The Beginner's Guide to Using Twitter

Worldwide Twitter coverageIf you're new to microblogging, this detailed guide is going to help you kickstart the same on Twitter. The popularity of Twitter has made it synonymous with microblogging. Newbies often fail to understand the ins and outs of microblogging and therefore couldn't milk the platform they're using to its full extent. This guide is not only going to help you understand the fundamentals of microblogging but is also going to make you comfortable with Twitter usage. Here I must emphasize an important point that no matter which guide you're using, it takes some time before you master the art of microblogging. Existing Twitter users can also benefit from this guide by brushing up the basics, once again. We'll also discuss some of the best and popular Twitter tools one can try to easily use this platform. So, get ready for your computer and learn to tweet like a pro in no time. The guide itself is broadly divided into two distinct parts viz., general microblogging basics and Twitter usage tutorial. So, let's kickstart our Twitter journey.

Worldwide Twitter coverage The first part dealing with microblogging basics can be more or less applied to almost any relevant platform you're using to connect with your followers.

Pro Tip: The key to successful microblogging experience is to provide value and entertainment to the target audience. Do it, right from day one.

Let's start our journey to the microblogging world.

Microblogging Basics and Fundamentals

Because this guide focuses on Twitter, the basics discussed below more or less applies to it. In simple words, several terms and phrases are Twitter-specific which can be replaced with a similar phrase used on a different platform.

Following terminology is going to make you comfortable with general Twitter usage and will help you in quickly starting your microblogging journey on the same.

Twitter birds
  • Tweet: Update posted on Twitter is called a tweet. A tweet can contain links, audio, video, images, and of course regular text. The text's length shouldn't exceed 280 characters. Links and rich media content included in a tweet are not counted against the 280 character limit.
  • Retweet: If you're sharing a tweet of another Twitter user with your followers, it is called a retweet. It can be loosely compared with the act of quoting and citation. A retweet always preserves the attribution of the original source.
  • @ , @username: If you want to reply to a specific Twitter user, start your tweet with a @ sign followed by the account username (twitter handle) and compose it as shown below.

    @accountname Hello, how are you?

    Similarly, if you want to mention someone in a tweet, do it as follows.

    Tweets by @accountname are always interesting.

    Both mentions and replies use the same account referring syntax differing only in the placement of the same. If a tweet starts with a Twitter handle, it's a reply. And, if a Twitter handle is included somewhere in between the tweet, it's a mention.
  • # (hashtag): If you're a blogger using WordPress, probably you're already familiar with tags. A hashtag is a word or a phrase (without any white space) which is appended to the # symbol. For example:

    Follow us on @freshtechtips for killer #tech tutorials and useful #diy hacks.

    All the hashtags in a tweet are automatically converted into links which point to a stream of filtered tweets containing the word or topic included in the hashtag. These tags are often used to search tweets related to a specific topic regardless of from where they're originating from.
  • Direct Message (DM): As the phrase indicates, a private message sent from one Twitter account to another one is called a direct message. They can be sent in two different ways.

    The first method is straightforward and dead simple. Open the Twitter's native web interface and type in the message before hitting the send button.

    d How are you doing?

    And, if you're using a 3rd party Twitter client, just prefix an alphabet 'd' before the private message as shown in an example above. There should be a white space between the alphabet and the private message.
  • Followers & Following: Now these terms are quite easy-to-understand. If you don't want to miss tweets originating from a specific Twitter account, you need to follow it. All such accounts you're tracking are the ones you're following.

    Similarly, Twitter users who do not want to miss your updates follow your Twitter account and these are the ones known as your followers.

    Twitter followers count In an example shown above, you can see the followers and following count of CNN's official Twitter account. You can notice the huge number of followers which is in millions.
  • Timeline: It is a central hub where majority of your Twitter account's activity takes place. It's a continuous stream of tweets from your followers. If you're interacting with these tweets by liking or replying to them, these activities are also reflected in the timeline when viewed on the native web interface.

    Timeline sketch Your own tweets and retweets are also included in the timeline of your followers. If you are following a large number of active Twitter followers, your timeline updates will be so fast that it'll be difficult to follow up and consume the constant stream these tweets.
Although there's much more left when it comes to Twitter features and terminology, we've deliberately omitted it to focus on the very basics which are necessary to get started as a beginner.

Let's move on to the next important step of managing Twitter account settings.

Twitter Account and Profile Creation

Now that we're familiar with microblogging basics, it's time to open a Twitter account to get started on this popular platform. We'll also look at some of the important account settings and will learn to configure them correctly.

So, create an account by following this link and provide your name, email address, and a password for your new Twitter-powered abode.

During the sign-up process, you may be asked to provide your mobile number which can be skipped, if you desire so.

The next important step is to claim your Twitter handle (account username) through which your account can be managed, accessed, and followed.

Twitter username Once you've grabbed your preferred username, make sure you've provided the correct time zone within 'Account' tab of the settings page. This shows you can view the tweet times in a correct format relative to your local time.

Twitter video auto-play setting Another important setting on this tab is an auto-play option for the video tweets. By default, this option is enabled. Uncheck and disable this option to make sure videos are not automatically fetched and played unless you manually click the play button.

This setting is vital for people on a metered connection to save their data. In case, you're on an unlimited plan, you can consider leaving this option in its default state.

Now switch to 'Privacy and safety' tab and change the following two settings.

Twitter photo tagging setting Photo tagging is one of the common features available on most social media platforms. By default, Twitter allows anyone to tag you in their photo tweets.

I'll suggest you change this default setting with the one shown in the image above. This ensures only people you know and trust are allowed to tag you in their photos. If the default setting is kept intact, a person with malicious intentions or a troll can tag you in a photo with sensitive or explicit content.

Twitter team adding setting This is yet another important setting on this tab. Businesses using TweetDeck can ask other users using the same client to join them as a team and tweet on their behalf. This setting configures who can send you team joining requests.

Again, just like the previous setting, you can ensure that such requests only originate from a Twitter handle you're following. Rest of the settings on this tab can be safely ignored.

Twitter email notification settings Now open the 'Email notifications' tab. You can find that all of the email notification settings on this tab are activated by default. If you're going to be an active and avid Twitter user, these default settings are going to overwhelm your inbox in due course of time.

To get rid of these unnecessary notifications, uncheck all the boxes except the 3 important notification settings marked by the red arrows as shown in the image above. Each of these settings is self-explanatory and ensures you do not miss critical account notifications.

Rest of the account settings within different tabs can be safely ignored and can be tweaked at a later stage as per your need and preference. Now, let's complete the account set up by customizing our default Twitter profile.

Header photo: We'll start by uploading a custom header photo for our Twitter profile. Ideally, this image should describe what the account is all about, at a glance.

This guideline applies both to personal and business Twitter accounts.

Twitter header photo dimensions The recommended size of header photo is 1500x1500 pixels. Remember, this is just a recommendation and photos more or less matching with the mentioned size are just fine.

Profile photo: And, this is the key element of your Twitter profile. If it's a personal account, your own front headshot is recommended, and, if it's a business account, its logo or emblem is the way to go.

Twitter profile photo dimensions The recommended size of the profile photo is 400x400 pixels. Even if you upload a larger profile photo, make sure the dimensions are proportionate to the recommended size. Twitter also allows cropping of these important photos to exclude the unnecessary portions.

Let's see some of the best Twitter header and profile photo combinations to get some inspiration for our own.

Moz Twitter profile This Twitter profile owned by Moz is first in our list. Moz is a well known service known for its search engine optimization tools and resources. Its header photo clearly indicates the association with website discoverability and indexing.

For the profile photo, they rightly chose their official logo. For such business accounts, it's recommended to change the header photo at regular intervals with a focus on current happenings and offerings.

NASA Twitter profile We're all familiar with NASA and its achievements. The current header photo of its Twitter profile introduces the new batch of astronauts selected by the organization.

Just like the previous example, they've used the official logo for the profile photo. As recommended above, NASA keeps the header photo updated letting the followers know about the current happenings.

Lucy Hansen Twitter profile Now this is the personal Twitter account of Lucy Hansen who is a popular recipe developer and foodie. And, that's what her account's header photo reflects in a clear and crisp way.

Because it is a personal account, a front headshot photo is used as the profile photo. It's not just the header photo, but once in a while, change of profile photo is also recommended though it shouldn't be as frequent as the former.

Frank Seno Twitter profile And last but not the least, the Twitter profile of Frank Seno who is a web developer is worth giving a thought. After glancing at the header photo, even a layman can deduce the person has something to do with coding or programming.

A happy face closeup shot for the profile photo completes his excellent Twitter profile. With these 4 Twitter profiles, you can easily get enough inspiration for picking the best header and profile photos.

Bio, location, and website: After header and profile photos, your Twitter bio is yet another important piece of information one must complete to let the world know key details about you or your business.

Twitter profile fields A maximum of 160 characters can be included in the bio. Apart from using regular text, one can also add Twitter handles, hashtags, emojis, and UTF-8 symbols. This gives you enough freedom to get creative and to craft an attention-grabbing bio.

While providing the location, take advantage of the suggestions provided by Twitter by detecting your IP address. If the suggestions are not accurate, manually type your city and country. The website address is not a mandatory field. In case you have one, provide the complete URL including http or https.

Theme color setting can be skipped and can be changed later, at will. And last but not the least is the date of birth field. One can skip it too but I'll recommend filling it in the first go. In case you want to hide your age, Twitter provides ample privacy controls for this field to fine tune the visibility.

Twitter bio of Sara Twitter bio of Laura These 2 sample Twitter bios can give you enough ideas about how to go ahead with crafting yours. You can notice the use of emojis, hashtags, and links within the bio.

This completes the entire Twitter account and profile setting process. As mentioned previously, settings left untouched in their default state can be easily tweaked, as and when required.

Twitter Essentials for Beginners

So far, we've covered microblogging basics and a primer on Twitter account creation with an emphasis on the configuration of important settings. Now let's move on to the most common Twitter usage 101 for the new users.

After going through this section, you'll be able to leverage this platform in the most effective way, right from day one. Let's get started and march ahead to be a Twitter ninja.

  • Get a good Twitter client: Though I'll recommend using the native web interface if you spend most of your time within a desktop web browser, a 3rd party Twitter client is what the savviest users' prefer for daily usage.

    Fortunately, there are several good Twitter applications one can use to tweet like a professional. Let's check out some of the popular Twitter clients.

    Dektop Twitter client You can choose from one of the feature-packed Twitter clients listed above.
  • Use Twitter lists for content curation: These lists are nothing but logical grouping of several Twitter accounts. This way, you can follow the tweets of these accounts without actually following them.

    These lists either be made private or public. In case, the list is public, any Twitter user can subscribe to it. This way, you can subscribe to your favorite lists and can easily follow their content.

    Twitter list Twitter pros often use these lists primarily for 2 purposes. Some Twitter lists are focused towards a specific topic or a niche. Creating or following such lists is a classic example of curating select content from a source.

    Another common use of these lists is to group experts or influencers related to a specific domain. This facilitates the easy consumption of tweets generated by these group of experts.
  • Use 'Moments' to announce events and happenings: Business and professional Twitter accounts can take advantage of this feature to keep their audience updated about key events and developments.

    While creating a moment, you can add a cover photo, a custom title, and of course a description. All the tweets included in a moment can be added in different ways viz., your liked tweets, tweets from a specific account, tweets grabbed via custom search and inclusion via direct tweet links.

    Twitter moments Several other settings like mobile theme color, marking the moment content as sensitive, geolocation from where the moment was published, and making the moment accessible only through a unique private link can be configured while publishing it.

    I'll strongly recommend once trying out this powerful feature and see how well it goes with your efforts to boost your business on the Twitter platform.
  • Use 'Likes' as a bookmark manager: To a normal Twitter user, 'like' feature simply appear as a tool to exhibit their preference for select tweets. But that's where pros take it differently.

    Fortunately, all the tweets you've liked can be easily accessed through a dedicated tab located right on your profile page. All these tweets appear in reverse chronological order and can be browsed with ease regardless of the type of device you're using.

    Twitter bird sketch This makes it a perfect tool which can be used as a bookmark manager for this microblogging platform. All you need to do is to like your favorite tweets accumulating them under its tab.

    Thereafter you can view them at will, whenever required. Like typical bookmark manager, you can unlike a tweet to remove it from the list. This way, you can easily manage the entire collection of favorite tweets by selectively liking and unliking them.
  • Use advanced search smartly: No social media platform is complete without a robust search function to help its users' base mine out the required information from within the entire ecosystem.

    Luckily, Twitter is equipped with a extremely powerful search engine one can easily use to literally find a pin in a haystack. Pros often use it to search potential customers or fans.

    Filtering tweets Experienced users can craft complex (for beginners) advanced search queries to efficiently find the tweets they're looking for.

    Here's a sample advanced search query to give you an idea about its structure and working.

    twitter OR facebook OR instagram -filter:links near:NYC within:25mi lang:fr ?
    The search query mentioned above filters tweets asking questions in the French language which are devoid of links and originate from within the 25-mile radius of New York City. Additionally, these tweets must contain at least one of the keywords mentioned at the beginning of the query.

    Got a glimpse of the flexibility of Twitter's advanced search query? You can read the following primer to get more comfortable with this search system.

    Businesses and professional content publishers can use the advanced search to quickly make a connection with their customers and followers. Do try it once and see the results.
  • Master microblogging conversation etiquettes: And last but not the least, comes the de facto rules of Twitter communication every beginner must be familiar with.

    Having a grasp of these essential dos and don'ts can help you in making good and fruitful connections in a short period of time. So, let's get started.

    Twitter conversation
    • Sending (manual or automated) identical, promotional, and unsolicited tweets to unaware Twitter users is grossly considered as spam. Avoid at all costs.
    • While joining a conversation, always include (in your replies) all the Twitter handles which are already part of that conversation.
    • While asking for a direct message (private communication) from an unconnected Twitter handle, make sure you first follow it and then initiate the request.
    • Do not follow and unfollow users in bulk simply to gain large numbers of following. Twitter often suspend such kind of spammy accounts.
    • Try to keep your tweets short, relevant, and interesting. Do not hesitate in using an image and emojis within your tweets.
    • Do not overwhelm your timeline with a continuous burst of irrelevant retweets. Doing so may result in loss of your followers.
    • Do not forget to return the gratitude by retweeting the content and mentioning the Twitter handle of your staunch followers who actively interact with you on a consistent basis.
    • Tweet at the peak hours and liberally use hashtags to increase the reach and visibility of your content. Both these tactics are going to give positive results, beyond your expectations.
So, this finishes our comprehensive Twitter primer beginners can benefit from, instantly. Remember, it takes some time a build a decent following on any social media platform and Twitter is no exception.

Be consistent, share knowledge, help others, and last but not the least, do not tweet just for the sake of tweeting. It's time to begin your Twitter journey.