(The real basics of how @mentions etc work are at the very bottom. If you are brand new to Twitter it might make more sense to read them first. If you're more than a complete novice begin here with these 17 items)
1. Getting Started: Follow People
When you first join Twitter you have a big empty box with a "What's Happening" question. It doesn't exactly look enticing. I've heard it compared to buying a new TV, unwrapping it, and there being no signal.
It's no fun if you're tweeting and no one will read what you say, or comment on it, and you have nothing to read yourself. The key to the quality of your experience will therefore be getting interesting people to follow, to follow you, and above all to interact with. This can seem like quite a daunting task: it took me a good year and quite a lot of effort to build up a group of people whose tweets amuse, entertain, cheer me up, inform, comfort or challenge me. However, there are some short cuts.
It's important to remember that the whole basis of Twitter is getting to know people. You don't have to know someone in real life to follow them. Don't be shy: you just click follow and people will do the same to you. It's all very informal and friendly in a way that going up to strangers in real life social situations just wouldn't be.
TIP: The quick, really practical way round this is as follows. Find someone you know in real life, who introduced you to Twitter, or whose bio you like the sound of. Often this person will have created a list or lists to follow specific people. The lists have names like "People I talk to" / "Labour tweeps" / "Cricket Fans" / "Twitterati" / "Business Class".
Whatever they call it, a list is their favourite people, perhaps sorted according to category relating to the type of people they are or what they tweet about. Just subscribe to that list. You'll instantly have access to someone else's work over a space of time in sorting people they like. The list will show all the tweets of that group of people. Just follow those whose tweets you like and you'll build up a timeline very rapidly that will interest you.
ANOTHER TIP: When looking for interesting people to follow, it can be hard to glean from their timeline, particularly if they have been having lots of conversations with people and you can't therefore easily see the type of general thing they tweet that will appear in your timeline. Have a quick look at their favourite tweets instead. These can reveal a huge amount of the type of personality they are. It's also a way of finding more great people who tweeted the thing that was favourited.
2. Your Bio
It sounds obvious, but make your bio vaguely interesting or funny. People decide who to follow on a combination of their bio, their picture, the things they've tweeted or people they follow in common.
TIP: Very few people follow back an "Egg". If you want to be anonymous: fine... but choose a more interesting avatar than the default one. They're also often seen as belonging to someone who has set up a "troll" account (more later) and often won't even be responded to, let alone followed back.
Many people start off on Twitter following loads of celebrities, who tend to have a gazillion followers. Twitter is, for me, about interacting with people. Someone who has 3 million followers and only follows 58 of their celeb friends will never follow you back or talk to you. They can often also tend to be *incredibly* dull. Do you really want to know what Paris Hilton had for supper.. do you?
TIP: Obvs therefore don't start off by following loads of celebs. They're frequently quite dull and just use Twitter as a platform. You'll find interactions with ordinary people far more rewarding. Follow a few and see what I mean. Yawnski. The only exception to this is @chordoverstreet whom you MUST follow cos he's the hot blond boy from GLEE! and I don't care his tweets are as dull as dishwater.
|It's Chord :o))|
The quality of your Twitter experience will be directly determined by the level you interact. If someone tweets something interesting or funny, engage with them on it. You don't have to know the person - as I mentioned Twitter is far more informal than real life, and in most cases the person will reply and appreciate the fact someone has reacted to something they have said. The whole beauty of Twitter is the easy interaction that is possible just by clicking on reply.
TIP: Be good at responding back yourself when someone talks to you. It's polite and kind to acknowledge a compliment. Even just a smile or a "thanks!" is enough. Twitter can be a little shouting into a dark cave: you've no idea who is listening when you tweet something. If someone has gone to the trouble of directing something back to you in response, take a second to respond. If you don't you'll soon find that person gives up trying to talk to you.
5. Following and Unfollowing
It's actually really okay to follow and unfollow people. We all get upset if we lose someone whom we spoke to and liked, but there can be all sorts of reasons for it. You may not have spoken in a while; you may find you've actually not got that much in common over time. It may (actually) be Twitter playing up. It's not like de-friending someone on Facebook - it's a lot more relaxed on here.
I've sometimes unfollowed someone just because I was a bit a bored by them or annoyed by something they said, and then refollowed them some time later. We ALL take things personally, but do try to toughen up on this front or you will get unnecessarily upset. Not everyone will like everything you have to say or appreciate your humour. It doesn't matter.
|@LassieOscar just unfollowed me!|
ANOTHER TIP: If you're following someone and they don't follow you back: so what? I've got people I've followed for a full year now who have not followed me back. I find them interesting, can still interact with them and I'm happy. Following on from this, if you were mutually following and the person unfollows you, think for a moment about whether to unfollow them back just for the sake of it. Do you really want to lose them if they've got something to say you enjoy? We're not 8 years old so don't be a big kid.
YET ANOTHER TIP: Don't stake your "Twitter Esteem" on how many people follow you. I know of people with 5000 followers who frankly are no more interesting than those with 200 followers. A real find is someone who has been on here ages, has 30 followers, but is just a delight to talk to. Similarly don't follow someone back because they have loads of followers, but ignore someone who has been pleasant, kind or funny but who happens to have a low number of followers. Everyone started off with 0 followers at some point.
6. Spam and Trolls
You'll soon come across the, erm, wonderful world of spam and trolls.
SPAMBOTS - tend to be women with improbable names and oversized cleavage, frequently based somewhere like North Dakota, who have silly bios about what they like doing and the fact they're a "genuine, kind person". Look at their timeline and you'll see all they are doing is sending links to websites which will be selling things. They may follow you, or may appear in your @ mentions.
TROLLS are real people who you don't know, whom you don't follow, who will respond to something you tweeted in a negative way. This could be because they did a search for a word you mentioned, or because your tweet was retweeted by one of your followers and they came across it that way. They will generally be obnoxious and up for an argument. There are degrees of trolling: some people like to be keyboard warriors, others genuinely get off on being personally unpleasant to strangers. That says everything about them and nothing about you.
TIP: The good Lord invented the "Block" and "Report Spam" settings for a reason! Don't let either category disturb your enjoyment of Twitter. If you want to argue with a troll you'll quickly find it pointless, draining and annoying. Resist the temptation to engage, and either ignore or block. When you block their messages will never appear in your @ mentions again.
Twitter can be a superb place. It has constantly shown me a far better, warmer, more optimistic side to humanity than the press would suggest exists about us. It's a true democracy in many respects: in many cases it doesn't matter what you have or who you are, it matters what your personality is and what your thoughts are. Huzzah!
However, there's a flip side. Never forget that Twitter is only a medium: it's made up by people. And what's more, it's people sitting at home mouthing off from the safety of the Internet. They may be judgemental, forthright or even rude in a way they would not consider acceptable in real life. It's too easy to overstep the mark: try not to forget that a real person will be receiving your tweet and reading it. You may disagree about things - but is it really appropriate to be abusive or nasty?
|Yes, she's a real person too|
Is it really nice, necessary and a good thing to let this woman (about whom all of us actually know very little) see this nasty comment? Does it make you feel good? Have you even thought about its effect? It's actually nothing short of bullying. I'd like to think most people would not be so abusive to the recipient if they did meet them in real life. Don't do it, please. This counts both for Sally and someone "ordinary" you've just had an argument about politics with.
8. Reading everything
When you're following say 50 people, you will probably want to read everything everyone has said in your timeline. It becomes impossible as you hit say 200 people that you follow. With 500, forget it entirely - you can be away from your phone or computer for an afternoon and return to 1000 new tweets to read. This will do your head in if you try to keep up with everything.
TIP: Treat Twitter like a virtual pub. You pop in, you chat to your mates, or just listen to what they have been up to and have to say without saying too much yourself. You then leave. You cannot possibly know everything that everyone has said when you weren't there. This is perfectly okay. (If someone really interests you, you can go to their timeline and catch up on their specific tweets for the last couple of days of course.)
9. Butting in on conversations
It's easy to forget that your conversation is public. If someone follows you and the other party to the conversation this third person will see the whole thing. Sometimes people will chip in and this can be great and good fun.
TIP: Unless you have something interesting to add (or know the other two really well), and you are the "third party" be just a bit sensitive about butting in. In many circumstances it's absolutely fine, and it's the nature of the forum. However in others, it can be a bit rude and might not be appreciated.
10. Trust and Anonymity
Social media depends on trust. I've had three quite yuk instances of people building up entirely false personae on here - I've blogged on two of them. It's shitty behaviour and yes it does matter. It makes people distrust Twitter, it discredits the vast majority of people who are simply themselves, and as media lawyer @JackofKent blogged "just because it's Twitter" is no excuse. Any legal offences on here are just as real as those "in real life". If you've weaseled your way into people's lives and then defraud them, that offence is just as real. If you pretend to be a teacher or doctor on Twitter, people may ask you for advice. If you're neither of those things this could actually cause real damage.
What's more, people will catch you out. If you say you've been to Malaysia recently, someone on here will actually have been and ask you about things they know about. What's the point, frankly? You think that lying or exaggerating will make you more interesting? Honestly it won't.
There is of course a world of difference between lying about being someone you're not, and choosing to be anonymous, but being yourself. Oddly, I have actually never once thought the sensational @RedEaredRabbit is actually a rabbit with red ears. He is someone who chooses to remain private about his identity; people do this for any number of reasons and it is absolutely fine. He is funny, warm, intelligent and wonderful - that's reason enough for me to follow him. He is not claiming to be something he is not.
TIP: Don't be a wanker and pretend you're Cameron's personal advisor. People will (eventually) catch you out on your lies.
Retweets can be great: it's a way of sharing interesting things on Twitter and a key strength of the medium. You see people who have interesting things to say and may end up following them as a result. However, endless retweets by people can be BLOODY boring. Just because you agree with something, do you need to flood other people's timelines with retweets? There's a temptation to do this if you're a bit unsure of yourself or feel you need to contribute something - but stop and think whether it really adds something to everyone who is following you before hitting "retweet" every 2 minutes. It's a balancing act: look at the ratio of your tweets versus RTs you're doing. I never follow anyone whose timeline is just full of RTs.
TIP: You can switch off people's RTs on Twitter on the Internet (select the person's profile and then the drop down menu next to the little head symbol). I've done this for people who RT too much, but whom I like. I want to know what they have to say, not what someone else does. I know you can pick up interesting people to follow through RTs, but with 900 odd people I follow already, that's enough for me at this stage. It makes my timeline much calmer and more manageable to have switched off selected people's RTs.
The natural pattern of the Twitter week is people being depressed it's Monday, building up to near Class A drug induced joy at the arrival of a Friday. Watch people's moods changing: it's amazing as Friday afternoon hits! Saturdays are equally fab and then towards Sunday evenings it all comes crashing back down again.
On Fridays many engage in something called "Follow Fridays" - though it is happening less than it used to. If you happen to join Twitter on a Friday you'll think we're all Moonies. Actually what is going on is people are recommending to their followers to follow someone they like, for example "#FF @HyperbolicGoat he's amazing." If you're new and someone you like has done an #FF like this, by all means take up the recommendation. However, most people seem to use this simply as a way of saying "I really like @Hyperbolicgoat and want him to know that."
TIPS: You don't need to do #FFs. It can become really tricky to do, as you don't want to inadvertently miss out people you like who might be offended. I gave up ages ago. If someone does #FF you, thank them for it - it's just good manners and actually how lovely they like you so much as to mention you like this.
ANOTHER TIP: How about #FFing just one person a week that you have a special reason to do this for? Actually explain it in the tweet - compare the simple "#FF @Peterl_77" (which says very little, if anything) and "#FF @PeterL_77 He's warm, funny, flies the flag for Labour, consistently tweets thought-provoking stuff and was so kind to me this week" (which gives people a much better idea of the person you're recommending/ and acknowledges him personally.)
13. Abbreviations, Hashtags, Asterisks
There is a whole set of abbreviations which again may make you feel like you have to learn a new language. They're actually really simple. We've dealt with "#FF". Here are some more:
- RT: a manual way of doing a retweet. You copy and paste someone's tweet and can add your own comment to supplement it
- MT: modified tweet. That's an RT that you've changed in some way and you want to make it clear you are not misrepresenting the original statement because you've amended it
- "HT" is "heard through" or "hat tip". It's a way of acknowledging that someone else put you on to a news story or a piece of information. It's good etiquette to do this: people get upset if you're ripping off material and passing it off as if you discovered it
- "IRL" is not a country with Dublin as its capital, but "in real life"
- "<THIS!" doesn't stand for anything - it actually literally means "this". The tweeter is generally saying s/he agrees strongly with something that they have put in an RT.
Hashtags are a way of flagging up a particular subject so that anyone can see all the tweets on a particular subject by doing a search. "#XFactor" and "#BBCQT" are popular ones. You tweet something like: "Did he REALLY just make that comment?! #BBCQT" and everyone knows you're referring to something that just happened on Question Time.
Hashtags can be really silly - and therefore superb fun - eg. #imnotreallyatotalpervhonest. This is hard to explain, you'll just get the knack of it. No one is ever going to do a search for that hashtag.
If you're using a 3rd party app such as Echofon you can mute certain hashtags, so tweets about, for example Question Time do not appear on your timeline.
Asterisks are normally used to EMPHASISE - eg "this is *superb* fun"... or to show an action about yourself in the 3rd person- eg "*goes off sobbing* You can also capitalise for emphasis but that comes across as shouting. This can of course be used ironically or for self-parody.
TIP: The ultimate #FAIL in Twitterquette is to steal someone's tweet and pretend you wrote it yourself (This is called Twagerism.) Always acknowledge the author of a tweet by either RTing it with their name, or saying HT (heard through) with their name. This is a consistent, wonderful self-imposed rule on Twitter adhered to by at least 99% of people. It's theft of ideas and you risk being tweleminated for breaching this rule! (not really, but people won't like you very much, so there.)
|Asterix. *Never* to be confused with Asterisks.|
A really Twitter good friend told me he'd had enough with Twitter and was leaving. I asked him to reconsider. He'd built up a really great following and if he hit delete all that would be gone. I suggested he take a couple of weeks' break instead and come back to it if he wanted. His followers wouldn't have gone anywhere. I'm glad he's done just that and I hope he'll be back.
TIP: If you're not in a mood for being sociable, you can also take another shorter type of break. Just read your timeline and don't tweet yourself. I sometimes do this of an evening and it's wonderful. It's just great seeing people chatting and knowing what they're up to without having to contribute yourself. Sounds obvious, I know.
15. The Daily Mail
We ALL hate it. The Mail hates Twitter and all those who sail in her. It is the way of the world. We even refer to it as the #FAIL and everyone knows what we're talking about. End of.
16. Libel (added post Lord McAlpine/ Newsnight)
There's been much said about Twitter users and defaming people. I've done my preachy bit too, here.
It's really very simple. If you tweet something that damages someone's reputation, that's every bit as defamatory on Twitter as it is in real life. You can avoid liability if you can prove the statement is true, but read the tip on that point and think very carefully. Pressing "retweet" is almost certainly a "republication" of someone else's libel and therefore a fresh offence by you. It is no defence to say that you are repeating an allegation made by someone else. Anonymity will not help you if the lawyers of the person aggrieved are determined to track you down.
Damages in libel cases can run into the tens of thousands of pounds. Aside from the legal aspect, there's the moral one: it isn't harmless fun to destroy someone's life by suggesting that they are a paedophile, for example. A libel on Twitter can be both by a general tweet and by a direct message: what matters is that you say something "bad" about someone and a minimum of just one other person reads it.
TIP: Apply this test: could the thing that you are about to tweet about someone been seen as damaging a reputation? If so, do you know it is true, as opposed to believing it to be true, or have heard from someone else that it's true? Does your confidence go so far as to be able to stand in court and demonstrate this? Consider that the burden of proof flips in libel cases: you will have to prove on a balance of probabilities that a defamatory statement is true. If you're happy, tweet away. If not, don't.
[disclaimer: I am not a practising solicitor and this should be seen as general guidance, not replied upon as an exhaustive explanation of the law that you should rely upon. If in doubt, contact a solicitor]
17. Favouriting Tweets
You can hit the favourite key and a tweet will then be saved to your favourites. I've already mentioned that this can be a handy way to find out what someone is like, or to find new people to follow.
People use favouriting in different ways, and this has changed recently for many people. It used to be a way of keeping a few select tweets that you really liked for prosperity. It was also used by many to "bookmark" a tweet for later: for example a Youtube clip that you want to watch when you are at home and have wifi, rather than using up data allowances on your phone.
Recently however people have been using "favourite" increasingly as a "like" feature as on Facebook. It's a quick way of acknowledging a tweet that was sent to you, or bringing a polite end to a conversation. I most amusingly thought my (now) boyfriend fancied me because he "favourited" virtually every tweet I sent to him. He in fact was being lazy and couldn't be bothered to talk to me. Oh well, how fortunate for me I misunderstood the multiple uses of this feature!
NOW SOME PRACTICAL THINGS FOR COMPLETE BEGINNERS
You're welcome to skip past these 17 points if you've been on Twitter for a while and go straight for the offer of a beer at the end!
General vs @Tweets
1) There's a distinction between general tweets & tweets directed at a particular person (@tweets)
2) A general tweet is one you just type and that all your followers will see. Anyone doing a search for any keyword in that tweet will also see it.
3) @tweets, by contrast, start off with the @ symbol plus the name right at the start of the message e.g. "@HyperbolicGoat Have you eaten many table legs recently?" This tweet would appear only in HyperbolicGoat's timeline, and would not show in the timeline of the rest of my followers.
4) The exception to 3 is where someone follows both me AND HyperbolicGoat. It enables that "mutual follower" to see the conversation happening between us and join in if s/he wishes (Note, see "Butting In, above".)
5) Sometimes you want to publicise an @tweet to someone and make sure all your followers see it. You can do this my simply not putting the @ right at the start of the message. e.g. ".@HyperbolicGoat is a lovely person, follow him!"
6) Alternatively you could put the name anyway else in the tweet e.g. "I had a great drink this evening with @HyperbolicGoat and @Dancing_Piglet".
7) There are many ways to keep the @ away from the first position in the tweet - "@ or ,@ or .@ all work just as well.
8) To see if anyone has referred to you in a tweet like this, you have to go to the "@mentions" section of your timeline.
9) Similarly, if someone who you don't follow has interacted with you, the message will not appear in your timeline because you don't follow them. Instead you need to go to the "@mentions" section to see it.
10) You cannot use the @ symbol followed by any word or it will appear in the @mentions of the person with that username. If you write "I wanted to laugh @Oscar" - it would have popped up in the mentions of whichever random person has the name "@Oscar". What you actually should have written is "I wanted to laugh at Oscar" or even "I wanted to laugh @ Oscar" with a space in between.
11) You can protect your tweets so that only your followers can see them. You may want to do this for any number of reasons, including for example if you're a teacher and don't want your pupils seeing your private persona. It will also lead to less spam (annoying marketing people who randomly pick up on keywords you have used and provide you with links to websites). However it makes it less likely you will pick up new followers, as people can't see what you're saying.
12) If your account is protected, you cannot be retweeted by use of the "retweet" button. People still can retweet you though by copying and pasting your tweet with the letters "RT" at the start of the tweet. They generally won't do so without having the decency to ask first. Your account is protected for a reason after all.
13) If your account is protected and you reply to someone who is not following you, they cannot see your tweet. Even experienced Twitter users frequently don't realise this.
14) If someone Google searches your username your tweets will not appear if you have protected them. Only if you have allowed them to follow you, will the Google search throw up your timeline (sophisticated and quite impressive, eh?)
15) Twitter is inherently a public medium. This is why you should be aware that anything you type, even in an @message is potentially viewable by anyone. The only exception is if your account if protected - and even then your own approved followers can see the tweet, screen grab, and repost it if they so choose.
16) The exception is the direct message. This is a way of having a completely private conversation between just two people. You can only send a "DM" to someone who follows you and they can only reply if you follow them back. Remember however that a libel passed by a DM still constitutes a libel even if just one person reads it.
17) The direct message is sometimes called the "Dark Room of Twitter" as this is where all the confidential, naughty stuff goes on. Apparently. Ahem. However: concerns have been raised that it is not quite as secure as you might think and it can be hacked. Further, any photos you post may well be viewable in your general photo stream. Therefore if you want to be really naughty and are worried about confidentiality, save it for email or texts which are inherently more secure.
RIGHT, this was meant to be a quick blog. It's turned into something almost as long as a 19th century Russian novel. Biers are on me if you made it this far! If you've found it useful, do please share this post with people you know are new to Twitter. It's a great medium and there are precious few practical "how to" guides in my experience.