There is no such thing as a dumb Twitter question.
When you’re learning to drive, are you dumb because you don’t know how much pressure to apply to the gas pedal? No.
When you’re learning to dance, are you dumb because you step on your partner’s toes? Clumsy maybe, but not dumb. Just learning.
It’s the same with Twitter. If you just signed up – and lots of people have only recently discovered Twitter - and are still getting the hang of it you’re not going to know everything there is to know about using it.
And that’s OK. Think of how long it took to get used to Facebook, or blogging or using Microsoft Word for that matter – a lot of people still don’t use all the features of Word and it’s been around forever.
So don’t apologize because you haven’t figured out everything there is to know about Twitter. You’ll get there eventually.
There are a few things I’ve learned since starting to use it that I’m happy to share:
* Introduce yourself. Once you sign up, the most important thing you can do is tell people who you are – fill out your profile, add a picture, link to your blog or Website. People decide who to follow or who to accept follows from based on what they see in a profile, so give them plenty of information to work with.
* Write tight and bright. Twitter limits messages to 140 characters. That forces you to be concise without being cryptic. You can accomplish that by using abbreviations and emoticons, or just limiting what you’re writing to one well constructed sentence or idea. If you want to add a link, use one of the services that shrinks links, like Tiny URL.
* Learn the lingo. A DM is a direct message that only the person you’re sending it to can see. An @replies is a message you send to a specific person that everyone else on Twitter can see too. It’s like talking to one person in a crowded room so other people can eavesdrop on your conversation, and possibly cut in if they’re interested – which in many cases you want them to do.
* Pay it forward. When you see RT in someone’s Twitter post it means Retweet. Use it to send a post or a snippet of a post that somebody else wrote to your own Twitter network. When you RT someone it’s like paying them a compliment because you’re basically telling the world they’ve said something interesting. RTs are good, and the general Twitter rule of thumb is if you RT what other people say often, people will RT you in return, and that will build up your exposure, Twitter followers, people who visit your blog or Website, etc.
* Be picky. Don’t feel like you have to follow everyone who’s following you. That guy with the hairy back, the company selling time shares, the make-money-online scammers – you do not need to follow them. And if they’re spammers, you can report them by forwarding their Twitter user name to @spam.
* Get real. If all of a sudden lots of people start following you, it could be tempting to set up some kind of robo-reply to send an automated response. But that’s cheesy and Twitter users will call you on it. The whole point of Twitter – and all social networks for that matter – is connecting with people, not racking up numbers.
* Hash it out. Twitter users will mark certain tweets with hash tags – they look like this # – when they want to keep track of a particular topic, like the conversations that took place during the Super Bowl or earlier during the presidential inauguration. People who use Twitter for regularly scheduled online meetups to talk about their jobs or another shared interest use hashtags to mark their comments so their fellow meeting attendees can follow the conversation.
* Pick a path. People use Twitter for lots of different reasons – to promote their business, swap shop talk, follow the news, debate the issues, tell jokes or just hang out. If you’re using it for something other than purely personal reasons, it’s good to think about why you’re there and how you want to be perceived, then act accordingly. I’m using Twitter to build a network of sources for the freelance writing I do – much like the LinkedIn network I’ve created. I also use it to let people know when I’ve written a new blog post or if one of my story’s has been published.
What do you want to know about Twitter but have been too afraid to ask? Leave your questions here and I’ll do my best to come up with an answer – and if I can’t, I’ll call on some Twitter-using friends – or should I call them fiends? – who can.
Meanwhile, you can find me on Twitter at @michellerafter. See you there.