Friday, October 24, 2008

Twitter 101, Part 3: How to Use Twitter

This is part three of a four-part series on Twitter. If you already use Twitter, this post may not be of much interest, but as more people are drawn to the service, I find I am getting more questions about what it is, what value it provides, and how to be successful on Twitter.

In the past week, we’ve reviewed What Twitter Is and Why You May Want to Use It. If you’re not a Twitter user and I’ve convinced you to become one, how do you get engaged with the service? Next week I’ll complete this series on Twitter with tips on how to be successful, but for today’s blog post I’m going to concentrate on the basics of how to sign up and use the service.

To sign up, go to, click “Get Started-Join,” and in two minutes you can be Twittering. It’s free, so what do you have to lose?

After selecting a username and password, Twitter will present you with the opportunity to check your Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail, AOL, or MSN address book for contacts that already use Twitter. Many people skip this step, but I’d recommend you take the time to see who you may know on Twitter. Since Twitter without connections is merely talking to yourself, an important first step is to find your acquaintances who are already Twittering. You will be presented with a list of people you know and can follow all of them at the click of a button.

Once you complete that step, you are ready to create your first Tweet--or two or three. Since those people you just followed in the prior step will be visiting your Twitter page to view your profile and Tweets, you will want to welcome them with more than just a single “Checking out what Twitter is all about” Tweet. In your initial Tweets, let people know what you’re doing, what you hope to get out of Twitter, or ask for some Twitter advice from your more experienced friends and family.

At this time you can also configure your Twitter account to send and receive Tweets to your cell phone. If you’re the type to use your phone for text, email, or IM, it’s a good idea to take a few minutes to link your cell phone with Twitter. This will permit you to receive Tweets from those you follow and update your status when you’re out and about. But be careful—as your Twitter list grows, the volume of Tweets you receive can be substantial. Set up your phone to send Tweets, but be very selective about who’s Tweets get forwarded as text messages to your phone. (I follow around 400 people, but I receive texted Tweets for only a dozen of them.)

Posting a Tweet is very easy. Type your message in the “What are you doing?” box and click “Update.” As you type, the character counter will track how much space you have left. Your Tweets can contain up to 140 characters; if you enter more than that, the “Update” button will be deactivated until you reduce your Tweet under 140 characters.

Many people post links on Twitter. It’s a great way to share news, interesting sites, or products that you like. One problem with posting Web addresses in 140-character Tweets is that the addresses can require so many characters. A slew of services have popped up to help solve this problem. Good ones include,, and Simply copy the address of the page you want to share from your browser’s address bar, paste it into the field on one of those sites, and click “submit.” You will be presented with a much shorter Web address that can be shared on Twitter. For example, sharing would require 84 characters, but using, I created a link ( that is only 17 characters long.

In my first post of my Twitter series, I mentioned that threading was an important feature of Twitter. Threading is a means of connecting related Twitter posts into a string of back-and-forth responses.

You can create a Tweet that is directed at someone or replies to someone by beginning your Tweet with the “at” symbol (@) followed by the username of that person. Keep in mind that replies are visible to everyone who follows you and everyone who visits your Twitter page (so don’t say anything you don’t want the world to see). Here’s an example of a reply Tweet:
@deziner Thanks for the great link. I found the article very interesting.
If you see a Tweet from a friend on your Twitter page and wish to respond, you don’t need to type the “@deziner” part of the message. When you move your mouse cursor over a person's Tweet, you'll see a little curvy arrow; click on this arrow and the "What are you doing?" field will be populated with the "@" symbol followed by the username of the person to which you are responding. You can then complete your Tweet and click “Update.”

Replying in this manner not only creates a conversation on Twitter, it also creates a way for that user to be made aware that you’ve replied. As you accumulate followers on Twitter, you’ll find your home page quickly fills up with Tweets. If someone responds and you don’t check your page in a timely manner, their Tweet could scroll off the first page (which makes it unlikely you’d see it). Luckily, Twitter figured out this would be a problem, so all the @replies you receive are accumulated on their own page. On the right side of the page, click on “@Replies” and you’ll get a list of Tweets that were directed at you.

What if you want to send a Twitter message to someone without the world seeing it? Twitter has a direct messaging capability; in the "What are you doing" field, enter the letter "D" followed by a space and then the username. Here’s an example of a direct message:
d gmil What are you doing tonight? Want to get together for a drink?
Addressing a Tweet in this manner ensures no one but the recipient will see your direct message. As with @Replies, you can see the direct messages that are directed at you by clicking the “Direct Messages” link on the right side of your page. has other features, but that is the gist of how to use the microblogging service’s site.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything more to say about how to use Twitter. Twitter permits other sites and tools to access its service, so many people use Twitter without ever visiting In fact, by some estimates fewer than half of Twitter users actually use to view and post Tweets.

You can find one exhaustive list of Twitter applications here. This list contains over 100 different applications for managing Twitter accounts on Windows, Linux, Mac, and cell phones running Windows Mobile, iPhone, Android, Java, BlackBerry, and Palm. I’ve tested only a handful of these applications, so I can’t make any real recommendations. I can tell you that the few I’ve tried have made it much easier to monitor and manage Twitter:

  • twhirl is an application that makes it possible to manage multiple Twitter accounts simultaneously. You cannot do this on the Twitter site since you can only log into one account at a time. Twhirl is perfect for maintaining a personal and business account concurrently.

  • Digsby provides a means to manage not just Twitter, but also to monitor and update Facebook, LinkedIn, IM, and email accounts. It’s a powerful tool for managing all of your digital communications in one place.

  • I’ve not tested TweetDeck, but I’ve heard great things about it from power Twitter users. Once you start accumulating many followers, it can become difficult to keep track of the people you really care about. TweetDeck allows users to split their main feed of all Tweets into topic or group specific columns.

  • On my Windows Mobile SmartPhone, I use Tiny Twitter for reading and posting Tweets and GPS Twit for accessing my phone’s GPS and posting a link to a map of my location. I also use a service called Brightkite for sharing when I am at restaurants and other commercial establishments.

The best way to start with Twitter is to begin on the Web site. After you get a sense of the rhythms, practices, and ways of Twitter, you can then download and test applications for your computer and cell phone.

Anyone can sign up and start posting Tweets, but being successful on Twitter takes a sense of what you want to accomplish, how much you care to share, and the kind of people you’ll choose to follow. Please check early next week for the final part of this series on Twitter: Tips for Being Successful on Twitter.

No comments: