Top 5 Tips for Using Twitter

By: Amy Hunter

Popular Web Sites Image Gallery "Welcome to Twitter," says its co-founder and CEO Evan Williams. See more pictures of popular web sites.
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To twitter is to talk in a chattering fashion. Not a bad description for the muted jibber-jabber exchanged on the social networking Web site of same name. From their cell phones and laptops, users of Twitter type up autobiographical tidbits, or tweets, that are then displayed on their profile pages at the Web site. Tweets are fenced in by one rule -- they cannot be longer than 140 characters. Followers subscribe to users' streams of tweets, which they can read via the Internet, a cell phone or through an instant messaging client. Some users choose to leave their Twitter accounts open so that anyone can see them, which is the default setting. Other users restrict access to only their real-life friends and acquaintances.

If you're already chirping away or if you're considering opening an account, you might want to read these five tips on how to get the most out of Twitter's social network.


5. Know Why You're Twittering

There are several reasons people join Twitter. Some people treat Twitter as a micro-blog. They write short posts multiple times a day about anything that pops into their heads. This stream of consciousness style of writing can be appealing (as long as it's not so introspective that only the user perceives its value).

Other users use Twitter for social updates. A social update is similar to a status update on Facebook or an away message on instant messaging. The sender makes a short post, such as "Headed to the movies," and friends and family followers know where he or she is.


For businesses, Twitter has become one of the many ways to announce a new product, a special promotion or link to a press release. To hang on to their followers, business's tweets need to be more than shameless self promotion. And that brings us to our next Twitter tip, which you'll find on the next page.

4. Share Compelling Content

According to a recent Neilsen poll, Twitter is the fastest growing social networking site. With so many users joining in on the conversation, the competition for followers is becoming intense in this rapidly expanding medium. To attract and maintain followers, users need to share content that others find interesting, to put it simply.

Are you convinced that 140 characters isn't enough text to communicate anything relevant? You're wrong. People who have success with Twitter share info in a variety of ways. They post a link to an interesting news story or new research. They ask questions to learn what their followers are interested in. They follow other Twitter feeds and engage in conversations with people they're trailing. They also use Twitter frequently. Practice makes perfect, right? The only way to get comfortable using this new technology is to dive in and use it.


3. Make Twitter Work for You

There's using Twitter as a resource, and then there's wasting time. If you want to use it wisely, use Twitter as a research aid. Twitter provides you with a readymade audience to ask questions. You can plug keywords into Twitter's search function to find information on a topic you're researching and see what others are saying about it.

If you're a blogger who wants to drive traffic to your site, or if you're running a business, you can use Twitter as a marketing tool to build name recognition. It's not even necessary to have a long list of followers to have success. When you reply to someone else's tweet, your name and avatar will show up as well. So if you add interesting, relevant comments to someone else's tweets, you bring attention to your name and you might even collect more followers.


Whatever your business or interest, look for what people are saying about it on Twitter by using a hash mark (#) before the search term. If you're providing a link to a Web site or blog, run it through a site like to conserve space.

2. Maintain Your Privacy

Twitter headquarters -- and a flurry of birds painted on the wall.
Twitter headquarters -- and a flurry of birds painted on the wall.
David Paul Morris/Getty Images

Before you put your tiny diary online, it's important you decide how much privacy you want to keep. When you're sending out messages into space, you might forget people are reading them. Twitter lends itself to a more laidback and personal writing style, so it's important not to be seduced into revealing more than you're comfortable with.

The default setting for Twitter is to allow anyone to follow a feed. If you only want friends and family members reading your updates, go into the preferences and change your settings. And just because everyone else seems to have a headshot on their Twitter pages doesn't mean you need to have one.


There's no right or wrong answer to how much privacy one should keep on Twitter. Choose the level with which you're most comfortable. Many people make the mistake of letting down all privacy guards, using their first and last names, talking about their community and posting pictures of their kids, assuming only a few people will follow them. But once you start following other people and commenting on their tweets, your list of followers will naturally increase. Anyone following that person can read your comments, click on your name, and head straight to your page.

The interactive nature of Twitter is one reason that it has become so popular. It's easy to forget, however, that your comments can be read by anyone, not just the person you're replying to. Many people are surprised how quickly their list of followers grows, without their making any effort to attract followers. If this makes you uncomfortable, change your profile settings before you make your first tweet.

1. Understand How It Works

To use Twitter effectively, it's important to understand how it works. Anyone with a Twitter account can leave a direct message that others can view. If that was where Twitter stopped, it wouldn't be so popular. Twitter users can also reply to other people's tweets. This interaction is what makes Twitter special.

If you respond to someone who's following you on Twitter, the message will be preceded by the @ sign, followed by the person's user name. Even though that person is responding to someone directly, anyone can read the message. Want to keep it private? You can respond by sending a private direct message. But, unless you're following the person, he or she can't respond back. This is why many people choose to keep dialog on their Twitter page.


Read something interesting from someone you're following? It's perfectly acceptable to pass it along, just give credit where credit is due, and acknowledge that it is a "re-tweet." Preface your comment with a RT@ username and everyone will know who you're crediting.

You don't have to head to Twitter every time you want to make a post. One of the beautiful things about Twitter is the number of desktop and mobile phone apps available that allow you to make a quick post to your Twitter account. Try Twhirl, Twitterific or TweetDeck. Looking for something specific? Try for a list of tweets on the subject.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Braiker, Brian. "Twitter Nation." Newsweek. July 9, 2008. (April 29, 2009)
  • Hamilton, Anita. "Why Everyone's Talking about Twitter." Time. March 27, 2007. (April 29, 2009),8599,1603637,00.html.
  • Ludwig, Sean. "Top 10 Twitter Tips for Beginners." PC Magazine. Feb. 16, 2009. (April 29, 2009),2817,2341095,00.asp.
  • Pogue, David. "Twitter? It's What You Make It." The New York Times. Feb. 12, 2009. (April 29, 2009)
  • Quittner, Jeremy. "Twitter: Building Businesses Tweet by Tweet." BusinessWeek. May 4, 2009. (April 30, 2009).