Your 5-minute, 5-day orientation to Twitter

May 21, 2012

At a party this weekend, an acquaintance admitted she still didn’t know how best to use Twitter, even though her publisher was going to expect her to mount a full-fledged social media effort to promote her next book.

Any suggestions for absorbing the possibilities of Twitter? she asked.

Yes, I said. Just commit to five minutes a day for the next five days, and follow this schedule:

Minute 1: Read
Sign into Twitter. You should see a column of tweets by the people you are already following. (If you have an account but few that you are following, use the search at top of the screen to search for a topic of your choosing — I’d go for ‘chocolate’ myself).

Scroll, scan, skim, read.

Get a sense for what your friends and professional colleagues are sharing. It might be something new (e.g., a new article or photo that person has posted online), something recommended (e.g., breaking news, a funny video, a get-rich-quick scheme) or something personal (e.g., just ate chocolate, just dreamed about chocolate, just covered my lover in chocolate).

[Those three somethings sound familiar? They’re the components of the internet, after all. Read more.]

Oh, and this might help:

  • RT = retweet. The person is echoing someone else’s tweet. This is the power of Twitter, which is really a global overlapping of personal networks. It’s how information or links or memes go viral, by bouncing from one network to another.
  • MT also means retweet, but the person has made a few edits to make room (Twitter limits a tweet to 140 characters, after all).
  • .@mistersugar (a period before the at symbol) is a way to trick Twitter to show the tweet to everyone in your network. Otherwise, Twitter will just show a tweet that starts with someone’s handle (@mistersugar is me) to only the people in your network who already follow me.

Minute 2: Retweet
Ok, you’ve read the river of news (information flowing in reverse chronological order) for the first minute.

Now, find a tweet you just read and liked. Retweet it, which shares the tweet with people following you. Hover your cursor over the tweet, and you should see Retweet appear. Click on that. A popup window will show a blue button. Click it.

That was fast. You probably have 45 seconds to retweet a few more.

There’s an ongoing debate about whether retweeting means you are endorsing the information or sentiment or opinion in that tweet. Not sure we’ll ever end this debate, but generally you should retweet something that you want to share with your network. Might be something you agree with, or something you want to challenge others. If you’re interested in it, retweet it.

While you’re reading the tweets of your network, you’ll notice a lot of retweets of people you don’t know or follow. Eventually, you’ll see how easy it is to click on a name to learn more about that person, see a few of his/her latest tweets, and decide if you want to follow that person.

Minute 3: Reply
Time now to reply.

This is where you answer someone. This is conversation, and you do it every day verbally, nonverbally, via email and other technology. This is what most intrigues me about social media, for when we can use our connections to have conversations, we’re well on our way to forming collaborations and cementing community.

By now, Twitter is probably telling you, at the top of the window, that there are a few more — or a hundred more — tweets ready to float onto your screen. I’m seeing 53 in my screen right now. Click on that message, and the new tweets will appear. Scan them.

Find a tweet that poses a question, or makes an assertion. Hover over the tweet, find the Reply link, and click that. A popup window will appear, and give you a place to write your reply.

Notice Twitter has included the @ name(s) of your connection and anyone else that was mentioned in the tweet. This means you’ll have less than 140 characters for your message, but I know you can find a short way to reply.

Remember, you’re having a conversation now. Be polite, and be constructive.

Ok, you’ve replied. How’s your time? If you’ve got 30 seconds, click on the @Connect link in the black menubar at the top of the window. This will take you to a list of the tweets that previously have mentioned you or replied to one of your previous tweets. Reply to one of these. That’s how conversation works – give and take, speak and listen, give and get.

Minute 4: Direct message
So, everything you’ve done now has been in public, like eavesdropping and engaging in conversation in a big tent where your cousin is getting married (unfortunately, I can’t attend my cousin Jenny’s wedding next month in Colorado, where the entire Zuiker clan is gathering).

Twitter also provides a way to have a one-on-one conversation. This is called direct messaging.

In the menubar at the top of the window, find the human profile just to the left of the search field. Click on the profile and select ‘Direct messages’. A popup window will show you messages sent to you — only people who you follow can send you direct messages — and show you a ‘New message’ button. Click on that and the window changes, with a space to indicate who you are messaging, and a place to type your message.

Send one of your contacts a message, even if it’s just, “I’m really glad to know you.” Everyone likes a compliment and to be appreciated, especially when they’re still alive.

Twitter’s direct messaging is very convenient. I used it the day Erin ended up in the emergency room and I suddenly needed the help of my community.

But, you must concentrate when you are sending a direct message. Lots of us have been embarrassed when a personal message has instead been posted publicly.

Minute 5: Share your own
The final minute is all yours. Go back to the Twitter Home screen and in the left column, find the field that says ‘Compose a new Tweet…’.

Share something with your network and the world (overlapping networks, remember). Something new, something recommended or something personal. Start a conversation.

Did it? You’re done for the day.

Come back tomorrow, and run through your five minutes. Do this five days straight. You’ll either be hooked, or realize that the other tools, methods and activities in your life are higher in priority. That’s ok.

For me, chocolate always come before Twitter.


For best practices in the category of promoting your own book through social media connections, conversations and collaborations, see Rebecca Skloot and Michael Ruhlman.

Note that Twitter will most likely change the user interface of its site, and many Twitter clients have different ways of showing the various functions and tools. So, many of the descriptions above may get out of date. I’ll try to keep them somewhat current. When in doubt, find someone nearby who knows Twitter, offer to buy them a cup of coffee, and sit down together to have a conversation.

Anton Zuiker

© 2000 Zuiker Chronicles Publishing, LLC