Et Al

True Beginner's Guide to Twitter: Basic Twitter Functions

Today’s post, the first of four, is a collaborative effort by me (@sarahjoaustin) and Linden (@xgravity23). In this post, you’ll learn the basic functions of Twitter. In the next three posts, you’ll learn advanced Twitter functions; how to use Twitter on the web, at your desk, and on the go; and get our recommended Twitter tools and resources.

Basic Twitter Functions

Twitter is simple, but we understand that everyone crawls before they walk, so this section explains the basic functions of Twitter and defines Twitter jargon. You’ll learn how to create a tweet, find and follow others, reply to other tweeple, send a direct message, and “favorite”  important tweets.

The Tweet

This is the building block of Twitter, your 140-character message, sent out to the whole Twitterverse. What’s the point of a tweet? Well, it’s very much like the status in Facebook: a short summary of what you are doing now (an update) or a clever observation about the situation you find yourself in at this moment.



As Twitter spread in popularity, many people starting tweeting links to images or interesting articles, and we’ll tell you how you can do more with your tweets in a later post.

Many people have asked us, “What’s the difference between a tweet and a Facebook status?” And our best answer is Twitter is your Facebook status without the Facebook interface. Or it may be easier to think of Twitter as public instant messaging, a perpetual conversation with people all around the world because it also functions as a messenger, too. In fact, the way you use Twitter may be quite different than the way we do because so many third-party Twitter applications exist to make Twitter work for you.


We suppose that if you like to make pithy statements to yourself about what you are doing, you don’t need to follow or be followed on Twitter, but we’re guessing that you’d like to use Twitter to interact with your friends and family, people around you geographically, celebrities, and news outlets, to name a few.

At, navigate to an account page other than your own, and click the Follow button under their profile picture to begin following them. When you follow someone else, their updates will appear on your Twitter homepage (when you click on Home or Profile at and in your Twitter timeline. Unlike Facebook, following someone is not necessarily mutual, so you may add celebrities like @RainnWilson or bands like @Coldplay, but they will not necessarily follow you in return.



Following and being followed is perhaps the most overwhelming part of getting started with Twitter. When you’re ready to start following others, click Find People at the top of your Twitter page. Twitter provides four ways to find others to follow:

  • Find on Twitter. If you already have in mind the people you know who are on Twitter, you can search for them by username, first name, and last name. If you’re looking for someone specific, this is the best way to find them.
  • Find on other networks. If you’re brand new to Twitter, using your contact lists from Google, Yahoo!, AOL, Hotmail, or MSN is the fastest way to find people you know because Twitter pairs the email addresses in your accounts with existing Twitter accounts.
  • Invite by email. You can always share Twitter with someone you know by inviting them by email. Even if they choose not to sign up for a Twitter account, they can still follow you by texting ‘follow [username]’ to 40404 on their cell phones.
  • Suggested users. Unlike Facebook, Twitter’s list of suggested users are not necessarily people you know personally. More than likely, Twitter will suggest other users who are popular or important on Twitter.

Once you’ve found a handful of people to follow, you’re on your way to a robust Twitter account. If you’re still looking for people to follow, your best bet is to check out the profile pages of the users you know the best and study who they follow. Chances are they’ll know someone you know, too.



But a word of caution: Following too many people too fast (by the thousands) will raise a red flag to Twitter that you’re a spammer and increases the potential that Twitter will suspend your account.

And a note on who not to follow: More than likely someone will follow you that you don’t know, and that’s OK. It’s up to you to decide whether to follow them. If you don’t know them personally, it’s wise to check out their profile page. You’ll know they’re spammers by looking at their followers/following ratio; if they’re following hundreds or thousands of people but only a few hundred are following them, they’re probably spammers and following them is a waste of time.

Spammer Example

Spammer Example

The @ Replies: Normal and Embedded

You’ve read an interesting tweet and want to respond. What now? Simply begin your tweet with the at symbol, @, and the tweet’s author’s username, like this



From Twitter, you can also click the gray arrow that appears on the right of a tweet. A normal @ reply is your side of a public conversation. Your tweet will show up for that user when they click “home” on the Twitter home page, or if they click “@ Replies.” Normal @ replies are not private, but Twitter allows each user the ability to control whether or not they see @ replies that aren’t directed to them (change your settings by going to Settings > Notices > @ Replies).

An embedded @ reply is a combination of a normal tweet and a normal @ reply. Unlike a normal @ reply, an embedded @ reply does not begin with @[username], but starts like a normal tweet: with text. Somewhere in the tweet, you will use @[username] to provide a link to that person’s Twitter stream, like this.

Embedded @reply

Embedded @reply

Embedded @ replies serve two purposes: They share your current thoughts and they connect your followers to another tweeter who they might not be following yet. Unlike normal @ replies, followers cannot filter these tweets out by changing their settings, so you know that all of your followers will see these tweets.

Keep in mind that the person you referenced in the @ reply might not see the tweet, as it is not delivered to their @ replies tab.

Direct Messages

Direct Messages (DMs) are very easy to understand: They are private messages, readable only by the person you send it to. To send a DM, write simply start your tweet with the letter D followed by the receiver’s username.

Direct Message

Direct Message


Found a tweet that you like and don’t want to lose track of? At, simply click the gray outline of a star that appears on the right-hand side of every tweet. It will be filled in with yellow, and the tweet will appear in your favorite list, accessible from your Twitter homepage, and more and more frequently, from within dedicated Twitter clients.

Favorite Star

Linden uses her favorites to keep track of tweets that are particularly witty or astute. Sometimes, she uses them to mark a tweet that she wants to look at again later, maybe because it contains a link to something that she want to read when she’s on her computer (and she’s viewing it from her iPod Touch). Both of us tend to comb through our favorites regularly and if a tweet has lost its zing, we’ll un-favorite it.

Remember, favorites are public because anyone can view them by going to your profile and clicking on “favorites” in the right-hand menu.

That’s all for today. Tomorrow, Linden will share advanced Twitter functions, and Wednesday and Thursday, we’ll hit how to Twitter on the web, at your desk, and on the go and our recommended Twitter tools and resources.


16 thoughts on “True Beginner's Guide to Twitter: Basic Twitter Functions

  1. Thank you thank you thank you so much for sharing this you guys! I have been so excited for this project ever since Linden taught me everything I needed to know to get started.

    I’ve shared this with others at AIGA because I know a lot of other chapters don’t understand how to use Twitter…off to go keep sharing this with other people.

  2. Pingback: Linden and Sarah Post True Beginner’s Guide to Twitter

  3. Pingback: True Twitter Beginners Guide: Advanced Twitter Functions | Linden's Pensieve

  4. Excellent information! I’m going to share it with my followers as well to help them get the most from Twitter. Thank you for doing all the footwork! 🙂

  5. Pingback: True Beginner's Guide to Twitter: Other Twitter Tools and Resources | Linden's Pensieve

  6. Pingback: True Beginner's Guide to Twitter: The Collaborative Project is Published | Linden's Pensieve

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