You’ve undoubtedly heard of Twitter but you may not be entirely clear what it is, or whether it’s good for anything other than keeping up with the latest shenanigans of vapid reality stars. The answer to the latter question is “yes,” but to understand why, first you’ll need to understand the what and how.
Twitter is a means of sending and receiving messages at 140 characters at a time. Those messages can be one-liners that are complete in themselves (a lot of humorists have found it a great medium), but they are more often pointers to interesting material elsewhere on the web. Since you pick who to follow, Twitter is effectively a self-curated news feed of material that you find interesting. And since others may choose to follow you, it can be used to point others to material that you have created or that you think others will find of interest.
In other words, Twitter truly is a social medium — it’s a way to interact with people you already know, and to connect with new people in your field (or fields!) to share information, pictures, news, links, and jokes.
The first thing you need to do is set up an account.
Pick a username: Avoid cutesy names if you’re planning to use Twitter for professional promotion, even if you’ll be using it for personal amusement as well. Short and simple is best: short because people may be addressing or mentioning you in tweets with their 140-character limit, and simple so your friends and fans can remember it easily. (I have a sticky on my computer monitor with a couple of tweet handles that I just can never remember.)
Start by checking to see if your name is available, either with your first name or an initial (JohnDoe or JDoe). If you’ve got a more common name, you may want to do a combination of your name/initials and some identifier. My twitter handle, for instance, is JudyWEdu — first name, last initial, and “Edu” for “education,” which is a topic I write on regularly (and was covering full-time when I first signed up).
Go to twitter.com and sign up for an account: Enter the username you want in the “full name” box, the email address you want connected to the account, and a password. They’ll let you know if the username is available, and make some suggestions for alternatives if it isn’t.
Once you’re in Twitter, go through the various pages under “settings” to personalize things the way you want them. Remember to click “save changes” at the bottom of each page before you move on.
Account: Make sure the time zone and country are correct for you.
Mobile: Follow instructions for downloads for your brand of smartphone or tablet.
Email notifications: You want to be responsive to people interacting with you. If you’re not planning to check your account daily, sign up for email notifications for messages, activity, and updates.
- Load a head shot of yourself if you have one. Some people use cartoons or logos, but if you’re using this for self-promotion and networking, you want to let people know who you are.
- You can also choose a photo to use as the background for the header (the photo of tulips in the screen shot of my profile below).
- Enter your real name and city.
- If you have a website where you have a significant presence, provide a link. This might be a blog or personal website, or a link to a site for which you write regularly. (Broad Street Review contributors, for instance, can link to their profile page at BSR.)
- Write a brief description of yourself. Include both professional information (what you do, who you do it for) and a few words about yourself as a person (spouse or children, hobbies, interests). It’s amazing how much info you can pack into 140 characters. What shouldn’t you do? Here’s a great list with a dozen bio “don’ts.”
- You can also link directly to your Facebook page from this tab. If you do this, things you tweet will automatically be posted to Facebook. (We’ll talk about tweeting in a later installment.)
- You can use a premade theme (background image), which is fine for most purposes. Even with a premade themes, you can change the colors a bit if you want to. This is what you’ll be looking at when you’re reading your feed, so pick something you like.
- The other option is to load your own background photo and choose colors that will complement it. Here, again, you have two options: either use a single background image as on my page
or click “tile background” so the image will repeat, as on the Broad Street Review page.
Apps and Widgets: Don’t worry about these yet.
Congratulations! You’re on Twitter! What now? My next topic will be finding people to follow.