So You Don't Get Twitter? (Part One)

I’ve recommended Twitter to a few of my friends lately and while one or two of them have taken to the platform with ease, the majority have been giving me the same kind of response that seems to be on the lips of a lot of newcomers to the service:

“I don’t get it.”

The thing is, by just having a quick look at their profile pages I can see instantly why my friends have not taken to Twitter, and the fix is pretty straightforward. If you’re not ‘getting it’, either, or have friends expressing similar bewilderment, this post is for you.

Let’s Get Started

First things first: if you don’t already have an account, get one.

(At this stage, you could do a lot worse than clicking on the link marked ‘Watch a Video’. This will open ‘Twitter In Plain English’ which, while perhaps a little dated now, is still excellent.)

Complete the basic form, and register. Please, please, please enter your full and proper name in the ‘Full Name’ field. Why? So when people you actually do know try to find you, they can.

Pick any username you like. It really doesn’t matter, because you can change it at any time. But consider that people may judge you for it. (This is the Internet, remember.)

Once you’ve completed the registration, go to the ‘settings’ page. This is where you can configure your account. Two things that really matter to the new Twitter user are:

1.    Your profile picture
2.    Your bio

Unless you’re representing a brand or a company, your profile picture should be an actual picture of you. A real picture, not a Simpsons caricature or a still from your favourite movie. It needs to be you. Why? Because other people are more trusting of a Twitter account that comes attached to a real person, and while this method isn’t foolproof, having a real picture goes a long way to making you seem genuine. The biggest sin you can make is to not bother with a profile picture at all. By default, to all and sundry, this will make you look like a spammer.

You can change your picture at any time, but try to stick with something as long as you can as other users will become familiar with your ‘face’, and this goes a long way in the socialisation process.

Next, complete your bio. Twitter, for some bizarre reason, allows you 160 characters for this. So make the most of them. There’s a current trend on Twitter where many users will often write quite whimsical, even surreal bios, or use a favourite quote from a film or a song. That’s fine for the more established or well-known user, but if you want to mingle on Twitter, your bio should, ideally, contain things that are actually about you. There are services that allow users to search bios, and it’s another way you’ll meet new folk. More importantly, those who may well enjoy the same things you do.

Again, you change your bio at any time, and as you give and take more from the service, you will (and probably should).

Complete the location field. You don’t need to be too specific, but county/state and country are a minimum.

Do add your website or blog if you have one.

Don’t worry too much about the design part of your profile at this stage. If you get into the platform you might want to personalise this but at this stage it doesn’t really matter.

What is Twitter?

So, you’ve set up your profile. Now what? What exactly is Twitter?

Wikipedia defines Twitter as “…a social networking and micro-blogging service that allows its users to send and read other users’ updates (known as tweets), which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length.” I’ve written before how the network operates basically as a giant chat room, one which allows you to be selective about whom you choose to converse with.

But that’s perhaps a bit simplistic. Depending on your goals, Twitter can be a number of different things, but for the newcomer a good way to regard the service is as if it was a party.

In the offline world, when most people go to a party – certainly a big one, with lots of people they don’t know – what do they tend to do? Right: hang out with their friends. A few people have that admirable quality where they can readily mingle in just about any social situation or group but the majority feel more comfortable staying where they are.

If you do this on Twitter, it will never make sense to you. You will never ‘get it’, because at its root Twitter is all about socialising. Twitter is not Facebook. By simply following your friends or people that you know, it will always seem a cold and somewhat vapid place.

What Is The Secret To ‘Getting’ Twitter?

The secret to ‘getting’ Twitter is two-fold:

1.    Follow more people, so
2.    More people will follow you

It really is that simple. As you follow and are followed by more people – new people, not just the friends you came in with – the ‘Twitterstream’ will open up and you’ll be privy to a lot more information. In turn, when you share information yourself, you’re giving back to the stream.

If you do this consistently, and well, you’ll attract more followers, many of whom will engage you directly. In turn, you will correspond with other Tweeters yourself, and relationships will develop.

(This is part one of a three-part series. In part two, I’ll be providing advice on how you can find people to follow, how to use Twitter’s various search functions, and a quick word on some of the external services that make Twitter a lot more fun.)