A friend asked me a question about using twitter, and the first thing I explained was that if you don’t use twitter the way to explain that is “I’m not active on twitter”, not “I don’t do the twitter”. I decided to update and republish a 5 part guide I wrote in 2012.

Twitter is a micro-blogging service available online or via various apps. It was created in 2006, but real growth in user numbers didn’t start until early 2009 which is about when I joined, a year later I started a company account which I ran for about two years. There are now about 330 Million users on Twitter.

I use my personal account (@changememe) to find new content, to post my own content (I will be tweeting this blog post), interact in regular chats and to share things I’ve found online. I’ve met new people, solved service issues, and been invited to speak at a conference via twitter. For me it’s been a positive experience and I use twitter every day. Here’s the basics to get started.

1 Your profile

There are a few things you need to figure out when setting up  your profile, think about what you want to be called on twitter, what image of yourself you want to present and what background image you would use.

Your twitter handle – essentially what are you going to call yourself. The maximum length is 15 characters, but you can use up to 50 characters for your name. You can only use letters, numbers and the underscore (_), you can change your name at any time. With millions of users a lot of the “obvious” twitter names are already in use so you will have to come up with something new; there’s a tool to help you with that.

If you are a company and someone has the twitter handle of your company name you may need to come up with a creative version of your company name. Exceptions are when the account is being used as a spam account, or when the account is inactive.

Your avatar – the picture beside your name. Twitter recommends an image size of 400px x 400px, this means it will look good on your profile page and be resized for all other uses. I suggest checking how it looks after upload though – you still want it to look good in the 73px x 73px as it appears in the stream. If you are using Twitter as part of your professional branding use a recent high-quality headshot.

Not uploading an avatar means you’ll get an anonymous silhouette image, some people won’t follow accounts that have not bothered to upload an avatar.

Header image – the large image appearing at the top of your profile page. The dimensions for this are 1500px x 500px, but it’s trickier than that because twitter places your image over the lower left of it and repositions the image slightly as it resizes the screen, this guide takes you through how to set up your header image.

Describe yourself – you can add your real name, location and a website link. You can also describe yourself in 160 characters or less, you can use hashtags in this space as well if you want to link to a theme of content.

For personal accounts there seems to be a trend to mix the professional, the personal and the humorous or surprising, as exemplified on Madeleine Albright‘s current twitter profile. Some companies try to follow this pattern, oreo manages to add humour to their profile.

twitter profile

2 Conventions for tweeting

Once you’ve got your profile set up it’s time to take a deep breath and start tweeting. Here’s a few things you need to know to get started.

@someone – beginning a tweet with someone’s user name means your tweet is brought to that person’s attention. So if you send a tweet with @changememe in it, I will see it in my notifications. This is important because I don’t watch my twitter stream all the time and if you don’t use this method I probably won’t see your tweet.

Hashtags – these are ways of adding a subject to your tweet, simply put “#” in front of the word you want to connect to. Twitter users use hashtags to find relevant information, to have conversations and to add humour to a tweet. They’ve also been used for political effect, as the #MeToo movement has shown.

3 Functions on a Tweet

twitter functions

Beneath each tweet there are four functions, here’s how they work.

Reply; tweets a response to the original tweet that appears directly beneath it, and sends a notification to the account of the original tweet.

Retweet; re posts the tweet on your own twitter account. Twitter gives you the option to add a comment to the original tweet before you post. Twitter sends a notification to the account of the original tweet.

Like; this used to have a star and be called favourites, I’m never sure whether to call it like or favourites now. It will save the tweet under your list of likes on your account, so I tend to use it as a “read later” function. Twitter sends a notification to the account of the original tweet.

DM or direct message; opens up the twitter message function.

4 Who to follow?

When you first join twitter it seems weirdly empty, until you start following people. Here are some ways to find people to follow.

Search hashtags – search for hashtags relating to your interests or your company interests, when you see some tweets of interest follow whoever tweeted them. Conferences are a fertile ground for this as they will often use a specific hashtag making your search easier. In addition the audience has already identified themselves as being interested in that theme, and the posting frequency is high for the duration of the conference.

Find Experts – who are the leaders in your industry? who would be the most influential thinkers? look for their twitter accounts, you’ll have an instant stream of content if it happens to be Guy Kawasaki.

Follow people those experts follow – or the people who are interacting and retweeting their content a lot.

Follow people back – as you start adding content to twitter and interacting with others people will start to follow you, it’s polite to follow back.

5 Activity Notifications

You will receive a notification when someone

  • follows you
  • likes your tweet
  • comments on your tweet
  • replies to your tweet
  • sends you a direct message or DMs you

OK, that’s the basic “how to” next post; constructing a good tweet, building a following, tools for twitter use. Also fakers, trolls and scams.


Your first assignment is in two parts

1: Your Profile
Set up your profile with a header image, an avatar image and a short description. Add a link to your blog or your Linkedin profile.

2: Follow
Find five people in your field who are active on twitter and follow them.


Image: Twitter via pixabay  |  CC0 1.0

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