Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A "how to twitter" for my friends

When I started using Twitter I was very confused. Honestly, I still am sometimes--it's a big place. But, with the help of some friends I was able to beat the learning curve, and continue to learn. Recently a few friends of mine decided to give Twitter a try and I wanted to help. Most of the Twitter how-tos I came across were not very good, so the the result was a very long e-mail I wrote with instructions on how to get started from the ground up. In the end I'm not sure if it's really any better than what is already out there, but I figured I'd post it here just in case it might help anyone else.

Please, suggest any clarifications, additions or improvements that come to mind. It would be nice to make this as user friendly and comprehensive for beginners as possible.

Instructions for Jump-Starting Your Twitter

Getting Started:

Upload a picture (because nobody likes friend-ing a question mark), but pick it carefully. with so many twitter users the images/symbols attached to our names become very important for remembering who people are at a glance. That is, as a general rule this is not something you’ll want to change very often, if at all.

Keep other users in mind when your write your profile, you don’t need to give away any information you don't want to (e.g. majors, internships, live in Boston...” But, do think about what you’d want to know if you were looking at your own profile as a stranger. On Twitter the name of the game is being open—so try to give people an idea of what you’re about.

Set up your e-mail and cell phone. Have try having only direct messages e-mailed to you (I have them texted to me as well)—Twitter is real time so I leave all other messages out of my in-box, if I miss it, I miss it. It’s important to set up your cell so that you can update twitter on the go, or direct message people from your phone, more on this below. You'll be able to do all of the above by poking around on after you have logged in, start by looking under "settings" located on the top right of the page.

The Basics:

Twitter has its own syntax for sending different types of messages. As you no doubt already know, regular messages can only be 140 characters long.

To send a public message directed to someone specific is called an “at” message/reply. E.g. “@JPotteiger Hey, so you had a bagel today. Awesome. Thanks for not cleaning it up!” Note: that there’s NO space between @ and the twitter handle.

To send a private message, called a “direct” message, type “d JPotteiger” followed by your message “I hate you, clean up your f#&king breakfast mess in the morning!!!” Note: you MUST put a space between the d and the twitter handle.

If you’ve set up your phone on, to tweet simply send a text message to 40404. Twitter will recognize who the message is from and posts it to your account. All the syntax for messaging above applies.

Topics often trend on Twitter and these appear on your home page on But, more often than not the conversations you'll care about will not. To follow these topics people organized themselves by adding a # sign, called a “hash tag,” to relevant tweets. Go to and search for “#pun” for an example. As you become more familiar with TweetDeck and/or HootSuite (more on these below) you’ll learn you can have separate columns for keeping track of different lists of people AND for hash tags.

Protip: is a great tool. It’s a real time search engine and your portal for finding things on twitter. Below I’ll give you a list of people to follow on twitter, put their twitter handles into the search (take a quick look at the conversation surrounding their name) and click on their handle itself to go to their profile, and then follow them. Or for each name just type in the url “”

Boston twitter: Bostontweet, happn_in_boston, bostontips, hiddenboston, ONEin3, bostonmagazine, theimproper, stuffmagazine


It’s tough to feel comfortable tweeting, knowing what's good and what's bad–separating the wheat from the chaff is tough at the beginning. Thus, I think that broadening your tweet horizons is important so that you'll have more options to consider when tweeting (posting a message to Twitter in case you haven't picked up on that yet).

Enter Turns out you can tweet small pictures too, and right from your phone. Go to and log in with your twitter account info. Under "upload photo" get the information you need to send picture updates from your phone and then enter that info as a contact in your phone book under TwitPic so you can easily update with pics from your phone.

As far as tweeting in general, try setting a goal of tweeting at least 3 times throughout the day. You'll need to force yourself to have a quota at first or you’ll just forget. Don't force the tweets themselves though; try to tweet interesting things, not just what you’re eating or doing. It can be a NYT article you read online, a good pun, frustration with the MBTA, something you see downtown (twitpic), a question about something you see downtown, a recommendation (e.g. Gulu Gulu and the Engine House in Salem, MA are Awesome!). AND, there might even be a #salemMA for you to tack on and/or follow for Twitter news about Salem. Or maybe you could start it... Many possibilities.

Advanced Beginners

Download TweetDeck OR sign up for a free online account with These are 3rd party programs for managing twitter. Once you start using these you’ll never bother using the website again; as these are specially designed programs for managing your twitter friends and followers and are far more useful. As you will find, much of what you’ll use that makes twitter great is 3rd party stuff. Yay capitalism!

Now tweet away you princes of Maine… you kings of New England.