Twitter for the Absolutely Terrified Newbie Author

by | Sep 26, 2012

Twitter just gets bigger and bigger. It’s amazing how often we’re hearing about tweets during the current election cycle, for instance. It’s really the perfect medium for getting the word out quickly, making a point, poking your opponent while they are still in the middle of a speech, or complaining about NFL refs.

Twitter is also an amazing resource for authors who want to market their books online.

But it’s not just book marketing, Twitter is so much more. Over the last few years we’ve seen this groundbreaking “micro-blogging” service transform into a worldwide communications utility. Twitter has played a major role in revolutionary struggles and social transformations.

Closer to home, Twitter has become a preferred method for celebrities, corporations, customer service departments, software developers, food trucks, dry cleaners and political movements to stay in touch with followers, customers, colleagues and fans.

Sometimes tweets can seem cryptic, but they are just as often illuminating, ironic, pointed, funny, or melancholy. Really, the only limitation of the utility of Twitter seems to be its 140-character limit.

I really enjoy Twitter and have been an avid user for several years. It has brought tens of thousands of visitors to my blog, allowed me to meet and get to know colleagues and readers around the world, helped me arrange writing and speaking opportunities. Oh, it’s also a lot of fun.

To get you started (and hopefully get rid of that terror that may be keeping you from diving in), I’ve put together this little primer on using Twitter.

Getting Started in 3 Easy Steps

Here’s how I would suggest you get started if you’re one of those people who is simply terrified of Twitter, or if you “just don’t get it.”

  1. Go to and sign up. You’ll need an email address, and you’ll get to pick your Twitter ID in the process.
  2. Fill out your profile and upload a photo of yourself so you look presentable to the rest of the Twitter world.
  3. Find some people to follow. Use the search field at the top right of your Twitter home page to enter a name or subject that’s an interest of yours, or that you write about. You’ll get a whole screen full of messages on the topic. Click the name of anyone who looks interesting, then click the blue “Follow” button.

Okay, relax, the hard work is done. Your next task is to listen. Keep reading the messages posted by people you are following, and follow new people who are also interested in the topic.

Once you start following people, Twitter will suggest other users to you on your home page. Follow them too. You can always “unfollow” them later if you like.

Many of the people you follow, by the way, will “follow you back.” That’s okay, you don’t have to worry about them until you start putting out messages of your own. But you’re not going to do that until you’re completely comfortable and feel safe.

After you’ve opened your Twitter account, spend some time listening, then dive in. You can make of it whatever you like. The ideas here will help you get started. Oh, and send me a tweet, I’ll be happy to respond.

Essential Twitter Basics

To use Twitter, you need to know some basic concepts. If you understand these, you’re ready to become a Twitter user.

Follow/Unfollow—On Twitter, you follow people you’re interested in. This means that every time they post a Tweet, it will show up on your home page, in your “timeline” or “stream.” Likewise, if someone follows you, they will see the tweets you post.

Tweet—A message you send via Twitter. Tweets are limited to 140 characters and can include links to websites or other resources. You can’t style these tweets, they are all just plain text.

Re-Tweet (or RT)—Broadcast a tweet by another user to your own followers. You can do this by clicking the “Retweet” button that appears when you hover your cursor over a tweet on Twitter, or by using the RT button in many programs that work with Twitter.

More on retweeting

Modified Tweet (or MT)—A tweet that’s been modified in some way before being re-tweeded.

Twitter ID (or Handle, username, etc.)—The name you create for your account when you set it up. Your Twitter ID always starts with an “at” sign (@). For instance, @BarackObama is the Twitter ID for the U.S. president. Pick this carefully, you’ll be using it for a long time.

Lists—You can create lists of other Twitter users and you get to control who is on each list. These are used only for reading the tweets by people on the list; you can’t broadcast just to one specific list. Lists are incredibly helpful in managing your Twitter feed so you can concentrate on one subject at a time.

More on Twitter lists

Direct message (or DM)—A private message you send to another user who is following you. No one else can see a DM. If you are following each other, you can carry on a completely private conversation this way.

By the way, when you follow people sometimes you’ll get a Direct Message from them instantly. These are automatic and I think most users avoid them. Don’t feel obligated to respond.

More on DMs

Trends (trending)—Twitter’s software robots watch what people are talking about and select the top 10 subjects at any moment, displaying them on your home page.

More on trending

Hashtags—A way to indicate that a tweet is part of a larger conversation or related to a specific topic or event. Hashtags are also really useful for filtering the stream of tweets to see those specific topics. They have a pound sign (#) followed by a word or phrase with no spaces within it.

Hashtags for writers

Profile Picture (or Avatar)—A clear, professional and friendly photo is usually the best to start off with.

Bio—The most crucial part of your profile, you want to use the 160 characters allowed to say something meaningful about your work and your interests.

Blocking—If you don’t want to unfollow someone, you can simply block their tweets, it’s easy. See the link for instructions.

More on blocking users

Mentions—When you are referenced in someone else’s tweet, using your @Twitter ID.

[email protected] (Period before a user’s Twitter ID)—If you tweet in reply to another user, your tweet will begin with that users Twitter ID, which starts with the “at” sign (@). Twitter may not send this Tweet to all your followers since it considers it a more or less “private” conversation. If you want the reply to go to all of your followers, put a period first.

More on “dot syntax”

Okay, Now What?

None of this will tell you what to do when you want to start publishing your own tweets. But watching the people you admire, and the people who seem to have a lot of followers will show you one very important thing.

Those who seem most successful on Twitter share lots of useful, interesting or amusing resources from other people. Interspersed will be tweets about their own content, books, or other projects.

If you do the same, you will also be popular. I think about 3 or 4 tweets from other people to every 1 of your own is about right for most people.

But listen as long as you like before you start tweeting. Here are some more resources if you’d like to delve deeper.

More Twitter Resources to Help You Get Started

10 Steps for Authors Who Want to Get Started on Twitter
Twitter Help Center
Twitter Basics
Mashable’s Guide to Twitter
Twitter: Top 5 Ways to Find Your Tribe
Your 10-Step Plan for Becoming a Twitter Star
Metadata for the Tweeps: Using Twitter Hashtags

Image licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, original work copyright by K Jarrett,

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Priscilla

    Hi Joel and everypne else. Thanks for this informative message. I am also quite new to twitter, and unsure how all these symbols and things were suppoed to be used, lol. I’m usually a silent observer on social media, but preferring to re-tweet other people’s articles I find interesting. To me, tweting for myself, is rather like wrting with black crayon on a blackboard. No responses. That’s why I don’t really bother I suppose. I occassionally read other’s post, but iwhen I have something to say, I find 140 characters bit limiitng, lol. Thanks again for an interesting message. Have an awesome week everyone. ;) Psychic Medium Priscilla, Durban.

  2. Jon Rieley-Goddard

    Tnx for a helpful post. The dot stuff is new to me, which is very cool.

  3. Tana Brouillette

    I can definitely see the importance of Twitter for reaching out and engaging your audience and readers but I have to say I am still a bit intimidated by it.

    I found your tips useful but I must admit that I still use Twitter as a way to advertise my recent posts and other blogs and news I find interesting. I still do not know how to use the “trending” and “hashtags”. I do, however, find it surprisingly easy to get followers.

    Now I have to get on board with Pinterest….*sigh*

    • Joel Friedlander


      My take on this is to spend the time it takes to thoroughly understand one service—in this case Twitter—before moving on to another.

      I find that it takes time to understand how best to use the site and, as I’m going through that process, I find the most efficient way to get the most out of it.

      So maybe hold off on Pinterest for now, it will still be there in a month or two.

  4. Laura Pep Wu

    Hi Joel, great article. My posts on Twitter continue to be among the most popular on my site – basically because it leaves so many people so confused!
    It’s kind of like beer and coffee though – it’s an acquired taste but soon you’ll wonder how you lived without it!
    I’d like to add that using lists has changed the way I use Twitter. I follow way too many people to keep up with, but having a list of 30-40 of the people I most want to keep up with keeps it nice and manageable.

  5. Tracy R. Atkins

    This is a perfect article! Twitter is something that I have dabbled with and used a little, but I’m still learning. I tweet very little, but read a lot. I appreciate the tips for Blocking, [email protected], and direct messages. Those will be very helpful, as I have a flood of stuff from the few people I do follow.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Tracy, creating lists and then segmenting your feed with something like HootSuite or TweetDeck makes the whole experience more manageable and more fun. I took months before I ever tweeted anything, but once you start it’s kind of addictive!

  6. christopher wwwwwills

    Great and timely article. I am on Twitter but don’t get it so any help like your article is greatly appreciated.

    I have a question. What is the point of following say, 5,000 people? I understand the idea that they may follow you and thus it is one way of building up followers. But one couldn’t possibly read the daily Tweets from 5,000 people so why follow that many? I don’t get it. I follow about 150 and even that is too many to keep up with every day.

    Thanks Joel.

    • Joel Friedlander

      christopher, it’s obviously true that if you follow a lot of people—even a couple of hundred active users—you will not be able to read every single one of their posts. Instead you might focus on the stream of updates that people are putting out as a representation of their interests and passions. I’ve heard it said that tweets have a lifespan of about 15 minutes, and that seems right to me because I experience it more as a living, ongoing, real-time connection to a kind of global mind.

  7. Anne Trager -

    Joel, I love your title. I wanted to give words of encouragement to those starting out on Twitter. Was you integrate it into your social media strategy, I find that it’s actually easier than Facebook and perhaps even more gratifying.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Anne, I’m with you. Although I enjoy connecting with old friends on Facebook, I enjoy Twitter a lot more for all the reasons in this article.

  8. Norm Bass

    I’m a new user to Twitter and have already learned the basics, but your article was great for clarifying and confirming what I learned through trial and ERROR. Wish I had read your article earlier. A side note: I discovered you on Twitter and really enjoy all of your articles. Thanks for the help.

  9. Will Overby

    Thanks for the tips! As a fairly new user of Twitter, I have been overwhelmed by the sheer number of tweets filling up my feed. It makes me wonder how many of my own tweets get lost in the noise. How do others organize all the incoming information and find the most relevant posts?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Will, I use HootSuite, a free application that allows you to filter the incoming tweets into separate streams based on lists, hashtags or searches. This lets you focus on one area at a time or a select group of people, making it much more manageable.

      • Will Overby

        Good to know! Thanks, Joel!



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