, a play or game you went to, your latest blog post, the weather, something you overheard, or an observation about life. To share links to news articles, videos or information that resides elsewhere online, use a link shortener such as bit.ly to squeeze a long URL into fewer characters. If you want people to forward your tweets to their followers -- and you do because it'll introduce you to more people -- don't use all 140 characters. Leave enough space for someone to "retweet" or RT your message and username.
4. Reply to people who mention you. If one of your followers shares something you tweeted to their followers, thank them by clicking on the "Reply" link under their tweet. That automatically puts their username into a new tweet, which you can use to send them a public "Thank you." These "@replies" -- as Twitter calls them -- are the only way to send someone a message who isn't following you. You can see who sent tweets with your username in them by clicking on the "@Mentions" link at the top of your timeline.5. Keep private conversations private. You wouldn't copy your entire office on every email you send, so you shouldn't share a message intended for only one person with your entire follower base. To communicate with someone privately, use the Message feature to send a "direct message" or DM. Twitter isn't immune from phishing and other common cyber attacks, so if you're sharing an email address, phone number or other personal information with someone, DMs are the way to go.
6. Mind your manners. If the only thing you use Twitter for is promoting yourself or your company, you could lose followers, and some people might brand you as a spammer. Instead, social media experts recommend following the rule of thirds: Devote a third of your tweets to things you're doing, a third to sharing what people or organizations you follow are doing, and a third to general news and information.
7. Look it up. As the amount of information being shared on Twitter mushrooms, the social network is becoming a popular alternative to search engines for real-time research online. Type a word, name or phrase into the Search box at the top of your Twitter home page to look up what people are sharing on the subject. Twitter users mark ongoing conversations on a particular subject with a hashtag symbol and specific word or phrase. Right now, for example, you can read about Shaq's retirement by following #shaq. Once you do a search, you can view updated results by clicking on the "Save This Search" button at the top of the results page. That puts it in a Saved Searches queue that appears at the top of your homepage timeline. One of my saved searches is SecondAct, so I can quickly see the website's latest tweets.
8. Create lists. Follow enough people and your timeline or "tweetstream" can feel as big and fast as Niagara Falls. One way to tame it is by categorizing followers using Twitter's Lists feature. Once you follow a person, place or thing, you can create a list and add them to it. I keep a Twitter list called Boomers to track what other people and publications are sharing on the subject. SecondAct has its own lists in categories such as the arts, job hunting and money. It's possible to use Twitter add-on software such as TweetDeck and Hootsuite to categorize followers. But if you're just starting out, you might be more comfortable sticking with the basic Twitter interface.
9. Chat it up. Once you're acclimated, consider taking part in Twitter chats, real-time conversations on specific topics that take place on a regular basis. Twitter hosts thousands of chats on subjects ranging from hockey to health care, including many on subjects of interest to people over 40. One is the Midlife Road Trip chat at #Nuts on Tuesdays at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time. I host the #wclw chat the last Wednesday of each month for writers and bloggers. You can find more than 400 chats in this online chat database or by following @twchat.
10. Go mobile. More than half (54 percent) of cellphone-owning Twitter users access the service from their phones, according to the Pew report. To use it on the go, download Twitter's free mobile interface, or access the service using iPhone, iPad or Droid versions of TweetDeck -- which Twitter recently acquired -- or another Twitter add-on software.
Here are a few resources for getting started on Twitter:
- Twitter 101: How Should I Get Started Using Twitter?
- Twitter Help Center's Twitter Basics
- The Twitter Guide Book, from Mashable
Keep Reading: When Your Dream Company is Hiring on Twitter
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