Twitter for absolute beginners.

A colleague has just joined Twitter and tweeted that she doesn't quite get it yet. That's not a surprise as most people struggle with it when they first sign up. I know I did. At first glance Twitter looks like some kind of random gibberish written in pidgin English. Actually, quite a lot if it



that, so the real trick is filtering out the noise.

So for my colleague's benefit here's my take on how to get started...

You've signed up, given yourself a username (not too rude, I hope!) and now you're wondering what to do next. Well before you start, the next two things I'm going to ask you to do will be crucial if you are going to get any joy out of Twitter. Here they are:

1) Upload a photo of yourself. No, really. This shows that you are a real person and not some automated bot. And if not a pic of yourself, then an interesting pic that represents what you're about.
2) Now go to 'settings' and in the Profile section there is a box marked 'Bio'. Enter one sentence about yourself that describes who you are in a nutshell. If it's interesting, people will want to find out more, so be creative.

Now you are ready to begin. OK, let's start with the premise that you've just walked into a party and you don't know anyone. Yet.

What's the first thing you'd do? Probably find yourself a drink or some nibbles. 

Well go do that. Not literally, but you could start by following a few brands that you know - just to start filling your timeline with something familiar to you. In the search field, type in the name of a brand, product or restaurant that you like. Once you find what interests you, just click 'follow'. A lot of people go to celebrities as it is something we haven't  been able to do before. Some are really interactive (Dara O Bhriain, Raymond Blanc and Stephen Fry are great examples), but don't be surprised if they don't reply back to you when you write to them. I posted a

little video about this

which kinda puts the whole celebrity thing into perspective.

No doubt you will unfollow these brands

in time as they usually just want to sell you stuff (the antithesis to what this blog is trying to convey), 

but it gets the ball rolling.

 And y



is a real word in this new universe you've entered. 

Next you'll want to find people or topics you like, so go do that. You can of course start with me


. However, 

if fashion is your bag then find the brands, or better still find the columnists who write about fashion or designers who actually create the stuff. Then you'll start interacting with some real people who debate, share points of view, tips and insights on the subject. You'll probably be a bit shy at this stage, so you may just want to 'listen' for a while (some call this 'lurking', but that's if you ONLY listen without interacting.) 

After some time spent

 reading this stream of tweets in your timeline you might finally feel the urge to comment on something you agree on. Or disagree on. So go do that. 

Simply hit 'reply', type out your point of view and click send. Guess what? You're up and running. 

If you're point is valid or thought-provoking or in some way adds value to that conversation then chances are, that person will reply back. Or they might 'favourite' that message to let you know they liked it and want to reference it later. Or better still they might follow you back because they want to hear more from you. That way, everything you now tweet will appear in their timeline. And so it goes. The community grows and you grow with it.

Of course, you don't always have to write a new tweet to share something with your followers. What if you read something and you'd like to share that just the way it is (for example a special offer or motivational quote maybe), then just hit the 'Retweet' button and it will give you a choice to either Retweet as it is or Quote the tweet in a new tweet. Hitting Retweet will automatically drop it into your followers timelines. Done. You have share something with your followers by clicking one button. 

For more brevity, it's nice to Retweet with the addition of a little thought you might have on it. So instead of hitting 'Retweet', just tap 'Quote tweet' and add in a little comment before sending.

Hashtags are another very simple tool for sorting and tagging tweets. By placing the # symbol in front of a word, let's say 'weekend' to get #weekend, Twitter users can search for the term


and any tweets will show up in that specific list of search results. Why is this helpful? Let's say you are watching Eastenders (bear with me here!)  and you want to know what other people are saying about the program, just search for #eastenders and I guarantee you will connect with thousands of people tweeting about that topic there and then. When Andy Murray was scoring those last few winning points at Wimbledon, Twitter lit up with manic excitement which could be followed with the hashtag #murray.

According to @TwitterUK, the peak number of Tweets during #Murray's win yesterday was higher than the biggest peak during London 2012.
— BBC One (@BBCOne) July 8, 2013

Just a note of caution: try not to overdo it on the hashtags in your tweets. One or two hashtags is pefectly acceptable. Anymore and people actually switch off.

And that's it. Find people you like, engage with them, follow them, share their stories and enjoy their interaction. Depending on how it goes, they just might invite you back. Of course this might be Twitter I'm talking about, or a really good party that you've attended like I mentioned a minute ago. Either way, the etiquette and philosophpy is kinda the same. Happy tweeting.

A glossary of basic Twitter terms

Tweet - A short message of up to 140 characters that you post to your followers timelines from you or receive into your timeline from them. Tweets can include pics, videos or links to websites and other content. 
Timeline - The 'river' of tweets visible to you as they are posted by the people you follow. You can sort these into lists, but that is for another post.
Retweet - This is a tweet that has been relayed on from one tweeter to another. These can be left as they are or quoted in a new tweet with the addition of a comment. A simple and easy way to share content with your followers.
Hashtag - This famous # symbol familiar to phone dial pads is placed in front of a word to make it a searchable term on Twitter. This is great for following events, conferences or TV programs where that search term is the only thing linking all those followers. Facebook resisted but have now incorporated into their system as well, so it's not going away.
Favourite - You can mark tweets you like or want to read later by clicking the 'Favourite' button, usually denoted with a little star icon. The sender is notified that you have done this, so it is a nice way to acknowledge a tweet that you like, but don't necessarily want to tap out a full reply to.