Down and dirty with Twitter

Tara Brady
14 September, 2011
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I’ve gotten several requests for a down-and-dirty guide to Twitter for someone who is newto this platform.

When you sign up to use Twitter, you do so on Twitter’s website. Your twitter @username is the name you will use to make tweets and the name your followers will see in their feeds.

You aren’t limited to using this website to log into your account and read/post updates. My favourite tool for using Twitter is the app made by Twitter itself, which runs natively on your Mac desktop and mobile devices.

With the integration of Twitter into iOS 5, it will be even easier to tweet from your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. Sign in once in Settings, and suddenly you can tweet directly from Safari, Photos, Camera, YouTube or Maps.

There’s a lot of information, both useless and useful, on Twitter. When you get started the sheer amount of rubbish can be overwhelming.

Most people try out Twitter, follow a few people, tweet some, get confused or bored and never come back. Totally understandable, as it’s all a big secret handshake.

Here’s what I suggest after signing up:

Pick a Twitter client. This can be the Twitter client, HootSuite or whatever takes your fancy. Choose something you understand. I have a lot of friends using TweetDeck, but I find it bewildering.

Follow at least 20 people. Mix it up. Follow people in all of the things you’re interested in. If you have enough people, it’ll seem more like a cocktail party with lots of folks talking, as opposed to a lecture by two obnoxious tweeters.

Don’t try and keep up. You’ll never keep up with all the tweets. When it bothers you, shut it down. When there’s a fun topic happening, jump in.

Tweet smartly. Twitter is permanent (so far) so every tweet has a permalink. That means that every single tweet you put out there is now something that can be linked to. This immediately makes twitter different from IRC or other chat systems. That tweet is public and it’s out there and it’s web searchable. Tweet positively.


To use Twitter effectively, you have to know the lingo. I remember being super confused when I first signed up and tried to figure out what people were saying!

There are a few main terms that are most important for you to understand:

@Reply. You can hold a public conversation with a person using the reply button. You can also start a new conversation by clicking on any @Mention in the tweet.

DM (direct message). This is a way to hold a private conversation with another Twitter user – but they must be following you.

RT (retweet). If you like what someone says on Twitter, you can retweet it to spread the message to your followers as well.

Hashtag (#). If you see the symbol # before a word or phrase, it is essentially a keyword tag for the tweet so that others can find it more easily. Hashtags can be serious, to help people search for your tweet (like #advice or #blogging) or funny (like #ImSoDamnTired). Not every tweet needs hashtags. Basically, it’s a way to follow the stream of everyone talking about a specific subject.

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