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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How To Use Twitter

Big companies, stay-at-home-dads, celebrities, royalty, and aspiring artist all have converged on Twitter. It's the big water cooler of the internet. A place to get breaking news live from people who will never paid as journalists, discuss science with strangers, or just catch up with friends. Twitter is a jungle, and a trap for the unwary, so let's go over the rules before the little bluebird leaves you in tears.

1. Get Some Face Time
No one likes an egg. The default Twitter avatar is a little egg, and for most of the Twitter-savvy people out there it marks you as a spam bot. Upload a picture of something: you, your dog, your socks, your book... something! Anything but the egg!
--- Don't know how? Click YOUR NAME in the top right hand corner, then choose SETTINGS. Then choose PROFILE. From there you can upload a picture from your computer and set up your profile.

2. Say Hello
While you're fixing up your profile don't forget to fill out your bio. Make sure it has your relevant information, like your web address and the title of your debut novel coming out in a month. The little things matter.

3. Communicate Effectively
Let's break this down... If you type something in and hit TWEET you have a tweet. If you start the sentence with @SOMEBODY than only Somebody and people who follow both of you will see the conversation. If you send a DM to Somebody than only Somebody will see your message. Know when to use those.
- Tweets are good for general information.
- @ replies are good for direct answers, saying thank you, or asking a question
- DM is best for anything private, personal, or controversial

4. Twitter Is Not For Spam
Too many companies and author hop on Twitter with the sole purpose of selling stuff to people. This includes everyone from the spam bots that list ten names and give a link in the hope you will be dumb enough to click (Pro Tip: Don't click) to the companies that target you if you say their name ("Looking for a couch? Come check out our sale!") to the authors whose entire Twitter feed is devoted to - you guessed it - their book!
--- You can promote your work on Twitter, but keep "Buy my book!" links limited to 3 a day: morning, noon, and right before bed. That way your tweeps in every time zone will get the news, but no one will feel spammed.

5. Share The Love
Did you find something interesting? Hit the Retweet button and share the thought/link/news/whatever. Retweeting is an excellent tool for networking. If someone announces they've just released their new book, published a new scientific article, or done something newsworthy you should share.
--- Don't know how? Hover over the tweet that grabbed your attention. You should see FAVORITE, RETWEET, and REPLY buttons appear. If you want to RT with a comment you need to copy, hit reply, paste, and then add your thoughts in front of RT (for retweet) or MT (for modified tweet - in case you cut something off).

6. Don't Flood The System
While a retweet is nice, no one wants to see a whole list of them. Nor do they want to see you filling up their Twitter screen with an endless list of names for #MM (Monday Mention), #WW (Writer Wednesday), #FF (Follow Friday), or any other cutesy name-game you come up with. A hashtag (#) followed by a list of random names is a good way to get yourself blocked or reported for spam. If you want to tell your followers about someone you think is great devote a tweet to them.

7. Be Yourself - In Moderation
There is a fine line between the spam bot who has nothing interesting to say and the TMI Person who is sharing too much. Personality is a big selling point on Twitter, for companies, author, and individuals, but there's a difference between sharing a funny experience (like misreading a sign while you drive to work) and endlessly tweeting about how many times you ran to the bathroom and the state of your toe fungus.

8. Haters Gonna Hate
Don't be one of them. Not everyone you meet is going to agree with your opinions, and that's a good thing. Before you tweet think about what you're typing. If what you're saying could be misread with offensive intent, change the wording. If you feel strongly about something, decide now if it's something that you should bring into your Twitter life. Remember, for most users their Twitter profile is a professional profile. Keep it that way.
--- Don't know how to handle the hate? Your first step is to UNFOLLOW the person if you're already following them. Click on their name and then tap the big green FOLLOW button until it turns red. If they aren't someone you follow, click their name, go to the right, hit the down arrow, click BLOCK.

9. Follow Wisely
This is an honest mistake every well-intentioned person makes their first time on Twitter: they try to follow everyone. Don't. There is no way you can follow 2000 people and stay interested (ETA - Or maybe you can, as Jamie says she does. You'll need to find your limit by trial and error). Your twitter feed is going to look like a mess. Skip that hassle and follow only the people that interest you and hand out good information. Don't auto-follow. Start by following some friends, then people who they follow who get your attention, respond to @ messages and if you're constantly talking with someone go ahead and follow. It will save you grief in the long run.

10. Have Fun!

Twitter should be a great place to catch up on the world, not a chore you need to check off the daily to-do list. Make new friends and enjoy the world water cooler. :o)

Twitter Bird logo found HERE and used under Fair Use Laws. Ph.D. Matrix comic found HERE and used under Fair Use laws with thanks and appreciation to an awesome comic strip. Go support them. :o)


  1. Good tips - but you can indeed follow 2000 and stay interested. Just because *you* personally prefer not to doesn't mean others need to limit themselves. I do follow over 2000 people, and I love it...my twitter stream is always lively, there's always someone to chat with, and there's a ton of information streaming by whenever I log in. I don't consider it a mess, I consider it very colorful and vibrant. Tweetdeck is a great tool to use for viewing separate lists too.

    That's not to say I follow everyone - I don't auto follow, and I check out everyone who follows me individually and only follow those I'm interested in. But you absolutely *can* follow a bunch of people...it just depends on your personality and desire to do so. I choose not to impose limitations on myself - I wouldn't want to miss a new friend, connection or reader just because of a number. For me, twitter is just as much a networking tool as a social tool - and the larger your network, the more resources you have, IMO.

  2. Jamie - Good point. I'll make an editing note. :o)