Practical 101s: Tips For New Twitter Users

Twitter logo This post is a follow-up to my recent "Getting Started on Twitter" post. If you’re looking for a step-by-step guide to setting-up an account and using Twitter for the first time, I suggest you start there.

So, you now have a Twitter account and you’re raring to go. But what do you do?

This post gives my suggestions for how to get the most out of Twitter. These are based on my experience and some people may disagree with some of the points; that’s fine (feel free to say so in the comments). Much of this comes down to personal preference.

Let’s get started. I have eight tips for you:

  1. Start slowly
  2. Follow the ‘right’ people
  3. Don’t spam
  4. Interact with others
  5. Post substantial messages
  6. Do more than just self-promote
  7. Set-up searches for relevant topics
  8. Make the most of the tools available

Tip #1: Start slowly

Twitter can take a lot of getting used-to. One of the hardest things to deal with is the sheer number of posts you’ll see.

Start slowly. Follow a few people at a time. When you first start, I suggest following no more than 30-50 until you get used to it.

Reason #1 for this: if people see that you’ve followed hundreds or thousands of people and that only a few are following you, they may assume you’re a spammer and just ignore or block you (or worse, report you as a spammer).

If you want to, you can let the number of people you follow grow over time. Bear in mind that as the number of people you follow goes up, you will need to change how you use Twitter. Whether you want to do that or not comes down to personal preference.

I currently ‘follow’ around 700 people, which is towards the upper end of my tolerance. At that number, a message will scroll off my screen, to be replaced by others, in about a minute. In order to follow that many people, I have to accept that I won’t see every message that people post. Instead, I dip in and out every so often, check the last few messages posted and look for trends.

If you would rather read every message from the people you follow, I suggest you keep the number of people you follow down.

Regardless, start slowly or it will get overwhelming.

Tip #2: Follow the ‘right’ people

One of the most common complaints I hear about Twitter is that "people are always just posting what they had for lunch" or similar.

My response: People who have that problem are following the wrong people.

What constitutes the ‘right’ people will be different for everyone, as we all have different friends, interests and preferences for how to use Twitter.

Back in January I wrote a post looking at how people find other people to follow. I polled my Twitter contacts to get their thoughts, too. Four trends emerged:

  1. Friends: First and foremost, people follow those that they know.
  2. People That Others Follow: People rely on the quality of their friends’ friends.
  3. Similar Interests: People look for other users with similar interests that they can learn from.
  4. Conversation: People gravitate towards people who are involved in interesting conversations. One-way information pushing doesn’t work.

Earlier this year Chris Brogan started a wiki called Twitter Packs, where you can find lists of Twitter users divided into groups by topic, by location, by company and by events. As a new user, this is a great resource if you’re not sure where to start. I also suggest you check out my post on how to get the most out of Twitter Packs before you dive in.

If you like, you can stick to following people you know. That’s absolutely fine. However, I have derived huge benefits from expanding my online circle in Twitter and connecting to people with similar interests.

Some people argue that you should follow everyone who follows you. I don’t buy that for a second. That’s like saying you have to be friends with someone simply because they want to be friends with you, regardless of who they are.

Follow the people you want to interact with and don’t be afraid to click the ‘un-follow’ button.

Tip #3: Don’t spam


As Twitter has grown in usage, it has seen a growth in people/companies simply posting automated messages to their account.

In my view, that’s unfortunate and, in most cases, a fruitless attempt to drive traffic using old-school spamming techniques (there are exceptions, for example, BreakingNews or GlobeandMail, which offer good reasons to follow their updates).

Twitter has now set up a spam account to which people can report spammers, and continues its efforts to fight them. Don’t be one of the people caught.

Tip #4: Interact with others

This is another one of those ‘personal’ choices. I strongly advise you to use a large proportion of your messages to interact with other people.


  1. To get to ‘know’ people
  2. To learn from them
  3. To build a community

Now, some people choose not to do this with their accounts. That’s fine, to an extent, but unless there’s a good reason to read your messages, you may find you’re talking to yourself as few people will follow you.

Looking at my last 20 tweets, 13 of them were to other people.

Use the ‘@’ function frequently and you’re likely to get much more out of Twitter.

Tip #5: Post substantial messages

Remember the complaint I mentioned about people posting about their lunch?

That’s what I’m talking about.

If you want to post the occasional pithy comment that’s fine. However, if your Twitter stream is full of messages like that, people will unfollow you in droves.

Again, the type of things you post is very personal, so rather than telling you what to post, here’s what I tend to post:

  • Links to interesting articles or posts
  • My opinions on articles
  • Thoughts on current events
  • Conversations I have with others

Tip #6: Do more than just self-promote

Don’t get me wrong here – I think some self-promotion is ok (I have the Twitter Tools plugin installed on, which automatically tweets my latest blog posts). However, if that’s all you use your Twitter account for, you’re missing out.

Try to set a good balance between the messages you post about your own properties and the messages you post on other topics.

The end result if you only self-promote without providing some value: you guessed it – people won’t listen.

Tip #7: Set up searches for relevant topics

If you want to turbo-charge your Twitter experience, set up some searches for topics relevant to you.

The way you do this is up to you. You can do it using Twitter Search and keep that open in your browser; you can pump the Twitter Search results into an RSS reader, or you can use a third-party application to do the searching.

You can divide these searches into two categories:

  1. Search for yourself
  2. Search for other people and topics

1. Search for yourself

Twitter’s ‘replies’ function is pretty basic – it only shows you messages that begin with "@[your username]." Other applications like Twhirl or Twitterific offer an improved replies function, but I find it very useful to have a search set-up for myself anyway – every so often something seems to slip through.

2. Search for other people and topics

Are you interested in marathon running? Set up a search for "marathon" and see what people are saying. Interested in politics? Set up a search for "Obama" or "McCain." Using Twitter on behalf of a company? Search for your company name and those of your competitors.

Tweetdeck really is king for this kind of searching – set up all of your searches in one application.

Tip #8: Make the most of the tools available

My previous post on Twitter looked at a couple of the tools available to help you use Twitter. However, Brian Solis has a comprehensive list of the plethora of tools available. Check it out, and use them to make your Twitter experience simpler, easier and more enjoyable.

What tips would you offer?

There you have it – seven tips for newcomers to Twitter.

What other advice would you offer to people who are just getting started?

This post is part of an ongoing series of ‘practical 101′ posts on public relations and social media topics. For other, similar advice, check out the ‘practical 101′ series. What else would you like to see a practical 101 for? Let me know in the comments!

(Image credit: Getty Images)