For some time now, you’ve been hearing about Twitter with more and more insistence, but you still haven’t really understood what it is? Well, today we’re going to try to clarify your ideas on the subject and explain you, in general, how it works. Don’t worry, understanding how Twitter works is not complicated at all, just “shake hands” and that’s it, you have my word.
First of all, you should know that Twitter is a social network or, better said, a very popular micro-blogging service that allows you to communicate through short messages, photos and videos to be published from computers, smartphones and tablets. It is totally free and quite respectful of users’ privacy (certainly more than other social networks that are currently the most popular). In short, what we are trying to tell you is that it is not yet another “duplication” of Facebook. On the contrary, in order to understand how Twitter works, you have to assume that it is a completely different world, both in its function and in its content, from the one created by Mark Zuckerberg and his partners. There are no friendships to accept or reciprocate, all messages are freely readable by everyone (except direct messages), and there are no events or games to participate in.
It’s true, it takes some time to assimilate all the “mechanics” of Twitter, but it’s not at all complicated or reserved for technology enthusiasts as some people say. Try using it yourself and you’ll quickly realize that it’s much easier to understand how Twitter works than it is to say it. Once that’s clear, let’s end the chatter and get started right away!
Subscribe to Twitter
To enter the world of Twitter, you must first subscribe to the service. You can do this either from your computer, by logging into the twitter.com website, or from your smartphone or tablet by downloading the official Twitter app for Android, iOS and Windows Phone. Actually, there are also third-party Twitter clients, such as Tweetbot for iOS, but to take your first steps in this social network, it is better to use the official application.
To create a new Twitter account from a computer, the first thing to do is to start the web browser you usually use to surf the web and connect to the Twitter homepage.
Then, click on the Subscribe button on the top right and fill in the form that appears on the screen by entering your name, email address and the password you want to use to access the social network, and then click on the Subscribe button. At this point, choose the username you would like to use on the service and click Sign Up.
Then choose whether you also want to provide your cell phone number to Twitter for a higher level of account security or go to the next step by clicking on the “Skip” link at the bottom left. Now indicate the username you want to introduce yourself to the Twitter audience by filling out the form visible on the screen and click Next. To finish, press the Start! button.
If you have downloaded the Twitter app on your cell phone or tablet, launch it, press the “Sign Up” button and follow the instructions on the screen. You’ll be asked to type in your name, then your phone number, and a brief verification of your phone number will be initiated (similar to what you do when signing up for WhatsApp). You will then be asked to choose a password to access Twitter, a username to use on the service, and your email address.
At the end of the registration phase – both on computer and mobile device – you will be asked to insert a profile picture that represents you and your main interests (e.g. music, sports, entertainment, etc.). As a result, Twitter will suggest profiles for you to follow that are related to the selected topics. You will also be asked to share your contacts in your address book to find your friends already registered to the service: you can choose to accept or not by clicking on the Import contacts or No thanks button. Then choose whether you want to start following someone among the users indicated or uncheck them all and press the Continue button. Next, turn on or leave Twitter notifications turned off from the browser or mobile.
Once you’ve completed these steps, you’re officially ready to tweet. But first, you need to go deeper into how the service works and understand what its main differences are from Facebook.
Follower e Following
As you probably know, Facebook is structured on a system of mutual friendships. In money, each user can request the friendship of another person and, when the request is accepted, both can communicate with each other, check their status updates, view/comment on photos, etc. On Twitter, this concept of reciprocity does not exist.
On Twitter, there are no friends but followers and followers, people who follow your updates and people whose updates you follow. In both cases, there is no need for reciprocal attention. If someone has decided to follow you and check your posts, you don’t have to reciprocate by becoming their follower, and vice versa.
Now let’s move on to the posts on the profile. As we said, even these are profoundly different on Twitter and on Facebook. First of all, they are not called “status updates” but “tweets” (tweeter, want to make a forced translation in Italian) and have a strict limit of 280 characters.
In short, tweets are much more like text messages than the miles sometimes posted on Facebook, but that’s the beauty of it! With only 280 characters available, you’re often forced to be much more careful about what you write, and this greatly increases the overall quality of Twitter content compared to Facebook.
In addition to “pure” tweets, consisting of only text, you can also share photos (as explained in detail in my guide on how to tweet a photo), videos and animated GIFs.
To tweet, simply press the Tweet button (on the desktop) or the feather symbol button on the top right of the Twitter screen (on iOS) and bottom right (on Android), type your message into the form that appears on the screen and select the Tweet button. To tweet with photos and videos, you should instead press, after starting the composition of a new message, the button with the image symbol and choose the images or videos to display on the timeline. To tweet a GIF, simply select the appropriate GIF button next to it. Following an update from Twitter, all multimedia attachments no longer take up space in the text of your tweet, so you will not be subtracted from the 280 characters available for your tweet.
As for comments, how does Twitter work? Is it possible to comment on the tweets and photos of people you follow? Of course, but even in this case, the mechanics are different from what you are used to on Facebook.
To comment on a post or photo on Twitter, you need to use the Reply function (the icon with the cartoon symbol) under each post. By clicking on this button, a text field with a snail (@) and the username of the person you want to send the reply to will automatically appear.
The snail is the symbol used on Twitter to mention a person and converse with them. For example, if you want to mention the user Salvatore Aranzulla in one of your tweets, you should write @salvoaranzulla in the message. Even if the person you mentioned does not follow you (i.e. does not follow your updates), they will be aware of the mention you made.
In conversations, the username of the person to whom the messages are intended should be placed at the beginning of the tweet (e.g. @salvoaranzulla how are you?). This type of message is only displayed by the person concerned or by your follower and the follower of the recipient of the tweet. You can find more details about this in my guide on how to mention them on Twitter.
Let’s move on to sharing. On Twitter, as well as on other social networks and also on Facebook, you can share links. To do this, simply type the address in your tweet or use the social sharing buttons available on blogs and websites. Please note that in this case, 23 characters are scaled to the message, regardless of the actual length of the URL.
You can then rewire other people’s posts to publish them on your profile by automatically quoting their authors. To do this, simply position yourself with the mouse pointer over the tweet you want to display on your profile and click the Retweet button (the icon with the two stylized circular arrows) that appears at the bottom, type a comment to add to the retweet and click the appropriate button to proceed with the sharing. The original author of the retweeted message will receive a notification from Twitter, just like conversations.
Another way to show your appreciation for content published on Twitter is to add it to your likes, that is, to add it to a list of tweets saved in the Like section of your profile (but not republished to your timeline as you do for retweets). To add a tweet to your likes, just click on the little heart symbol below.
Twitter, like Facebook, allows users to send each other direct messages, called DMs, which can only be read by the people directly involved and do not appear in the service’s timeline. To use them, simply log in to the profile of the user you want to contact, press the envelope icon and type the message you want to send privately in the text field displayed on the screen and press the button to send it.
Please note that in addition to simple text, you can also send images, videos and GIFs via private message. To do this, simply press the buttons indicated in the section to type the text to be sent in DM.
Direct messages are not limited to 280 characters like public tweets, but you should keep this in mind, by default they can only be used by two people following each other.
If you want to accept private messages, even from people who don’t follow you and/or aren’t followers, you need to go to your account settings (under Settings and Privacy in the menu that appears when you click on your photo), select the Privacy and Security option, check the Receive direct messages from anyone option, and save your changes.
Hashtag and trend
By now you should have a pretty good idea of how Twitter works. Before we finally let you free to use the famous microblogging service, there are two other things I think we need to talk about: hashtags and trends. What are hashtags? Well, basically, the topics that, at any given time, are mostly on Twitter.
Specifically, hashtags (also found on Facebook and Instagram) are “tags” preceded by the pound sign (#) that users can insert into their tweets to let others know they are talking about a certain topic. They are typically used to discuss big events, news stories, or topics that for some reason have piqued people’s interest on Twitter.
For example, if many Twitter users have their say about a big event by adding the hashtag #grandeevento to their posts, anyone who clicks on that hashtag will be able to see all the posts that talk about the topic.
Trends, also known as trending, are therefore the hashtags and topics that are most popular on Twitter at a given time. You can find the list of Twitter trends in the sidebar on the left of the social network’s homepage.
Help and other information
You now have all the information you need to face this new “internecine” adventure. However, if you still have doubts or need more detailed information about a particular function, you can of course count on me and take advantage of the Twitter Support Center, which you can access by clicking here.
In the Service Center, you will find all possible information about Twitter, how it works and the doubts, obstacles and problems you may encounter when using this social network service. You can consult all the main topics by clicking on the links of interest at the top of the web page displayed or you can type a specific keyword in the search field at the top.
Salvatore Aranzulla is the most widely read IT blogger and popularizer in Italy. Known for discovering vulnerabilities in Google and Microsoft websites. He collaborates with computer magazines and is responsible for the technology section of the daily newspaper Il Messaggero. He is the founder of Aranzulla.it, one of the thirty most visited sites in Italy, where he answers thousands of computer doubts with simplicity. He has published for Mondadori and Mondadori Informatica.