What I Know About Twitter

By  |  Sunday, March 15, 2009 at 11:23 pm

twitterlogo[NOTE: Here’s a post that first appeared in our free T-Week newsletter, which you can subscribe to here.]

I don’t claim to be a Twitter genius. (Even though I was flattered when Jason Hiner of TechRepublic recently ranked me #1 among tech Tweeters.) And I’m pretty sure I’m not addicted to Twitter. (Although there’s no social network I enjoy more or spend more time fooling around with.)

After spending a couple of years Tweeting, however, I do feel like I’ve learned a fair amount about how to have fun with it–especially over the past eight months or so, during which it’s become core to my daily online regimen. Whether you think of Twitter as a low-maintenance Facebook alternative or a form of micro-blogging or a hybrid of chat room and party line or something else–and me, I think it’s unique–it isn’t always instantly obvious how to get the most out of it. So herewith, a few Twitter tips. They’re not gospel–no two people use Twitter exactly the same way–but they work for me. (If you’re a total Twitter beginner, start by reading this good guide to the service’s nuts and bolts.)

Be patient.

Folks often tell me that they’ve tried Twitter and don’t get it. My recommendation: join, read other people’s Tweets, and Tweet yourself a little as the mood strikes. And then, if it’s not working for you, stop–and then come back a few weeks later. I couldn’t quite figure out the service when I first tried it, but when I took a break, then came back with a fresher set of eyeballs, it made more sense.

Ignore the instructions.

The text box that you type your Tweets into asks you “What are you doing?” Unless you’re doing something really interesting, inspiring, funny, or strange, don’t answer it that way. (If everyone who used Twitter followed this approach, nobody could ever again bash it as a place where most of the chatter was about what people had had for breakfast.) The best Tweets tend to make an observation, take a stance, or crack a joke–none of which fall under the umbrella of using Twitter to tell the world what you’re doing.

Be a follower.

At first, using Twitter can feel like shouting into a canyon–all you hear is your own voice echoing back at you. You want people following you, so they’ll read your stuff and comment on it. The easiest way to get followers is to follow, so use Twitter’s various tools for finding your friends and other people you might find interesting. Also useful: Mr. Tweet, a service that provides custom recommendations of other Twitter users you might like.


I didn’t really crack the code of enjoying Twitter until I began thinking of it as a multi-way conversation–one similar, in some ways, to the message forums that got me into online communications a long, long time ago. Once you’re going, other Tweeters will comment on your Tweets, thereby initiating discussions. But at first, especially, it’s incumbent on you to read other Tweets, find conversations in progress, and dive in by using @replies to address other users directly.

Speak clearly.

I try to be pithy when I Tweet–which the 140-character limit makes easy–but I also try to avoid being cryptic. I rarely abbreviate anything, and even when I’m chiming in on a conversation in progress, I try to make my Tweet comprehensible even if it’s the first one somebody’s read in the sequence. Basically, I want to give as many people as possible as much of a chance as possible to understand and enjoy what I have to say.

Use the right tools.

An amazing array of applications and services can help you use Twitter (I wrote about some good basic ones here). Try a bunch of them, and stick with the ones that speak to you. I rely on the excellent iPhone Twitter client Tweetie, the picture uploader Twitpic, and the URL-shortener Is.Gd, among others. Full disclosure: When I’m near a computer, I do my Tweeting using Twitter.com, rather than a Twitter client such as TweetDeck. In theory, that’s a sign I’m a clueless newbie, but I haven’t found a client I love yet–and surely using the tools that make you happiest is a sign you’re an old pro.

I could go on–and probably will in future posts. But for now, I’ll end with a plug: I’m @harrymccracken on Twitter, and I’d love to hear from you there. Or just reply to this e-mail with your Twitterthoughts. Like I said, everyone uses Twitter a little differently, and if you’re a happy Tweeter, I’m positive you know things about it that I don’t.



25 Comments For This Post

  1. David C Pinkowitz Says:

    I agree 100%, Harry. I’ve only been using Twitter for
    about 6-months, but it’s now my favorite social networking
    tool. I would add to your comments that I’ve had a very
    positive experience using the Twitter search capability
    and http://www.whoshouldifollow.com to find experts in my chosen
    field and then start to follow them.
    — David Pinkowitz (www.dcpmarketing.com)

  2. Jared Newman Says:

    Am I ashamed, as a tech journalist, to not be Tweeting? Not anymore!


  3. Aktariel Says:

    See, I’m a paranoid person who likes their privacy, so I could never get into using Twitter, back when I first signed up for an account months ago. I still don’t tweet with regularity.. Perhaps I’ll give it another shot.

  4. Lisa Quinn Says:

    I’ve been reading mixed feelings about Twitter. How this microblogging social network is ruining journalism, or how it is a great marketing and networking tool right now. Either way, Twitter is paving the way for social media forums, allowing our means of communication to be interchanged clear, concise and in real time. What everyone must keep in mind however, is what will keep generating and retaining the strongest user/member base? I recently found the social network, http://www.HopOnThis.com. They integrate a rewards program to keep members online and utilizing social networking functions. Integrated rewards within social media, possibly the next best thing?

  5. Chuck Musciano Says:

    Great post, with great advice. In this time of immediate gratification, people have a hard time understanding that Twitter takes time. Be patient. Learn the lingo and learn to search. Find interesting people and follow them. Thank every single person who follows you.

    I wrote about this as well, at http://bit.ly/r5DxQ.

  6. Barbara Dougher Says:

    Okay….I need REALLY BASIC Twitter tips. Like I don’t know how to put in a url in to my tweet…I don’t know how to post on Facebook and Twitter at the same time….I don’t know if I can use texting to Tweet…I don’t know what a hashmark is and how to us it….I don’t know how to join a conversation….I hate feeling this dumb….UGH!

  7. dadcraige Says:

    What will I find if I look for a definition of Tweeter… a loud speaker used to produce high frequencies?

  8. Ching Ya Says:

    There’s nothing more valuable than speaking from experiences. Well said and thanks for the reminders that we tend to forgot from time to time, eventhough we’re using it everyday. Fascinated with social media tools, and try to digg deep into it. Thanks for the sharing.


  9. Lawrence Imboden Says:

    I’m with Barbara Dougher. There are new twitter users out there who do not understand hash marks, attaching pictures & music to tweets, re-tweeting, etc. It would be nice to find bare-bones, basic information somewhere, which is not available on twitter. Some instructional information in available in the FAQ section but newbies (like me!) need more.
    Being patient is good advice. I’ve been using twitter for about two months and have learned a lot but have a ways to go. It will come, I know. There are tweeters out there who are very helpful and freely share information with the twitterverse.

  10. Sarah Lopez Says:

    Thank you! I’m a newbie and this was probably the most informative thing I’ve read so far. Thank you, thank you!

  11. Alana Burton Says:

    as a fellow Tweeter I agree with Harry on all of the above.

    Twitter certainly does look like the duller facebook on the surface but once you get in to it and start following a few people in the same indsutry it instantly becomes so much more fun than facebook, which I use mainly for updating my family with photos as I am based in Spain. Facebook will be kept for the “personal” stuff with me whilst Twitter is the one I pick up lots of internet marketing tips/forum postings/links etc. from. It has also been invaluable for networking with the people “you want to get to know” as opposed to the people “I already know” on FB.

    Now @alanaburton couldn’t be without it!

  12. Richard Perry Says:

    Really good post. I am a Twitter newbie myself and was a huge skeptic before joining. It’s definitely a leap of faith to put yourself out there and believe that what you are saying is of interest to people. I joined and observed and realized I pretty much had no clue what Twitter was really about beforehand. I think you got it right by putting ‘Be Patient’ top of the list.

    Something that may be of help to Twitter newbies. I found that some of my friends I was following weren’t following me back (actual friends not random people I’d found interesting and started following), and found it was because it’s hard to manage friends/followers within Twitter. When you first follow a user they get an email notification, but if they don’t react to it immediately then the fact they don’t follow you can get lost in the mix. So I threw this together which has helped out somewhat in this regard http://www.badtwitterfriends.com

  13. Birat Says:

    Like barbera said, newbies like me would like to know basic stuffs of twitter

  14. The Closer Says:

    Nice chain of discussion this has provoked. Interesting to see what business etiquette emerges in the coming months for twitter etiquette. Until then the road is obvious for the older forms of social interaction:


  15. lorigama Says:

    Barb and Lawrence and any other people new to Twitter: you might find my blog post helpful: Top 10 Most Powerful Twitter Tips for Brand New Beginners. Click here: http://bit.ly/guEhY
    I’m writing an e-book for people like you because there are so many! I am happy to help you. http://twitter.com/LoriGama

  16. Bianca Berends Says:

    We have build a great new free app for Twitter users.


    Take a look if you are interested and spread the word.

  17. Susan Webster Says:

    I hope to be able to use twitter as a base for recruiting people in learning about stem cell research. There is so much mis-information being disseminated that it is no wonder there is not a real core of people who support this research. This “blog” is not to sway anyoone to a particular direction but to clarify and gather people who really want to know. I am not yet part of a group, although I hope a group can be formed on this site hoping to further stem cell research in all other directions away from embryonic research. It is possible and will be available hopefully soon enough to impact those people who will benefit from the use of this scientific technology. The cost is another discussion for another time. First things first. Please send your thoughts and desired to participate in this research group. IO am new as a member of twitter so I don’t know how you can contact me. According to other addresses I have noticed yo u might try @mssue.

  18. Twitterbranch.com Says:

    Once google buys twitter…it’s all over the game is changing!

  19. MonicaMircea Says:

    not really sure how this thing works someone tole me to hit them up on twidder how does one do so…thanks. M

  20. Jody at CozyComfortsofHome.com Says:

    Twitter definately is an inventive marketing tool. Never did much text messaging; but Twitter really is a unique communication device. I enjoyed this article; keep the communication simple and clear.

  21. collinspatty Says:

    hi im very new to this twit thing, i need help, its been yrs since i’ve even been on the computer, but if you tell me i will follow dir. thank you patty

  22. Rosalie Haynes Says:

    I am disappointed. I have been with Twitters for only a few weeks, but no one notices me or cares if I live or die. 🙁 I am lonely for a good conversational friend with genuine subject matter. I am not a stiff shirt, stuffy person. Very comical really and enjoy chatting. Please advise me on what I am doing wrong.

  23. Lyndon Sullivan Says:

    I know it seems a bit strange at first. i have only been a twitter er for a short time,but the best advice i can give to new comers ,is to post as many tweets as possible,the more you post the more people will read them & maybe follow you.Remember to give a good mix of posts ie,news ,jokes ,,observations etc.& stay cool enjoy Twitter, with out it becomming a bore. listen to me you would think i were a top twiter er ,no honestly i have only recently started, good luck! Yours, Lyndon Sullivan. @ lindano on Twitter.

  24. Dori Says:


  25. Roz Bennetts Says:

    Some good tips here for a newbie like me. I've been using it for a couple of months and am just getting the hang of it, this article helps clarify some 'best practise' points.

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