The Beginner’s Guide to Twitter

I originally wrote this post in May 2008. I have learned a lot since then. Twitter has also changed since then. I have updated this post to reflect both.

This post is a 20-minute guide to Twitter for non-techies. If you don’t know what Twitter is, start with my first post on the topic, Twitter-dee, Twitter-dum. If you still aren’t convinced it’s worth your time, then read my 12 Reasons to Start Twittering.

A Finger About to Click on the iPhone Twitter App - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/ymgerman, Image #17221776

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/ymgerman

Over the last few years, I have helped several friends and a few family members get setup on Twitter. I found myself explaining the basics over and over again, so I decided to write a simple, step-by-step guide.

If you are new to Twitter, this will get you up and running fast. If you know someone who needs a little help or motivation getting started, send them a link to this post.

Just follow these eight steps.

  1. Set up your account. Go to Twitter to get started. Enter your name, email, and a password. Click Sign up.

    You will now be taken to a second screen where can select a username. This is the name by which you will be known on Twitter. What name should you use?

    Your real name is best—if it’s available. If not, you can try using a middle initial or prefacing it with something like “the” or “real” (e.g., “TheFrankDavis” or “Real FrankDavis”).

    Also, I recommend using initial caps and in-word caps. It will make your username more readable and memorable. For example: I use “MichaelHyatt” rather than simply “michaelhyatt.”

    Now click on the Create my account button. That’s it. You are now official a member of the Twitter community. Congratulations!

    Next, Twitter will assist you in getting started. It will explain what a tweet is and give you the opportunity to “follow” a few friends, popular people, or brands. You can opt out of these steps for now if you wish. Simply click the Skip this step link.

    Twitter will also give you a chance to see if some of your friends are on Twitter by checking your online address book. However, your contacts will have to be in one of the supported services: GMail, Hotmail, Yahoo, or AOL. Also, you’ll only see users who have allowed their accounts to be found by email address.

    This wasn’t that helpful to me when I initially started, since my contacts resided in Microsoft Outlook. However, I had a GMail account, so I just exported my contacts from Outlook and then imported them into Gmail. It worked flawlessly. However, if you get stuck, forget this step. You can add your friends later.

  2. Tweak your settings. Make sure you are on your Twitter home page. Click on the Settings link. You should be on the Account tab. Set the time zone.

    Do not check “Protect my updates” unless you only want those whom you approve to be able to get your updates. Personally, if you check this, it will seriously limit the fun. Make whatever other changes you want. Click the Save button.

    Now click on the Profile tab. Upload your picture. This is important. Many Twitter users (including me) will not follow users without photos, because it is a tell-tale sign of a spammer. Remember that the maximum upload size of your photo is 700k, so you may have to re-size your image to meet this requirement.

    Enter the rest of your information, including your location, website or blog (if any), and a brief bio. This, too, is important to keep you from getting flagged as a possible spammer. Your bio can either be serious or fun, but it must be brief—no more than 160 characters.

    Note that you can also connect your Twitter account to Facebook on this page. This will post all your Tweets directly to Facebook. Personally, I don’t recommend this, but you may want to do it. You can always change the setting later.

    When you are finished, click the Save button.

  3. Setup your phone. Twitter is much more fun if you connect it to your cell phone. By doing so, you can receive updates from those you are following (or just some of them) as well as send your own updates. It’s all done through text messaging (e.g., SMS).

    However, be forewarned: While Twitter doesn’t charge anything for this service, your phone carrier might. It’s a good idea to check with them and make sure you are on an “unlimited text messaging plan.” You don’t want to be surprised with a big phone bill.

    Again, under the Settings link, click on the Mobile tab. Enter your mobile phone number and click on the Start button. Now take your cell phone and text message the code Twitter gives you to 40404 (the number will be different if you are outside the U.S.). Be patient. Eventually, Twitter will confirm to you that your device is registered.

    If you are using an iPhone, Twitter is built into the operating system (at least if you are using iOS 5 and up). You can set it up by opening the Preferences app, scrolling down the screen, and touching the Twitter section. This will give you the ability to post updates to Twitter from within many iPhone applications, including the Photo app.

    Now, while still on your cell phone, set up a contact named “Twitter.” For the mobile phone number, use 40404. Now every time you want to send a Twitter update, you will send it to this contact name.

  4. Follow family and friends. If you haven’t done so already, add your family and friends by clicking in the “Search” field at the top of your home page. You can type in a username or first and last name. When you do, you will get a list of users who match your search criteria.

    You can also do a more advanced search (e.g., searching by location) by clicking on “Refine results” or by going directly to the Advanced Search page.

    You can begin “following” them by simply clicking on the Follow button. If you want to also follow them on your cell phone, then you can turn the “Device Updates” to “on.” Personally, I only follow my family and a few close friends on my cell phone. Regardless, you will be able to see everyone you follow on your Twitter home page.

  5. Learn the basic commands. Think of Twitter as a room full of people, all sitting in a circle. It’s a conversation. When you update your status, you are speaking to the whole group. Everyone can hear what you have to say.
    • Replies. If you want to direct your comments to one specific person in the circle, but loud enough that everyone else can hear, use the “Reply” function. You address the person by using their Twitter user name preceded by the “@” symbol. For example:

      @spencesmith I get my haircut at Dion’s South in downtown Franklin.

      Everyone who is following Spence and me will see the message, but I am specifically directing it to Spence. (Those who are not following both of us will not see the message.)

      You can also use the Reply function to refer to someone by name. For example:

      I’m headed to dinner at Tin Angel with @gailhyatt and @meghmiller. I am looking forward to trying the new menu.

      The thing about replies is that they are “clickable links.” If someone who is following me, clicks on one of the names, they will automatically go to that person’s Twitter page. This will give them the opportunity to follow that person, too.

    • Direct Messages. Continuing with the metaphor of a conversation with a room full of people, you can also use the “direct message” function. This is like whispering in one person’s ear. They can hear you, but no one else can. You are directing the message to them and only them. For example:
      d lnobles Can you bring my Business Review notebook down to the cafeteria conference room?

      Or:

      d gailhyatt It looks like I will not be able to leave the office for another 30 minutes. Bummer.

      Twitter direct messages have largely replaced simple text messaging for me and many people I know.

    • Hash tags. You are probably familiar with tagging photos with a short piece of text. Twitter has this capability, too.

      The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages. If you click on a hash tag, it will show you all the other tweets associated with a hashtag.

      I have attended many conferences where an official hashtag was announced. This enables everyone at the conference to track what everyone is saying about the conference.

      For example, someone might say:

      Man, I loved @AndyStanley’s opening talk. He never ceases to speak to me. #cat2011

      #Cat2011 was the hashtag for the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta in the fall of 2011.

    • Other Commands. You can add people you want to follow from your cell phone. Just type in “follow [username].” For example:
      Follow kendavislive

      You can check your stats–the number of people you are following plus the number of people following you–from your cell phone by typing “stats” without any additional text.

      To stop all Twitter updates to your phone, send:

      off

      To turn them back on send:

      on

      You can find answers to almost every other Twitter question in the Twitter Help Center.

  6. Start twittering. So now you are all setup. It’s time to start Twittering. You can do this from your Twitter home page or from your cell phone.

    The main thing you need to know is that the message can be no longer than 140 characters long. If you use the Web page, the entry field will automatically count your characters. After a while, you’ll instinctively know how long this is. I rarely go over the limit. But if you do, it’s no big deal. Your message will just be truncated.

    How often should you Twitter? That’s the 30-character question. My daughter @meghmiller says, “Don’t Twitter more than six times a day.” Personally, I think 10–12 is the upper limit. Obviously, there’s a balance here. Some of the people I follow, post way more updates than that.

    The real issue is whether or not you are adding something of value. There’s an old Jerry Seinfeld comedy routine called “Air Travel.” In it, he talks about airline pilots who insist on telling us all about the route they are taking. (Like anyone cares.)

    He says, as passengers, we don’t knock on the cockpit door and say, “Oh, by the way, I’m eating the peanuts now.” (Obviously this was pre-911.) So why do pilots feel the need to update us? All we care about is getting to the destination.

    In like manner, no one probably wants to hear the blow-by-blow of your life. However, some color commentary is good. However, this is definitely art not science, so there are no hard, fast rules.

    Regardless, you should consider every Twitter update as a branding impression. You are developing a reputation with your online friends, so make sure you are adding something to the conversation.

    This is really no different than a face-to-face conversation. You want to say something that is interesting, helpful, or just plain entertaining. I don’t think you should over-think it, but I don’t think you should just text the first thing that pops in your mind.

  7. Be careful. You definitely need to be cautious. It’s probably not a good idea to say something like, “I’m headed to the west coast for a week. My poor, beautiful wife is going to be home all alone.” Bad idea. For obvious reasons.

    You need to think about the fact that crazy people and criminals have Twitter accounts, too. You especially need to be cautious about sharing too much private information that could compromise your safety or that of your loved ones.

    I have also had some experience with stalkers, so you may only want to Twitter after you have gone somewhere, not before. Otherwise, you might find people showing up to watch you. (Don’t laugh. It has happened to me on several occasions.)

  8. Consider third-party apps. An entire eco-system has sprung up around Twitter. Here are some of my favorite applications:
    • HootSuite. This is the application I use to manage Twitter on my desktop. It will even manage Facebook profiles and pages, LinkedIn, and several other social media services. It is great because it allows you to segment people by groups (or columns). I have groups for my family, close friends, colleagues, etc. It is available for both desktop systems and mobile devices.
    • BufferApp. I use this application to post my tweets, so I don’t flood my followers with a string of posts. Instead, I put them in Buffer, and it spreads my tweets throughout the day. It gives you tremendous control. You can determine how often and at what times you tweet. It comes with extensions for the most popular browsers, so you can buffer a tweet directly from a web page. It also allows you to buffer Facebook status updates.
    • SocialOomph. I use this application to bulk-schedule a whole series of tweets. For example, I have identified my 90 most popular blog posts. I have written a tweet promoting each one. Via SocialOomph, I schedule one tweet per day at a specific time. I upload the text file to SocialOomph and forget about it. Everything is on auto-pilot. It will also post to Facebook.

    It is easy to get overwhelmed with all the third-party Twitter apps. Don’t. Start with HootSuite and then grow from there as you have the time and interest.

Twitter is one of those apps that is best learned by using it. The most important thing you can do is get started. You really can’t make that many mistakes. Just remember to have fun and enjoy the people you meet online.

Questions: What questions do you have about Twitter? What else would you recommend to Twitter beginners? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Waulter

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  • P. Petro

    How can I make sure that my tweet has been received by the person I sent it to?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      You can either use the direct message function (if they follow you) or the mention function (if they don’t). However, this doesn’t guarantee they will see it. It’s just like email in that sense. Just because you send a message doesn’t mean they will read it.

      • P. Petro

        Many thanks for your prompt reply. Here is a more concise phrasing of my question: Let’s say I have a shortcut of your twitter page ( https://twitter.com/michaelhyatt ) on my desktop’s screen. I click on it and I am taken to the above page. On the left-hand side of the page I can write and send you a tweet. I haven’t even been asked to log in. Will I see my tweet posted on the above-mentioned page-link of yours seconds afterwards? Even if I am not following you?

        • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

          Why don’t you try it?

          • P. Petro

            I tried it, as you suggested, by clicking on “Follow me on Twitter” on top (right) of this page, by sending you a tweet, once not “following” you, and a 2nd time after having clicked on “follow”, to see if it makes a difference. I wasn’t asked to log in. Up to now (15 min. later) I don’t see either of my tweets on this page https://twitter.com/MichaelHyatt. Maybe later? Or should I be looking at another page?

          • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

            How are you “sending me a tweet”? You can’t send me a direct message, because I don’t follow you. You can address me publicly by beginning your message with “@MichaelHyatt” — this means it will appear in my Connect feed. Thanks.

          • P. Petro

            I am sending you a tweet by clicking here: https://twitter.com/MichaelHyatt/with_replies

            My message is not direct or private, but public so that anyone can see it. I sent it once before I clicked on “follow” and again after having clicked on “follow”, to see if it makes a difference. Does it make a difference?

            As you may see if you click on the above-mentioned link, “@MichaelHyatt” is already there pre-printed in the beginning of the blank space where I can write my tweet. I then go ahead and write it beginning my message with the pre-printed “@MichaelHyatt”. Where will it appear (unfortunately your last sentence in your reply above was unfinished) so that can I see if you have received them, either both or any one of my tweets? Pls give me the link.

            Many, many, many thanks.

          • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

            Yes, I received it. I just replied to you on Twitter. Thanks.

  • John Richmond

    Thanks for this information – very helpful. I have one question, and this is driving me nuts. If I post to a hashtag, fine, that Tweet shows up on that hashtag. If I post a Tweet that includes a URL, again, fine, that Tweet shows up on my timeline, under my handle. However! If I post a Tweet with a hashtag AND a URL – that Tweet does NOT show up on the hashtag. Everyone else seems to do this with no problem – is there some trick to it that I’m missing?
    Thanks for any help
    John Richmond
    http://www.jrichmond.net

  • Fino

    Michael, hi, I have a questions in relation to this article which hopefully you can help with. I’m new to twitter and run a small business. I want my clients to follow me but not to interact with each other via twitter because they found each other via my twitter account as they are following me. Is there a way for me to ask my clients to follow me and to post tweets to them, have them respond but not see each other’s details. The clients see each other regularly but they do not exchange info as they are exercising and then they go home but I have a huge client list now and I thought I should join the social networking life but I don’t want the twitter account to become a place for obtaining info or one client communicating with the other in a personal way via the twitter account, that is posting something inappropriate that should be done via email

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      You can’t control how someone else uses Twitter. It might not be the right medium for what you want to accomplish.

  • Celeste

    I am just about to create my first Twitter account…but I also have a business. So, should I use my business name as my username…or as my handle? OR should I use my name? Help! Thanks, Celeste (celmarie1994@gmail.com) I am not set up yet on twitter so you can’t communicate with me in that way.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I would start with your personal name. People like to connect with people rather than institutions. Eventually, you will want both.

  • EvenleyCC

    If I am following someone on twitter and they post a tweet should I get an email confirming this

    Thanks
    Mike

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      No, you should not.

      • EvenleyCC

        Michael
        Okay thanks
        I was under the impression you should

        Thanks
        Mike

  • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

    Yes, I have a post called 12 Ways to Get More Twitter Followers. Hope that helps.

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  • Conor Lyons

    Well Done on the post, Really helpful I showed some of my family the post and they managed to get there head around twitter after reading it.

    I got a member of our team at nova to create a detailed blog post about the basics of twitter… Take a look and tell me what you think?…

    http://www.novadigitalmedia.com/basics-of-twitter/

  • LadyAngler 46

    trying to “get started. no matter how many names I put on my list, I never get any other page–no settings, no home page–just the demand to add more names. really, i don’t care what all those people do! guess i’ll abandon this like all those other weird things (opps?)that don’t work on my computer and phone

  • Joe

    Hi, if i tweet a person iam following and my accounts public then after i tweetd him i then decide to protect my tweets will that tweet still b viewable to him. Thanx

  • esther

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  • JeanKrauss

    I am new to Twitter. What does it mean when a bell sounds after posting some Tweets? should I respond to it, and how do I do that on my Nook HD+ tablet?

  • Deborah Mayo

    How can I see all of the tweets posted by people I follow?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      They are in your Twitter stream. Just go to the main Twitter page, login, and they will be the Tweets you see. They appear in the stream in the order they were posted. If you want to see all the tweets from a specific person, go to their Twitter page.

  • Lotty keys

    Late to comment!! But found this post and it’s exactly what I need. Can anyone suggest how I would introduce twitter into a secondary school. Has anyone created a survey to see what the global used within the school would be?

    Any help appreciated

  • Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

    “He says, as passengers, we don’t knock on the cockpit door and say, “Oh, by the way, I’m eating the peanuts now.” (Obviously this was pre-911.) So why do pilots feel the need to update us? All we care about is getting to the destination.”

    Bullshit.

  • Sahil patil

    Thank you dude

  • http://raisingtobless.com/ Paula

    I would LOVE to see a video of how you keep up with everyone else’s tweets. Do you scroll way back to the last tweet you remember reading? Or do you just set a time limit and start scroll back through tweets until the time limit is up? I nee.d a post on how to READ tweets too. This was good for getting started by opening an account and how to post. Do you have one on how to read all the tweets? Thanks

  • Lisa

    Can you follow somebody on twitter but hide them from your other followers?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Yes, just add them to a list. You don’t have to follow them to do this.

  • Dora

    Thanks for the great article. Great info. Do you have any guides or how-tos for Twitter chat for business. Thanks.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I’m afraid not. Thanks.

  • Peaches

    I am still struggling. If I follow @joesoap and send a tweet to @joesoap, will everyone that follows him also see my tweet even if they don’t follow me? Also, will he see the Tweet if he does not follow me?

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Yes, and Yes. They will both be able to see your tweet, though, they may not choose to view or respond to it.

  • StevZar

    Should I ever log out of twitter? How?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I never do. If you need too, there is a link to do that.

  • http://www.socialmediastrategyplan.blogspot.com krrahman

    The guide you have shared it is very very helpful to newbie but you may add more tricks for advance users as well.
    http://socialmediastrategyplan.blogspot.com

  • Helen

    When I am on a site like DWTS and everyone is tweeting. I would like to join in the chats. However, I get an error message saying Safari doesn’t recognize the site or something like that. My tweets show up on my page but not on the page I want to chat on like everyone elses. What am I doing wrong?

    • http://www.productiveinsights.com/ Ash

      Hi Helen. I’d love to try and help you. What’s DWTS though? Can you send me a link to this page you’re referring to?

      • Helen

        Dancing With The Stars

        • http://www.productiveinsights.com/ Ash

          Hi Helen. Thanks for your response. I suspect they might be using a hashtag like #DWTS at the end of each of their tweets. Perhaps that’s what’s missing in your tweets.

          I use safari on my Mac for twitter and it works fine so I would imagine safari isn’t causing the problem.

          Are you using hashtags at the end of your tweets? (#DWTS)?

      • Helen

        Actually it doesn’t matter what show I am trying to chat with this is what I get

  • Smoojie

    http://Www.smoojie.com.au just launching a new business called smoojie this was helpful!

  • Chirston Michealvamp

    GET YOUR EX BACK NOW IN THE NAME OF PROPHET AKHIDE OK EMAIL PROPHETESS ON PROPHETAKHIDESOLUTIONTEMPLE@GMAIL.COM

  • Sr So

    toooooo much reading , so bored confused.