So you wanna Tweet? Cool—you’ll love it. But it may take some getting used to if you’re a new kid on the block.
Twitter is where news is broken, links are shared, and memes are born. It’s also a place for chatting with friends. Yet unlike Facebook, Twitter is public. So if you do tweet with friends, it’s all out in the open by default. And that’s not a bad thing. It means your jokes can go viral (if they’re funny) and in addition to your friends, you can interact with your favorite journalists, athletes, artists, or political figures, all in the same space.
Tweets show up in the order they happen. At the top of a Twitter feed, you’ll see tweets that are only a second old. New tweets appear at the top, pushing the older ones down. The further down you scroll, the older the tweets get.
This immediacy has made Twitter the go-to place to watch protests unfold around the world, follow and comment on sports games or TV shows as they happen, and make fun of celebrity missteps right when the news is hot. The best part is that the people sharing information and Tweeting photos aren’t newscasters. Anyone can be a reporter or a cultural critic on Twitter, and that’s lead to a universe of diverse viewpoints, all amplified organically.
Tweets can contain links, photos, GIFs, or videos. But if you’re tweeting text, you’re limited to 140 characters. You might find the limit stifling, but once you get used to it you’ll learn to love the brevity. It helps make your tweets pithy, and there’s much less rambling you have to read when scanning other tweets. Some even say Twitter helps us become better writers.
Stepping into the Twitter stream unprepared can leave you feeling rudderless. Who to follow? What to tweet? Does this show up on my Twitter page? Am I missing things my friends post? What’s a hat tip? Follow our tips to get started on Twitter, and set yourself up for a more fulfilling experience.
Make an Account
Go to Twitter.com or download the app and sign up for an account. The “Full name” that you provide will be your display name, but unlike Facebook, you can change your display name to whatever you want as many times as you want, so it’s really easy to stay anonymous.
Pick a username you like. That will be your handle, and people can bling you by typing @ in front of your user name in a tweet.
Enter in your phone number. This is a form of authentication that will help in case you ever lose access to your account.
Pick an avatar. The default picture is an egg, but you can make your avatar whatever you want (your face, a dog on a skateboard). Be sure to read Twitter’s rules for avatar images to make sure what you pick is not in violation.
Write your bio. You may wish to list where you work, live, or a line from a favorite poem in your bio. This is the short blurb that lets potential followers know who you are and what you’re likely to tweet. Finish off your profile by uploading a background image—this appears at the top of your Twitter page.
Join the Community
Twitter isn’t about friending—it’s about following. You can follow people you know personally, or artists or projects you’re a fan of. You can follow robots and parody accounts. Really, you can do whatever you like.
Once you create your account, Twitter offers a kind of set-up wizard to help you get started. If you’re into wizards, follow the steps. It’ll suggest some accounts to follow to get you started based on your interests.
Twitter will ask if you want to search your email or phone contacts to find if anyone you know is also on Twitter.
Search for personalities you like. If you’re a fan of GZA, follow GZA. If you’re a fan of the Golden State Warriors, follow Steph Curry. If you like to read WIRED, follow WIRED.
Twitter will continue to offer suggestions for who to follow as you use it. These suggestions will appear in your feed if you’re using the app, or on the side of the screen if you’re using the website.
If you’re in the app, you can also click on the new Connect feature, which will offer you suggestions based on what you’ve tweeted or liked.
Keep adding people. There’s no limit, but once you’ve landed between 100 and 250 accounts, you’ll notice the correlation between the number of people you follow and the amount of tweets that show up in your feed. If you’re craving more, keep adding people. But build it up slowly and see how it feels.
Before you start firing off tweets, it might help to know a little about the mechanics.
All tweets are 140 characters. While that might seem too short to say anything substantive, it’s not. It might mean having to tweet multiple times to make a complex point, but boiling down your thoughts to a couple of lines really just makes your statement stronger, faster to read, and more shareable.
If you want to add a photo, a video, a poll, or a gif, you can do so in the lower bar of the “Compose new Tweet” box. Adding a photo will decrease your tweet character length by 24 characters, but you can add up to four photos.
Sharing a link your Tweet will decrease your character count by 23 characters.
Hashtags are best used for adding to a larger conversation. So if you’re Tweeting about the NY Mets baseball team, use the hashtag #LGM (short for Let’s Go Mets) to add to the conversation. If you’re tweeting about Beyonce’s new jam Lemonade, use the #Lemonade, so people looking for conversation about Lemonade can find your tweet. Hashtags are clickable, too, so you can tap on a hashtag to see all the tweets related to that topic.
Know the Lingo
The more you browse Twitter and find people whose Tweets you think are smart or funny, the more you’ll see some shorthand lingo flying around. Here’s what’s what.
HT means “hat tip,” and it’s what you use to credit an account who first clued you into the information you’re sharing in your tweet. It’s not necessary, but it’s a nice thing to do.
An @, or a mention, is when you include somebody’s @twittername in the tweet. The person will be alerted that you mentioned them. Use it to send a public “hey, over here,” or to add somebody on a conversation that’s currently happening.
RT means “retweet.” When you retweet someone, you can either just repost their tweet by itself, or you can add your own commentary. If you do that, when you post your tweet, the tweet you’re commenting on will appear just below your comment.
Twitter allows you to Direct Message with people who have that feature turned on. It’s often called at DM, and it allows you to further conversations in private and chat with groups of people. While all regular tweets are public, including @-mentions, a DM is totally private. Only the people included in the DM can see it.
A lot of people complain that Twitter is hard to follow. If people tweet something and you’re not online, you might not see it until later. But the idea of Twitter isn’t to catch every single thing someone tweets, it’s to be on the Internet at the same time as other people. It’s like a giant hangout—an open and rich chat room that’s happening in public.
Twitter will occasionally filter the timeline, showing tweets of your favorite people first (Twitter sees who you talk to the most, so it knows who you’d like to see tweets from) before showing real-time tweets again in reverse chronological order. It’s a nice feature that helps you get caught up on everything that’s happened while you’ve been away.
Still, if you don’t want to miss a beat, here are some tips.
Go directly to the page of the person you want to follow closely and see what all they’ve tweeted
Search for the hashtag of the event you wish to follow, then tap on the “Live” tab to see the most recent tweets in the larger conversation.
If you prefer a more curated feed, you can go into the Settings tab in your app > Timeline > Select “Show me the best Tweets first.” Turn this setting off if you prefer to just see real-time tweets in the order they were tweeted.
Turn on your Notifications. You can set your mobile app to send you push notifications based on popular Tweets from your activity and when news breaks. This is really helpful if you want to keep track of your favorite folks and news outlets, but can’t be online all day to watch.
Use Tweetdeck, a more customizable Twitter app. You can make private lists with only a few people on it that you can check to make sure you catch everyone’s tweets in that list.
Remember, everything on Twitter is public by default. However, you can easily make your own private experience. If you’d like to make Twitter a place where you privately interact with friends, just set your account to private. Turning this setting on means you will have to manually give permission to anyone who wants to follow you if you’d like them to be able to see your tweets and communicate with you. With a private account, only the people who you’ve given permission to follow you will see your tweets.
Most importantly, if your account is public and someone is acting a fool—posting mean tweets or just bugging you constantly—don’t hesitate to block them, mute them, or report their behavior. All of these options are available to you, so don’t be afraid to use them.