It’s been a rough week at Twitter. First came news that Google and Disney, two of the companies thought to be the main competition to purchase the social network, were each no longer interested. That sent Twitter’s shares plunging.

So what’s wrong with Twitter? The most common complaint you hear from new users (and that I hear from my students) is there’s too much of a learning curve to get started and, once you do get the hang of it, the flood of information in the stream is overwhelming.

I still have, as most journalists do, a love affair with Twitter. I feel the need to do my part to help new users understand how to best use the platform. So here’s my Twitter 101 lesson I share each semester with students.

 

Your handle

Usernames on Twitter are denoted with the @ symbol. It’s the first big decision you have to make when you join. Here are the questions you should ask and things to consider before choosing your handle.

Tips For Picking Your Twitter Handle

Your handle is important for personal branding because it will be one of the first things that pops up when someone Googles you.

Picking a twitter handle for your branding

After you select your handle, it’s time to write your bio.

Setting up your twitter profile

That last item is really important in terms of being able to find you. Just use your real city name: San Antonio, Austin, San Marcos, etc. As for telling your story, use those 160 characters wisely. Make sure to include information there that will give someone an indication of what you’ll be tweeting about.

What should your twitter profile say

 

For instance, my Twitter feed is typically full of social media news, Texas State activities, journalism issues and hiking pictures. Oh, and my dog. Lots of photos of Lucy.

Once you have your profile up and running, it’s time to learn some Twitter lingo. Here are the most common things you’ll come across.

@: As mentioned earlier, this is the first character of a user’s username. If you insert the @ symbol before a word, it will be a clickable link to that user’s profile.

Tweet: Tweet is both a noun and a verb. An individual post to Twitter is called a tweet. When you use Twitter, you are tweeting.

Mention: A mention on Twitter is using someone else’s username in your tweet. It alerts them that you’re talking about them – unless you’re full of subtweet action.

RT: Retweeting someone is simply sharing their tweet. You have two options here. You can use the auto-retweet function that Twitter provides, which shares the tweet without any additional commentary from you. Or you can Quote Tweet, which gives you the opportunity to add commentary of your own on top of the other user’s tweet.

Hashtag: At its essence, a hashtag is a searchable term. When used correctly, it’s to group together tweets about similar topics and make them easier to find and follow. Some people use it as a punch line or sentence ender, though. Never quite figured that out. #JustSayin.

DM: A DM is a direct message between two (or a group) of users. Twitter has changed the rules for DMs recently, allowing unlimited characters and rich media in your DMs. DMs are the types of tweets that typically get people in trouble. That warning is too little, too late for Anthony Weiner, however.

Favorite: Favoriting a tweet is performed by clicking the heart underneath it. Different people use favorites in different ways. There’s always the most obvious reason to click the heart – because you like what the person tweeted. Others (myself, included) use it as a bookmarking system. (Twitter stores all your favorites to your account, so you can go back and look at the list.) And others use it as a conversation ender. You just click the heart instead of sending back a tweet that says, “Thanks.”

In terms of best practices, I have a few, simple tips.

Best Practices for using twitter

In the end, it’s important to remember that Twitter is, when you’re using it correctly, like a happy hour. There are lots of people there talking about potentially interesting things. It’s up to you to decide to join in that conversation. And it’s also up to you to decide who you want to talk to/follow.