Twitter Basics: 5 Simple Steps to Get You Started

04/23/2015 09:24 pm ET | Updated Jun 23, 2015
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Co-authored by Monica McLemore, PhD, MPH, RN, assistant professor at the University of California San Francisco, and Candace W. Burton, PhD, RN, AFN-BC, AGN-BC, FNAP assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.

First things first: what's Twitter? Twitter is a microblogging, content-sharing social media website, which is one of the most visited websites daily. On Twitter, you have only 140 characters to get your point across in what are called "tweets."

There are almost 6.5 million registered Twitter users who send nearly 58 million tweets per day. Twitter has been around for almost 10 years. It's not too late to engage and participate! Do you want to use Twitter but you don't know where to start? We hope this helps.

Here are 5 simple steps to get you started:

1. Choose a "handle"

Your Twitter handle is how you will be known so choose it wisely. Do you want it to be some version of your name, like ours (@MonaShattell, @mclemoremr, @DrCBurton); or do you want your handle to be "issue based", about something or some topic that you would like to tweet about (e.g. @NoStigmas, @FeministLady, @MenStopViolence), or are you part of an organization that would like to start a social media presence using Twitter (e.g. @WomenInHigherEd, @TurningPointBHC)? It may also be a nickname or something that has meaning for you personally, such as @barbs73 or @DataSnake.

2. Sign up for a Twitter account

Follow these simple steps to sign up for a Twitter account. All you need is your name, cell phone number and a password. The information you enter on the Twitter website will generate a text message with a confirmation code, which you will then enter in the website. If you do not use or like text messaging, you can use an email address for confirmation instead.

3. Write your profile

Your profile should describe who you are, if your handle is your name. If your handle is issue-based, it should describe in more detail what the issues are, and if your handle is for an organization, your profile should describe what your organization does. This is Twitter so it has to be concise -- you only have 160 characters, but you can direct the reader to another website, to give them more information. There are many free web services to shorten websites, which is important to do when every character counts. We tend to use bitly but there are lots of other options.

4. Choose and add a profile image

It's really important to add a profile image next. Do you have a recent headshot or an image that you are particularly fond of? Or, if you're setting up a Twitter account for an organization, your organization's logo works well as a profile image. The worst thing is to leave this empty -- the default Twitter image is an egg-shaped icon, and many users ignore any tweet from an egg on the theory that if the account is a real person, they'll have a picture.

5. Search, follow, and watch

Now the fun part. Open your Twitter account profile page and type the names in the search bar of people you know or are interested in following. Try key words for issues of interest. Consider following news (e.g. @nytimes, @HuffingtonPost), television (e.g. @CNN), and radio channels; organizations to which you belong or are interested (e.g., @AAN_Nursing, @ANANursingWorld, @NINR). When you find profiles that you are interested in following, simply click the "follow" tab. It's that easy. Once you have followed some profiles, you can click on your home tab to view your "feed" or timeline (TL). Your feed is all the latest tweets by persons who you follow. As we've said in, "Why Nurses Need Twitter," don't let the volume of tweets overwhelm you. You are not expected to keep up. Simply check your feed when you want and scroll through to see what's happening. You're on your way! Now go back and read our pieces on "Why Nurses Need Twitter" and "What are the Five Best Practices for Tweeting from Conferences?" to help you benefit from your Twitter account. Happy Tweeting!