I decided to start using Twitter when I realised there are some people, some events and some information which is available first hand only on this one social media platform. It’s a direct channel to individuals and companies with the added benefit of always being contemporary. It’s simple, which is kind of beautiful. Also it’s direct, which is why the world found it such a surprise that the American President was prioritizing its use.
Several friends have told me they don’t “get” Twitter and would like me to explain. I am not a big-shot tweeter and I don’t use all of it’s functionality, but I can help you start using Twitter and make it useful for you.
1. Understand this: Twitter is public.
If you tweet something, you are just as responsible for publishing it as a newspaper would be. So if you break the law (eg you publish the name of a defendant in a court case which the judge has said must be kept secret) then you are potentially liable for an offence. But chill! This restriction doesn’t really cramp anyone’s style and you shouldn’t get hung up on it.
It is possible to set up a private Twitter account with protected tweets. Not many people do this. It means that only people whom you choose to accept as followers will be able to read what you write. There’s not much fun in this because you can’t join in chats on a whim, but maybe you’re happy with that, or would like to just start this way.
2. To start using Twitter, follow 100 people.
This is about the right number to give you enough interesting stuff to read. Celebrities who are interesting on the telly are not necessarily interesting on Twitter. It brings out different skills in people. The main types of tweeter who interest me are (1) journalists and commentators for the news, (2) comedians for light relief (especially topical satire), (3) businesses for special offers and competitions, (4) writers and bloggers for articles, (5) celebrities and personalities if you’re a big fan, (6) people and businesses who are local to you and talk about your own area, (7) politicians and activists, (8) the not-for-profit sector and lastly (9) events and entertainment venues or museums or tourist information for “what’s on”.
3. Hearts and Arrows.
If you agree with a tweet, perhaps click the heart below it to show how much you like it. If you really love a tweet or wish you had said it yourself, retweet it (two circling arrows). The person who wrote it will see that you have done this. You just might get followed back. The things you have re-tweeted will of course be visible to your own followers. So if you hate a tweet and want to say something you have two choices – one is to choose “quote tweet” then it will put it in a box and you can caption it with your own words e.g. “What tosh!” Or you could reply (one arrow icon) and tell the person who wrote it how much you disagree. Your reply will likely be seen by a large percentage of their followers. You can annoy people this way, get in arguments or indeed make them admire you greatly. Mostly – let’s be honest – you will be ignored. There are so many tweets out there.
4. Keep looking out for new people to follow.
People retweet stuff they love and this will draw new tweeters to your attention. Apart from the people who fall in to the categories I describe above, there are also regular ordinary folk who tweet in a personal capacity. Some of these are absolutely brilliant. Witty, smart and fascinating to follow because apart from their own clever missives, they find and retweet wonderful stuff from all over. It is like they are a magazine editor, and you can read their personally curated feed. I aspire to be like this.
Some folk use Twitter only to moan at companies like Vodafone or DHL about bad service. Others use it only to enter competitions (retweet to win!). Some boring farts just tweet things that make them cross like bad parking. You will see spam accounts, companies who only tweet adverts, people who almost never tweet. They’re easy to avoid, just scroll down and have a look at what they’ve recently tweeted and decide not to follow.
5. If someone bothers you.
If someone bothers you, you can mute them. This means they don’t know it but you no longer see their tweets in your feed. If someone really bothers you, you can block them and they won’t be able to see what you are tweeting. They will only notice you’ve done this if they look at your profile, and it will say they’re blocked. I’ve never blocked anyone and I muted one person briefly ‘cos I didn’t like the creepy crawlies in their new profile picture! You will see that some people with a really big Twitter following will get abusive tweets sent to them sometimes. But the great thing about Twitter is the people who will leap to defend. It is mostly a friendly place, with more kind strangers than on Facebook.
6. Settings and identity.
As with any social media platform, make sure you adjust your settings when you start using Twitter. It’s not hard. You don’t want it to email you or make your phone chime every two minutes. Expect distant acquaintances like your husband’s bachelor work-mate with the bad breath to follow you. It’s a public place, he’s not being weird. If that’s likely to annoy you, don’t use your real name on your account.
7. Useful functionality.
Twitter has a few inbuilt functions that are quite fun. One is “trending“. If you click on the search button (magnifying glass) it will show a rundown like a top ten list of what most people are talking about at that moment. Breaking news stories and gossip always feature highly so you can be well informed this way.
Another inbuilt function is the use of # (hashtags). If you click on a word that is preceded by a hashtag then you will see a list of all the latest tweets which include it. An example would be people using #Sherlock whilst watching the TV programme, to join it the chat about it whilst it is broadcast. Lastly there are Twitter “moments” (lightening bolt icon). This looks a little bit like the BBC news app except it consists of tweets. It changes through the day, offering you a selection of highlights by subject. It’s another way to see what people are talking about. It’s a bit complicated to try to customise but it’s not essential.
8. Final thoughts.
Lastly, although I mention Trump at the outset I would urge you not to tweet like him. He certainly has his own petulant style, and it usually ends with a one-word adjective and an exclamation mark. Sad! Failing! Shameful! As a result, he’s pretty easy to send up. Have a look at #tweetliketrump for some fine examples. There are parody accounts dedicated to pretending to be him. I don’t follow him or his parodies. There are now enough people who react with incredulity to his tweets and I follow them instead, thus keeping the tangerine goblin himself at a safe distance.
Take a look at who I follow on my Twitter, I’m @falcondalejan. You will see a lot of bloggers and also local businesses, sharp satirists, beautiful national parks, sparkling personalities and perceptive commentators. I follow people whom I agree with and also people I don’t. I don’t dare write a list of recommendations for you because it would be too long.
I hope you feel ready now to start using Twitter. One final word – you will find “promoted” tweets in your Twitter feed. Please don’t keep blocking these adverts and once in a very blue moon, click on one. They’re a bit annoying but they keep this valuable service free.
I’ve also written about personal security on another social media platform, Facebook