If you’ve been on the internet anytime over the past decade, you’ve surely heard of Twitter. It’s one of the biggest social networks today, with over 330 million active users as of September 2017.
Those new to Twitter are probably left with tons of questions. What is this site all about? How do I use it? And how can I make the most of it with advanced tips and tricks?
We’ll answer all these questions and more in our complete guide to Twitter. Let’s get started!
Note: This guide covers using Twitter on the web. The official Twitter app for Android and iOS is nearly identical to the web interface, so you should have no problem using Twitter on-the-go after reading this guide.
1. Twitter 101
Before you jump on and start tweeting, we should review some fundamentals of the service.
What Is Twitter?
Twitter is a social network and news website that centers around tweets. These tweets are short, 140-character-max blurbs that any registered user can send out. You can view anyone’s tweets without an account, but you need to register and use your own Twitter account to get the most out of the service.
You can follow any Twitter users that you like, which adds their tweets to your timeline (also called your feed). Twitter also allows you to send Direct Messages, which are private conversations between you and another user.
What Does It Cost?
Twitter is free and will never charge you money to use it. To make money, Twitter serves you advertisements in the form of promoted tweets. These allow companies to purchase guaranteed space in your timeline.
Some third-party Twitter apps charge a few dollars, but we’ll discuss those later on.
What’s a Hashtag?
Hashtags (represented by the pound sign, #) are perhaps one of the most misused items on the internet. We’ll talk about using hashtags in-depth later, but for now, let’s set up a basic definition.
A hashtag is a specific keyword that allows you to self-tag your tweets so they can be easily grouped with others similar to them.
For example, if you were watching the World Series and wanted to tweet about the crazy home run you just saw, you might add #WorldSeries to your tweet. Using a hashtag on a word creates a link, which anyone can click on to view other tweets with that hashtag.
Happy Friday! Want a card featuring #WorldSeries MVP George Springer?
— MLB (@MLB) November 3, 2017
Why Only 140 Characters?
Twitter launched in 2006 when SMS was still the dominant mode of mobile communication. The iPhone wouldn’t launch for almost another year, so apps weren’t a consideration yet. Thus, Twitter’s founders thought of SMS’s restrictions when designing the service.
The limit on SMS texts is 160 characters, so they presumed 140 would leave enough for the sender’s username plus the content of the tweet. Even 11 years later, this limit is still in place.
However, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey recently announced that the company is starting to roll out 280-character tweets. We’ll see if this turns out a good or bad decision, but don’t be surprised when you see longer tweets than usual. In the meantime, you can use other methods to write longer tweets.
This is a small change, but a big move for us. 140 was an arbitrary choice based on the 160 character SMS limit. Proud of how thoughtful the team has been in solving a real problem people have when trying to tweet. And at the same time maintaining our brevity, speed, and essence! https://t.co/TuHj51MsTu
— jack (@jack) September 26, 2017
What Are Those Blue Checks For?
Twitter uses blue checkmarks to signify verified users. This signifies that “an account of public interest is authentic” and lets you know that an account isn’t a parody or impersonator. In its own words, Twitter verifies “accounts maintained by users in music, acting, fashion, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, sports, business, and other key interest areas.”
Years ago, Twitter decided which accounts it would verify, and typically only verified extremely well-known accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers. In 2016, Twitter changed the rules and now anyone can submit a request to receive verification.
If you think your account should be verified – let us know! Check out our article to learn what it takes to apply. https://t.co/J8MUNCC5bg
— Twitter Verified (@verified) October 6, 2016
2. Signing Up and Getting Started
Now that you know a bit about using Twitter, let’s briefly walk through creating an account. We’ll show you how to start tweeting and follow a few users.
Create an Account
Head to Twitter’s signup page to get started. You’ll need to supply your name, email address or phone number, and a password. Uncheck the Personalize Twitter box if you don’t want your browsing habits used to serve you more relevant ads.
Next, you’ll need to add your phone number and Twitter will call you to verify. Enter your number and press Call me to receive a code.
Finally, your most important decision comes when you pick your username. On Twitter, the @ symbol signifies a username. When someone wants to mention you, they’ll include @Username in their tweet.
What you choose is up to you. Pick something that makes you stand out, and enter it to make sure someone else didn’t take it first. You can change your username later, so don’t fret about it too much.
Once that’s done, Twitter gives you a brief intro and asks you what you’re interested in. You can click any of the icons here to add interests or search for a topic you’re interested in. This helps Twitter recommend accounts for you.
Next, Twitter will ask if you want to import your email contacts so you can easily follow your friends. This is optional, but can help you find people you know more easily. Finally, Twitter will present some suggested accounts to follow, or you can search for a user if you like. Follow any you like, then click Continue.
Once you’re done here, jump over to your inbox and look for a message from Twitter asking to confirm your email address. Click the Confirm button and you’re ready to roll.
Navigating Twitter’s Interface
Navigating to Twitter’s homepage when you’re logged in will show your timeline, along with several other elements. Let’s break down what each of these is for:
- Page tabs: These four tabs (Home, Moments, Notifications, and Messages) allow you to switch between Twitter’s major elements. Moments collects the biggest news circulating Twitter, Notifications lets you see who’s interacted with you, and Messages let you check your direct messages (DMs).
- Your account: Quickly view your profile information, number of tweets, and number of followers/following. You can click on any of the numbers here to view detailed info.
- Trends: View trends that Twitter thinks you’ll have an interest in based on who you follow.
- Tweet box: Click here to create a new Tweet.
- Timeline: View the latest tweets from people you follow.
- Search: Search for any user, hashtag, or other text.
- Your account: Click your profile picture to view your Lists and Moments, access your Settings, and more.
- Who to follow: Here, Twitter suggests accounts you might like based on your Twitter activity. You can also connect your email accounts here if you haven’t already.
Finding Users to Follow
Twitter isn’t too exciting if you aren’t following anybody. Get started by running a few searches for your favorite websites and people you follow on other services. Chances are, anyone with a presence on Facebook, Instagram, or similar will also be on Twitter.
If you’re into movies, search for some of your favorite directors and actors. Gamers can follow their favorite YouTube personalities and gaming websites. Fashion, government, business, and other industries are huge on Twitter too. Try following your real-life friends and see what accounts they interact with.
Click the Follow button on an account’s profile to follow them. You can also mouse over any username in your timeline for a quick summary, including a follow button.
It only takes a bit to get started; once you follow a few accounts, you can easily find more you’ll enjoy. Twitter will suggest them on the right sidebar, and it also shows you what people you follow Like, helping you find new accounts. If you follow someone and find that they tweet too much or aren’t interesting, you can unfollow them just as easily.
Customizing Your Profile
Click your name on the left side of Twitter’s homepage, and you’ll visit your profile. Find the Edit profile button on the right side of the screen, and you can make a few important changes so your profile is more personable.
Select your header or profile photo to change them. By default, your avatar is a generic outline. You’ll definitely want to change this to something personal, as the starter photo is often associated with spam accounts. Twitter recommends an image of 400 x 400 pixels for your profile photo.
Your cover photo is a larger image at the top of your profile. Twitter recommends a 1,500 x 500 image for this one. Upload an image from your computer that says something about you — it’s just an extra bit of flair for visitors to enjoy.
While you’re editing, you can also use the boxes on the left to change your display name (separate from your username). Add a short bio to tell people about you, specify your location (with as much exactitude as you’re comfortable with), and place a link to your website to flesh out your profile. Finally, adjusting your Theme color changes the colors of buttons, links, and more on your page.
You can also add your birthday, and decide who can see it. Select from Public, We follow each other, Only me, and more.
What Can I Put in a Tweet?
Aside from text, you can add plenty of multimedia elements into a tweet. First are hashtags and usernames. We discussed hashtags above; usernames are always preceded with the @ symbol. For instance, the official Twitter account is @Twitter. Adding an @ username in your tweet notifies the mentioned account and acts as a link to their page if someone clicks it.
When you’re drafting a new tweet, check out the buttons underneath the compose box. Here you can add images, GIFs (via a search function), and polls. Of course, you can also add links to tweets and Twitter will automatically shorten them.
Twitter polls let you pose a question and select between two and four options for people to choose from. Using the Poll length option, you can allow the poll to run a minimum of five minutes to a maximum of seven days. These are a fun way to informally see what your followers think of something and drum up a conversation.
You can also add your location using the Location icon. This helps add context to photos and tweets — if you’re comfortable sharing it.
Replying, Retweeting, and Liking
Under every tweet (that’s not yours), you’ll see a few symbols that let you interact with it.
From left to right, the first is the Reply button. This lets you send a tweet in direct response to the original. Depending on the original tweeter’s settings, they may see your reply as a notification. Anyone viewing your tweet will see that it’s a reply. People following you may see your reply along with the original in their timelines, even if they don’t follow the account you replied to.
The second button is Retweet. Retweeting (RT) allows you to repost a tweet to your followers so they can see it too. You might RT a useful guide that you found, a joke that you found funny, or any number of other tweets you want to share.
When you click the RT button, you can simply click Retweet to repost it without any additional commentary. Or if you prefer, you can Quote Tweet (QT) by adding your own thoughts on top of the original. Retweeted tweets show up in your timeline as coming from the original account, but say [User] retweeted above them. A QT shows up as your own tweet but links the original below it.
The heart-shaped Like button acts as a sort of “appreciation” function. Use it to show that you agree with a tweet, collect your favorite tweets of the day, or similar. Be aware that your Likes are public, though. Anyone can click the Likes link on your profile to see what you’ve Liked, and tweets you Like often show up in your follower’s timelines.
Finally, you can click the envelope icon to send the tweet to someone via DM.
3. Using Twitter Effectively
So far, you’ve learned what Twitter is, got your own account set up, and know the basics of tweeting. But there’s a lot more to learn in order to master Twitter. Let’s move onto some intermediate topics.
Once you’ve followed lots of accounts, you might be overwhelmed by the number of tweets coming your way. If your timeline feels like a jumbled mess, you should use one of Twitter’s best features: Lists.
Lists allow you to create custom groups of Twitter users, organized by any interest you like. For instance, maybe you follow 500 accounts, but want to make sure you don’t miss any tweets by a select 50 of them. Or maybe you have several interests and want to create separate pages to keep track of them. You can even add accounts you don’t follow to a list.
To get started with lists, click your profile picture in the top-right of Twitter’s page and select Lists. On the right side of the screen, hit the Create new list button. Give it a name and brief description, if you like. Then, decide if you want the list to be Public or Private. If it’s the former, anyone can access the list, follow it, and view its members. Click Save list when you’re done.
Now you can add some accounts to your list. Head to any profile page and click the three-dot Menu button. Select Add or remove from lists and check the lists you want to add that account to.
Once you’ve added a few accounts, go back to the Lists page and click your list name. You’ll see a feed of tweets just from the members of your list. You can also select List members on the left to easily review who’s in it.
Muting, Blocking, and Reporting
If you run into a problematic account, Twitter provides a few ways to deal with annoyances.
The less drastic of the two is Muting an account. This allows you to hide an account’s tweets from your timeline, while still following them. It’s handy if someone you like is tweeting too much in a short time, perhaps during a sporting event you don’t care about.
You can unmute someone at any time, and they won’t know you’ve muted them. To mute a user, simply click the three-dot Menu on their profile and select Mute @Account.
If you follow the account you’ve muted, any notifications from them still show up in your Notifications tab but you won’t get a push notification for them. You won’t see any notifications from muted accounts that you don’t follow.
For more severe cases, you can block an account. When you block someone, they can’t follow you, view your tweets, send you messages, or otherwise interact with you. The account won’t see a notification that you’ve blocked them, but if they visit your profile, they’ll see a message letting them know they’ve been blocked.
To block someone, use the same method as muting: click the Menu button on their profile and select Block @Account. Accounts you block can still see your tweets if they visit Twitter without logging in, so keep that in mind.
From this menu, you can also Report an account. You should report accounts that are posting spam, appear to be hacked, or those that are being abusive. Don’t report accounts that you simply dislike; reporting is for accounts that are violating Twitter’s rules. Unless Twitter’s Safety Council decides it doesn’t like you.
Twitter doesn’t allow you to edit a tweet after you send it. However, you can still delete a tweet if you change your mind about it. Navigate to your profile, find the tweet you want to remove, and click the drop-down arrow in its top-right corner. Select Delete Tweet and confirm to erase it.
You can undo retweets, as well. Find the tweet you’ve RTed, then click the green RT button to remove it.
Direct Messages (DMs) let you have a private conversation with another user that nobody else can see. They’re great when a public conversation gets too many replies. Click the Messages tab at the top to open yours. Select New Message and enter the account you want to chat with.
By default, you can only DM accounts that follow you. However, users have the option to open their DMs to everyone. Look for the Message button on someone’s profile to see if you can message them.
Make Your Account Private
If you’re concerned about sharing your tweets with the web at large, you can make your account private to lock it down. You can identify a protected account by the lock symbol next to it.
To do this, click your profile picture and select Settings, then the Privacy and safety tab on the left. The first option is Protect your Tweets. If you check this box, your account becomes private. With a protected account, you’ll get a request every time someone new wants to follow you. If you don’t approve it, they can’t see your tweets.
If you set your account to private after using it publicly for a while, anyone who was following you before the change will still be able to see your tweets. Nobody can retweet your tweets if your account is private. And if you reply to an account that doesn’t follow you, they won’t be able to see it. Plus, protected tweets don’t appear in Google search.
Protecting your tweets is useful for younger users or those especially concerned about privacy. But Twitter really shines when you can interact with lots of users, even if you don’t know them. So we recommend leaving your account public unless you have a specific reason to change it.
Replies on Twitter got a major overhaul a few years ago, but some of the old conventions still apply. It’s a bit confusing, so we’ll break it down to simplify this potential stumbling block.
Whenever you click Reply on a tweet, you’ll see a tweet draft box like normal. However, notice the Replying to @Username above the text box? This allows you to specify whether you’re replying to a specific user or not.
In this case, when I send this tweet, I’m replying to @MakeUseOf. The original sender will see the tweet, but those scrolling through your timeline will not see it unless they follow both you and the sender. When you reply to a tweet, Twitter considers this a semi-private conversation between accounts, so it doesn’t bother others by showing it to them. If you click Tweets & replies on someone’s profile, you can see these conversations.
This goes one step further. Say I reply to @MakeUseOf’s tweet and you want to reply to me. When you click the Reply button, you’ll see both usernames in the Replying to text. If you only want to reply to what I said and leave @MakeUseOf out of it, you can click the usernames and uncheck the original sender. This will notify me that you replied to me, without notifying the original sender.
Twitter made this change because, in the old days, replies included everyone’s @Username in the tweet. With several users in the conversation, you’d only have a few characters to send your message. Plus, it was tough to keep track of who was talking to who.
A final note on replies: if you start a tweet with an @Username, Twitter assumes that you’re trying to talk to only that account. Thus, tweets that start with @Username aren’t visible to your followers, unless they follow the mentioned account also. This is fine if you’re, say, contacting a company for help. But if you want your followers to see the tweet, Twitter convention is to start with a period to bypass this.
For example, the top tweet will only be seen by those who follow both me and @MakeUseOf. The bottom tweet will show to everyone:
@MakeUseOf is a cool site, but nobody will know I said this because I started my tweet with an @ username.
.@Nintendo outdid itself for Game of the Year with the release of Mario Odyssey.
You can include an @Username anywhere else in a tweet to Mention an account and it will show as normal to your followers.
Using Hashtags Properly
As mentioned earlier, hashtags are woefully understood. You should use them to self-categorize your tweets to make them easier to find and aggregate.
Let’s go over a few ways to help your hashtag use, as well as a few pitfalls to avoid:
- Hashtags can’t contain spaces or punctuation. Avoid these to make sure you don’t accidentally split up your tags. Make sure your hashtag text stays as one color before you send a tweet.
- Use camelcase. Camelcase, or capitalizing every word in a hashtag, makes your tags easier to read. Compare #TwitterTopTips to #twittertoptips, for instance. Using camelcase also prevents others from misreading your tag. One infamous example of this came when former Prime Minister of Britain Margaret Thatcher passed away. The hashtag #nowthatchersdead started trending, which many misread as “Now That Cher’s Dead”.
— aaronhoff (@aaronhoff) April 9, 2013
- Look for hashtags in everyday life. Many TV shows, video games, movies, and other media add official hashtags to their advertising. If you’re live-tweeting the season premiere of Doctor Who, look for a hashtag like #DWPremiere on-screen.
- Be specific, but not too specific. If you’re sharing a picture of your dog, tagging it with #Dog is a bit too broad to be effective. On the other hand, #ThisIsMyDogAndShesSoBeautiful is way too distinct and clunky. Try to find a middle ground — something like #LoveMyHusky works well.
- You can include hashtags anywhere in your tweet. You don’t have to list hashtags at the end of a tweet. Tagging a word in the middle of a sentence works just fine.
- Don’t use too many hashtags. Slapping ten hashtags into a tweet looks spammy and amateurish. If you want to use hashtags, pick a few and stick with those.
- Don’t use hashtags as “extensions” of what you’re posting. Sometimes, users like to add several hashtags to the end of their tweets as a P.S. This often comes off as a rant. Further, there’s a good chance that nobody is searching for the weirdly specific hashtags these posts include. For instance, don’t do this:
The employee at McDonald’s didn’t even say hi to me when they handed me my burger. #sorryyourehavingabadday #hatewhenfastfoodworkersarerude #thisiswhyipreferwendys #justwantmybigmac
4. Twitter Tips and Tricks
We’ve covered the tips you need to master using Twitter. Now, we move to some various tidbits that will help your experience, including a guide to Twitter’s user settings.
Force a Chronological Timeline
Twitter used to show you tweets from those you followed in reverse-chronological order. Now, it uses an algorithmic timeline and shows you tweets it thinks you’ll like first. If you’d rather not have this, you can disable it in your Settings.
Head to Profile Icon > Settings and privacy > Account. Scroll down to the Content section and uncheck the Show the best Tweets first box. Twitter figures out the accounts you interact with most to decide what the “best tweets” are. If you keep scrolling in your timeline, you may also see a summary of tweets under an In case you missed it header.
Turn Off Retweets for an Account
You might really like a user’s tweets, but find that they retweet too often or RT content you’d rather not see. To disable RTs for a user, visit their page and click the Menu button. Choose Turn off Retweets and you won’t see anything that user RTs in your timeline.
Enable Mobile Notifications
If you follow any accounts that share time-sensitive information or just really enjoy their tweets, you can get a mobile notification every time they tweet. First, install the Twitter app on your phone and sign into your account (see below).
Then, click the Menu button on their profile, and select Turn on mobile notifications. Now you’ll never miss a tweet. Note that this might result in a ton of notifications, so use it sparingly.
Some Important Settings
Twitter has plenty of options you can toggle in the Settings menu. There are too many to review here, but we’ll highlight a few important ones:
- General > Login verification: You should absolutely enable two-factor authentication on your Twitter account. This adds a second layer of security so that even if someone steals your password, they can’t log into your account.
- General > Password reset verification: By default, anyone who gets into your Twitter account can request a password reset via email or phone number. Checking this option requires you to enter your email address and/or phone number when requesting a reset.
- Privacy and safety: You should have a look through all the settings here. These allow you to disable location information on your tweets, turn off photo tagging, disable ad tracking, and hide potentially offensive tweets.
- Mobile: If you don’t have a smartphone, come here to set up notifications via SMS.
- Notifications: If you get a lot of spam notifications, you can filter some of them here. Check these boxes to mute accounts with a default profile photo or an unconfirmed email address. You should also enable the Quality filter to weed out junk.
- Muted words: Come here to hide specific words from your notifications and timeline.
- Apps: Review other services you’ve connected to your Twitter account.
You’re Not Obligated to Follow Anyone
This is a small piece of advice, but it’s worth mentioning. Twitter lets you follow people and companies you care about. It’s great to follow your real-life friends, but if you’re not interested in someone’s tweets, don’t follow them. You also don’t have to follow back everyone who follows you.
Sometimes you can drastically improve your Twitter experience just by unfollowing some accounts.
Pin a Tweet
Twitter lets you pin one tweet to the top of your profile page. This lets visitors see your favorite tweet right away. You might like to include information about yourself, a particularly popular tweet you posted, or other similar info here. To pin a tweet, click the dropdown arrow on one of your own tweets and select Pin to your profile page.
As we mentioned before, anyone can apply to become verified on Twitter. If you think that your account has public value, head to Twitter’s verification page, review the requirements, and submit your account for consideration. You’ll need to have your account in good order to do so, including a linked website, confirmed email address, and more. Twitter also requires a photocopy of official photo ID for verification.
You can try if you think your account fits the bill, but verification seems quite random. Some folks with a few thousand followers get verified without issue, while others have tens of thousands and still can’t get verified. Twitter will email you and let you know that it declined verification within a few days.
Get Official Support on Twitter
Twitter is a great place to contact companies for support. Most major corporations have a Twitter profile specifically for helping customers. Many of them include Support, Help, or Cares in their usernames. The best way to find one is a quick search. Twitter even displays a Provides support message below these accounts to help you identify them.
You shouldn’t tweet at non-support accounts for help, though. For instance, if you look at Bank of America’s page here, it asks you to use their separate help account for issues.
Want to zip around Twitter without using your mouse? Click the Keyboard shortcuts entry on your profile menu to review them.
If you prefer dark themes to light ones, you can enable Twitter’s Night Mode for a different look. Just click your profile icon and choose Night mode to toggle it. On mobile, slide out the left sidebar and tap Night mode to do this.
5. Twitter Apps
We conclude with some of the best apps for using Twitter on all your devices. Of course, you can access Twitter through its website, but alternative apps allow for power user feature and more customization. Just remember that third-party apps are missing a few features.
Twitter on Windows
For an official solution, you can use the Twitter app from the Windows Store. TweetDeck is a great multi-column option for power users, but it’s unfortunately only available as a Chrome app. If you want a powerful desktop app, give Tweeten a try.
Twitter on Mac
Twitter has an official Mac app that’s passable but not fantastic. TweetBot is a longtime favorite of Mac and iOS users, but it costs $10 which may be hard to swallow for some. TweetDeck works in any browser, of course, and Tweeten is also available on macOS. We’ve covered more of the best Twitter clients for Mac if these don’t interest you.
Twitter on Linux
Twitter’s options on Linux aren’t as plentiful as on other platforms, unless you want to use Twitter via the command line. Corebird is a solid desktop client, but most others are pretty lousy. You’re best off using TweetDeck on the web if you’re a heavy Twitter user on Linux.
Download: Corebird (Free)
Twitter on Android
The official Twitter app is serviceable and includes what most average users need. We’ve covered several alternatives, but for taking it to the next level, you’ll want Talon. It includes tons of customization options and features Material Design. For $3, it’s the best way to supercharge your Android Twitter usage.
Twitter on iOS
Twitter’s official iOS app is the same story as its Android app. Like macOS, the best alternative Twitter client for your iPhone is TweetBot. It’s wildly popular for a reason, and is a worth download for hardcore Twitter users at $5.
Ready to Tweet?
Now you’ve gone through the entire guide to Twitter. You know everything you need to use the service effectively and won’t make any silly blunders. That’s exciting! Go and enjoy everything Twitter has to offer. Follow your favorite personalities, try to build an audience, catch up on the latest trends, or do whatever else you like.
Want to get geeky with Twitter? Check out how to start automating your tweets.
What did you learn about Twitter from the guide? What’s the most confusing part of using the service in your opinion? Don’t forget to share this with your friends, and leave your additional questions down in the comments!