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The Newcomers Guide To Twitter Part 1: Getting Started #New2Twitter

The Newcomers Guide To Twitter is a ten-part series of introductory lessons, tips and suggestions for people using Twitter for the first time. Please share these articles with your friends, family, colleagues and anyone you know who is struggling to “get Twitter”.

So you’re thinking about joining Twitter, or maybe you’ve just signed up? Congratulations! You’re going to have a lot of fun.

Now what?

Twitter comes with a pretty steep learning curve, and if your experience with social networking is low (or limited to just Facebook), Twitter can be a little confusing, especially at first. It just feels… weird, and can quickly become overwhelming.

However, there’s no need to be intimidated. Twitter essentially boils down to three things you’ve been doing all of your life: reading, writing and sharing. Here are 10 tips to get you started:

1. Twitter Isn’t Facebook

Facebook skews towards being friends with people you know in real life – which you might call ‘friends’ but they’re often, at best, almost-forgotten acquaintances – Twitter is more about making new connections, sharing knowledge and riding the information curve. Sure it’s okay and normal to follow and engage with people you do know, too, but that’s less of a requirement on Twitter.

2. It’s YOUR Twitter

Ask yourself: why am I using Twitter? What do you hope to accomplish? What could you accomplish? When you first join Twitter it’s very much a blank page with absolutely no activity. Shape it as you will. And if you don’t like what you see, it’s your fault (not Twitter’s), so change it.

3. You Are What You Tweet

Unlike Facebook, Twitter is a completely public social network. Unless you choose to protect your tweets (which is not recommended), there are no walls. The things you say are visible to all 200m+ users on Twitter (at least, theoretically) and are also tracked by Google and numerous other search engines and aggregators.

However, this doesn’t matter as that’s how it’s meant to be: Twitter is all about sharing information. So, be bold, and be brave, and be remarkable, but also be mindful about your online legacy, which has already started and is about to get monitored even more closely and likely be visible forever.

4. Jargon

Twitter has some really strange jargon. And Twitter knows this, so they’ve created an official glossary. Bookmark and refer to this often – and definitely read up on hashtags.

5. It’s Okay To Lurk

In fact, it’s common – studies have shown that as many as 50 percent of Twitter users do nothing but read tweets. Indeed, not only is it good practice until you get into the swing of things, but there’s nothing to stop you lurking forever. Twitter can be an amazing source of data, and you don’t have to write even a single tweet to tap into that. But at the same time, if you have things to say, then you can improve that data by getting involved.

6. What’s In A Tweet?

The maximum number of characters in a tweet is 140, which includes links. But you should quickly get into the mentality of leaving 20 characters free – that is, tweeting to a maximum of 120 characters – to leave plenty of space for people to retweet you. Yes, Twitter comes with a one-click internal retweet system, but some folks still like to retweet organically (RT @username) so they can add their own comments. Thinking in 120 characters is a good habit to adopt early on and stick with.

7. Followers

Don’t worry too much about getting people to follow you. It will just happen organically, particularly if you’re interesting. So if you’re not interesting, work on that first. Also, you don’t have to follow people back. You’re under no obligation to follow anybody. Twitter doesn’t work unless you’re careful to only follow people who are right for YOU.

8. The Difference Between A Reply And A Mention On Twitter

If you start a tweet with @username, it’s a reply. And will only be seen by the person you replied to and people who are following both of you. Nobody else will see it in their stream (although it will show up on your profile page and in Twitter search).

Whereas, if you tag a username anywhere but at the start of the tweet, everybody following you will see that message. This is called a mention. It’s important to quickly learn the difference between this and a reply, as above. (Some people have been using Twitter for years and still don’t know how this works.)

9. Twitter Clients

Twitter.com has slowly improved over the years, but you’ll probably have a richer experience with a Twitter software client, particularly on your smartphone or iPad. Start with the official apps (PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry and Windows are all covered) and then spread your wings (I recommend TweetBot and HootSuite).

10. Twitter Search

Twitter search is your friend. See that search box at the top of the screen on Twitter.com? Use it. A lot. It’s very powerful.

Bottom line? Yes, it’s confusing at first, but if you stick with it, eventually the lightbulb will come on and you’ll get it. And, believe me, it’s worth the wait. And it’s worth the effort.

This post is part of The Newcomers Guide To Twitter, a ten-part series of introductory lessons, tips and suggestions for people using Twitter for the first time or thinking about signing up for a profile. Click here to see the other posts in this series (and if you’re just getting started, here’s part one), and please hit the comments to share your own Twitter tips.

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