While you might imagine that everybody in the world now uses Twitter, the reality is somewhat different. 

Even in the internet industry there remains something of a Twitter vacuum. I have spoken to at least half a dozen people in the past few days who haven’t yet set up an account, for one reason or another.

I’m not saying Twitter is for everybody, or is right for all brands, but we find it useful and many of the people I’ve been talking to would benefit from using it. 

So for the purposes of any further ‘how do you do it?’ discussions I thought it would be a good idea to explain how I (currently) use Twitter. There are of course a hundred ways of skinning a cat, and I’m quite sure that there are lots of far more advanced Twitterers out there, but this works for me…

A 20-step guide to using Twitter efficiently

1. Go to Twitter and set up an account. Easy peasy.

2. Choose a user name (and probably your real name). I failed in this regard, possibly because my full name was already taken or possibly because I didn’t try, but no matter. If you’re doing this on behalf of your company then it certainly makes sense to claim the brand name (there are some exceptions to the rule, but grab the brand name anyway if it’s available).

3. Customise your profile. In ‘Name’ use your real name, or company name. Add your one-line bio and a link to your website or blog. 

4. Add a picture. A mugshot, or company logo, or a picture of an animal wearing a hat at a jaunty angle if you’re feeling particularly witty.

5. Customise your background. You can choose from a bunch of options for the background to your Twitter page, though I grabbed a charming and somehwat autumnal background image from Flickr’s Creative Commons image library and uploaded that. If you’re doing this for your company then maybe aim for something that fits with your brand. 

6. Customise your design colours. This affects the left column on your Twitter page where your tweets appear (the default is white, which takes some beating). It also affects the right sidebar, where your profile information is located (the default is a relatively rancid lime green wash – there are better options!). It also governs text and link colour. Choose carefully, and make sure text / links have sufficient contrast in both columns (some get this badly wrong: white on white never works). I use white as a background for both columns to ease readability, and blue for links, because I’m a classicist, and the Greeks always used blue for hyperlinks.

7. “Hello world”. At this point you might like to experience the tiny thrill of posting your first tweet. But don’t get carried away yet, for you have no followers!

8. Browse and follow. Cruise around to find your friends and colleagues, and start following interesting people. Remember that you can always follow me if you find no friends / colleagues / interesting people (I have some lovely followers). By clicking on user profiles you can see who they’re following (always a good way of exploring the Twittersphere and unearthing new people to follow), who follows them, and get an idea of the kind of things they tweet about. 

9. Familiarise yourself with the terminology. Don’t panic, there’s not much to learn. If you attach the @ symbol to a username in a tweet it will appear in that person’s Twitter feed (a public reply / citation, eg ‘@lakey’). You can also send private messages to people who follow you (‘direct messages’). You can also ‘retweet’ other people’s tweets and can flag that by using the ‘RT’ abbreviation. Meanwhile ‘hashtags’ are a way of creating searches, by placing the # symbol before a word, such as #crapnamesforpubs.

10. Download a Twitter client. This is the smartest way of using Twitter efficiently. I use the rather brilliant TweetDeck, which is to Twitter what Microsoft Outlook is to email, only far less annoying, and totally free. 99% of the time I use TweetDeck to manage all my Twitter activity, rather than visiting the website itself. TweetDeck allows you to monitor and reply to tweets, to filter tweets, to form groups and to automate searches (superb for reputation monitoring). It’s very useful indeed.

11. Customise your Twitter client / TweetDeck. My first four columns in TweetDeck are ‘All Friends’, ‘Replies’, ‘Search:Econsultancy’ and ‘Search:lakey’. I have a group for all Econsultancy Twitter users, and various other predefined searches set up. I use narrow columns and have a black on white design. Choose whatever works for you. 

12. Download your iPhone app. I use Tweetie, and I have set it up to largely mirror my TweetDeck searches, so I can quickly monitor Twitter and respond as necessary. It’s essentially TweetDeck for the iPhone, give or take.

13. Set up a Twitpic account. This is a third party service that allows Twitter users to upload pictures and attach them to their tweets (since no such functionality exists within Twitter). This is how Stephen Fry posted his ‘stuck in a lift’ picture

14. Set up a Bit.ly account. Bit.ly is an excellent URL shortening tool, replete with tracking and customisation features. It is also integrated with Twitter. Create an account and join up your Twitter profile/s (Bit.ly allows you to post to multiple Twitter profiles, which is very handy if you have a personal account and also help to manage your company Twitter account, as I do). 

15. Drag the Bit.ly bookmarklet to your toolbar. Life becomes very easy once you do this. If you want to post a link on Twitter then simply highlight some text from the page (such as the headline) and click the Bit.ly bookmarklet. It will prefill your ‘tweet’ with that text, while shortening the link. Choose the Twitter account to post to, and hit the ‘Post’ button. Congratulations, you are now the fastest tweeter in the West.

16. Add yourself to some directories. There are various directories out there where Twitter users can add their profiles, to help people find them. For example, Kevin ‘Digg’ Rose recently launched WeFollow.com. You can add yourself to that directory by tweeting in the direction of ‘@wefollow’ and tagging yourself (include three hashtags #in #your #tweet). 

17. Find more people. If you’re checking out the directories then it might be a good idea to start finding a few more people to follow. You can also sign up to MrTweet (a kind of personalised Twitter recommendation engine) and search on Twitter’s own people finder tool.  

18. Integrate Twitter with your website, and vice versa. Blog widgets, Tweetback buttons, Twitter feeds, etc. We use twitterfeed to automatically create tweets and links from our blog headlines. It’s peachy. And we have created some Javascript modules that search on Twitter for mentions of ‘Econsultancy’, and feature those on our homepage. Similarly we have a list retweets of blog headlines in the right sidebar of our blog, adjacent to blog posts. It helps generate buzz.

19. Add Twitter to your other profiles. Facebook, LinkedIn, Econsultancy, your email signature, the footer of your blog posts, and hell, even your business cards. Make it easy for people to follow you.

20. Start tweeting! You’re now properly ready to go. Remember to stay on-topic, to share the love (with retweets), to mix up your Twitter action (there are various types of tweet), to take notice, to get involved in discussions, and to keep it frequent.

Happy Tweeting!