By Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY
LOS ANGELES - You've heard all the ruckus about Twitter, but never really got what it was all about.
You watch TV every night and see all those words prefaced by "#" at the bottom of the screen and can't figure out why they are there. This article is for you.
Twitter, beloved by the news media, celebrities, sports stars and politicians, is planning to go public with an IPO that could raise $1 billion. But in documents filed related to those plans, Twitter disclosed that its audience base is at about 218 million monthly active users. That's smaller than Facebook's 1.1 billion or Google+, which has 500 million registered users.
Much of that, analysts say, is because Twitter is a harder nut to crack for many people. So, for today, let's take a good look at 10 ways to use Twitter effectively:
1. Sign up. Go to twitter.com, register and select a screen name. Your new Twitter name will be prefaced with an @ sign. As in, I'm @jeffersongraham. Add it to your e-mail signature so people know to find you on Twitter.
2. Find people to follow. Twitter is nothing until you start building a network of folks you're interested in hearing from. Are you a news junkie? Start by getting the news feeds from your favorite news organization, whether that be USA TODAY, CNN, the BBC or TheCincinnati Enquirer. Then go deeper, by following individual reporters as well. Most post not only their own latest updates, but also tidbits and news bites from elsewhere on the Web. Beyond the news, check out your favorite friends, athletes, politicians, musicians, comedians, movie and TV stars. But a word of caution there. Most of the famous folk hire staff to pen their posts, known as tweets. Comedians are the exception: Steve Martin, Bill Maher, Albert Brooks and others have turned the quick quip into fine art.
3. Write up a bio. Let people know about you, with a short, one sentence blurb about yourself, whether that be that you are the CEO of MyCompany, sales associate for MyRealEstate or a Seattle mom with thoughts on hauling kids. And be sure to include a photo, because a photo is associated with your posts in the Twitter feed. If you don't add the photo, an image of a little egg in a yellow box will show up in your tweets instead.
4. Learn how to write in 140 characters. The art of tweeting requires the ability to be concise. Everything you say needs to be in 140 characters or less - no exceptions. So you need to shorten words with slang, "sez" for "says," "2" for "two" "w/" for "with," "+" for "and."
5. Use hashtags in your posts and searches. The hashtag symbol - # - is what's used to search for "trending" topics, whether that be "#governmentshutdown" or "#meteorwatch" or simply, "#JustinBieber." It's a tool to help you find what you're looking for on Twitter, and has since been adopted by Facebook as well.
6. Don't just promote: RT and MT. Rule No. 1 of the successful tweeter is that it's not all about you. It's good to use Twitter to promote whatever you're working on, but Twitter works best when you can tip articles from around the Web to your followers. You can do that with a straight link, or retweeting others (essentially, re-posting someone else's tweet - signified by an "RT"). The MT, or modified tweet, is when you copy and paste a link that somebody else posted, and comment on it as well. Share well, and you will get more followers.
7. Get response from companies with a tweet. Many businesses are now all over Twitter to monitor what people are saying about them. You might have better luck getting companies like Verizon to respond to a customer-service issue on Twitter than you would waiting for a rep on the phone. Hotels, restaurants, airlines will see what you post, and respond in kind.
8. Tie your account to Facebook. It's easy to pair your Twitter activity with your Facebook account, so you don't have to double the effort. Just go to Settings (the gears tab on the right) and go to the Profile section to add Facebook.
9. Direct messages. On Twitter you can communicate directly in private messages, but only with folks who already follow you. So be sure to follow your friends you want to DM with, and get them to respond in kind.
10. Add photos to your tweets. Text and a link are great, but let's face it, everything looks better with visuals. The images show up as a link, but they're worth adding.
Hope this helps. Good luck getting your Twitter started, and hey, if nothing else, you've got a new person to follow. Start with@jeffersongraham and let me know how you're faring in Tweetland.
Meanwhile, here's a look at what's most popular on Twitter:
TOPS ON TWITTER:
Justin Bieber: 45.5 million
Katy Perry: 44.5 million
Lady Gaga: 40.2 million
Barack Obama: 37.8 million
Taylor Swift: 35.1 million
TV show:The Ellen Show (22.7 million)
Movie star:Jennifer Lopez (23.5 million)
Athlete:Cristiano Ronaldo (21.7 million)
Philanthropist: Bill Gates, (13.2 million)
News organization:CNN Breaking News (13.1 million)
Late Night TV Host:Jimmy Fallon (10.1 million)
Comedian:Russell Brand (7 million)
Newscaster:Anderson Cooper (4.3 million)