If you’re reading this, I may not be writing this for you. If you’re on Twitter already, follow more than a handful of people, and check Twitter at least once a day, I’m probably not writing this for you.
Twitter just launched this feature called Moments, which is its latest attempt to figure out how to make itself appealing to the billions of people who don’t use it. There are something like 300 million people who *do* use it, but the logic of late Capitalism requires endless growth or the risk of being accused of Not Doing It Right, so . . . they’ve added a thing that’s basically the same as the “Trending Stories” thing on Facebook, the one that always wants to tell you about some celebrity’s selfie with a bucket of chicken or whatever.
Nevertheless, it is a fairly well recognized problem that Twitter only really makes sense to most people after they’ve been using it for a while, and have accumulated a list of people to follow that in some way provides some intrinsic value. And Twitter has struggled for years to figure out how to help bootstrap new users to this point more quickly.
I myself have quite a few Facebook friends who have joined Twitter, announcing on Facebook “well, I have joined Twitter, and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do next, but I guess you can follow me at __________.” This guide is for those people, as well as the rest of y’all who haven’t even gotten that far.
So this may or may not be how I use Twitter, but it may be useful notes on how one might get started using Twitter, in the form of an unordered list of assertions.
- Following people is cheap (i.e. free), so follow as many people as you want. See something retweeted by someone else that looks interesting? Follow the person who tweeted it. See someone’s twitter handle on the side of a bus or something? Sure, why not. I’m assuming Twitter has tools for finding some initial set of people to follow. Use them. If not, just follow me & on most days I’ll probably tweet (and retweet) more than you really want to read. @rossgrady. I’m easy to find.
- Unfollowing people is also cheap. You get notified when someone follows you, but you don’t get notified when someone unfollows you. I tend to follow liberally and also unfollow liberally, particularly if someone tweets a lot & a significant percentage of their tweets are not interesting to me. Feel free to unfollow me after a day or two.
- Follow your friends. If they’re like my friends, they’ve largely abandoned Facebook, so you’ll find them on Twitter or you’ll have to actually talk to them in person.
- Follow random strangers. On Facebook that dynamic is weird — I rarely accept friend requests from people I haven’t met in person — but on Twitter that’s the norm; it’s expected. Nobody will think twice if you follow them without knowing them in any way. Some sage at some point said “Facebook is for people you know; Twitter is for people you want to get to know” or something like that, and that’s at least part of it.
- There is absolutely no requirement that you follow people who follow you, or vice versa. None. Courtesy exists in many forms on the internet, but the mutual followback isn’t one of them. I currently have 1831 followers, and I follow 710 people, which is probably about 2x as many people as I should be following. Following any more than around 500 people can become kind of a chore, depending on how often they tweet.
- Check it once a day, or check it 100 times a day. Your call. Some people (myself included) have this probably unhealthy need to see every tweet that crosses their timelines, so my morning ritual includes scrolling back to the last tweet that I remember from bedtime the night before, and then reading forward until I’m caught up. There is absolutely no reason to feel compelled to do this, so if you don’t, all the better.
- Depending on the mix of people you follow, Twitter might be some or all of the following things: Joke city; reliable news before the major networks have it; minutiae about the daily lives of friends & strangers; strange micro-fiction (which may or may not be labeled as such); inside jokes from various subcultures; press releases about new music/art/film; shop talk; endless political opinion; glimpses into the lives/worlds of people very different from yourself; sports scores; random dictionary words; pictures of cute animals.
- Always follow at least one cute animal account.
Getting started is hard; there’s no question about that. If I were starting over, I would begin to build my list of people to follow with some from each of the following categories:
- Local journalists (several)
- National journalists (not many)
- Favorite musicians (a handful)
- Friends (all of them you can find, to begin with; delete later, guiltlessly, as needed)
- Experts in your professional field of endeavor
- People who write about, or otherwise share, your avocation(s)
- Your three favorite restaurants
- The local movie theater & concert venues
- Cute animal accounts (seriously, SO worth it)
The crucial next step is to read regularly, and make mental note if you find yourself enjoying the tweets of someone you don’t follow, being retweeted into your timeline by people you do follow. You can set your own mental threshold (mine is probably around a half-dozen (or more); for starters yours should probably be like three); if you see more than that many tweets of interest from someone you don’t follow, then click their name & follow them. Simple as that.
You are always welcome to give up anytime. But I would probably suggest that it’s worthwhile to hang in there until you’re following at least 100 people, and have spent a few weeks reading and getting used to the zeitgeist of the whole thing.
I was going to make a list of people who would be good starter follows, but as I scroll through my timeline I’m not convinced that I could wholeheartedly recommend anyone I follow in that capacity. Yet I love them all. Thus is the nature of Twitter.