A Twitter tutorial for beginners: Part 1

Twitter's new Logo, the Blue Bird
Twitter is an extremely powerful social & news network – you just have to learn how to use it.

Twitter is a great social network for catching up on the latest — oh hey, I got a new Tweet! Be back in a second.

Whoops, sorry. As I was saying, Twitter, the “other” social network, is an incredibly quick and easy way to catch up on all the news that’s fit to type in one convenient place. But, in order to fully make use of the #awesomeness that is Twitter, you’ve got to learn a bit. Luckily for you, @I have made one that @you are reading right now. #whatluck

So what is this Twitter thing?

Twitter Diagram Flowchart with Followers and Tweets
You read the tweets of people you follow. Your tweets are read by people who follow you.

To an “outsider”, Twitter seems like a strange way of networking with people you barely know, but that’s Facebook. No, Twitter is an extremely powerful tool to keep up with the news and your friends. It’s a so-called microblogging site – it revolves around a bunch of Tweets, or small status updates shared with the world – at least, some of it.


Getting Started

Let me guess – you want to get started on Twitter. You’re in the right place. Signing up for Twitter is extremely easy.

To start, head to twitter.com and go to the “Sign Up” box. You’ll be asked for your full name, email, and password. Enter your information (you can change this at any time) and you’ll get an email asking you to verify your account.Click on the link in the email and you’ll be asked to create your username.

Your username is the official name you go by; it’s a unique name that people can use to identify and find you. It’s what you see after the @ sign (more on that later.) Your full name, by contrast, is what’s shown on your Tweets. You can use your real name or a pretty version of your username – for example, the username @funnyphotos1234 can use the full name Funny Photos.

You’ll be asked to fill in your profile with some basic information about you. I’ll let you tinker with that. Once you’re done, get back over here…

Some Twitter Basics

Before you can start using Twitter for all it’s worth, you’ll need to learn a bit about the basic tenets of Twitter. Let’s start from the bottom.

A Tweet

Tweet sample diagram photo anatomy
An individual Tweet. There are BILLIONS of these floating around.

Know those pithy headlines that scroll across the bottom of news channels on TV? Those little tidbits are – suprisingly – full of useful information.

A Tweet is a short (max 140 characters) message that any Twitter user can post. Tweets are the headlines of the web. A Tweet can contain any of the following:

  • Text (duh)
  • Links to webpages
  • @Mentions (more on that later)
  • #Hashtags (again, more later)

A Tweet has an original author and, of course, its content.

Here’s another example of a Tweet:

Tweeps (Twitter Users)

As you’ll see pretty quickly, Twitter has names for everything. Tweeps, or Twitter users, are humans just like you and I who contribute to the Twitter culture (unfortunately, no word for that) with Tweets.

Tweeps are pretty quickly recognized by their handles, or usernames. You’ll recognize these by the @ sign in front of them – for example, @hathix (the owner of which is a really swell guy). Each Tweep posts their own Tweets, and as a Tweep you too will be able to post Tweets for the world to see. You can tweet about news (any sort – seriously), commentary, your thoughts – anything. Just witnessed street riots? Annoyed with the latest Supreme Court decision? Eating a sandwich? Tweet about it!

A sample twitter profile screenshot image
The profile of @BreakingNews, a great source for news.

Each Tweep has a profile, which is a personal page containing a person’s Tweets and some information about them. Click on a person’s username (handle) on Twitter to go their profile, or type in twitter.com/<handle> (without the @ sign).

If you want to know more about a Tweep, it’s always a good idea to check out their profile.

Let’s get Following

So you’ve signed up for Twitter and become a Tweep. And your dashboard is completely empty. Superb. Now what? You wanted to catch up on some news.

Sample of a Twitter Dashboard Feed with Tweets
My Twitter “dashboard” or “feed”, which contains the Tweets of people I follow.

So start following Tweeps! Whenever you follow someone, all of their Tweets appear on your dashboard, which is the page you see when you visit Twitter.com. See the image to your left – that’s part of my dashboard.

You can follow Tweeps by going to their profile and clicking on the Follow button. Make sure you check out their Tweets to ensure you want to read all of them – if the Tweep makes inane Tweets or Tweets too often, you may want to shy away from them and not risk “clogging up your dashboard.”

Notice that I’m following several Tweeps, so my dashboard is an amalgam of many people’s Tweets, or timelines.Tweets are displayed in chronological order, so as a new Tweet comes in (that is, whenever someone you follow makes a Tweet) my dashboard is updated.

There are a few things you can do with a Tweet:

  • Click on a link and it will be opened in a new tab.
  • Click on the Tweet itself and it will be “expanded” (the image of a Tweet you saw earlier was expanded.) You can see interesting but not-entirely-necessary information when the Tweet is expanded.
  • Hover your mouse over the Tweet and you’ll see links to Reply, Retweet, or Favorite the Tweet – much more on that later.
  • Click on the name of the author to see their profile – you can, again, see information about them and follow them from here.

Of @’s and #’s

It was the best of Tweets, it was the… oh, never mind. Chances are, at any rate, you’ve seen plenty of strange symbols, including @’s and #’s, while browsing Tweets. No, they’re not arcane religious symbols.

Twitter at atcom symbol
The @ (at) is used to mention another Tweep.

The @, pronounced “at”, is used for “mentions”. Say you’re writing a Tweet and want to, well, mention another Tweep. You’d write @ + their handle anywhere in the body of the Tweet to “mention” them (except at the very beginning! That’s totally different!) When you mention someone in a Tweet, that Tweet will show up on their dashboard.

You might want to mention someone if:

  • That person was the source of what you said – often used with news
  • That person did something related to the Tweet – often times you’ll just replace their name with their handle. See the example below.
  • You want that person to hear what you’re saying – often used when you’re writing about a company, etc.
  • They might be interested in what you have to say – often used when you’re sharing links

Here’s an example of a Tweet with a @mention. Instead of just writing Shane Victorino’s name, the Phillies inserted his handle – a very common practice.

Twitter hashtag hash tag symbol
The # (hashtag) is used to mark important words in Tweets.

The #, pronounced “hashtag”, is used to tag your Tweets. Similar to how you’d tag a blog post with related keywords, you can tag a Tweet with #hashtags. Tags are simply stylistic and organizational “power-ups” for a Tweet. To write a Tweet, Just write a # followed by the name of the tag – for example, #puppies.

Tagging your posts doesn’t really improve the content, but it helps your Tweets get found when someone searches Twitter. For example, if I want to find Tweets about New Year’s festivities, I’d probably search for #newyears or something like that. Anyone who tagged their Tweets with #newyears would show up in the results.

Now, you don’t want to go around #tagging #every #last #word, but it’s a good idea to tag important words – maybe 1 or 2 – and add a few tags at the end of some Tweets.

Some cases you might use #tags:

  • Your tweet is about some topic – for example, #politics or #baseball.
  • You want to point out important words – for example, “Report: #water is 22% wetter this year.”
  • You’re at some occasion, conference, or festival and want to note where you are – for example, #halloween or #sockcollectorsconference2012.

Some examples of Tweets utilizing #tags. Notice how some words inside the Tweet are tagged (just a # was added), and some tags were added to the end of the Tweet.

But wait! There’s more!

Twitter is an absolutely huge topic which covers far more than I could ever hope to in this post. I’ll leave you with the basics and cover the more advanced topics in a later post. Until then, twitter away!

But first, a quick summary of what you’ve read:

  • Tweeps make Tweets, which are short messages published to the world.
  • Follow a Tweep and you’ll get all of their Tweets delivered to your dashboard.
  • You can post a Tweet containing links, text, @’s, and #’s.
  • Use @’s (at) to mention other Twitter users.
  • Use #’s (hashtags) to mark key words in your Tweet.

Published by

Neel Mehta

Harvard College. Web developer. Sometime philosopher. Baseball junkie.

Leave a Reply