How To Twitter

I’m sometimes asked if I can advise people how to use social networking tools, so I thought it was about time I wrote up some “how to” blogposts to make it easy to find all the information needed to start using social networks.

This guide is useful for people with no previous knowledge of Twitter.

What is Twitter?

Twitter is a microblogging tool that can be used to discuss anything, so long as each “Tweet” (message) is 140 characters or less.

Because the nature of the network means that messages have to be very concise, a system of abbreviations is in general use. These may be off-putting when you first join Twitter, but please, don’t be put off, they are easily understandable with some simple explanations (please see the glossary of terms below).

Each message has to be 140 characters or less, and can be about anything. many people use Twitter to talk about their daily lives, but you can use it as a professional development tool, to advertise your business, to find out news stories before they are on the news, to follow protest movements, or indeed any other sphere of human activity.

To sign up, simply enter your name and email address, and choose a password to access your Twitter account. Then click the “Sign up for Twitter” button, and follow the prompts.

How do I use Twitter?

Once you sign up to the Twitter social network, you will be prompted to choose some people to follow, and you will slowly start to build up people who follow you, as they start to find out a bit about you by what you choose to talk about. If you already know some people on Twitter, then you could search for them (see using the Search function below) and follow them. You could follow your favourite TV star, or a leading expert in your field, or your favourite charities, it’s up to you to decide whose thoughts you would be interested to hear.

Follows and Followers

When you find content that interests you, or when you someone you respect recommends another Tweeter (or “Tweep”), you may wish to “Follow” them. The news stream holds the “Tweets” from people you’re following, displayed in realtime in chronological order.

Your profile page will show the number of people following you, and the number of people you follow, see the example below.

Please don’t worry too much about this, it takes some time to build up a network of people to follow, and you might want to follow about 80 people before you have enough activity in your News Stream to make it seem worthwhile.

If you follow someone, it is not seen as an endorsement. Many politicians will follow their opposite numbers, for instance. And it is not a permanent decision. If you have chosen to follow someone and you decide you’re not interested in what they’re saying, or their language offends you, please just unfollow them.

It’s not worth being around people who upset you in real life- don’t put up with it online, either!

When people see what you Tweet they may want to find out more about you or hear from you regularly, so they will “Follow” you. In the same way, this doesn’t mean they agree with you, or like you, or want to get to know you offline. Please don’t imagine that numbers of followers is a popularity contest- it’s not. There are some famously unpopular politicians with lots of followers. It is simply that they want to hear more from you.

Re-Tweeting RT

You may read someone’s message, and it might strike you as amusing, or useful, or outrageous, but if you found it interesting you may think that your followers will, too. You may do this by “Re-Tweeting” (or RT) the message. The convention to re-share the message through a RT does not depend on whether or not you agreed with it. By your decision to RT, you are sharing the message with your followers, who may also find it interesting. Some people choose to write on their profile that a RT is not an endorsement, others don’t. It’s up to you to decide if you are going to share a range of opinions or only ones you agree with.

Modified Tweets MT

You may find that you wish to RT something but you are reluctant because it takes you over the 140 character limit, or because you wish to change some of the language in the Tweet. This is where the “MT” is your friend! When you use an MT instead of a RT, it means the essence of the message is being repeated, but you have modified the original Tweet in some way. As in offline life, attribution is key when delivering great content, so this distinction is important. You could also use brackets around the parts of the Tweet you have modified, for the benefit of your followers.

Mentions @

If you want to talk to another Tweep, or if you are replying to a Tweet, use the @ or mention facility. This means the reader can track back to find out the Tweet you are asking the question about. It is also useful because there should be clear attribution of ideas online, as with offline. All your Tweets which mention someone are visible to that person, whether or not they follow you. If you start a Tweet with an @, then it is only visible to the followers you have that also follow that person, so many people use .@ in order to ensure all their followers can read the Tweet.

Direct Messaging DM

You might wish to have a semi-private conversation on Twitter. This might be because you are only interested in one person’s view about something and you don’t want to encourage people to join in. It may be because you want to share information slightly less publicly. Please be aware that although this is supposed to be a private message, there are no guarantees that the message will remain private. Tweets are the property of, and therefore I would caution you to not DM anything that is subject to Data Protection Law, or Information Governance within Health and Social Care- or indeed any information that ‘belongs’ to someone else. We simply don’t know what happens to the information and therefore can’t guarantee its security. But I am happy to DM my phone number to someone who requests it, because that’s a decision I’m making about my own information.

Hashtags #

You will soon notice strange symbols on Twitter, often a # followed by a word or some initials. These are called “hashtags” and they allow people to curate Tweets about a certain topic of interest. In healthcare, you may wish to tag your Tweet with #OTalk (talking about occupational therapy), #Nurchat (chatting about Nursing), or #nhssm (NHS social media). Hashtags are great to use in order to be able to search for Tweets, and to have your Tweets found by people who share your interests. They are also important when you wish to join in a Tweetchat.

Search or Discover

By entering a word or hashtag into the search or discover box, you will see the recent Tweets that contain that word or hashtag. You may also identify people who regularly use that word or that hashtag, so both these techniques can be useful to find people to follow. They could also be used to see what is being said about your business, or your town, for example.

See this example of the Tweets that appeared when I searched for Tweets containing OTalk:

Follow Friday #ff

Another Twitter convention is the #ff. This ia a recommendation to your followers of another Tweeter. Traditionally, Friday is the day of the week when people do their #ff, but if someone strikes you as worth following and you wish to share that with your followers, there’s not reason to wait until a Friday- if you want to give an #ff then do so!

Glossary of Twitter Terms

@: (v) to mention someone in a Tweet, which ensures they will be able to read it whether or not they follow you. To make sure all your followers can read a Tweet where you mention someone, start with a full stop, before the @, please see the examples below.

e.g. @stephenfry you were funny on QI this week!

e.g. .@stephenfry you were funny on QI this week!

#: (n) Hashtag (or tag), a way of identifying Tweets around a topic of interest for curation purposes

e.g.: if your Tweet is about Social Media in the NHS, #nhssm is the tag to use!

#ff: (v) Follow Friday, a recommendation to your followers to follow someone who is delivering great content, or for any reason you choose

#ff @stephenfry because he is so funny!

DM: (n) an abbreviation of “Direct Message”, a private message sent between two people on twitter and not viewable by other people on the network

DM: (v) the action of sending a direct message on Twitter

e.g. why don’t you DM me your phone number and I’ll call you

*n.b. do not send confidential or secret information on Twitter even in a DM- as security of the message is not guaranteed.

MT: (n) Modified Tweet, a message that you are Re-Tweeting with small changes (e.g. cutting out some words), often because this is necessary to stick to the 140 character limit.

MT: (v) the action of relaying a Modified Tweet

e.g. MT@claireot: @stephenfry is funny!

RT: (n) Re-Tweet, a message you have received and choose to share with your followers without altering it in any way.

RT: (v): to Re-Tweet or re-share a message without alteration

e.g. @stephenfry said something so funny I had to RT!

Tweet: (n) the name of each individual message.

e.g. I sent a Tweet with that reference in, did you get it?

Tweet: (v) the action of sending an individual Tweet

e.g. did you Tweet about that new recipe for biscuits we found?

Tweeter: (n), Tweep: (n), Twit: (n) all three are terms for a person who Tweets or is signed up to the Twitter social network

e.g. Stephen Fry is @stephenfry, and he is probably the most famous Tweep

Twitter: (n) the name of the network

e.g. are you on Twitter?


A final tip. Please treat everything you Tweet as if it is public, and traceable to you. This will help you decide what is and is not suitable to Tweet if you are a health professional bound by Codes of Conduct and Ethics. And please, be nice- as my mother in law would say

“you’ll get further with sugar than with salt”

Phew! That’s enough to take in at one time, but I will follow up this post with another, so if you have any questions you would like me to cover, why not Tweet me, or leave a comment below and ask them?


I am an Occupational Therapist, who writes about health, particularly mental health. I am interested in social media and Web 2.0, and where these technological advances can support wellness and health.

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Posted in How-to, Social Media, Twitter
19 comments on “How To Twitter
  1. Anita Hamilton says:

    Thanks for this helpful summary Claire! Cheers, Anita

  2. Jo says:

    very helpful… its been taking a while to get to grips with and this helps.

  3. [...] background-position: 50% 0px; background-color:#18581a; background-repeat : no-repeat; } – Today, 8:33 [...]

  4. This is really helpful for us newies! Thanks

  5. [...] How to twitter, ClaireOT, 19/3/2012 [...]

  6. [...] – you might be pleasantly surprised.  Claire over at ClaireOT’s blog has a real handy quick start guide  for using Twitter.  Lastly, the most convincing element of social media for me have been the connections that I have [...]

  7. Committed says:

    A fantastic resource for new users, well worth sharing!

  8. [...] @claireot How to Tweet [...]

  9. Thanks for an instructive article with clarity , how do i chat using eg #nhssm ? Would be useful.
    I think . Thank you

    • Claire says:

      Hi, it’s really simple, once you know how! just add “#nhssm” to your tweet, and keep a separate window open running a twitter search for “#nhssm” (or use a third party app such as Tweetstream, Tweetdeck, etc) so you can see all the tweets published that contain the hashtag. This is both how to contribute and follow the wider discussion around a hashtag- hope it helps!

  10. Carol Ross says:

    Reblogged this on Words for Wellbeing and commented:
    Add your thoughts here… (optional)

  11. I can’t resist a Twitter post! Some great tips here. Thank you :)

  12. Thanks for this informative post about Twitter…learned a lot!

  13. Alice says:

    You are a star! This is a really well written article and helpful article for Twitter newbies like me!

  14. […]  For those students or even health care professional reading this blog & have absolutely no idea of twitter and how to use it I have included a link to the brilliant blog on “How to Twitter” by none other that @ClaireOT […]

  15. greenoaty says:

    thank you claire just reading this to prepare for giving a twitter lesson tomorrow, it has everything i need. and is Fab

  16. […] come on over and tweet along. @ClaireOT has written this useful piece on how to twitter. Tweet you there. […]

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I'm an OT called Claire. I write about health, particularly mental health, and also about Social Media and Web 2.0 technology. I am particularly interested where these two fields overlap.
I believe that we all hold the potential for Recovery- let's grow together.

TWIM Blog Awards 2012
This Week In Mentalists Blog  Awards 2012

I'm chuffed to bits to have been shortlisted!

Kred top 50 Health Bloggers
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