Have Friends That Are New To Twitter? Five Tips To Help Them Hit The Ground Running

Remember the first day you signed up to Twitter? It was new and a little strange, and may have become overwhelming. Conversely, when you don’t know what you should be doing, all that hype can actually have the opposite effect – Twitter felt like a bit of a disappointment. What’s the point?

Because you persisted, eventually the penny dropped, and Twitter suddenly seemed a place of enormous opportunity. You started to recommend the service to your friends, and then watched the process repeat itself through their eyes.

  • “I don’t get it.”
  • “I have nothing to say.”
  • “Who are these people following me?”

Back in April, I wrote an article entitled, “10 Quick & Easy Ways To Maximise Your Twitter Experience“. The content is still surprisingly relevant but a lot has changed in the last 4-5 months and I felt it needed a bit of an update.

Here are five tips that I think all newcomers to Twitter should read and implement to help them get off to a good start.

1. Use Your Photo For Your Avatar

Twitter recently updated their default avatar, and while the new image is an improvement it still tells veterans of the service one of two things: you’re either a newbie, or (worse) a spammer.

Your choice of avatar is one of the most important decisions you will make. It’s the first thing most people see when deciding whether to follow you – hence, it should represent what your Twitter account represents. It should tell us a little bit about who you are.

Ideally, your avatar should be a recent photo of YOU. At a pinch, it can be your brand’s logo but if you’re the only person who will be using the account a photo is still better. It’s more personable and people will warm to you and become familiar with it.

A common mistake that many make is to follow similar practices used on bulletin boards and MSN and use a cartoon, a picture of a celebrity, or a character from a movie or TV show for their profile picture. Twitter isn’t a bulletin board, and it isn’t MSN. People like, and expect to see, your face. It makes you seem real.

Likewise, if you decide to go with a photo of you and your partner, you and your child(ren), or your entire family, expect people to be confused as to who exactly is writing the tweets. (Also, increasingly this is something that many spammers and mass-marketers do to make their accounts seem more legitimate and ‘safe’.)

Spend some time working on your photo. Upload a large image in as high a resolution as you can manage taken with a decent digital camera – go for a JPG or PNG over a GIF. Twitter allows up to 700KB and will shrink it down for you (the avatars in times are 73×73 pixels) but when somebody visits your profile page and clicks on your image it should get bigger, not stay the same size. Again, we want to see YOU. If your avatar stays small, it kind of feels like you’re hiding away. Moreover, many Twitter clients (i.e., TweetDeck) enlarge the avatar when somebody clicks on a profile, and a small, low-res image will display extremely pixelated.

Unless that’s specifically who you are or what you’re trying to promote, avoid ‘sexy’ photos. If you’re a man with his shirt off or a woman exposing a lot of cleavage, much as it may appeal to many on a base level, nobody is going to take the things you have to say seriously. This isn’t MySpace.

It’s okay to change your photo, but try not to do it too often – other users tend to see the image before the name, and you can get lost if you change your image too frequently.

(Read more: Only 5% Of Your Followers Don’t Care About Your Avatar.)

2. Complete Your Profile

Have Friends That Are New To Twitter? Five Tips To Help Them Hit The Ground Running

Blank, half-filled profiles on Twitter are a big no-no. Take the time to complete it.

  • If you’re an individual and want to be taken seriously, include your real name – not your nickname or an alias.
  • Make sure your timezone and location are accurate – you don’t have to be too specific on the latter, but the more you are, the more relevant people you will attract as followers. If you’re a business, it should be very specific.
  • Fill out your bio with things that are interesting and relevant to you. This will ensure that when people search for users to follow your account will show up – if you just include quirky or cryptic stuff then expect quirky and cryptic followers (or, more likely, none at all)
  • If you have a blog or a website, do include it. Alternatively, link to your LinkedIn profile or even your Facebook. Again, it tells us more about you. Avoid using shortened URLs, as this can seem like a bit of a scam.
  • If you don’t have a website, don’t include one. Linking back to your Twitter profile makes absolutely no sense at all. And linking to something stupid or offensive will make people hate you.

Think twice before protecting your updates – if you have the Mafia on your tail you might want to consider a more secure network. Twitter is predominately about socialisation – you’re encouraged to meet and converse with people you don’t know. It’s not the best place to hide.

Don’t worry too much about your background theme at this stage. Twitter recently added four new themes and you should feel free to choose any one you like, or upload any background image of your choice. Remember that different people have different resolutions and monitor-sizes – I personally think a tiled background that is pleasing to the eye is the best choice, certainly when you start.

3. Find People To Follow

This is the critical part – Twitter will make absolutely no sense to you at all until you start following people. And they need to be relevant people, too. If you don’t find them interesting, Twitter will not be interesting. It’s that simple.

  • Use Twitter’s Find People feature
  • Invite your friends from other social networks and via email
  • Pick ten people from the suggested users list
  • Check out external trackers and directories like Twittercounter and Twellow
  • See who your friends are following
  • Use Twitter search to see what people are talking about in your industry
  • Re-visit your favourite websites and blogs, and see if they list their Twitter profile (most do)


4. Be Interesting

Here’s a piece of advice I’d really like you to take on board – don’t take Twitter’s ‘What are you doing?’ question too literally. There’s a place for the inane on Twitter but if that’s all you tweet about, people are going to get really bored, really quickly.

Find and share content. If you’re a business, think engagement first, and marketing second. It’s okay to tweet out links to your own website, but do so on an occasional basis.

Tip: people will be more interested in you and your brand if your Twitter profile looks beyond your business. Consider sharing news and articles about your industry or niche, and use this as a way to share your expertise. For example, if you’re a photographer, share and exchange news about photography, great photos, camera tips and tricks, etc. Become an authority on that industry, and people will be happy to check out your website and products.

(Read more: The Secret To Twitter Success – Be Famous, Useful Or Interesting.)

5. Engage, Engage, Engage

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Twitter is all about socialisation. That’s the ‘social’ part of ‘social media’! It pays to adopt a policy of listening to your network first, thinking about what is being asked of you, and then formulating your response.

Twitter: Listen, Think, React

  • Take risks. Start conversations with strangers. Don’t be shy – everybody’s doing it.
  • Ask questions, both one-to-one and open to your entire network. Twitter is a great way to get solutions to things that require experience or an opinion. And if somebody answers your query or solves your problem, publically thank them.
  • Answer questions. If you know the answer to a posted question, answer it. If you know some of the answer, or can recommend somebody who does, reply back. Don’t wait for or assume somebody else will do this. Take the initiative.
  • Use Twitter’s search facility to find common problems and solve them with your expertise.

(Read more: The Rules Of Engagement.)

Bonus: Think About Changing Your Username

So, we’ve come this far, and now I’m asking you to change your username?  You can change your Twitter username at any time, and while it’s not a good idea once you’re established it’s certainly something I’d like you to think about when you first sign up.

Here’s why:

  • If you want to be taken seriously – certainly if you’re promoting your business – try and use your real name, or your business name
  • For individuals, first name last name works best. If that’s taken, try combinations using your initials and first/surname.
  • Tip: the shorter your username is, the better. Why? Retweets.
  • Avoid underscores unless you have no other choice
  • Don’t use combinations of letters and numbers, as this can make you look like a spambot
  • This isn’t MySpace or Bebo – sexygal69 or studmeister won’t do you any favours at all

Twitter usernames are becoming as precious as domain names, and are running out fast. But with a little ingenuity and care I’m sure you can come up with something memorable and smart.

(Read more: What’s In A Name?)


I encourage you to share this article with your friends as I’m confident it will get them off to a good start on Twitter.

What tips and suggestions would you recommend to first-time Twitter users? What have you said to your friends when they’ve told you, “I don’t get it!” Share your thoughts in the comments below.

(This is part one of two posts – read the second installment here.)