Welcome to twitter!

Dearest Harriet,

First of all, it’s great that you want to be on twitter.  It’s a brilliant way to bring together a profile for your website, and it’s a good way to re-introduce yourself to the world when you’ve just had your baby, and I think you’ll find it really good fun.

But as I am your big sister, I thought I’d boss you about a bit before you get started.  I am no expert, and this is a bit cocky, but Here are the Twelve Twitter Commandments according to the gospel of me:

1.    Choose your @ name carefully!
There are millions of people on twitter, and although these names very rarely get spoken out loud, you need to have a memorable one.  Don’t use numbers, @harry375 looks a bit boring.  Have a catchy one, like @harrypops, which can be read easily.  If that’s taken, try @Harry_Pops etc.  I see you’ve chosen @harryspopbakery, which is fine, hurrah!

2.    Always have an avatar, don’t be an egg.
Nobody really responds to the twitter egg picture rather than a nice photo of you or your logo, because it’s a bit too anonymous.  Use a strong image and don’t ever change it, it’s good branding to be recognisable from your avi.

3.    We can all see you.
Don’t put anything on twitter that you wouldn’t mind shouting from the stage at a sold-out Wembley Stadium.  There is no such thing as a private conversation on twitter, unless you DM (more about the technical stuff later) it and even then, they sometimes turn up in the wrong place…

4.    Be nice.
Many people seem to use twitter as a public forum for venting their spleen, imagining themselves to be hilarious or worse, interesting.  It is one thing to criticise someone’s work – if you know what you’re talking about; it is another to launch a personal attack just because you don’t like the shape of their nose.  Celebrities have feelings too, even if they can’t show them.  Never has our mother’s saying “if you haven’t got anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all” been more appropriate.

5.    Don’t do a search on yourself.
If people want you to see what they’ve said about you, they will use your @ name.  If you search your name, you will see what they’ve said about you behind your twitter back.  This is usually not worth investigating, although I have been known to swoop down from the twittersphere and freak those bitches out.

6.    Don’t argue.
Just like real life (which this isn’t) people disagree with each other.  If you can keep it to a healthy debate, all well and good.  If someone starts getting a bit aggressive with you, send a pleasant tweet back inviting them to unfollow you.  If they continue to be nasty, block them.  This means they can’t contact you again, and you won’t see their tweets.

7.    Feel free to unfollow.
As well as weirdos and perves out there in the untraceable cyberworld, there are also some utter bores.  Any decent tweeter won’t ask why you’ve unfollowed them, most don’t even notice.  If anyone is rude enough to question your decision, then it looks like you made the right choice.

8.    You are the impresario of your own timeline.
If someone is following you, they will see everything you tweet as well as all your RTs.  Some stalkery-types will even look at the marginally less public conversations you are having with other people.  Bear them in mind when you do anything on twitter, nobody likes someone who clogs up their timeline with endless non-funny jokes or political polemics etc.

9.    What to tweet about?
Nothing is too boring.  We want to know more about you which is why we’re following you.  (I once tweeted ‘Just got a new hole punch. Please RT’ for a joke and some people actually did.)  It’s almost impossible to be too dull.  And it’s a twitter rule that the more you tweet, the more followers you get.  It’s very important to make sure you don’t boast as well, nothing worse than making your followers read how fantastic you are.  We’ll make up our own minds, thanks.

10. Don’t expect people to answer you, but always answer them.
It’s easy to take huff if someone doesn’t reply back to your witticism, but if they have loads of followers, just have a look at their Mentions feed to see how they can get inundated with comments and views.  But now that you know the disappointment and shame from having a tweet just hanging there, be kind to your own followers.  Don’t forget to eat though.
11. Never underestimate the power of twitter.
Although this can be seen as a fun game of strategy to see how many followers you can accrue, it is also a very public forum.  Very.  Don’t get involved in any hate campaigns, they’re just cruel, but do show your moral fibre by RTing or blogging about anything you feel strongly about.  Don’t forget, it was twitter who got that little Scottish girl’s school food blog back up and running.  We make good stuff happen and you can be a part of that.  Twitter is also fantastic at giving advice, some of it sound.

12. Have fun.
Twitter is not real, it’s just for fun.  There are some anonymous wankers on here, and there are some anonymous superstars too.  Don’t get too corporate with your tweeting; nobody really cares about your business, but it’s OK to be reminded that you have one every now and then.  It’s also OK to be the comedian’s audience, rather than try to be one yourself.  And it’s really OK to be yourself, or a character, or both.  It’s an unregulated, anything-goes, messy playground for people who are good at spelling and punctuation.  Just don’t threaten to blow up any airports, and you’ll be fine…

Each tweet has to be a maximum of 140 characters long. You can make them longer via a technical thing I could tell you about but won’t bother because nobody bothers to click to read on.

If you want to tweet a link to a website, it’s best to use a shortened link as it takes fewer characters out of your allotted 140.  Copy your URL, then paste it in to bitly.com and it will be shortened for you.

If you like someone else’s tweet a lot, you can re-tweet it so that all your followers can see it too.  This is the famous RT.  Some people set great store by how many RTs they get, as they see it as a measure of success.  You will also get lots of charitable folk asking you to RT their justgiving page for a marathon bike ride etc.  It’s up to you if you do that or not.  Some people do fake RTs from people like Jedward and the Dalai Lama, just because they are naughty.

This # is a hashtag.  They are threefold: (a) if you’re all watching the same tv programme, you can click for example on #theapprentice and watch everyone else’s comments on that thread go by.  Or (b) you can play a hashtag game which is going round, like ‘prawn to be wild #fishsongs’ etc.  And (c) it can enhance your tweet, ‘just fell over the cat. #drunk’ for example.  [Vital bit of information for mac users: the # key can be found by pressing ‘alt’ and the number 3.  I was cutting and pasting it for at least a year before I found that out.]  Oh, and NSFW in a tweet means ‘not safe for work’, ie it’s a rudey.

DM stands for Direct Message and it’s a message that is private between you and a follower.  Be careful though; don’t post any photos that you want to keep secret as they show up in your Recent Images.  And make sure you’re really REALLY DMing someone – we’ve all done it…

Speaking of photos, you can add one by clicking on the little camera icon.  Obvious, I know, but possibly the question I am asked most.

Sometimes you see a tweet with a padlock beside it; this means the person has protected their tweets and you have to apply to be their follower.  Personally, I disapprove of this – especially as it is rarely someone with much to hide.  They are usually trying to escape the glare of someone they don’t want to read their tweets; I think the same effect is achieved by openly tweeting under a pseudonym…

If you are having trouble with a company, like BT or M&S or anyone with a customer services department, tweet them directly and they will answer you within minutes.  It’s a shortcut to success, they don’t want your followers to hear of any shoddy service and they like to show off about how quickly they can resolve it too.  I always thank companies publicly when they’ve been helpful.  And name and shame when they haven’t.  (Make sure you get their name right though, I just gave hell to a poor man in France called @edf.)

On a Friday, you will see people tweeting lots of @ names with #FF on the end.  This is ‘follow Friday’, where tweeps recommend good people to follow to their followers.  The cardinal rule with this is DO NOT RT these tweets as they are boring and nobody cares.  Just politely thank the #FFer and get on with your day.

10. Once you get good at tweeting, why not freak yourself out by trying a twitter client.  These are other methods of tweeting which each have little idiosyncracies to enhance your twitter experience.  There are as many as there are tweeters, take your pick.  I use tweetdeck on my home computer – which is like trying to fly a very chatty plane – and echofon on my iphone.  And sometimes I just use the twitter website itself.

Now I’m sure I’ve left loads of stuff out, and I’m also sure that twitter will let me know what that stuff is immediately, but in the meantime there should be enough information there to start you off!

Now get tweeting…

Oh and PS – if you want to read this but haven’t got time right now, you can always ‘favourite’ it for later…

PPS No need to follow everyone who follows you, who you follow is your choice entirely.