Monthly Archives: March 2009

How to twitter Part 2 What not to do

This is part of an ongoing series, see part 1

Twitter is a newish medium, and it is still growing and changing very rapidly.  I could go on and on about how in the last year alone twitter has grown by 10 times, how the simple convention of “@ replies” and hashtags (a word preceded with a #) were developed independently by users and now @ replies are part of the official twitter interface and program.  As such many, many surprising things are happening on twitter.  One of the twitter founders even gave a TED talk about it. So yes there is a lot happening there, but that doesn’t mean anything goes.

Just today I had someone follow me on twitter.  They were very good about customizing their twitter page, added a bio, a real name, even a location.  They didn’t choose to show their face, but rather an image they felt conveyed the image they were trying to project, that is OK, but still not what I wold recommend.  They even customized the background image of the page and the colors of the fonts etc.  It actually looks quite good.  They made a few mistakes though:

  1. They followed over ONE THOUSAND people in a short period of time
  2. They haven’t updated their status AT ALL.
  3. They crammed too much in and used all caps.

Let’s run it down by the numbers.  You can’t possibly interact with that many people that quickly in any meaningful way.  IF you hoped to just drive a few hits to your website and you don’t really plan on participating on twitter you are essentially a spammer.  You are not welcome, go away, no one wants that. This is like inviting 1000 people you don’t know to a party, but it’s at a public park and all you have there is a sign telling people to go somewhere else. The party metaphor is a powerful one, I recommend reading this if you are interested.  In what twitter calls a “one line bio” they tried to add way too much information, and then half of it is in all capital letters.  This is akin to shouting, and most people think shouting is rude. So essentially if you are being genuine in your efforts and are not a spammer you’ve sent way too many people to no where, been rude to them, and add no value at all to their lives.

Next up we’ll talk about what to twitter.

How to twitter Part 1, the how

Unlike what is claimed above twitter  isn’t exactly that, and there are lots of good reasons to join twitter, but more importantly how do you get started?  There have been some attempts by others that explain how to twitter, including some by twitter themselves.  You can certainly google it, and you’ll find some decent things, but a lot of that is about the why.

First go to and sign up. It looks just like the image above, click get started–Join.  Your username will be important, so choose one you like, most people use some variation of their name or nickname, I recommend something like mine (houssian) or my good friend Kevin Makice (kmakice).  Once you have signed up, in order for anyone to take you seriously you need to add some information to your profile, I’ll talk more about why in a later part. To do this:

  1. Click on settings (this is near your name/picture on your twitter home page)
  2. Fill in a location, city and state is what most people use, I recommend this, or just the state.
  3. Fill in a one line bio, something short and to the point.
  4. Click save
  5. Click on picture
  6. click browse and select a picture of yourself from your computer (I recommend something that shows your face or if you’re shy, some image that is clear and works in a small format.
  7. Click save
  8. From your twitter homepage put in your first update, if you don’t know what to say, try a variation of: trying out twitter for the first time.  Or something funny like: I am a future twitter-holic, you may need to plan an intervention now.

Now you are credible to others, you have joined a community and by doing those things described you have shown you have a minimum level of fitting in.  I’ll write more about the theories behind why this is true, but for the moment trust me that all this is a vital part of it all.
So you joined, now add people you know on twitter (follow them).
To do that you can either go to their twitter page ( and then click the follow button up top below their name and pic, or type into the update box “follow username” without the quotes of course.

Once you start following people you can visit your twitter page and see what they are saying and doing.  If something interesting is happening you can respond to it. You do that by starting your message with @username of the person you are responding to.  The web is a good way to start with twitter, but almost all twitter users download and use a program to access twitter.  There are lots of them, I personally would recommend twitterific to Mac users, and for PC users I would recommend thwirl.  A client program is easier to use unless you like going back to the twitter web page regularly.  The nice part about many programs is that new tweets (that’s what messages are called) appear and then fade away.

So now you need to find people you know already on twitter.  There are a number of tools to help you do that, the most effective of which is the email finder, you give up your login info for a webmail account and it searches for your contacts, or you can upload a contact list.  Alternately you can search for things that interest you at  I work in the intersection of several fields so I search for those terms and then add the people who are talking about those things (so I search for HCI usability user experience etc). Alternately there are people who twitter about hobbies and religioun and everything else in between, if you blog about something regularly, search for people already talking about those things.
Once you have started following people, you can click on their profile page and see who they are following, you may find even more people to follow that are interesting.

You can respond to something someone says or just send a public message to someone by starting your message with @username, so for me you would write @houssian why did you bother writing a how-to? I need help.
Wade in, see what’s happening, and try updating a few times over the next few days.

Now one of the reasons I’m writing this is my mom-in-law saw that Fox News had a twitter feed where you could ask questions.  To do that, you need to direct a question to them with one of the at replies I mentioned before.  So when they are on the air and say twitter us your questions, then type in @Foxnewsusername (I don’t know what it is and I don’t watch Fox) then your question.

I will continue this series with what to do after your first few days, how you can get twitter and Facebook to play nice, and some of the why of twitter, as well as some of the theories behind why I told you to do those things and why I think people use twitter.

EDIT March 13th: Chris Brogan has an interesting piece I just read. I’ll get there I think.

Here’s part 2.