Twitter Tips & TricksI'll be frank: I didn't want to like Twitter. In fact, I wanted nothing to do with Twitter. My initial impression — that Twitter was a stripped-down Facebook, social networking reduced to 140 characters — turned me off. I already spend way too much time in front of screens, and I didn't want another online obligation. I've since come to appreciate Twitter's efficiency and nimbleness as a 21st century mode of communication.
Is it a social network service? A news gathering system? It's both, and neither, and more. Zen, isn't it?
For me, the genius of Twitter is that you can create your own narrowcast news feed of information directly from the sources you choose — friends, publications, colleagues or just the comedy club down the block. You don't even need to tweet anything yourself, although if you do, a whole other strata of usefulness presents itself.The tips and tricks below are designed for anyone about to start on Twitter, or who has just started and has a placeholder account sitting there.
If you're just getting started, you'll find the service's online tutorials are very good. There is an art to this kind of thing, and the designers provide an elegantly simple step-by-step introduction.
These are some of the things I found useful — or wish I'd known about — when I first climbed aboard.
Twitter GlossaryGet familiar with the lingo
At first, Twitter jargon can seem intimidating jumble of terms that barely registers as English: #hashtag, @reply, tweet, rewteet, unfollow, fail whale.... But there's really not that much to know.
Take 10 minutes to dig into it, and you'll avoid a lot of speed bumps later on. For a full list, with meanings and usage, check out The Twitter Glossary.
Choose a good profile picture
Twitter makes posting a profile image quick and easy, and this gives your tweets a graphic identity. Use a simple and strong centered image — a portrait-type photo or similar avatar illustration. Long distance photos, group shots and abstract images don't register well when scaled down to small size. At the risk of giving away my go-to avatar generator, consider this little gem.
Choose an appropriate background image
Again, this is a good place to establish a graphic identity, particularly if you're using Twitter in part for business or promotional reasons. You want a large, high-rez image for this, and abstract or patterned images work well here. As with profile pic, you can upload your own image or select a pre-made theme. Twitter recently partnered with Themeleon 2 to provide thousands of these. Studies have shown that graphical elements really do make an outsized impact online. A picture is still worth 1,000 words, even if they come 140 characters at a time.
Make the most of your bio
As with individual tweets, your public user bio is limited — in this case, 160 characters instead of 140 characters. It's good to be funny or clever, but if you're looking to promote yourself or your project, make sure you get in all the relevant information here. This is the designated space to sell yourself: freelance writer, caterer-for-hire, American League Central shortstop.....
Figuring out who to follow is the next order of business with a new Twitter account. Click the Discover tab, then Find Friends in the left hand navigation menu. Twitter will scour the contacts list in your existing Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail or AOL account(s) and find anyone who is already on Twitter. (You'll need to sign into your other account and give Twitter permission to root around.) This is the best way to generate your initial base of other Twitterers to follow.
Don't follow too many people at first
When first exploring Twitter, the temptation is to jump into the deep end and follow as many people as you can. Don't. I learned this the hard way. You'll flood your incoming tweet feed, called the timeline, and get that deer-in-headlights sensation. I get that sensation enough with Facebook. Start small — 20 to 25 fellow Twitterers, say — and expand gradually.
As you start following more people, places and things, Twitter's List function is a handy way to sort and categorize the daily deluge. The Lists tool is similar to options in other social networking services, but also works as a way to filter and direct information like a live news feed. You can subscribe to another user's list, as well. It gets a little complicated, but it's worth getting acquainted early at How to use Twitter Lists.
Twitter CategoriesInteract and engage
More than any other technology in this current generation of online communication, Twitter is an adaptive, intuitive, almost organic system. I have a phobia about androids, so it takes a lot for me to admire this.
The best way to fine-tune and customize your Twitter experience is to interact with others — reply, retweet, participate and engage. I've been surprised at how quickly Twitter shapes itself as you use it. Who to follow (and unfollow) becomes almost instinctual as you settle in.
This is a corollary to the item above. Just take my word on it: No one wants to know about the crazy thing your cat did last night. Forwarding relevant information is at the core of Twitter. If you're tweeting partly as a self-promotional thing, that's perfectly all right — but don't go overboard. Post a link to the cool thing you did, but also post links to cool things other people did.
Find the funny
There's a certain subset of Twitter users — quite a lot of them professional comedians — who have taken the 140 character count limit as an artistic challenge. I have my personal favorites (Michael Ian Black John Hodgman) but a quick web search will provide plenty of lists to get you started. The art of the one-liner is seeing a resurgence thanks to Twitter. I've taken a stab at it myself with Borscht Belt Tweets , celebrating my affection for old-school Henny Youngman style one-liners. No matter what your preferences or intent with Twitter, it never hurts to laugh a little.
Note: This was written by Glenn McDonald, a Digital Crave contributor.
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