Twitter Tips: Getting Started

English: Tweeting bird, derived from the initi...
Tweeting bird, derived from the initial 't' of Twitter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Not everyone who tries Twitter will find it to be particularly useful, relevant, or entertaining. That's to be expected. I know of no social media service that everyone finds beneficial. Moreover, Twitter seems to have more obstacles to effective use than some of the other networks in the sense that there are a number of unwritten "rules" nobody tells you about but that will tick people off when you violate them.

I have come to appreciate and enjoy Twitter since I started using it in 2008, even though I'll acknowledge that it took me awhile to get to that point. It occurs to me that there probably some readers out there who have been curious about it and aren't sure where to start or what they need to know. And so, I thought it might be fun to share some of the things I've learned about Twitter in the hopes that someone else might find it useful.

This post will start at the very beginning with the task of creating a new Twitter account. Believe it or not, it is possible to make mistakes at this early stage of the process that may detract from one's subsequent experience using Twitter.

When you sign up for a new Twitter account, you will be asked to enter your full name, email address, and a password. You do not have to use your real full name - you can enter anything you want here. As you will see here, I used the name of this blog (i.e., Atheist Revolution). This is one of the first and most important decisions you will need to make: use your real name or a pseudonym of some sort. Unfortunately, this is the decision where I can offer the least guidance. There are pros and cons of each option, and you'll need to decide what you think makes the most sense for you.

Twitter also requires you to enter a valid email address, and it will use this address to confirm your account. By default, Twitter will also use this email address to send you an endless stream of email you will not want (e.g., emailing every time someone follows you, etc.). Fortunately, it will be easy to opt out of these emails once your account is set up (you find that under Settings - Email notifications).

join Twitter

Once your full name (or whatever alternative you decide to use), email address, and password have been entered, you will be required to select your Twitter username. This is far more important than many new users realize because this is how you will forever be known on Twitter. The most important tip I can give you here is to select the shortest username you can and make it easy to spell. You will want others to retweet the content you share and to communicate with you; having a shorter username makes this easier. What you select as your username is less important than its length and the ease with which others can spell it.

At this point, Twitter is going to try to get you to follow other users on Twitter to get started. It will recommend a few people to follow, and these recommendations are typically awful. My suggestion is to ignore them and not worry about following anyone just yet. We have a few more things to do to finish setting up your account that are going to be far more important than following random celebrities that Twitter is going to push on you. Twitter will also try to get you to allow it to access your email contacts to find people you know in real life who are also on Twitter. I would skip this for now too.

There are four things I recommend that you do with your new Twitter account before giving any thought to finding people to follow. First, you need to edit your profile by filling in your Twitter bio. From your account's Home page, select "Me" and then click "Edit profile." The text field under your account name and username is your bio. This is one of the most important things you will do in Twitter because this is the information that most other users will use to determine whether or not you are worth following.

Twitter profileWhat I recommend you do for your bio is provide some descriptive information that gives other Twitter users an idea of why they might want to follow you. For example, what sort of content are you going to provide on Twitter? If you plan to have a particular focus (e.g., atheism), say so here. This is going to be far more effective in helping people decide whether to follow you than saying something you think is clever but ends up making you sound like a moron.

When I look at your bio, I am trying to figure out if you are tweeting about the sort of things I want to hear about. You see "#atheism" and "#skepticism" in my bio to indicate that these are topics I regularly tweet about. You do not need to obsess over having a perfect bio now because you can always come back and edit it later. But don't leave it blank; do the best you can to fill it in now with something relevant.

The second thing you need to do with your new account is add a profile picture. Ideally, you want a square image 500 pixels x 500 pixels. What you use as your profile picture is not critically important. My primary recommendation here is to select something that you will be happy with for a long time. The image associated with your Twitter account will quickly become part of your brand and how you are known on Twitter. It shows up next to what you tweet for other users. Frequently changing your profile picture Will throw off other users. I'm not saying you should never change your profile picture, only that you should not change it frequently. As with your bio, do not leave your profile picture as the default egg image. Many Twitter users will not follow anyone who is using the default profile picture because it suggests that the account is either brand-new or that the person using it has no idea what they're doing. Put something in there now, and change it to something more permanent as soon as you can.

Third and least important is the header image that goes at the top of your profile page. Many users leave this blank, and I don't think there is anything wrong with doing so for now. Still, this gives you another way to make an impression on people who are considering whether to follow you. The simplest thing you can do is find a good photo you like, format it to the appropriate size (currently 1500 x 500 pixels) and use it here. If you want to design a custom header or make sure that your photo fits perfectly, you can find some information here about how to size everything for optimum fit. For the Twitter account I use for this blog, I went with a simple custom image. For the new Twitter account I recently set up for Mississippi Atheists, I went with a somewhat different custom image.

The last thing I recommend you do now is modify a few of your account settings. Click the icon at the top of your screen that looks like a gear and select "Settings." Be sure the time zone is accurate and the the correct country is selected. Under "Email notifications" I suggest unchecking everything or turning off email (which is what I do).

Now your account is set up, and you can start looking for people to follow. My recommendation is that you start small and slow. Follow no more than 10 people and pay attention to how they use Twitter. You don't need to tweet yet; just observe others and learn what you can about the many different ways others use Twitter. Since you are reading an atheist blog, I'm going to assume that you have some interest in atheism. You might search Twitter using the atheism hashtag (#atheism) to get a sense of what others are saying about it. When you find someone who sounds interesting, click on their name. This will bring up their profile summary. Click on "go to full profile" at the bottom to see their Twitter profile. This is a great way to find a few people who might be worth following.

You can find me on Twitter @vjack. The next post in this series will give you some additional suggestions about how to find interesting people to follow.

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