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Page last updated at 08:03 GMT, Wednesday, 29 April 2009 09:03 UK

Guide and tips for using Twitter

By LJ Rich
Reporter, BBC Click

I joined the micro-blogging site Twitter over a year ago and I still remember how bewildering it all was when I first took the plunge.

I have learned a lot about how to make the most of this continually evolving social networking website.

So here is a quick guide for anyone wanting to know more, and considering having a go.

What is Twitter?

Twitter is, essentially, a micro-blog, or a mini online diary. You can type the answer to "What Are You Doing?" in 140 characters or less as frequently as you like.

LJ Rich on Twitter

It is similar to writing a status update on Facebook so you can see what others are up to, or talking about, and vice versa.

If you keep updating (but not too often), you will end up with a profile that is a list of your updates - this is what others will see when they visit your page.

You can see what other people are writing by choosing to "follow" them. This means their updates, or "tweets", will come up on your Home page in chronological order.

Other people can follow your updates - these people are called, predictably, your "followers". You can see how many followers you have underneath your profile picture.

If you sign up, start by finding people to follow under Find People.

Tweet tips

Frequency

There are not really many rules about the frequency or content when you tweet. But be aware that if you are doing 20 updates a day, people might be less inclined to follow.

This is because you will bung up their timeline showing the latest messages, and stop them seeing their other updates.

I tweet up to five times a day - with a ratio of 80% interesting (I hope) to 20% pointless, and ranging from random thoughts through to music, tech, and sharing links.

Engaging

If someone asks you a question, reply to them with an @ symbol in front of their Twitter name - this tweet will come up in their "replies" section and not get lost in the stream.

You can also "re-tweet", which is effectively forwarding someone else's tweet to your own followers, normally with a view to helping them get answers or disseminate information.

The standard practice for this is to add "RT" at the beginning of your re-tweet.

Hashtags

You can tag your own tweets so they can appear in filters - for example, #ces09 will show all tweets that have been tagged with the marker for the Consumer Electronics Show.

Rather like football chants, these tags appear to proliferate organically until everyone is using the same one.

For instance, you could use the newer hashtag #lunchtweet to describe what you are having for lunch. It does not matter where you put your hashtag in your tweet.

Interactivity

To make the most out of Twitter, remember that it is not just about broadcasting your thoughts, it is also about having conversations, answering queries and adding your voice to a debate.

Tweeting should be human and reasonably informal.

Pitfalls

Be aware that everything you write is evidence, and will be on the internet forever.

Final thoughts

In summary, there is a lot of fun to be had on Twitter, as long as you are not expecting to cash in on it.

In my experience, the site is first and foremost a site for socialising and sharing the minutiae of life as we live it.

But it is becoming a valuable networking tool for linking people with the same interests together in a relaxed manner.


Comments received via Twitter:

Kastanok: Twitter to share thoughts and interesting tid-bits, to alert friends about emergencies, follow some people to keep up with events.

liamross1993: I just generally post whatever i think might be interesting. Kind of satisfying :)

CtinaClements: Twitter is used to get quick updates on areas of interest.

metaltigrrose: At the moment, I will use it to get a message out to the world, some times light-hearted and other times serious.

jameslaidler: It's for my down-time - all those moments where you're waiting for a train, a friend, etc, something to keep me occupied!

Comments received via e-mail:

I joined Twitter after I realised I didn't have long passages of text to blog about.

I also have too many close family members on Facebook to feel comfortable updating my status on there.

As they don't have Twitter accounts, I can write more freely about what I am up to, though of course never in a derogatory way about any of them.
James, Cornwall

I like the fact you can get news sometimes before it hits the news! You can talk to people that you would otherwise not get the chance to.

It's a way of expressing an opinion without just going around talking to yourself and you can find others who think the same.
Sharon Humphries, Buckingham

Good Twitter introduction!

I use Twitter for quick updates with my network of knowledge-sharing for development colleagues around the world.

Recently I promoted a social media presentation that I had put on a slide share site. The re-tweets generated more than 800 views in a few days!

I joined nine months ago, and what I like about it is the speed of propagation.
Simone Staiger-Rivas, Cali, Colombia

Instead of looking at it as a micro-"blog", I look at it as off-line shared chat rooms.
Nikanth Karthikesan, Bangalore, India

Thanks for the advice - I've found it helpful. I joined Twitter a few days ago and am still "lost" in the Twitter world.

I'm sure it will take a while to hook up with people with similar interests - e.g. classic cars. I'll hang in there and give it a go.
Ray Exton, Knysna South Africa & Riyadh Saudi Arabia

I am fairly new to Twitter. I have chosen a number of local and international people and groups to follow.

The main problem I experience relates to time differences. For example, if I don't check my tweets in the morning early I miss all the tweets from the UK and USA because my Aussie tweets push them back.

Having to follow backwards to see tweets takes away the immediacy of Twitter. One of the drawbacks of living in the Antipodes, I guess.
Sue, Melbourne, Australia

I use Twitter to see what people are doing! It is an insight into other people's lives. There are well-known people on there who post and it's nice to see their humanness.

I joined about two months ago I think, and it's been fun so far! I like the ease of its use and the diversity of the users.

Also, I contacted some of the people on the site and used their services - I had a banner made by one of the web design companies for a really low price, so it shows it does work!
Cheryl Ennis, Maidstone, Kent

Great for use as residents group online news, telling residents what's happening and passing on Neighbourhood Watch info.

It supplements our website and blog.
Village Park Residents Association, Thornaby

I was first attracted to twitter by a Stephen Fry article I read somewhere.

I have been on board for a couple of weeks and after a bit of nonsensical gibberish, I have actually found quite a good way of using this application.

The London taxi trade is at the moment involved in a war to win back work from illegal touts that rank up at night outside most clubs and bars.

The ones who have subscriptions or internet phones such as the iPhone can send and receive updates about where the action is at night for a fraction of the cost of phoning or texting each other.

But it's also fun following others who have similar interests in technology.
James Thomas, Harrow

I signed up to Twitter recently, and I can see updates of people I know I won't meet physically.

I can also see the updates of my favourite celebrities such as Stephen Fry and Lady Gaga.
Alice

I'm new to it and I just enjoy the gently amusing 'conversation' to be honest. It just distracts me nicely for a couple of minutes from bad news and anything a bit intense.

I am not interested in strangers' breakfasts though. Why do people tweet that stuff?

Gradually some generally interesting stuff is cropping up too though. Those seemingly trying to make money on it are just faintly laughable.

For example I used the word 'chair' in a tweet and was immediately followed by a reproduction furniture company.
Bill Pope, London

I think you're wrong about not being able to cash in on Twitter. Many of the tweets I follow are commercial organisations, ie New Scientist, Autocar, Click etc.

We're a distributor and find Twitter invaluable for providing our customers with instant information.

Traditionally we use e-mail but there is a fine line between e-mails providing useful information and spamming when you send too many.

Twitter solves this problem. We've certainly benefited financially from using Twitter.
Alan, East Sussex

I am following about five big news sources on Twitter, inc NY Times, etc. Headlines of latest news articles show up as Tweets - I can then go directly to read selected ones.
Frank Mitch, Akron, USA

Twitter gave me the possibility to start up a professional dialogue, and I am simply overwhelmed by the usefulness and quality of the dialogue until now.

I gain so much from the persons that I follow, and I try to give a little back.

With Twitter I have discovered the real power of social media as a means for sharing valuable and usable knowledge, and I have held my first offline meeting after making the initial contact via Twitter.
Kim Ulrik Schaumann, Copenhagen, Denmark

I've been Twittering for over a year, blogging for four years, and on Facebook for a few years.

I first used Twitter to report, once per day, what I was doing, with which city I was in. This is because my travel blog was getting behind, and people were confused about my actual location. Twitter has a facility on Facebook so that tweets can automatically show up on the wall as status changes.

Over the past month, I've changed the way that I use Twitter, because more people were using it conversationally. I consolidate my web activity - lifestreaming - at friendfeed.com , so people outside of Facebook can follow that.

I now use brightkite.com to report my location, using ping.fm to update Brightkite, Twitter and Facebook.
David Ing, Toronto, Canada

I tend to read tweets more than I tweet myself, tweets from various celebrities are a constant source of amusement.

I liked Twitter so much, I decided to write my own Twitter client.
Scott Hather, Derbyshire

Joined Twitter after attending a talk on Social Media & Networking. Hoping to use it as a low-cost means of developing brand awareness of my new business.
Paul Shreeve, Harrogate

What do you use it for? Business, clients, promoting key announcements and events to targeted 'like minded' users

When did you join? First time was two years ago, didn't get it. Second time, six months ago, applied to business and got it

What do you like about it? Makes you think about what the message is - as a marketer 140 characters focuses the mind on the key points to Tweet

How has the site changed in the last few months? Business gets it; loads more users; unfortunately (as seen by increase in followers) more spam related messaging cloaked as entrepreneurs.
Mark Robson



SEE ALSO
Don't be bitter as Twitter gets fitter
13 Feb 09 |  Technology

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