An easy introduction to Twitter

“It’s like being delivered a newspaper whose headlines you’ll always find interesting.” ~ Twitter

Yesterday I was at a conference in Brisbane, organised by the Australasian Medical Writers Association. I met some interesting people and learned a lot about writing from speakers like Dr Justin Coleman and Ben Harris-Roxas.

Interestingly, many speakers mentioned Twitter. Social media are essential if you want to bring a health message across. Twitter is also a great tool to connect and collaborate with others and learn new things. It’s my favourite social media platform.

Twitter seems a bit daunting in the beginning, but it’s really easy to use. After reading this post, which should take you no more than five minutes, you will be ready to take the plunge.

Getting started

Because of the limited character count of 140, Twitter is called a microblogging platform. The social media giant describes itself as an information network made up of 140-character messages called tweets. A tweet is the expression of a thought or idea. It can contain text, links, photos and videos. Millions of tweets are shared in real-time, every day, all over the world.

Twitter egg head
Make sure you upload a profile picture, or Twitter will give you the default egg-head. You will get more followers if you use a good picture of yourself (and preferably not the dog or the cat).

You can read the tweets of people or organisations you follow in your timeline, and your followers can read your tweets, click on any links or hashtags you have included in your messages, or they can retweet your tweets, which means that they share your messages with their followers. I’ll explain it in more detail below.

You can use twitter from your phone, computer or tablet.

To get started, first sign up at twitter.com or directly from the app on your phone or tablet, and choose a public Twitter username (also called a Twitter ‘handle’). The user name is always preceded by the @ symbol. I recommend to use your own name or business/practice name, but any available name is fine.

I picked @EdwinKruys, and Twitter has assigned this Twitter URL (or web address) to me: https://twitter.com/EdwinKruys. Twitter users will see your preferred name next to your Twitter username. This is how my names appear: ‘Dr Edwin Kruys (@EdwinKruys)’. It doesn’t matter if you use capitals or not.

You may want to register a few variants of your name or business name. I have also registered @DrKruys and @DrEdwinKruys.

Here are a few examples of Twitter user names:

Next, you will have to set up your profile. Make sure you add a profile photo or Twitter will give you an egg-head. For professional accounts I recommend a 400×400 pixels close-up photo of your face – not the dog, cat, flowers or a stethoscope. Fill out a short description of yourself and a link to your website or blog.

If you like you can add a background header photo (recommended dimensions are 1500×500 pixels). Once you’ve done all this, start following people. See who others follow and follow the interesting people, organisations and businesses.

Click here for my list of Australian GPs on Twitter.

Twitter lingo

There is a bit of Twitter lingo you need to learn, but it’s easy. Let’s start with hashtags. A hashtag is any word or phrase preceded by the # symbol. Conferences and television shows often use a hashtag, e.g. #GP15Melb. Hashtags are also used for advocacy campaigns, like #AHPRAaction, #ScrapTheCap and #CopayNoWay.

A hashtag is like a label added to your tweets to better file and retrieve messages with a certain topic or theme. It doesn’t matter where you place it. And you can add a few hashtags if you like, although two is probably ideal. When you click on a hashtag in someone’s tweet, you will see all other tweets containing the same word or topic.

Here are some other Twitter buzzwords:

  • Tweet: A Twitter message
  • Tweeting: the act of sending tweets
  • Tweeps: Twitter users
  • Favouriting a tweet: this indicates that you liked a specific tweet
  • A follow: someone following your Twitter account. You can see how many follows (or followers) you have from your Twitter profile
  • Home: your real-time stream of tweets from those you follow, also called a timeline.
Social meidia in general practice
Tip: Have a look at the new Social Media Guidelines from the RACGP. It’s a good summary of the pros and cons of social media, including the AHPRA advertising and social media policies.

Your first tweet

When you compose your first tweet, you could write something like:

“Hi there, I’m new on Twitter. Still figuring out how this works.”

But if you haven’t got many followers, few people will read it. So you could tell someone that you have joined Twitter by adding their username to your tweet. I’ll use my username as an example, but of course anyone’s username can be inserted instead:

“Hi there, I’m new on Twitter. Still figuring out how this works. @edwinkruys

Now I will receive a notification that you have mentioned me, and I may respond, retweet your message or suggest a few people to follow.

If you would put my username at the beginning of your tweet, your message is still public but only those who follow you and me will see the message:

@edwinkruys. Hi there, I’m new on Twitter. Still figuring out how this works.”

If you put something in front of my name, all your followers will see your message (instead of only those who follow you and me):

“Hi @edwinkruys, I’m new on Twitter. Still figuring out how this works.”

Try adding a hashtag and a link:

“Hi @edwinkruys, I’m new on Twitter. Still figuring out how this works. #newontwitter. Read my profile here http://www.mywebsite.com”

You can link to websites, pdf-files, videos etc. The hashtag increases the chance that others with similar interests will read your tweet.

Retweets and replies

A great way to get started is to retweet someone’s message. Ask questions or make some friendly comments to get a conversation going.

A tweet from someone else, forwarded by you to your followers, is known as a retweet or RT. Often used to pass along interesting messages on Twitter, retweets always retain original attribution. Respect the original message and make sure you don’t change the original tweet when you retweet. If you do change it, for example when you delete a few words to save characters, it will become a modified tweet or MT instead of a retweet.

Here is one example of a retweet. Imagine I have just tweeted this message:

“Have a look at this great resource to get started on #Twitter: http://www.linktoresource.com”

You could retweet this – assuming you wanted to share it with your followers:

“RT: @edwinkruys: Have a look at this great resource to get started on #Twitter: http://www.linktoresource.com”

You could also add a brief comment to tell your followers what you think of it or to start a conversation:

“Excellent resource, thanks for sharing! RT: @edwinkruys: Have a look at this great resource to get started on #Twitter: http://www.linktoresource.com”

There are other ways to retweet, for example by retweeting the complete original message without adding your own text, or by retweeting the original message in a box and adding your own 140 character message. Press the retweet button under a message (the two arrows going up and down) to discover the various options.

You can send the same message by replying. Note that, by putting my username at the beginning of your tweet, your message is still public but only those who follow you and me will see the message:

@edwinkruys Excellent resource, thanks for sharing!”

Again, if you want others to see your reply so they can follow our conversation, you need to add something in front of my name, even a full stop will do:

“.@edwinkruys Excellent resource, thanks for sharing!”

Or:

“Excellent resource @edwinkruys, thanks for sharing!”

When you share a resource you have found via someone else, it’s always nice to mention that person:

“Here’s and excellent resource to get started on Twitter: http://www.linktoresource.com – via @edwinkruys

Direct messages, lists and login verification

Use Twitter direct messages to start a private or group conversation with your followers. It is possible to enable a setting to receive direct messages from anyone, not just followers, which may be useful for businesses. Direct messages have no character-limit so you can type as much as you want.

You can add images to your Tweets and even a link plus an image. Although you’re limited to 140 characters, it is easy to get around this by taking a screenshot from a large amount of text and attaching it as an image to your tweet.

Twitter lists are often used to create a group of other Twitter users by topic or interest. Lists contain a timeline of tweets from the users that were added, offering a way to follow individual accounts as a group on Twitter.

There are many third-party apps available to manage your Twitter account(s). I often use buffer to schedule tweets. To avoid getting hacked I recommend using two-step login verification. Have fun!