10 Twitter Tips for Beginners

by Gary Woodill on July 2, 2009

While many people I know are on Twitter, there are lots of others still just looking at it or wondering how to get started. In response to a friend’s question on how to build up a list of people to follow and how to acquire followers, I wrote this set of tips. If they are useful, pass them on:

1. There are three types of messages in Twitter - tweets that include someone’s Twitter name (i.e., if you put @gwoodill in your tweet, then I will get it), replies to someone else’s tweet, and direct messages (DM), but only if the person has turned them on in their settings. The first two methods are public (anyone can see them) and the third way is private.

2. There are different styles of Twitterers. Some people use it mainly to talk to their friends and family. Unless you know the person, you probably won’t find their tweets very interesting. Some people are there mostly to market their products and services. If you need something, I’m sure there is someone on Twitter who offers what you are looking for. Personally, I use Twitter as a research tool/search engine, and as a place to both give to the community within my industry (adult learning and development) and to receive from the same community.

3. To get a following, and not just follow, you need to post useful stuff for the community you want to attract. My tweets are mostly about learning and technology, my main area of interest. As well, the people I follow are mostly in this industry, and I use the Twitter stream to pick up fresh ideas and innovations as they happen. I put out occasional calls for assistance on a topic, and I contribute references and ideas when I see that I can be helpful. Most recently, for example, I responded to @davecormier with some references to a book and three articles on the links between medieval guilds and modern communities of practice.

4. Start by following a few hundred of people in your area of interest. Use the Find tool to locate 2-3 well known people in your field of interest on Twitter. Look at each of the people they are following, and at their followers. If a person’s bio or Tweets relate to your topic, then follow them. For example, if you look at the people I follow, then you will find mostly people in corporate training and e-learning. A significant percentage of the people you follow will follow you back.

5. Later, as you build up the list of people to follow, you will want to “cull” your list to the most useful, productive or interesting people. This process is a little like doing a wine reduction when cooking; as you reduce the list of people you follow to the most relevant to your interests, your Twitter stream become more intense and interesting.

6. Retweeting is a way of spreading a tweet that you like to your followers. It also often makes friends, as people like to be retweeted. They take it as a compliment. So, retweet the most interesting tweets that you read. Preface a retweet with RT and include the person’s Twitter name. e.g. RT @gwoodill This is a great book…etc. But, don’t just retweet – make sure you add your contributions to the stream.

7. Send out at least 1 or 2 helpful, useful, funny or interesting tweets a day to be seen as someone worth following. If you are inactive the number of people following you tends to drop off; if you tweet too frequently, you can be seen as overly intrusive or “loud”. While it is acceptable to mention what you are doing, don’t spam with tweets about your products or services. You need to find the balance.

8. To increase the number of people following you, find directories that list Twitterers by category, and list your Twitter name under each keyword that describes your interests. 

9. Use the search tool on your home page or go to to search for your topics of interest. Also search for conference names in your field. There are now often Twitter stations at conferences and people attending sessions at conference who post tweets, which is another way to find active and interesting people.

10. Note the convention of using hashtags (#) to pull together people in a group or around a topic. For example, searching for #PM will yield hundreds of potential contacts in project management. You will see other interesting hashtags to search with embedded in the tweets of others. 

I hope that helps. Once the ball starts rolling, it’s fun to see your lists build. Send me a tweet at @gwoodill to let me know how it is going.