Twitter for Rookies: Simple Guidance for Getting Started
Still not certain whether you should take the Twitter plunge? The best way to determine its value is to give it a try. Focusing on using Twitter professionally rather than personally – including staying current with local, national, and global news – this “Twitter for Rookies” post offers simple best practice suggestions for setting up your profile and getting started. (October 30, 2013)
Author: Courtney Hunt
As far as I’m concerned, every professional can benefit from having a Twitter account. That doesn’t mean we all have to care what people are having for lunch, what hashtags are trending, or what celebrities are doing, thinking, or selling. It also doesn’t mean that we have to share (or overshare) the banalities of our own lives, amass hundreds or thousands of followers, or strive for a high Klout score.
Contrary to popular perception, media hype, and the passionate proclamations of early-adopters and Twitter mavens, Twitter views itself as an “information network” rather than a “social network.” Specifically, as described on the About Twitter* page,
Twitter is a real-time information network that connects you to the latest stories, ideas, opinions and news about what you find interesting. Simply find the accounts you find most compelling and follow the conversations.
This description directly addresses one of the main points of resistance of many professionals, which is built on the false assumption that all Twitter users must tweet. Reluctance to talk or share via Twitter is one of the primary reasons many later adopters are still hesitant to sign up. The reality is that Twitter is an incredibly powerful listening channel. It offers fantastic opportunities for everyone – especially busy professionals – to receive and screen a high volume of news, information and resources efficiently and effectively. It is perfectly appropriate to open a Twitter account with the intent to just listen. You never have to send a single tweet. Twitter even says so themselves on their About page*:
You don’t have to build a web page to surf the web, and you don’t have to tweet to enjoy Twitter. Whether you tweet 100 times a day or never, you still have access to the voices and information surrounding all that interests you. You can contribute, or just listen in and retrieve up-to-the-second information. Visit fly.twitter.com to learn more about what’s yours to discover.
This video from Twitter also provides a nice quick (71 seconds!) overview. According to this article in Mashable, it’s part of a larger effort to attract new users by helping them understand what it is and how to use it.
Like most things, the best way to determine Twitter’s potential value is to give it a try. Other than a small amount of time, you have nothing to lose. Twitter is free, and it’s incredibly easy to open an account.
*NOTE: Twitter recently changed their About page, and this language is no longer there. Because they used to promote these ideas, and because they are still valid, I’ve left the language in this post. Twitter has made some other changes in strategic direction that I don’t believe are necessarily in their long-term best interests. Click here for my thoughts on them.
Twitter for Rookies: Best Practice Suggestions
Here are my best practice suggestions for opening up an account, setting up your profile, and getting started. To keep things simple, we’ll focus on using Twitter professionally rather than personally, including staying current with local, national, and global news.
Know Your Goals/Objectives
- How do you want to use Twitter? Consider the answer to this question from both personal and professional perspectives. You may find that you want to open separate accounts for your personal and professional engagement, or you may want to take a blended approach by using a single account for both.
- What value do you want to derive? There are a host of options, including exposure to news, learning, connecting with others, career management and business development.
- How do you want to engage? Do you want to just listen? Do you want to share? Do you want to engage in dialogue?
Part of the beauty of Twitter is that there are no best answers to any of the above questions – each of us can create a fully customized Twitter experience that suits us best. And of course, as your understanding, skills, priorities, and experience change, your goals and objectives and use of Twitter can change as well. It’s very flexible!
Choose a Good Username (i.e., Your Handle)
- Keep it short – 10 characters or fewer (max is 15)
- Devise something that connects to your personal and/or professional identity, but be careful not to infringe on someone else’s brand
- Make sure it won’t embarrass you, your colleagues, or your organization (i.e., no cutesy names or nicknames, no off-color humor)
- Think about how the handle will read/sound to others, particularly when it’s viewed in all lower-case letters
- Be careful when using numbers, especially in combination with letters; 0 and O and 1, I, and l can be hard to differentiate, depending on the screen font people use
Note: Unhappy with your current handle? Fortunately, you can change it without having to open a new account!
Include Decent Images
There are three types of images you can add to your Twitter profile: a profile image (at a minimum), a header image, and a background image. For your profile image:
- You don’t need to restrict yourself to a headshot, but you should choose an image that accurately and appropriately reflects your professional identity
- Make sure you have the right to use the image
- Pick something that is both clear and attractive in a thumbnail version
If you add a header image, make sure it complements your profile picture. It’s also a good idea to keep the header image as simple as possible. If it’s too busy, it can overwhelm your bio information and make it virtually unreadable.
Like your header image, your profile background should complement your profile picture. Be careful about creating something that is either too busy or gets cut off by the core Twitter profile elements, however. Remember: less is more.
It’s a good idea to review a variety of Twitter profiles to identify what does/doesn’t work well See slides 12 and 15-19 in our Twitter for Professional Purposes slide deck for examples and additional tips.
Add Your Name, Website, & Bio
- Name: Use your real name (20 character limit)
- Website: If you don’t have a website (or blog) to link to, link to your LinkedIn profile
- Bio: Since you only have 160 characters, it’s okay to use key words in creating your bio rather than trying to craft a sentence. Remember to focus on your professional identity rather than your personal identity. It’s okay to include some relevant personal information, but be careful about including things that could be misperceived or might undermine your professional brand. Avoid blatant promotion, humblebrags (i.e., statements reflecting false modesty), cheekiness and other things that could be offensive or misconstrued. If you have a LI headline/tagline you like, and it fits, by all means include it here. (Click here for more Twitter bio tips)
Set Up Mobile Access: Because tweets are like headlines, they’re extremely easy to digest and manage in small bites. That makes them perfect for what I call “interstitial time” – e.g., when you’re commuting or traveling, while waiting for someone, before you’re ready to get out of bed in the morning. To facilitate that, make sure you set your account up to send your tweets to your phone (e.g., via 40404 in the USA) and/or download one of the Twitter apps to your phone and/or tablet.
Find Good Accounts to Follow
Here are some good types of accounts to target:
- Local, national, and international news sources
- Professional and industry associations
- Academic and research institutions, including your alma mater(s)
- Your own organization (and its leaders), clients, prospects, competitors
- Organizations you’d like to work for
- Bloggers and thought leaders
And a few tips to keep in mind:
- Make sure you’re following official accounts
- Get ideas from checking out the accounts followed by others and/or those recommended by Twitter
- Review an account’s activity before deciding whether it’s a valuable source for you
- If the volume of activity becomes overwhelming, find a way to dial things down by unfollowing some of the noisier and/or less valuable accounts
Restrict Your Followers: Assuming you don’t plan to start tweeting initially, you should make your account private by selecting the “Protect my Tweets” option. This way, no one will be able to follow you without your permission. Doing so will not affect your ability to follow others. Once you’re ready to add your voice to the public chorus (on a regular basis), you can unprotect your account.
Build Twitter into your Schedule. Tune in at least once a day, starting with a 5-15 minute commitment. Vary the time of day to determine when the best activity occurs. Increase the allotted time as needed, based on your comfort level and value you derive.
When you tune in, scan tweets and either follow the links to items that pique your interest or forward them to yourself to read later.
Learn the Language and Basic Conventions. The best way to learn is to immerse yourself in the Twitter stream and glean meaning from the activity itself. You can also identify typical Twitter conventions by watching the activity of others, but don’t assume it’s all good – best practices are constantly evolving. If you see something you’re not sure about, check out the Twitter Glossary or the Twitter Basics section of the Help Center to learn more.
Here’s a basic set of Twitter symbols and terms to get you started:
- @ is used in front of a Twitter handle to directly reference an account; it also creates a hyperlink to their account
- #, aka a hashtag, is a way of collecting tweets around a specific topic or theme; it also creates a hyperlink to a page of tweets that include the hashtag
- RT = retweet (i.e., sharing someone else’s tweet)
- MT = modified tweet (i.e., resharing someone’s tweet after modifying the text)
- FF = Follow Friday, a way of recommending specific accounts to follow (note: this is a fading practice)
Leverage the Lists Feature. Lists, which can be either public or private, are a great way to organize tweets. You can create lists using criteria like:
- Whether the tweets are related to your personal or professional identity
- The type of Tweeter (e.g., news outlet, blogger, thought leader)
- Areas of interest (e.g., clients and prospects, organizations you want to work for, industries you track, competitors, topics and functional areas)
Avoid the “Following” Trap. There are a number of false assumptions and expectations about Twitter following that you should ignore, including:
- Low numbers are bad
- There is an “ideal” following ratio to strive for
- You should follow everyone who follows you
- People you follow should follow you back
You also want to avoid playing games like the following:
- Buying (fake) followers
- Unfollowing people who don’t follow back – especially immediately
- Twitter “one-night stands” (following accounts just to get them to follow you back, then unfollowing them)
Bottom line: Follow Tweeters who provide high-quality content you need to meet your goals and objectives – and allow them to do the same.
Other Twitter for Rookies Requests and Recommendations
I recently shared this advice – and more – via a webinar entitled Twitter for Professional Purposes: 21+ Tips. Click here to learn more about the webinar, access the recorded session, and view the enhanced slide deck.
If you have a specific question not addressed in these suggestions, please let me know. I’m happy to address particular topics people are interested in. I also invite other experienced Twitter users to share their recommendations, in case I may have overlooked something. And I hope everyone will feel free to share other resources and guides they think are especially valuable.