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How to use Twitter

The ageless revolution has befallen upon us, whether we like it or not. What started as a small project for the employees of the small podcasting company Odeo has taken the world by storm, gaining more than 500 million followers since its inception in early 2006. The popular social networking website and micro-blogging service allows users to post their latest updates in a quick, burst-like fashion of 140 characters or less. It’s basically mass texting via website and is probably one of the simplest things you will ever do — all you need is a Twitter account and you’re well on your way. Here are some quick steps, pointers, and tidbits to get you up to speed.

To tweet or not to tweet: there really is no question.

This article has been updated since it was originally published to reflect changes to the service. Staff writer Jacob O’Gara contributed to this guide.

Twitter bird

Sign Up. Go to www.twitter.com to sign up. Enter the appropriate information (full name, email and password) on the right-hand side before clicking “Sign up for Twitter.” The website will then ask you to verify the information, choose a username and agree to the Twitter Terms of Service before proceeding.

There will also be a checkbox to keep you signed in on whatever computer you’re using as well as a checkbox for tailoring your tweets based on the websites you visit. Check accordingly!

Build Your Timeline: The entire point of Twitter is to follow and be followed. So what’s the point if you’re not reading and retweeting the latest gossip from all your friends, colleagues and favorite celebs? Plus, Twitter gives you options of who to follow immediately after signing up so you need not go far.

  • Suggestions. Choose who to follow from the dropdown menu of notable celebs like Kanye West and Stephen Colbert or news networks such as CNN and the New York Times. Twitter will also give you the option to browse a slew of categories from sports to technology.
  • Search. Use the search bar to find anyone the suggestions may have missed—whether they are celebrities, politicians or your just friends. You can even search for people to follow through your email accounts (Gmail, Yahoo!, AOL and Hotmail).

Add Character. Once you’re an avid follow, Twitter will ask you to upload an image (maximum size of 700k) and provide a brief, 160-character bio about yourself. The placeholder bio will introduce you as a rocket ship building, pizza tossing, Giants fan with a couple of kids. However, a bio is only suggested, not required.

Tweet. You’re officially a full-fledge Twitter member with a list of friends and followers, but now it’s time to join the Tweeter ranks. Just click inside the “Compose new tweet….” box in the upper left-hand corner of the home tab or click the blue feather icon in the upper right-hand corner at any time to get started. Then punch in some text, upload an image or set your location. This is how you update your Twitter and let people know what you’re up to. Remember, text is strictly limited to 140 characters.

Twitter Pointers. You’ve signed up and tweeted your first thought into the beyond, but what do you do now? Well, it’s time to learn the finer points about how to connect with your audience and join the global conversation.

  • Hashtags. The hashtag symbol (#) is a great way to mark specific topics or keywords in a Tweet. It was created by Twitter users as a way to classify messages and has since become a cultural phenomenom. All you have to do is place a hashtag in front of a word or phrase in your tweet. Simple as that. Can you say #tigerblood?
  • Mentions & Replies. Two more ways you can connect with other Twitter users. Mentions and replies are updates that contain “@username” anywhere in the body of the tweet. Place a “@” in front of the person, business, organization or whatever you want to mention or reply to. A recent change has made it so that your replies to someone will be seen only by mutual followers if you place their “@username” at the beginning of your tweet. If you want your followers to see your mentions/replies to someone, set the “@username” at the end of the tweet or put a period in front of the ampersand like this: “.@”.  There is also a “Reply” option under tweets to save you precious time.
  • Retweets. A retweet is a way to share another Twitter user’s tweet with all of your followers. It will essentially look the same as normal tweets with the author’s name and username next to it, but it will also contain the retweet icon and the name of the user who reposted it. Click the “Retweet” option under a tweet in order to share.
  • Favorites. Adding a tweet as a favorite is similar to liking something on Facebook. It’s a way to let the original poster know you liked their tweet for whatever reason. However, it also gives you a way to save a tweet so you can refer back to it later. Simply click the star icon with “Favorite” next to it in order to favorite a tweet.
  • Direct Messages. You can send a direct message to people who follow you by clicking the gear icon in the top right and selecting “Direct Messages.” Choose the “New message” icon, type the name or username of the follower you wish to send the message to, enter the message and hit “Send message.” Unlike tweets, direct messages are private and can only be seen by the recipient of the message.
  • Mobile Version: Now you can access Twitter right from your smart phone, tablet, or other mobile device. It works in the same vein as the website, but with some slight modifications and restrictions. Plus, the smartphone versions are even equipped to create Instragramesque photos on the go and are available for both Android and Apple devices.

Random Tidbits. There are a few other things worth mentioning.

  • Try using your real information (name, location, etc.) when customizing your Twitter homepage and profile. Doing so will help people find you more easily on Twitter.
  • Change your personal options by clicking the gear icon and choosing the “Settings” option. Here you can change around your personal options, picture, bio, password, or any other sort of customization you’ve done. You can also make all your tweets private by checking the “Protect my Tweets” option in the settings menu. If selected, only those you approve will receive your tweets.
  • You can change your Twitter username anytime without affecting your existing tweets, replies, direct messages or other data. But be sure to let your followers know so you’ll continue receiving all of your messages with your new username.
  • Learn to use shorthand — it’s tough to get a thought out in 140 characters or less — but remember you’re not texting. Don’t make yourself look completely illiterate.
  • Twitter is a great way to share links to cool and interesting stuff you find on the Web, but sometimes those lengthy URLs can eat up your 140-character limit. Get around this problem by using a handy link shortener like Bitly.
  • Follow and tweet to amass your fanbase. Go the whole nine yards and use in hashtags, mentions, replies, and favorite tweets. If you follow someone, they will be more inclined to follow you back. Just don’t spam.
  • Integrate other social networks into the mix. Have a Facebook account? You can link it directly to Twitter so your tweets automatically post on your Facebook timeline. Just log in with your Facebook information from the profile tab in the Twitter settings menu.

Tweet Away. That’s basically all you need to know about Twitter in a nutshell. Go ahead and share your deepest secrets with your followers, rejoice when your favorite musician replies to you, or engage in an infamous tweet argument. The best way to really learn how to use Twitter is by using Twitter. Check out the Twitter Help Center for more information.

Do you need a little clarification or are you particularly perplexed about how to use Twitter’s various aspects? Let us know in the comments below.