A newbies guide to Twitter


UPDATE: I last updated this post in 2010 because Twitter introduced a new design. Since then Twitter has gone through further redesigns and has created it’s own user guide which will be more up to date. However, a lot of what I’ve included below will still be useful.

I recently joined a group on LinkedIn for folks on Twitter. Watching all the discussions there I noticed one piece of advice lacking: a step-by-step guide to using Twitter. So I’m taking a stab at it.

1. Go to Twitter and sign up for an account (yellow Sign Up button)

2. Complete the sign up form. Use your real name as your user name (unless this is your brand’s Twitter account). No spaces allowed so I am lizhover.

3. Before doing anything else, wait for a confirmation email to be sent to you.

4. Once you click on the link in your confirmation email, you’ll be automatically taken to your Twitter page.

5. Now you’ll see your Twitter home page where, once you start following people, updates – or tweets – will appear (also known as your timeline/Twitter stream). It will look a lot like the image below.

6. In the black bar at the top of your screen click on profile – you’re going to add information about yourself and a profile photo or avatar – the first rule of Twitter. If you don’t add a photo, folks will think your account is fake. The default avatar is an egg.

7. Once you’ve clicked on profile you’ll be taken to your profile! Now you need to click edit your profile shown above the pink arrow in this image.

8. This will take you to your ‘settings’ page where you can change your photo. It’s best to use a square photo of yourself. There are other options on this page which require you to check boxes to activate them. I leave the decision up to you but I’m not a fan of activating the ‘location’ setting which tells other Twitter users where you’re tweeting from. I think this is a security risk.

9. On that same topic of security, you’re also given the option to protect your updates. If you check this box no-one will be able to see anything about you unless you give them permission. For many people this can be a turn off and they will choose not to follow you. My advice is to only use this feature if you’re being stalked. Honestly.

10. Save any changes you make to this page. You’ll be prompted for your password again. Then scroll to the top of the page and on profile. This will take you to a page that will let you change your photo, add a website address and a short bio about yourself.


11. Click the ‘Browse‘ button and choose a photo from your computer that you would like to use as your avatar. Use a square photo of yourself. Try to use a real picture of you or your company logo.

12. Fill in your location.

13. Add your website if you have one. Please don’t put your Twitter URL or your Facebook profile. People want to find out more about you. This should be your blog or company website.

14. In the Bio field add a straight forward, clear description of yourself. What not to write: ‘I’m the world’s best marketer’; ‘I’m just a guy’; ‘I’m totally awesome.’ Believe me, people write this stuff. This is your one line pitch about yourself or your company. Instead say something interesting. For example: ‘I’m guitar-playing, poetry-writing CEO of Big Bank.’ You’ve got 160 characters to use.

15. Save everything. Don’t be put off if you get an error or the message that ‘Twitter is over capacity.’ You’ll see the ‘fail whale’ a lot. Just keep hitting your back button and uploading your photo until it works. If you get fed up, move on to the next step.

Twitter's fail whale

16. Now you’re gonna look for people to follow. That’s what makes Twitter so useful. Once you follow people, your Twitter stream that looked a bit naked under point 5 above will start filling up with tweets.

Finding people on Twitter can be very time consuming. But it’s worth the time investment.

Canadian, US, UK, Irish and New Zealand folks can use the local search feature on a website called Twellow which lists folks on Twitter – provided they’ve registered with Twellow.

Clicking on any location on the map will zoom you in to that place.

You’ll see a list of cities which are clickable. When you click on a city you’ll see a long list of folks on Twitter from that area.

To see their Twitter profile, look for this line in brackets at the top of each listing (lizhover on Twitter). Hit the highlighted word and you’ll see their Twitter page. Read through some of their tweets and if they interest you, hit ‘follow.’

When you follow someone on Twitter every time they post something in the what’s happening box it will show up in your timeline/Twitter stream.

You can also use the Find people search function on Twitter. Since the redesign of Twitter in October 2010, finding the find people feature has become a bit convoluted. You need to click on profile > edit my profile and then look at the top of your screen for the find people function.

You can type a person’s name here or a keyword such as ‘Marketing’ or ‘Filmmaking.’ There is also a feature which lets you browse interests.

Once your results are displayed you’ll see the most recent tweet from that account. If you like it, follow them. Use the + button on the right to follow that user.

You can opt to see more tweets from an account by hitting the account name shown in black.

17. The first method I used to find great people to follow is to find people you like and see who they follow. When I first joined Twitter I spent hours searching through the list of folks that others follow. I actually found that the best way to unearth some amazing people on Twitter.

18. You’ll notice some folks will start following you back which means your tweets will show up in their timeline.

19. Once you’ve got a few people to follow, it’s a good idea to add an update – or a tweet. Try not to write about how your meeting went over, what you had for lunch or how you were stuck in traffic. Try to find meaningful information to share with others. That is the value of Twitter.

Introduce yourself (and remember your tweets are limited to 140 characters). Take a look at other people’s tweets and see what sort of stuff they’re posting. Or check out this post for ideas.

20. One of the most popular uses of Twitter is link sharing. I find something cool and I share it with my followers – a video, a photo, a great article. Because posts/tweets are limited to 140 characters, you’ll need to use a URL shortener to compress that original long website address. There are lots of providers to choose from. bit.ly is popular. I use goo.gl

21. Links are kind of the life blood of Twitter. If you post a particularly good link (with a short description) it may get re-tweeted. This means that someone following you liked your tweet and forwarded it to their followers. If you do that you must credit the original source and include ‘RT.’ For example ‘Twitter SMS will come with a huge price tag for Canadian users http://ping.fm/GDgeo (RT via @mashable).

Twitter also has a built in retweet button.

22. When you refer to any other user on Twitter you should use the following format @username – don’t worry about any other bits of the address. Don’t put any spaces between the @ and username.

I’ve written a part two newbies guide to Twitter. Read more about using Twitter including customising your Twitter background.

Still Twitter-curious?

The excellent website Webdesigner Depot has trumped my effort above with a thorough and easy to read ultimate guide to everything Twitter. I highly recommend you head on over and check out their alphabetized glossary, a list of popular Twitter applications and instructions for incorporating Twitter into your website and blogs. UPDATE: July 21, 2009 – Webdesigner Depot has just published part two of the ultimate guide to everything Twitter.


  1. Janis Wilkinson says

    This is what i’ve been looking for – an easyspeak guide to twitter for non technical peeps. THANK YOU

  2. Janis Wilkinson says

    This is what i’ve been looking for – an easyspeak guide to twitter for non technical peeps. THANK YOU

  3. amy ruggles says

    Thank you Liz. Great directions. Easy to follow.

  4. amy ruggles says

    Thank you Liz. Great directions. Easy to follow.

  5. Laura mcwilliams says

    I've learned that you can make anyone smile if you give them a box of crayons and a coloring book.

  6. That about covers what I’ve taken a few hours to figure out – wish I’d found you sooner.;-)
    Sure do see that whale a lot — annoying!
    Twellow is new to me – will check it out.
    Why goo.gl rather than bit.ly for you?

    Will definitely check out part two … Thanks Liz.

  7. Oskar & Pam says

    I wish I would have this when I first joined.  Even though I’ve been on Twitter for a long time, I’ve never really tried to use it.  Your comment on Pet Blogs United was really helpful, thank you.

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