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How To Use Twitter: Critical Tips For New Users

SO YOU WANNA tweet? Great—you're gonna (mostly) love it. Everyone from the President to Malala is tweeting it up these days, but it may take some getting used to if you're a new kid on the block.

Twitter is where news is broken, links are shared, and memes are born. It's also a place for chatting with friends. Yet unlike Facebook, Twitter is public by default. And that's not a bad thing. It means your jokes can go viral (if they're funny) and in addition to your friends, you can interact with your favorite journalists, athletes, artists, or political figures, all in the same space.

Generally speaking, tweets show up in the order they happen. At the top of a Twitter feed, you'll see tweets that are only a second old. New tweets appear at the top, pushing the older ones down. If you haven't signed on in awhile you might get a box of recommended tweets you may have missed, but outside of that the equation is simple: The further down you scroll, the older the tweets get.

This immediacy has made Twitter the go-to place to watch protests unfold around the world, follow and comment on sports games or TV shows as they happen, and make fun of celebrity missteps right when the news is hot. The best (and sometimes worst) part is that the people sharing information and tweeting photos aren't necessarily newscasters. Anyone can be a reporter or a cultural critic on Twitter, and that's led to a universe of diverse viewpoints, all amplified organically.

Tweets can contain links, photos, GIFs, or videos. But if you're tweeting text, you're limited to 280 characters. It used to be 140, which was even more stifling, but once you get used to it you'll learn to love the brevity. It helps make your tweets pithy, and there's much less rambling you have to read when scanning other tweets. Some even say Twitter helps us become better writers.

Stepping into the Twitter stream unprepared can leave you feeling rudderless. Who to follow? What to tweet? Does this show up on my Twitter page? Am I missing things my friends post? What's an RT? Follow our tips to get started on Twitter, and set yourself up for a more fulfilling experience.

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How to Make a Twitter Account on Desktop

Step 1: Go to or download the app and sign up for an account. The "Full name" that you provide will be your display name, but unlike Facebook, you can change your display name to whatever you want as many times as you want, so it's really easy to stay anonymous if you so choose.

Step 2: Enter in your phone number. This is a form of authentication that will help in case you ever lose access to your account. You'll want to use a phone you actually have access to because the next step will ask you to verify a number sent via text.

Step 3: Pick a password, and make it secure! You don't need a troll getting a hold of your account and dismantling the reputation you've worked so hard to build.

Step 4: Choose your interests. This will help with the next step, which is where Twitter will give you suggestions of people you can follow. You can also skip both of these by saying "skip for now" in the top right hand corner.

Step 5: Once you're in, click on the grey silhouette next to the "Tweet" button on the top right of your screen, and click "Settings & Privacy." At the top, you can pick a username you like. That will be your username, or handle, and people can notify you by typing @ in front of your username in a tweet. Choose something you like that you think isn't taken, but also something easy to remember for others.

Step 6: Pick an avatar. The default picture is a silhouette, but you can make your avatar whatever you want (your face, a dog on a skateboard, the possibilities are endless). Just click the silhouette and head to "Profile" and then click "Edit Profile" on the right underneath the blue bar. You can update your header photo from this place, too. Be sure to read Twitter's rules for avatar images to make sure what you pick is not in violation.

Step 7: Write your bio. You may wish to list where you work, live, or a line from a favorite poem in your bio. This is the short blurb that lets potential followers know who you are and what you're likely to tweet. There is also a handy spot to list your website, if you have one.

How to Make a Twitter Account on Mobile

Step 1: Fill out your name and phone number/email address. Make sure to use your real one as the next step will ask you to verify.

Step 2: Enter in the verification number that you received at whatever contact information you put in in Step 1. Choose a password. Make it strong, and please, for the love of god, don't use "dragon" like everyone else.

Step 3: Choose whether you'd like to sync your contacts. This may help you find Twitter followers you know, but if you don't want to, just hit "not now."

Step 4: Search for interests. This will help Twitter recommend good profiles for you to follow.

Step 5: Twitter will provide you with some accounts you can follow based on your interests. Pick out a few you like. If you see them to start you feed off on the right foot.

Step 6: You're in! Simply click on the blue button on the top right to tweet, the grey silhouette on the top left to change your profile picture and settings, and get tweeting!

How to Search on Twitter

Twitter isn't about friending—it's about following. You can follow people you know personally, or artists or projects you're a fan of. You can follow robots and parody accounts. Really, you can do whatever you like.

Step 1: You may already be following some people if you selected some during your account set up. But,

Step 2: You can also search in the top right hand box for personalities you like. If you're a fan of GZA, follow GZA. If you're a fan of the Golden State Warriors, follow Steph Curry. If you like to read WIRED, follow WIRED.

Step 3: Twitter will continue to offer suggestions for who to follow as you use it. These suggestions will appear in your feed if you're using the app, or on the side of the screen if you're using the website.

Step 4: If you're in the mobile app, you can also click on the Connect feature, which will offer you suggestions based on what you've tweeted or liked.

Step 5: Keep adding people. There's no limit, but once you've landed between 100 and 250 accounts, you'll notice the correlation between the number of people you follow and the amount of tweets that show up in your feed. If you're craving more, keep adding people. But build it up slowly and see how it feels.

Your First Tweet

Before you start firing off tweets, it might help to know a little about the mechanics.

Step 1: All tweets are a maximum of 280 characters. While that might seem too short to say anything substantive, it's not. It might mean having to tweet multiple times to make a complex point (in the Twittersphere, we call that a thread), but boiling down your thoughts to a couple of lines really just makes your statement stronger, faster to read, and more shareable.

Step 2: Speaking of a Twitter thread, if you have more than 280 characters to say about a subject they are easy to make. Just type your first tweet using the "Tweet" button, and hit the + button on the bottom right. This will string together a series of tweets where you can make a larger point.

Step 3: If you want to add a photo, a video, a poll, or a gif, you can do so in the lower bar of the "Compose new Tweet" box. Adding a photo does not use up any of your 280 characters, and you can add up to four photos or a video less than 2:20 in length and 500mb in size.

Step 4: Sharing a link your Tweet will decrease your character count by 23 characters. Pro tip: Leave a space between your text and the link. Otherwise it may include the entirety of the link in your character count.

Step 5: Hashtags are best used for adding to a larger conversation, and the most popular ones show up on the left side of the "Home" tab. Hashtags are clickable, too, so you can tap on a hashtag to see all the tweets related to that topic.

Know the Twitter Lingo

The more you browse Twitter and find people whose tweets you think are smart or funny, the more you'll see some shorthand lingo flying around. Here's what's what.

HT means "hat tip," and it's what you use to credit an account who first clued you into the information you're sharing in your tweet. It's not necessary, but it's a nice thing to do.

An @, or a mention, is when you include somebody's @twittername in the tweet. The person will be alerted that you mentioned them. Use it to send a public "hey, over here," or to add somebody on a conversation that's currently happening.

RT means "retweet." When you retweet someone, you can either just repost their tweet by itself, or you can add your own commentary. If you do that, when you post your tweet, the tweet you're commenting on will appear just below your comment.

Twitter allows you to Direct Message with people who have that feature turned on. It's often called at DM, and it allows you to further conversations in private and chat with groups of people. While all regular tweets are public, including @-mentions, a DM is totally private. Only the people included in the DM can see it.

Setup Lists and Follow Hashtags

A lot of people complain that Twitter is hard to follow. If people tweet something and you're not online, you might not see it until later. But the idea of Twitter isn't to catch every single thing someone tweets, it's to be on the internet at the same time as other people. It's like a giant hangout—an open and rich chat room that's happening in public.

Twitter will occasionally filter the timeline, showing tweets of your favorite people first (Twitter sees who you talk to the most, so it knows who you'd like to see tweets from) before showing real-time tweets again in reverse chronological order. It's a nice feature that helps you get caught up on everything that's happened while you've been away.

Still, if you don't want to miss a beat, here are some tips.

  • Go directly to the page of the person you want to follow closely and see what they've tweeted.

  • Search for the hashtag of the event you wish to follow, then tap on the "Live" tab to see the most recent tweets in the larger conversation.

  • Turn on your notifications. You can set your mobile app to send you push notifications based on popular Tweets from your activity and when news breaks. This is really helpful if you want to keep track of your favorite folks and news outlets, but can't be online all day to watch.

  • Use Tweetdeck, a more customizable Twitter app. You can make private lists with only a few people on it that you can check to make sure you catch everyone's tweets in that list. You can also set up customized lists within Twitter itself to organize the people you follow and generally keep your sanity.

Twitter Privacy

Remember, everything on Twitter is public by default. However, you can easily make your own private experience. If you'd like to make Twitter a place where you privately interact with friends, just set your account to private. Turning this setting on means you will have to manually give permission to anyone who wants to follow you if you'd like them to be able to see your tweets and communicate with you. With a private account, only the people who you've given permission to follow you will see your tweets. Most people choose to leave their accounts public, though. If Facebook is the dinner table with your family and friends, Twitter is a rousing bar. Most opt to stick with the default but choose to only say things they'd be comfortable saying to strangers.

Most importantly, if your account is public and someone is actin' a fool—posting mean tweets (called trolling) or just bugging you constantly—don't hesitate to block them, mute them, or report their behavior. All of these options are available to you, so don't be afraid to use them. Happy Tweeting!


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