Starting Twitter: Advice for the Intimidated

I started my Twitter account in 2009, but I found Twitter intimidating, and I let my account lie dormant. After hearing a presentation from Alex Arnold (@AlexYArnold) at a SCBWI regional conference, I was inspired to try again. In the last ten months, I’ve gotten much more comfortable with Twitter. Here’s my advice for people who feel the way I did in 2009.

Setting Up Your Account and Profile

The main parts of your Twitter account/profile are your handle (the part that includes the @ symbol), your full name, and your picture. You can change any of these at any time, but I recommend picking a handle you want to keep. The handle is what people will type in to contact you, and it’s in the URL of your profile. The full name part and the picture both appear on your profile and with each of your Tweets (Twitter messages), but they’re more cosmetic and more easily changeable.
For example, my Twitter handle is @jenmoser and I use “Jenny Moser Jurling” in the full-name slot. My Twitter profile’s URL is
It’s wise to pick a short handle so that other people can type it into their Tweets and it won’t take up too many characters. (Each Tweet can only be 140 characters, including handles.)
You can also type a description of yourself and put in your URL and location, but these are optional. I recommend putting in at least a description of yourself.
If you want, you can also choose background images for your profile, but that is not a big deal.

Setting Up Your Feed

Now that your account is set up, find people you’re interested in. Search for them by name, or type in their handles. Follow them by visiting their profiles and clicking the blue Follow button. Suggestions:
  • Your friends
  • Your colleagues
  • Professionals in your industry whom you look up to
  • Official accounts for media outlets you read or watch
  • Official accounts for brands you like
  • Your favorite authors, actors, or musicians (Really big-name stars may have a blue check mark icon by their names to show that Twitter has verified that this account is really them.)
Once you’ve done that, look at the lists of people that they follow, to see if anyone seems interesting.
These people’s Tweets will become your feed. When you go to (just the home page) while signed in, you will see the latest Tweets from these people.If you see a handle/icon you don’t recognize, it might be a Retweet (aka RT). If so, it’ll say “Retweeted by Name You Do Recognize” underneath. This means somebody you follow liked that Tweet and wanted to share it with his/her followers. If you find it interesting, you may want to go to that person’s profile. If you like what you see, why not follow her too?
If it isn’t a Retweet and it says “Promoted by,” it’s an ad.
After you have done all that, you might try the Discover tab in your Twitter account, which will show you things it thinks you’ll like, based on what you already follow.

OK, What Next? Using Your Feed

Go to the Twitter homepage while logged in and read your feed. (I strongly recommend that you do this part on a desktop computer while you are learning the ropes.) If you see something confusing, look for a “View Conversation” link on it. This will show you what it is a response to, and you can read the whole conversation. (Then again, if it doesn’t have a View Conversation link, it might just be a confusing Tweet.) The Android app doesn’t have the View Conversation feature, which is why I recommend sticking to the desktop at first.
If you see something interesting, you have four basic choices. You can do any or all of them, though probably not both #3 and #4.
  1. Reply with your own thoughts about it. Your reply will be public for anybody to see, but primarily directed at the original Tweet’s writer. Don’t be upset if the person does not reply back to you.
  2. Mark it as a Favorite. The person who wrote it will be able to see that you did so. This will give her warm fuzzies. Then Twitter will keep all of your Favorite Tweets handy in a special section of your profile so you can look at them whenever you want.
  3. Retweet it directly. This puts it in your own outgoing feed, with the original person’s name, picture and handle still attached, for your followers to read. The original person will get notified of this.
  4. Write your own brief thoughts about it. Copy the text and the person’s handle, and add them to the end of your thoughts with the letters RT. Use this order: Your words, RT, other person’s handle, original Tweet. Post this as a new Tweet from you. Your full name and picture will appear as the author of this new Tweet, but the “RT” plus the person’s handle will give her attribution. For example, if I Tweeted, “Patrick Stewart is my favorite actor.”, you might Tweet, “Mine too! I loved his work in the X-Men movies. RT @jenmoser: Patrick Stewart is my favorite actor.” Tip: If you see “RT @somebody” in the middle of a Tweet, treat it like an e-mail chain and read the second part first.
You can certainly post your own original Tweets too, but I recommend spending at least as much time engaging with other people.

What Should You Know About @-Mentions?

If you include somebody’s handle with @ in your Tweet, she will get notified of it. (Maybe with an email, but maybe just in the Twitter Connect tab interface, depending on her settings.) Using someone’s handle if you do not intend to invite her to comment is rude. If you’re going to Tweet about somebody in a derogatory way (or if you just don’t want to draw her attention to it), just use her plain name, not her handle and not with @. She can still search for her name, so it’s not private. Remember: Twitter is not private! Fantasy/sci-fi author Seanan McGuire wrote an excellent blog post about this concept: The terrible intimacy of @.

(Note: Twitter does have a private-message feature called Direct Messages, which I am not going to discuss in this post. Regular Tweets are not Direct Messages.)

If you start a Tweet with somebody’s handle, Twitter thinks you mean it as a message to that person. This is not the same as a Direct Message. This is not private. That Tweet will appear only in the feeds of people who follow both you and the recipient. If you want to write a Tweet that appears in the feed of everyone who follows you, put a word or a punctuation mark in front of the person’s handle. People commonly use a period for this.
  • For example, you might write “Hi @jenmoser, I think you would enjoy my lemon cookies, and so would everyone else following me!” or “.@jenmoser, I think you would enjoy my lemon cookies, and so would everyone else following me!”

What Should You Know About #Hashtags?

Putting a # in front of a word is called a hashtag. This turns the word into a clickable link, leading to a search function for all the other Tweets with that hashtag-word in them. There are several main uses of hashtags:
  1. Pure search. You might post a Tweet that says “Here’s a great story on the latest #NASA reveal: url here” and then people could find it when they searched for #NASA.
  2. Curated chats. People often organize Twitter chats using a certain hashtag at a certain time of day/week. Everyone includes that hashtag in their Tweets and you can follow the chat by clicking on it and reading everything that comes up in the search. One of my favorites is #FP, an every-Friday micro-fiction fest. #FF means FollowFriday. It’s a tradition for people to post Tweets on Friday with the #FF hashtag and the handles of cool people on Twitter whom they recommend you follow.
  3. Games. Someone posts a Tweet including a hashtag something like #FailedMovieTitles. It becomes a game to make funny Tweets that match the hashtag.
  4. Just humor. People might post #oops or #gofigure or something else similar at the end of a Tweet, the way you might say it in conversation.
A Tweet full of hashtags gets annoying. Two per Tweet is a good maximum.
Hashtag use only works with just one word, not a phrase. If you really want a phrase, run the words together with no space and no punctuation.
Tip: Promoted Tweets (sometimes irrelevant ones) often appear at the top of a hashtag search. Just scroll down; you’ll get to what you want soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *