Twitter Tips for Beginners: Everything I Wish I Knew About Twitter When I Started

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Until three weeks ago, I barely had a Twitter account.

It existed by its lonesome for a few years as a placeholder for the day when my work allowed me to tweet freely. That day came three weeks ago, and I dove right in, applying all the Twitter knowledge I had stowed away. And still, even with a running start, I had so much to learn.

Knowledge seldom takes the place of experience. So while I muddled through my first few weeks on Twitter—experimenting and fiddling—I noticed the many things I could have only learned by doing. Here are the big ones. Call them Twitter tips for beginners.

Maybe you can relate to some?

Exclusive Resource: Get a free, 30-page ebook of Twitter Tips!

You don’t have to read every Tweet

Phew! This one took a huge burden off my shoulders because I was literally trying to read every Tweet that my followers tweeted. It simply wasn’t feasible. The average person tweets 22 times per day (and I was following many in the digital marketing realm, so my tweet average could be higher). Let’s extrapolate from there:

  • If you have 100 followers, you could see 2,200 tweets per day
  • If you have 500 following, you could see 11,000 tweets per day.
  • If you follow 1,000 people, you could see 22,000 tweets per day.

Followers and tweets per day

Put another way, since tweets can average 30 characters in length, a person following 1,000 people would see enough content in one day’s time to fill George Orwell’s Animal Farm four times over.*

You don’t have to read every Tweet. Phew. Instead …

Put your favorites into a list

Understanding how my stream worked was a huge undertaking at first. Retweets brought different avatars into my feed. Sponsored content appeared seemingly at random. It was exciting and new and a little much to take in.

Thankfully, I discovered lists.

My greatest value from lists is that I see the most important, original content from select groups of people. There are no retweets (unless someone does one manually). There is no sponsored content. In many ways, it is a minimalist’s Twitter.

My interests are varied, so I break them out into different lists. I have a list for digital marketing, a list for New England Patriots football, a list for Boise State football, and a lot more. It is a welcome alternative to surfing the entire stream.

Buffer team Twitter list

Respond to everyone and everything

Those of you who are longtime Twitter users might not be able to handle this volume of responses, but for us newbies? Responding to anyone and anything is a huge part of being engaged in Twitter and growing your connections.

When someone retweets you, mentions you in a tweet, or favorites one of your tweets, they are seeking a connection with you. From a certain perspective, this is a truly humbling event. Someone has valued you and your profile enough that they want to connect. It’s kind of an honor.

One of the most engaged brands on Twitter—the @notebook account—places a huge emphasis on responding to everyone.

“Whether you’re managing an international brand like Nike, or a local deli, it’s important to say thank-you to every follower who asks a question, has a problem, or gives you a compliment. Some will respond back, and others will retweet your response simply because they want to show their friends that you’ve engaged with them.”

Use a scheduler like Buffer

An incredibly important element to success on Twitter is consistency. Tweet often and tweet regularly. Consistency, however, doesn’t always fit into my schedule.

That’s why social media tools like Buffer are so helpful. With Buffer, I can curate a bunch of great content to share (even retweets) and add it all to a queue that gets dispersed at the best times throughout the day. I can control as much or as little of the process that I want, and I can follow up later with stats that show what tweets got the most traction.

Buffer stats

A good bio sells

Writing a strong, descriptive bio has a number of advantages—for you and for the people who follow you. For you, a strong bio can lead to more followers and be an ideal way to introduce yourself to others. For those viewing your profile, a well-done bio lets them know what to expect if they are to follow you. Do the bio right, and you are likely to gain more quality followers.

My default mode was to write something ambiguously clever. I love Twitter bios that make me laugh, but what makes me laugh might not make my neighbor laugh. So instead of a laugh, I swallowed my creative ego and went with something more descriptive.

Kevan Twitter bio

Engage others directly

“When you engage with folks and begin conversations, you will make Twitter friends and enjoy the experience so much more.”

I have found this advice from Stacy Zapar to be 100% correct. Engaging with people on Twitter is a surefire way to get more out of the social network, to build connections, and to have fun.

The greatest method I’ve found to do this is in the way I manually compose my tweets. Any time I link to a new piece of content or share something that someone else tipped me onto, I add an @ mention of the author or originator as a hat tip, or “HT.” Give credit where credit’s due, in other words. People very often appreciate this.

Conversation on twitter

 

How exactly do @ tweets work?

I used to visit individual Twitter profiles and see a long list of Tweets that were completely new to me. These tweets never showed up in my stream or on my lists. What were these mysterious tweets and how did I miss them?

Turns out I was oblivious to the No. 1 Rule of Tweeting: If you want everyone to see your tweet, don’t start it with an @ symbol.

Twitter assumes, almost always correctly, that the intention with @ tweets is for a direct conversation with another user, and so it treats those tweets as if they are to be private. Only the person tweeting, the person being tweeted at, and those who follow both accounts will see the tweets in their streams.

This had a profound effect on me. I was nervous about tweeting @-replies to people because I didn’t want to saturate my followers’ streams with tweets that might not matter to them. Knowing that these @-reply tweets are kept out of the main feed, I felt much more comfortable tweeting away.

It’s OK to tweet the same thing multiple times

Let’s say you have an amazing piece of content that you love and your audience loves. It would be a shame to bring it up once and never  speak of it again!

Belle Beth Cooper debunked any myths about reposting the same content in a great post on the Buffer blog. Her three main reasons for reposting content:

  1. Get more traffic
  2. Hit multiple time zones
  3. Reach new followers

Knowing that it’s OK to repost content takes a lot of pressure off the content curation process. If I find a great link, I shouldn’t worry if I’ve already tweeted it before. Reposting can be a good thing!

Set aside your follower-following ratio and just follow

What is the ideal ratio of followers to following? There are some interesting ideas out there, like this one from DigiWriteIt:

Twitter followers-following ratio

Whatever the ideal ratio is, I found it fruitless to chase this ratio in the early going.
I joined Twitter to engage, and so engage I did.

My stumbling block here was noticing the enviable follower-following ratio of top users on Twitter. Part of me wanted the cool factor of being followed by thousands while only following a handful. I was on quite the ego trip for someone just starting on Twitter!

A healthy follower-following ratio could wait. In the meantime, I adopted the rule to follow those who follow you.

Being selective can actually slow down your growth. One of the quickest ways to build a following, according to KissMetrics, is to follow as many people as you can.

Following back adds a personal touch, no matter how popular you are on Twitter. It shows that you noticed someone followed you and took the time to follow them back.

When the time does come to prune one’s list of followers, there are many tools available to weed out chunks of your follower list—those who no longer use Twitter, those who lack engagement with you, etc. Tools like Tweepi and Followerwonk (pictured below) can guide you on how to best manage your list of followers.

https://followerwonk.com/sort

The true best ratio for followers-following does exist, buried in secret inside Twitter’s algorithms. When you reach 2,000 accounts that you follow, you won’t be able to follow anyone else if your ratio isn’t deemed healthy. I’m way off of 2,000, but when I get closer, tools like Followerwonk will be super handy.

The best piece of advice I’ve heard on Twitter

The best advice I’ve heard on Twitter is a great bit of philosophical wisdom:

“Don’t tweet all about you: tweet all about them.”

This advice comes courtesy of Chris Brogan, and it rings true for me. Up to 80% of all social media posts are about the same topic: ourselves. Imagine the impact focusing on others could make. There’s a similar theme for content marketing: Focus on other people. When you take the attention off yourself, your Twitter can flourish.

What advice do you wish you heard when you started Twitter? I’d love to hear your experience and what you’ve found helpful along the way. Leave a comment here, or you can catch me on Twitter.

Ready for more? You might like The Twitter Strategy Guide: 14 Twitter Tips to Take Your Tweeting to the Next Level.

* The official math: 22,000 tweets times 30 characters per tweet equals 660,000 characters per day. At an average of five characters per word, 660,000 characters equals 132,000 words. Animal Farm is just under 30,000 words in length.

Image credits: JefferyTurner, Digiwriteit.

  • Karthikeyan

    Everything is fine, except “Don’t tweet all about you: tweet all about them.” No one tweets about persons. What if i tweet you out of nowhere that you look good? Perhaps it says to thank or appreciate where it is due? If so yes. People talk about something of a topic, speaking of persons ah not so much. Unless they are famous that is.

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Makes a lot of sense. Thanks for bringing this perspective. I tend to think of it from a 10,000-foot view: In general, do my tweets reflect me-centered content or do my tweets aim to provide value to others? I’m trying/learning to do the latter. :)

      • Karthikeyan

        I have no idea of who you are or your Twitter handle man, i have the beloved Buffer Blog in my RSS and i just read the post and expressed my view. I have to connect with you to answer the previous comment of yours.

      • Karthikeyan

        And yes, one has to achieve the latter. Help others to your extend and share great content that might be helpful to others, either be it in your field or in general. Twitter is, what you are. Its what you make outta it, it moulds and adapts you.

  • Movie Munce

    My #1 advice for anyone joining Twitter is to ignore the follower count. Focus on quality and not quantity. Build relationships with people and it doesn’t matter what your number is.

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Your number will take care of itself? Great advice.

    • Bruce (@Brudaddy)

      Spot on.

  • http://www.jbh.co.uk/ Aran Jackson

    Great post. Thanks!

    A few off the top of my head:
    I never base an influence of a tweet on the number favourites. There’s far too many people out there trying to win followers by spam-favouriting. Neither do I ask for retweets anymore, too many bots that pick it up and skew my data. If it’s a good tweet, people will share it :)

  • Tyler Butler

    Great article! I’ve recently adopted the “reply to everything” approach on the account I manage. Do you have a policy for how to decide who speaks last? My approach has been make the first reply 100% of the time, then, if they continue the conversation, either resolve with one tweet, favourite their tweet, or take the discussion offline if further discussion is needed. Curious about your approach!

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Great question, Tyler. My method is to reply 100% of the time, then follow up if anything is unresolved – i.e. another question they’ve asked or a joke I just have to reply to. Anything beyond a reply is gravy for me; you’ve got quite the system with favorites, DMs, and offline!

  • Vandziux

    Great post @kevanlee:disqus, thank you :) And I love your advice @mattmuncy:disqus. So many people are still thinking that the quantity will help them to look legit and successful. They keep forgetting that precious engagement factor. Some start ups are even buying fake followers for the same quantity reason. I think there is no point being on social networks if you don’t want to or don’t have time to be social.

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Longevity and consistency should win out in the long run. I’ve found this is true in a lot of other online ventures, hoping Twitter is the same. :)

  • http://twitter.com/ToddBrison Todd Brison

    I’ve been on Twitter for 4 years now and just learned what “HT” means. Thanks!

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      I thought it meant Hi There for awhile.

      • http://twitter.com/ToddBrison Todd Brison

        That would make sense!

  • Samantha Owens

    I agree that if you have fun, engage with people, build relationships, you won’t have to worry about the number. There are people I follow on Twitter that you can tell they have lots of followers because they engage all the time, and put a lot of time into it.

    I know I might have more if I spent more time on Twitter, but the time I do spend is very fun and gratifying. People on Twitter are pretty great. :P A lot of the people I interact with are bloggers, and I tend to think they’re pretty great too :)

  • http://www.redbubble.com/people/ddtk Denis Marsili

    Awesome article!! Thank you!!! =)

  • Efi Mavridou

    Great post @kevanlee:disqus ! I am also “experimenting” with twitter the past months. I did had an account long before but I did not use it regularly, just following some accounts, no tweets.
    I started tweeting about articles I read and found useful. Again zero retweets, no favourites (little number of followers).
    Then one day I thought it would be nice to add some hashtags in my tweets..and out of nowhere my tweets got favourited and retweeted! And I also got some followers through this.
    So, generally the use of hashtags “boosted” my twitter presence. I am curious though how people keep up with relevant content (through hashtags)? (what’s the most common way) Do they search for specific hashtags on twitter or maybe they use some other tool like for example mention.com? I would like to know if anyone has some thoughts on this

  • http://GrowMap.com Gail Gardner

    Great tips, Kevan. While many believe in the “I’m a celebrity” model on Twitter, some of us believe that if you aren’t willing to interact and follow us why should we follow and be ignored by someone who feels they are “better” than us. There are basically three styles of Twitter user:

    1) Celebrity – follow few and expect others to follow you without reciprocation.
    2) Peer to peer – consider others equals who deserve mutual respect.
    3) A few use it as a private chat they may or may not others listen in on.

    Everything I’ve collected through my years on Twitter is linked from my Twitter Best Practices post at http://GrowMap.com/twitter-best-practices. It contains tips for everyone from beginners through paid strategists and social media managers.

  • Esther Mozo

    Great tip on reposting several times a day to catch different time zones. Thanks for pointing it out!

    • Pat Kramer

      I disagree with this one as it comes across as spam, especially if someone has added you to a list or takes a closer look at your profile. Also don’t forget, the world’s language is not English. If you want to engage across the Globe try also other social media or consider creating additional profiles so you can engage at the right time.

  • http://www.careermovements.com/ Matt Schmidt

    Many on twitter seem to be rethinking the follow everyone process and only focus on those that matter. Also as you indicated manually composing tweets can bring greater attention.

  • Anika Jaffara

    Hi, @kevanlee:disqus

    Thanks for the knowledge!

    With all of the features and companion tools it can be challenging to uncover the options that support your goals.

    I follow as many people as find interesting and relative. Engaging with everyone who follows, mentions, retweets, or DMs can definitely be a full time-job.

    Thanks for pointing out how helpful lists can be.

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Anika, you’re right on about Twitter being a full-time job at times!

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/mikemccleave Mike McCleave

    Great article @kevanlee:disqus. I am fairly new to Twitter and just starting to turn the corner on learning how to delivering relevant content to my followers while at the same time getting what I need out of the social network. I have just started using lists and I can see a lot of value in this. However, it seems like it can be very cumbersome to manage. Do you know of any tools that could automate adding followers into certain lists? Maybe by keyword or industry (celebrity, athlete, works in technology, etc) or user defined criteria (such as works for xyz company or lives in abc city). It would be nice to create a list on demand for people categorized as “tech enthusiasts” that live in “chicago” that work for “xyz company.” As people move or switch jobs, they would be automatically added to corresponding lists. Sort of like facebook’s graph search.

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Hi, Mike! Thanks for the comment. Twit List (http://twitlistmanager.com/) does a form of bulk management, if that would be helpful at all. I’m doing it manually as I like to keep the lists pretty lean.

    • Bruce (@Brudaddy)

      If you have iOS, I recommend the Tweetbot app. Best Twitter app I’ve seen, and very easy to create and add to lists on the fly.

  • http://www.barbsbooks.com/ Barbara Radisavljevic

    I appreciated what you had to say, but almost left the page because of all the pop-ups, some of which came up multiple times, that nagged and distracted me as I tried to read. I would suggest that people who want to tweet this will, since there are many ways to do that without clicking a pop-up. I was all ready to tweet it, but don’t don’t to send anyone to a page with so many pop-ups.

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Barbara. I’m sorry for the problems. Was it the newsletter signup form that kept popping up? We definitely don’t want to create a bad environment for reading.

      • http://www.barbsbooks.com/ Barbara Radisavljevic

        I believe it was a blue banner asking me to tweet this. It would pop up in the text — not the sidebar — so it interfered with reading the blog. I personally like to finish reading something before I share it. This banner popped up at least three times and I had to clear it before I could continue reading. The subscribe form to my right as I type this is fine. I might even use it. It doesn’t interfere with reading.

        • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

          Thanks for this, Barbara. I’ll do some testing and see what might be causing the problem. Please get back in touch if it continues for you.

  • http://www.atinsharma.in/ Atin Sharma
  • Jennifer Adams

    I’m new to Twitter also. I had to join because of a college course. Amazingly, the course didn’t explain any of this stuff!! LOL! It’s nice to know about the lists and to know the purpose of @. Thank you for this information!!

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      There’s no substitute for experience, I guess! Thanks for sharing this perspective, Jennifer.

  • jc46202

    If I retweet you I’m not neceessarily seeking any connection with you. Just as often it means you shared a piece of content in a link that I believe my followers would find valuable. It may be that specific piece of content with which I connect and not you personally. If you Tweet several things over time that I retweet than I start to see you as a valuable source and ultimately follow you and engage with you more.

  • Jason Chesters

    Great post, it made it into my Top 10 posts published this month….

    http://doseoyourself.com/march-2014-top-10-articles-published/

    Well done :-)

  • A. Deno Vir, MD PhD

    My #1 piece of advice is to add value. If you tweet an article, don’t just tweet the title and link, Modify the title so it’s more interesting, more exciting. Add a little of your own view to the article. Make it so your followers will want to read it and re-tweet you.

  • Iclickinfo Net

    really great post, it is very difficult to check every tweet.

  • https://twitter.com/megjnichols Megan Nichols

    I appreciate this article so much Kevan! It’s especially nice to read about someone who is new(ish) to Twitter. I’ve also had an ignored twitter account for years, but recently decided it’s important for my work and I should bite the bullet and tweet. It’s definitely out of my comfort zone, but I’m hoping I’ll warm up to Twitter soon.

    Thank you for your advice. I’ve “swallowed my creative ego” as well and am ready to engage more with others.

  • James Edwards

    I find it ALL very complicated and have resolved to simply enjoy the act of putting something thoughtful out there, interacting with people of the same philosophy and political bent, and LEARNING what can be gleaned from other people’s perspectives and even current events. I’ve been on Twitter for four years – kicked off four times for ‘political posturing’ that did not comply with the ‘TWITTER POLICE’. I think they have stopped the politicizing of Twitter – the ‘owners’ got too much flack! Now, it’s FUN!

  • http://www.pratikparmar.com/ Pratik Parmar

    Superb Article !! Its a nice way to get more info about Twitter, I also suggest read the below Twitter Guide,

    Tips for the Social Marketer Cheat Sheet: Twitter
    This cheat sheet helps you understand how to use Twitter for lead generation, and gives you some quick action items and best practices that you can use in your marketing right away.

    http://www.marketo.com/cheat-sheets
    http://www.marketo.com/cheat-sheets/twitter-tips-for-the-social-marketer/

  • Vykky

    Hey @kevanlee:disqus when engaging someone directly should we still place the period prior to their name? This was a “thing” over a year ago, but I am still doing it. Any updates?

  • http://trucklicense.net/get-cdl Freedom Jackson

    I’ve found that real time marketing works best with Twitter ESPECIALLY with television events like sports or awards shows.

  • scott penton

    follow things your passionate about

  • Gustavo Insaurralde

    Great stuff! Thanks for sharing!

  • bchavanu@makesuseof.com

    Thanks for the clarification about @ replies. I have read about that before, but your exclamation makes it perfectly clear.

  • checkfloor

    how i increase my twitter followers , i tried many things , but it may not work .
    http://www.checkfloor.com

  • hr4biotech

    Okay but conversely to: No. 1 Rule of Tweeting: If you want everyone to see your tweet, don’t start it with an @ symbol. what if you DO want to let everyone see your tweet…what is the recommendation there?

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Thanks for asking! So if you want the tweet to be seen by everyone who follows you, make sure that it starts with a letter or character other than an @ sign. Lots of people use a period before the at, if a direct mention is the first part of the tweet. :)

  • Agnes Dadura

    Good points, I still need to make time to check out the “lists” you advocate. Similarly, I have had used twitter from time to time for years, but only recently decided to use it and learn about it more.

  • http://www.amazon.com/author/stevevera Steve Vera

    Read this post because it was linked from your “Big List of 61 Best Social Media Tools” and found it to be a nice little treasure trove. Thanks for writing it!

  • Matthieu Garde

    Hi Kevan
    Great post.

    A good way to engage with others is also the underestimated “favorite” feature.
    Not only a way to keep a record of quality tweets, but also a way to poke someone with a positive attitude. Recicient of the favorite mention is notified and will tend to look at you bio and show interest.

    Works fine!
    Cheers

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Love this, Matthieu! “Poke someone with a positive attitude!” That’s a great way of putting it. :)

  • Vesselina Tasheva

    Great tips, Kevan. Yes, your short bio is descriptive, but still sticky. I really like it. And yes, short bios have a major impact on engagement. That’s why I created Short Bio (www.shortbio.me) Feedback is appreciated :)

  • http://www.smarteraffiliatemoney.com Remco Boom

    Great stuff Kevan, thanks for sharing!

    One thing that I find useful is to use third party twitter apps on my (android) cell phone. By default there is the app from Twitter itself but that is very limited in functionality.

    If you’d like to be able to unfollow people for example you’ll need an other app. Fortunately there are plenty to choose from. Right now I use ‘Unfollowers’ and ‘TweetCaster’ in addition to the default Twitter app.

  • http://writer-for-hire.us Julie Anne, Writer for Hire

    My favorite things is the favorite and list functions. I especially need the lists so I can remember where that d@mned tweet is that I liked so much!

  • Geoff

    Hi Kevan, When I first started using Twitter I was ver intimidated. I also experienced everything you mentioned. I’d also recommend new users not getting caught up reading the so called “experts” tweets because you waste so much time and it can psyche you out and question whether or not you can succeed. The key is to stay true to what your specialty is and tweet content that is valuable. Lastly, craft a great headline to hook the reader. Anyways, really, really, good post.

    Geoff Moore
    http://www.internetassault.com

    • http://blog.bufferapp.com Kevan

      Thanks, Geoff!

  • Pollux

    Ugh. Please don’t encourage repeating tweets. I’ve had to unfollow some big names (like Slate and Guy Kawasaki) because their repeats were clogging up my feed. Perhaps there’s a case for very selective repeats, but not all or most as these people do.

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