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

(This is part three of a three-part series. Read part one here and part two here.)

How Many People Should I Follow?

The question of questions. As a new user on Twitter, if you follow less than ten people, certainly if these are ten people you actually know, the service won’t make any sense to you at all. Yet, if you follow too many random users, it can easily get confusing any overwhelming. Furthermore, if your following count is too in excess of your number of followers, you could actually end up looking like a potential spammer (both to other users and Twitter itself).

So what’s an ideal number of followers for the new user? I would say a good starting point is the number of people you know plus about another twenty people you don’t. So, if you know ten people on Twitter, seek out and follow another twenty or so. If you use the various search and tracking facilities outlined earlier this should be very easy, and hopefully you’ll find lots of people with whom you have a common ground.

When you reach this number, sit tight for a while. Let people start to follow you back. This will include some of the people who you are following and new people that appear out of the ether.

Twitter Etiquette

The rule of thumb on Twitter was generally that to be polite one should always follow back everybody who chooses to follow you. This is social media, after all. But this has always been more of a guideline than an actual requirement, and as the platform has grown it is wise to be somewhat careful before automatically clicking on the ‘follow’ button.

When you get a new follower on Twitter, the site will send you an email announcing this. This email will come with a link to this new person’s homepage. It’s good advice to get into the habit of regularly checking out these links. Some of these users will be spammers and some of them might just not be your thing.

Many people on Twitter use ‘auto-follow’services. Once registered, these sites will automatically follow anybody who chooses to follow you. There’s much debate over the value of such services. I do use one ( because I find it easier to automatically follow people and then decide to unfollow them later, giving them a chance to prove themselves, as opposed to the other way around (i.e., initially vetting them then deciding whether to follow or not). Some users think auto-follow services are a poor way to use Twitter because you’re always going to pick up spammers and other undesirables, but in my opinion it’s very easy to spot these people and you can deal with them with a single click of the block button. There are pros and cons to both sides, and you should make up your own mind whether it’s something that is useful to you.

Tip: Try and let your ratio of the people you are following to the people that are following you get a little better than 1:1 before following more people. This isn’t essential, but it will ensure that you keep things under control a bit. Remember, Twitter is a two-way medium. If you’re following a thousand people but only being followed by ten, you’re going to be a pretty small voice in a big crowd.

(For more on Twitter etiquette, look here.)

Okay. I’m Following Some People. I Have Some Followers. Now What?


Go to, and type something into the box.

Twitter is all about socialisation. The ‘point’ of Twitter – if there is such a thing – is to share information with others. This can be done in various ways. On a very basic level, you can respond simply and honestly to’s question: “What are you doing?” and use the service as an extension of Facebook’s status update. This was, after all, the original intent.

But Twitter has grown far beyond this. The best users on Twitter – not the most popular or those who update the most – are those who share new information. This will typically come in the form of links to other sites, which will include news outlets, blogs, videos, photographs, movie trailers, music, and pretty much anything else you can think of. One of the best things about Twitter is that if you position yourself in the right place by following the right people at the right time, you can be right on the edge of the information curve.

In the past few months Twitter has broken many major news stories first, including the Hudson plane crash. Because Twitter is useable on many mobile handsets, for the first time in history anybody using the service has the potential to be the first person on the scene. When one considers the camera functionality of the modern mobile phone (and services like, the opportunity for many to be the first with the news is almost irresistible.

If you’re reading a website and find a link that you think will be of interest to others, share it. This can be about anything. Twitter is tech-heavy, but that is changing as more people sign up to the service.

You’re not imposing – people will either click on your link, or they won’t. However, by consistently providing interesting links, you’ll become a reliable source of information to your followers.

Tip: When sharing a link on Twitter, take a moment to describe what the link is. Few people will click on a Tweet that contains just a link and nothing else. Yes, you have a 140-character limit, but by using a link-converting service such as, you will have plenty of space to write a decent description. The importance of this should not be underestimated.

It doesn’t really matter what information you share: just try and be consistent. This doesn’t mean you need to always Tweet about the exact same topic, but for other users to get comfortable with you they’ll need to become familiar with your style and interests.

It’s okay to share links to your own blog posts and websites, but avoid doing only that, otherwise you’ll risk a reputation as yes, you guessed it: a spammer. Otherwise, all the major players on Twitter push traffic back to their own sites. It’s one of the great benefits of the service.

A Few More Things…

  • Be aware that ‘all eyes are on you’. While the amount of personal information you choose to share on Twitter is entirely up to you, treat it with the same caution you would any other service on the Internet.
  • There is no ‘edit’ feature for your Tweets. If you’ve made an error in a Tweet and wish to fix it, don’t simply re-post it with the fix. Delete it first (on go to the Tweet and click on the little trash can) and then re-submit. This is great etiquette.
  • Twitter’s Direct Message (DM) feature is essentially a personal message service. It’s a bit flaky. You can only DM a user who is following you, and vice versa. What this means is that if you are following a user and they DM you, you can’t actually reply. Also, DMs can build up pretty quickly and because Twitter has neither a ‘delete all’ or ‘mark’ function, getting rid of them can be a bit of a pain. I’d strongly recommend getting into the habit of deleting anything that isn’t of value as soon as you’ve read it.
  • Your experience on Twitter can be greatly improved by using one of the various software applications that are available. offers quite limited functionality, whereas a platform like TweetDeck, which I use, gives you a lot more control over the Twitterstream. Other people swear by Twhirl. Give both a try and see which is best for you.

By following the advice above and, most importantly, really getting stuck in, Twitter can be enormously entertaining and offer a significant amount of personal value as an educational tool. Make the effort, share information and engage with others, and it won’t be long before you’ll be telling your friends how they can ‘get it’, too.

I hope you’ve found this series of posts useful. If you have any questions or thoughts, please use the comments box below.