Twitter 101 – the basics

New to twitter, or thinking about starting an account? Here are some of the basics to get you up and running …

1. Account set up and management

Choose a name that easily identifies you (or your public persona/brand). Your short bio should include key descriptive notes that intrigue both followers who know you, or would be interested in similar interests.

Create a background that is clear and distinctive (can include profile picture of yourself, plus contact details) – this brand should be consistent across your social media profiles. Keep file size smaller (for quick loading) and aim to make a strong visual impression.

Consider using a dashboard such as to manage your social media profiles (facebook, twitter, blog etc) all in one place.

2. Understanding different types of messages

A tweet is a message directed to no one in particular, and everyone sees it. Simply type your message in the “What are you doing?” box at the top of Twitter, click “Update,” and everyone who follows you will see the message.

Retweet (or RT) is resending what someone else has already tweeted. You do this because you think it’s worth sharing with your network. It also builds a sense of community to share useful resources with others.

Reply (or @reply) is a message directed toward someone in particular, but everyone can still see it. A reply begins with the “@” symbol immediately followed by a user name (@afrosocialmedia, for example.)

Direct Message (or DM) is private message sent via Twitter to one person, and no one else can see it.

3. How to create good content on twitter

Creating your own content on twitter is crucial to building a community – it is a space to share your ideas, thoughts and “good reads”, with the aim of building a sense of community with others who are interested in similar topics. At first, the limitation of 140 characters can be bewildering, but when you get going, it becomes quite liberating. 140 characters forces you to fine tune your remarks and think about what you are saying more carefully. Your tweets should be comprised of useful and/or entertaining information, including a mix of the following types of content:

Useful information such as basic information about upcoming events or resources.

Links are one of the most important parts of a tweet. If you read something online that you find thought provoking or worth sharing, twitter is the place to do it. If the link itself is too long, consider using a tool such as which automatically shortens long links so that you have more space for descriptive words.

Thoughts and ideas: Personal anecdotes or “pearls of wisdom” are very engaging for your twitter audience. Once you become known on twitter for your specialisation, the frequency of your tweets is less important.

Humour and personality: Twitter is rather obsessed with personality. If you are boring, you are less likely to create a buzz or get many followers. Don’t be afraid of using humour or personal tweets if they feel appropriate – they help people get to know more about you, which makes following you more attractive.
Also be aware that your tweets are an ambassador for your brand, so people will always link you to your organisation. There are various formulas for the “right” mix of personal vs work tweets, but that is something you need to work out for your own brand.

4. How to create a sense of community on twitter – Find people to follow

To create a community on twitter, you need to both speak (tweet) and listen (follow). The value of following others who are interested in similar subjects is that you are able to tap into their resources easily. You will learn over time who are the more valuable members of your community, whose tweets/links are worth clicking on to find out more.

Search for people or organisations that you know are interested in your subject.

Follow people in other similar networks For example, if you find someone particularly interesting on Twitter, you may wonder who they find interesting. Just go to their home page and click on the “following” link at the top right corner of their Twitter page. You can click the “follow” button next to the people listed on another person’s followers page, which adds these folks to your own follow list.

Wider search for followers: There are several ways to seek out followers with interests similar to your own. For example, you can search Twitter; to do so, click “Find People” at the top of your Twitter page and search for people you know. You could also go to and search for terms of interest to find Twitter users who mention those terms in their Twitter profiles.

Follow new people who follow you (although this is not mandatory – don’t fill your stream with people whose interests are not the same as yours). As people find and follow you on Twitter, you’ll get email alerts about new followers. You can also see a list of your followers by clicking the small “followers” link (beneath your count of followers, top right corner). On that page, you can easily see who you are already following and who you are not, and you can follow them with a click of the mouse button.


Twitter is an informative, entertaining way to engage followers and build community around your work. Using twitter gets easier as you spend more time playing with it, which I would encourage. You can use twitter on your computer (desktop/laptop) and also on your phone. I would recommend that you initially budget about 1 – 2 hours a week for twitter.