Twitter for Rookies: Simple Guidance for Getting Started

Twitter_newbird_boxed_whiteonblueStill not certain whether you should take the Twitter plunge? The best way to determine its value is to give it a try. Focusing on using Twitter professionally rather than personally – including staying current with local, national, and global news – this post offers simple best practice suggestions for setting up your profile and getting started.


As far as I’m concerned, every professional can benefit from having a Twitter account. That doesn’t mean we all have to care what people are having for lunch, who the mayor of the local Home Depot is, or what celebrities are doing, thinking, or selling. It also doesn’t mean that we have to share (or overshare) the banalities of our own lives, amass hundreds or thousands of followers, or strive for a high Kloutscore.

Contrary to popular perception, media hype, and the passionate proclamations of early-adopters and Twitter mavens, Twitter views itself as an “information network” rather than a “social network.” Specifically, as described on the About Twitterpage,

Twitter is a real-time information network that connects you to the latest stories, ideas, opinions and news about what you find interesting. Simply find the accounts you find most compelling and follow the conversations.

This description directly addresses the first item in my Twitter Worst Practices post from a year ago: namely, the insidious and somewhat tyrannical assumption that all Twitter users must tweet. Reluctance to talk or share via Twitter is one of the primary reasons many later adopters are still hesitant to sign up. The reality is that Twitter is an incredibly powerful listening channel. It offers fantastic opportunities for everyone – especially busy professionals – to receive and screen a high volume of news, information and resources efficiently and effectively. It is perfectly to open a Twitter account with the intent to just listen. You never have to send a single tweet. Twitter even says so themselves:

You don’t have to build a web page to surf the web, and you don’t have to tweet to enjoy Twitter. Whether you tweet 100 times a day or never, you still have access to the voices and information surrounding all that interests you. You can contribute, or just listen in and retrieve up-to-the-second information. Visit to learn more about what’s yours to discover.

Like most things, the best way to determine Twitter’s potential value is to give it a try. Other than a small amount of time, you have nothing to lose. Twitter is free, and it’s incredibly easy to open an account.

Here are my best practice suggestions for setting up your profileand getting started. To keep things simple, I am going to focus on using Twitter professionally rather than personally, including staying current with local, national, and global news.

If you have a specific question not addressed in these suggestions, I’d love to hear it. I’m planning a follow-up post on taking participation to the next level, and I’m happy to address particular topics people are interested in.  I also invite other experienced Twitter users to share their recommendations, in case I may have overlooked something.

- Courtney Shelton Hunt

PS - If you want to receive the next set of Twitter recommendations as soon as they’re published, be sure to subscribe to the blog (via RSS feed, email, GoogleReader and more).


Best Practice Suggestions

Choosing a Username (i.e., Your Handle)

  • Keep it short – 10 characters or fewer
  • Devise something that connects to your personal and/or professional identity, but be careful not to infringe on someone else’s brand
  • Make sure it won’t embarrass  you, your colleagues, or your organization (i.e., no cutesy names or nicknames, no off-color humor)
  • Think about how the handle will read/sound to others, particularly when it’s viewed in all lower-case letters


Including a Picture (yes, you should have one)

  • You don’t need to restrict yourself to a headshot, but you should choose an image that accurately and appropriately reflects your professional identity
  • Make sure you have the right to use the image
  • Pick something that is both clear and attractive in a thumbnail version


Adding Your Name, Website, & Bio

  • Name: Use your real name
  • Website: If you don’t have a website to link to, link to your LinkedIn profile
  • Bio: Since you only have 160 characters, it’s okay to use key words in creating your bio rather than trying to craft a sentence. Remember to focus on your professional identity rather than your personal identity. It’s okay to include some relevant personal information, but be careful about including things that could be misperceived or might undermine your professional brand.  If you have a LI headline/tagline you like, and it fits, by all means include it here.


Setting Up Mobile Access:Because tweets are like headlines, they’re extremely easy to digest and manage in small bites. That makes them perfect for what I call “interstitial time” – e.g., when you’re commuting or traveling, while waiting for someone, before you’re ready to get out of bed in the morning. To facilitate that, make sure you set your account up to send your tweets to your phone (i.e., via 40404) and/or download one of the Twitter apps to your phone and/or tablet.


Following Others

  • Accounts to target
    • Local, national, and international news sources
    • Professional and industry associations
    • Academic and research institutions, including your alma mater(s)
    • Your own organization, clients, prospects, competitors
    • Organizations you’d like to work for
    • Bloggers and thought leaders
  • Tips
    • Make sure you’re following official accounts
    • Get ideas from checking out the accounts followed by others and/or those recommended by Twitter
    • Review an account’s activity before deciding whether it’s a valuable source for you
    • If the volume of activity becomes overwhelming, find a way to dial things down by unfollowing some of the noisier and/or less valuable accounts


Restricting Followers: Assuming you don’t plan to start tweeting initially, you should make your account private by selecting the “Protect my Tweets” option. This way, no one will be able to follow you without your permission. Doing so will not affect your ability to follow others.


Building Twitter into your Schedule

  • Tune in at least once a day, for 5-15 minutes
  • Scan headlines and either follow the links to items that pique your interest or forward them to yourself via email to read later


Learning the Language and Basic Conventions

  • The best way to learn is to immerse yourself in the Twitter stream and glean meaning from the activity itself
  • Here’s a simple set of Twitter symbols and terms to get you started:
    • @ is used in front of a Twitter handle to directly reference an account; it also creates a hyperlink to their account
    • #, aka a hashtag, is a way of collecting tweets around a specific topic or theme; it also creates a hyperlink to a page of tweets that include the hashtag
    • RT = retweet (i.e., sharing someone else’s tweet)
    • MT = modified tweet (i.e., resharing someone’s tweet after modifying the text)
    • FF = Follow Friday, a way of recommending specific accounts to follow (fading practice)
  • You can also identify typical Twitter conventions by watching the activity of others, but don’t assume it’s all good – best practices are constantly evolving
  • If you see something you’re not sure about, check out the Twitter Glossary or the Twitter Basics section of the Help Center  to learn more


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Views: 561

Comment by Alasdair Murray on April 10, 2012 at 7:12am

"Restricting Followers: Assuming you don’t plan to start tweeting initially, you should make your account private by selecting the “Protect my Tweets” option. This way, no one will be able to follow you without your permission. Doing so will not affect your ability to follow others."

I don't agree with this advice. If you're able to follow others, surely they should be able to follow you? Nothing more annoying than someone following me only to find they have protected their account. A big "fail" as far as I'm concerned. If it;s meant to be social, don't be antisocial. You can always block someone at a later date if they're undesirable.

Comment by Christopher Perez on April 10, 2012 at 8:14am

I can see your point, Alasdair, but I read that advice as being directed at a new user who may not wish to dive into the deep end immediately. Courtney also made a point to qualify the suggestion via "Assuming you don't plan to start tweeting initially..." This went hand in hand with her reminder that you don't have to tweet in order to get value out of Twitter. In fact, I wish fewer people tweeted and blogged!

I think it's ok to encourage people to join the party by letting them know that there are ways to ease themselves into the experience. If they decide that they like it, they'll figure out soon enough how to get the most out of the social platform (i.e., not having a protected account once and if they decide to join the conversation).

Comment by Courtney Hunt on April 10, 2012 at 9:10am

Thanks for your comment, Alasdair - and for responding to it so thoughtfully, Christopher.

As I note in the post, even though many users see it as a "social" network, Twitter itself sees the platform primarily as an *information* network. That's an important distinction that is critical to their strategy and increased adoption of the tool. I've lost track of the number of people I've talked to who refuse to join Twitter because of the social aspect, and I think that's unfortunate. If we want more people to join the platform, we do indeed need to let them ease themselves in - and we need to let them define Twitter's value on their own terms. There is no "one best way" to use it.

Comment by Christopher Perez on April 10, 2012 at 9:44am

PS: Courtney, I just learned the term "MT" (modified tweet) from your post. I do that all the time to add my .02 to a RT. Never knew to call it that, thanks. In fact, I learned it when one of my tweeps MT'd my tweet about your post.

Comment by Courtney Hunt on April 10, 2012 at 10:29am

Too funny, Christopher! That's how I learned what an MT was too.

I do a lot of related tweets, so this weekend I coined my own terms (I think):

PT = previous tweet

NT = next tweet

They come in handy...

Comment by Courtney Hunt on October 30, 2013 at 9:50am

The original post has now been updated and moved to the new Denovati SMART Blog. Here's a link:


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