Twitter is microblogging. Twitter and ‘tweeting’ is about broadcasting daily short burst messages to the world, with the hope that your messages are useful and interesting to someone. Conversely, Twitter is about discovering interesting people online, and following their burst messages for as long as they are interesting.

How Does Twitter Work?

Twitter is very simple to use as broadcaster or receiver. You join with a free account and Twitter name. Then you send broadcasts as often as you want. Go to the ‘What’s Happening’ box, type 140 characters or less, and click ‘Tweet’. You will most likely include some kind of hyperlink.

To receive Twitter feeds, you simply find someone interesting and ‘follow’ them to subscribe to their tweet microblogs. Once a person becomes uninteresting to you, you simply ‘unfollow’ them.

You then choose to read your daily Twitter feeds through any of various Twitter readers.

Twitter is that simple.

The maximum length of your username is 15 characters. But you can change it any time you like to anything that is available. And if you’ve gone with something Twitter recommended, and especially if you’ve got a number stuck at the end of your name because lots of people got there before you, then you really, really should. And the change is seamless – you don’t lose any followers or anything like that (although it’s worth announcing a username change if you have a lot of followers). Don’t change it all the time as that drives people crazy – find a good username and stick with it. Tip: the shorter your username, the better, as it makes it easier for people to re-tweet you and/or fit your tag within long tweets.

The maximum number of characters in a tweet is 140. But you should quickly get into the mentality of leaving at least 20 characters free to leave plenty of space for people to retweet you, as some people like to add comments to retweets. Indeed, I recommend writing tweets to a limit of 100 characters or less, which leaves plenty of room for a link and retweet space.

Any link you share on Twitter will automatically be shortened. This saves you space. Twitter converts (and shortens) every link into their t.co internal shortener, which has great analytics. Alternatively, you can use bit.ly if you want additional metrics.

You can only send a direct message to somebody if they are following you. And vice versa. (Note: you don’t have to both be following each other. Direct messages can be very one-way.) This is done to protect people from being bombarded with spam. If somebody is bugging you via direct message, unfollow them. Problem solved.

You don’t have to follow people back. You’re under no obligation to follow anybody. Twitter doesn’t work unless you’re careful to only follow people who are right for YOU.

If you start a tweet with @username, it’s a reply. And will only be seen by the person you replied to and people who are following both of you. Nobody else will see it in their stream (although it will show up on your profile page and in Twitter search).

If you tag a username anywhere but at the start of the tweet, everybody following you will see that message. This is called a mention. It’s important to quickly learn the difference between this and a reply, as above. (Some people have been using Twitter for years and still don’t know how this works.)

What’s a hashtag? Once you’ve started using Twitter, it won’t take long before you come across what’s known as a hashtag. That’s when you see something in a tweet that has a # prefix. (The # is a hash symbol, hence the term hashtag or, more commonly now, hashtag.) A hashtag is simply a way for people to search for tweets that have a common topic. For example, if you search on #Union (or #union or #UniON, because it’s not case-sensitive), you’ll get a list of tweets related to unions. What you won’t get are tweets that say, “Why is a union awesome?” because “union” isn’t preceded by the hashtag.

The easiest way to find people you know on Twitter is on Google. Go to Google and type in Twitter first name last name – if the person you’re searching for isn’t sharing their name with a million other people they will almost always be the first result.