Twitter for Beginners
by Joel Friedlander
Twitter just gets bigger and bigger. It’s really the perfect medium for getting the word out quickly, making a point, poking your opponents while they are still in the middle of a speech, or complaining about NFL refs. And of course Twitter is also an amazing resource for publishers and authors who want to market their books online.
But it’s not just book marketing, Twitter is so much more. Over the last few years we’ve seen this groundbreaking “microblogging” service transform into a worldwide communications utility. Twitter has played a major role in revolutionary struggles and social transformations.
Closer to home, Twitter has become a preferred method for celebrities, corporations, customer service departments, software developers, food trucks, dry cleaners, and political movements to stay in touch with followers, customers, colleagues, and fans.
Sometimes tweets can seem cryptic, but they are just as often illuminating, ironic, pointed, funny, or melancholy. Really, the only limitation of the utility of Twitter seems to be its 140-character limit.
I enjoy Twitter and have been an avid—and appreciative—user for several years. It has brought tens of thousands of visitors to my blog, allowed me to meet and get to know colleagues and readers around the world, helped me arrange writing and speaking opportunities. Oh, it’s also a lot of fun.
If you’re not using it yet, here’s how I suggest you get started.
Step by Step to Tweeting
1. Go to Twitter.com and sign up. You’ll need an email address, and you’ll get to pick your Twitter ID in the process.
2. Fill out your profile and upload a photo of yourself so you look presentable to the rest of the Twitter world.
3. Find some people to follow (who may then follow you back) so you can make connections and participate profitably in discussions.
One of the best search engines for finding people to follow on Twitter is the one Twitter itself provides, which you can use to search for keywords found in your niche and for subjects that are popular right now in real time (trending topics). Tweepz.com is a useful tool too.
Look at some of the people in your niche who have already built up a healthy list of followers. Go through their follower lists to find people whom you may want to follow, and who might be interested in following you.
Then check the bios of the people turned up by your searches to see who might be a good match. Gradually you’ll build up lists of people interested in your topic from many angles.
Your next task is to listen. Keep reading the messages posted by people you are following, and follow new people who are also interested in the topic.
Once you start following people, Twitter will suggest other users to you on your home page. Follow them too. You can always “unfollow” them later if you want to do that.
After you’ve opened your Twitter account and spent some time listening, you can dive in to tweeting. Oh, and send me a tweet, I’ll be happy to respond.
Decoding the Language
To use Twitter, you need to know some basic terms and concepts.
Follow/Unfollow. When you follow people you’re interested in, every time one of them posts a tweet, it will show up on your home page, in your “timeline” or “stream.” Likewise, whoever follows you will see the tweets you post.
Tweet. A message you send via Twitter. Tweets are limited to 140 characters and can include links to Websites or other resources. You can’t style these tweets; they are all just plain text.
Re-tweet (or RT). You re-tweet by sending a tweet by another user to your own followers. You can do this by clicking the “Re-tweet” button that appears when you hover your cursor over a tweet on Twitter, or by using the RT button in many programs that work with Twitter.
Modified tweet (or MT). A tweet that’s been modified in some way before being re-tweeted.
Twitter ID (or handle, username, etc.). The name you create for your account when you set it up. Your Twitter ID always starts with an “at” sign (@). For instance, @BarackObama is the Twitter ID for the U.S. president. Pick your ID carefully; you’ll be using it for a long time.
Lists. You can create lists of other Twitter users, and you get to control who is on each list. Twitter Lists are a terrific way to segment the people you follow, and to create streams of tweets organized around subject areas. This makes Twitter a lot easier to use as your follower base grows. For instance, I maintain one list for people involved with e-books and another list for people involved with self-publishing. If you are also involved in one or both of these niches, take a look at these lists and you’ll get the idea.
Direct message (or DM). A private message you send to another user who is following you. No one else can see a DM. If you are following each other, you can carry on a completely private conversation this way. (When you follow people, sometimes you’ll get a direct message from one of them instantly. These are automatic, and I think most users avoid them. Don’t feel obligated to respond.)
Trends (trending). Twitter’s software robots monitor what people are tweeting about and select the top 10 subjects at any moment, displaying them on your home page.
Hashtag. That funny little string of characters people put at the end of their tweets, consisting of the pound sign (#) followed by a word or phrase with no spaces within it. Hashtags provide a way to indicate that a tweet is part of a larger conversation or related to a specific topic or event. They are also really useful for filtering the stream of tweets to see those specific topics and for signifying membership in a group. For more on this topic, see Hashtags.org.
Profile picture (or avatar). A clear, professional and friendly photo is usually best, right from the beginning.
Bio. The most crucial part of your Twitter profile, so you want to use the 160 characters allowed to say something meaningful about your work and your interests.
Blocking. Instead of unfollowing someone (which you might not want to do because they would know you dropped them), you can simply block that person’s tweets. It’s easy; see the link for instructions.
Mention. A reference to someone by @Twitter ID in someone else’s tweet.
.@ (a period followed by a user’s Twitter ID). If you tweet in reply to another user, your tweet will begin with that user’s Twitter ID, starting with its “at” sign (@). Twitter may not send this tweet to all your followers, since it considers it a more or less “private” conversation. If you want your reply to go to all your followers, put a period in front of the @.
Sharing for Success
None of this will tell you what to write when you want to start publishing your own tweets. But watching the people you admire, and the people who seem to have a lot of followers, will show you one very important thing: Those who seem most successful on Twitter share lots of useful, interesting, or amusing resources from other people, interspersed with tweets about their own content, books, or other projects.
If you do the same, you will also be popular. I think sending one tweet about your own content for every three or four tweets sharing other people’s content is a good ratio for most of us.
When you’re new on Twitter, it may seem that it’s taking a long time to build a base. But remember that getting quality followers—people who actually engage with you and your subject matter—can’t happen quickly. This is a true digital asset you are building, so don’t worry about the numbers; they will come.
Joel Friedlander, who blogs about book design and the indie publishing life at TheBookDesigner.com, is an award-winning book designer; the proprietor of Marin Bookworks, a publishing services company in San Rafael, CA; and the author of A Self-Publisher’s Companion.