Twitter is a free, fun, and powerful social media service that is many things to many people. Often called a ‘microblogging’ service, Twitter users post updates to their page about anything and everything, but updates must be 140 characters or less. Twitter can help you to:
- Promote your business, music, art, blog, website, product, or yourself
- Network with other people in your field and vicinity
- Connect with friends, family, like-minded people, and even celebrities
- Find up-to-the-minute information about current events
- Make money through twitter alone (yes, really!)
Here’s how to get your Twitter account up and running.
Setting Up Your Account
Pick a Username and Photo
Pick a username relevant to what you think you’ll be talking about most on Twitter. For example, if you’re a performer and your stage name is Jim Hollywood, try and secure @JimHollywood for your Twitter handle. Whatever your business or purpose on Twitter, try to keep your username as relevant as possible.
Uploading a photo for your account is very important on Twitter. The default picture for a photo-less Twitter account is a pastel-colored egg. Spam accounts frequently forgo adding a picture, and thus many people associate that pastel-colored egg with a spam account. It’s best to use a real picture of yourself (unless you’re tweeting for a business. For example, if you’re @ValleySparkplugs, it would be better to upload a picture of your company logo) so your followers and people with whom you interact know who they’re connecting with. If you’re naturally a humorous person, consider including a funny picture of yourself. If you plan to be strictly business, consider using a professional photo. Use your intuition and discretion!
Customize Your Page
Now that you have an account set up with your ‘@’ handle and a photo, consider customizing your Twitter page so that it no longer has the generic ‘cloud’ background. To do this, go to Settings>Design. From there, you can choose from a number of pre-made themes, choose a plain background and text color, and/or upload your own background image. There are also many websites that offer free Twitter themes that they will install for you in exchange for a tweet and follow (more on that soon). Pick a background theme that is easy on the eyes and is representative of your personality, business, or product.
Follow a Few People
The initial dialogue in Twitter encourages you to follow several accounts to get yourself started. The search function it provides isn’t particularly valuable because it only shows the most popular Twitter accounts first. While popular Twitter accounts may be entertaining, they’re generally not the best place to start networking. One of the best places to build an initial follower base is through people you already know, so use Twitter’s option to find the accounts of people on your contact list. Pick a few of your contacts who have similar interests as you and take a look at their friends and followers. Follow people who seem interesting or similar to you. Repeat this step continuously to build a friend list that is interesting, useful, and worth interacting with.
Your First Tweets
The great thing about Twitter is that there are no hard and fast rules for what you can or should post. Because tweets can only be a maximum of 140 characters, it’s in your best interest to make them as succinct as possible.
Good and Bad Tweet Content
Unless you’re already well-known in real life, people will be most inclined to follow you on Twitter if you tweet genuinely interesting content. A good Twitter account typically has a balanced combination of text posts, links, picture posts, and dialogue. An account that only posts links or only @mentions other accounts will not be one that many Twitter users deem worth following.
Good subjects for tweets include a balance of:
- Things you’ve been enjoying recently
- Exciting things you’re doing in the present or near future
- Jokes, witticisms, and observations
- News and information about your business or product
Bad subjects for tweets:
- Mundane happenings in your life, e.g. what you had for dinner, what show you’re watching on TV, how much laundry you have to do
- Slander or defamation
- Deeply personal or sensitive information
- Vulgar, gross, or ‘TMI’ tweets. These lose followers fast.
Communicate with other tweeters by @mentioning them. Simply type the ‘@’ symbol followed immediately by the tweeter’s username to send them a public message and start a conversation. If you see somebody talking about something interesting, send them an @mention whether you follow them or not. The great thing about Twitter is that it’s basically one giant conversation, so you never have to feel like you’re not allowed to reach out to someone.
Another way of @mentioning someone is to retweet them. You should retweet someone else’s tweet if you like it, find it pertinent, or think it’s something that your followers would enjoy. There are two ways to retweet: via the ‘retweet’ button, which sends out the retweet automatically and without comment; or by typing “RT @username:” before the tweet. Use the latter method when you want to add a comment to the retweet (place your comment at the beginning of the tweet).
Hashtags (#) are a tool to find and share tweets about specific subjects. For example, if you want to find out what people have been saying about pizza recently, simply type “#pizza” into the search box at the top of the page to find all posts with that hashtag. If you want other people searching for tweets about pizza to be able to see your tweet about pizza, simply type “#pizza” somewhere in the body of your tweet. This also creates a clickable link in your tweet that will show you all other tweets with that hashtag when you click it.
Links and Link Shortening
You will periodically want to link to different websites and pages in your tweets. This is especially true if you have a website to promote. Sharing links becomes tricky with Twitter’s 140 character limit. Thankfully, third party link shortening services like bit.ly exist to shorten links to Twitter-sized lengths. Similar services exist for images, but Twitter now lets you upload images directly to their server.
Third Party and Mobile Apps
There are many Twitter apps, like HootSuite and TweetDeck (formerly third party, now a service of Twitter), available for Mac and PC that make tweeting easier for power users and people with multiple accounts. These are great if you tweet frequently and want to automate your tweets to go out at a specific time, or want to follow multiple separate streams of Twitter users.
Twitter’s real-time nature means that you may want to choose to tweet from wherever you are, which is why you should download a Twitter app for your mobile phone. If you don’t have a smartphone, you can also tweet via text message (set this up under Settings>Mobile).
Take your time getting a feel for how Twitter works. Once you find a good group of users to interact with and have a steady group of followers, you will find yourself making friends and business contacts, driving traffic to your website, and having fun. Happy tweeting!
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