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Updated 11 Mar 2016

New Twitter Accounts

So you're taking your first steps into the wild world of twitter. If you've never created an account before, the thought of starting at the bottom with no followers, no tweets and no idea how to make the twitter juggernaut work for you can be daunting to say the least.
I've created this guide to help you get started. Can I promise that you'll have a million followers by tomorrow? Of course not. What I can do is help you make your account appear as if it's already being managed by a twitter master. Let's start at the beginning and work our way through the first few days of your new account.

Your Name & Username

The first major decision you'll have to make (and it is major) is exactly what your name and username will be. Your username is whatever comes after the '@' symbol on your account. Think of it as your personal URL - it's what you'll post on your website and marketing materials, and within twitter it will act as your identifier in all of your interactions. Basically, it's extremely important, and you should take a great deal of care in selecting it.

screenshot of a bad twitter username

The example above shows what not to do. Rather set your name to your real name. If people google you (and if you read this whole guide I promise they'll be googling you) then you'll want them to be able to find you easily.
As for your username, keep it simple. The easier your username is to remember, the more effective it will be in bringing eyes to your feed. If your twitter will primarily serve as a display for your own personal thoughts, endeavours and projects, your first and last name is a great place to start. If you're launching a feed for your business, the name of your business is an obvious choice.
Just try not to be offensive. You want it to be as short, memorable, and as easy to type as possible. Whatever you try first will usually be taken, so here are some things to try:
  • Try using part of your name and an initial e.g. @DSumter
  • Add your location if it's relevant e.g. @DaveUK
  • Don't use offensive words, and stay away from slang e.g. @ShitHatersGonnaHate @lolDaveYo
  • Try not to use underscores e.g. @Dave_Sumter
  • Try not to use numbers (or use as few as possible) e.g. @Dave18264526
  • Try use the same username you use on other social networks
  • If you can't read the username out aloud and have someone find it first time, then it needs work.

Also, don't neglect formatting - while spaces are not permitted in usernames, capitalization is allowed. Use it to increase the readability of your username.

Your Bio

Once you've selected an appropriate username, it's time to compose a bio. Your bio must be less than 160 characters and will appear next to your feed for anyone who visits your profile page. It should be concise but effective in conveying exactly what you have to offer the world. It should also be unique and perhaps even subtly humorous, but not in a way that distracts from the professionalism or legitimacy of what you have to say. Your bio should answer the question, "Who am I?" in a way that leaves no ambiguity. For example, many creatives will create bios along the lines of this example:
"I'm a weaver of words, my paintbrush is the pen and my canvas is humanity."
This flowery language might seem nice and unique, but in reality it's obnoxious to potential followers and doesn't provide a concrete statement of what exactly you do. Here's a better example, also for a writer's account:
"Columnist for @NewsViewsMagazine and author of the fantasy sci-fi series Space Ocean. I live in NYC with my two dogs and a stain that was there when I moved in."
This bio gives a clear statement of what this user does for a living, a small titbit of personal information and a tiny glimpse of quirky humor. It gives potential followers an idea of the kind of tweets they can expect from this account. It's effective, professional and personality-rich. It even links to another feed that's connected with the author. This is important to remember - your bio can also include username links to other feeds. This is a great way to show that you're connected with some sort of legitimate organization or enterprise, but be wary any time you send audiences away from your feed.

screenshot of Tom Hanks twitter profile

Set aside a few minutes to actually brainstorm this and re-write it a few times. You won't get it right the first time. Here's a trick, do a search on twitter for your "thing". eg. If you are a blogger into bikes, then search for "blogger bikes". This is what I see when doing this search:

screenshot of twitter bio search

Now read some of the bio's you see and copy the ones you like the most. These accounts are being shown in your search because they carry your search terms and the accounts have some influence, not because the bio's are necessarily interesting. Your goal is to get across the same level of keyword value, but in an interesting and unique way. Here are few tips:
  • Include a few of your main keywords if they are not in your name/username already. e.g. "blogger", "bike".
  • Put something in that's personally unique to you. Show some humour.
  • You don't need to use hashtags - keywords in normal text are searchable too.
  • Be intriguing and create some questions in the reader's mind. Perhaps they'll follow you to find out the answers.
  • You can do this in bullet form or with sentences.
  • Don't be rude.


Your Website

Beneath your bio, twitter also offers a space where you can include a link to your website. This is definitely a good idea if you have an official website, but don't use this as an opportunity to make a joke or send users somewhere unexpected. Following a link that leads somewhere other than where a user wants to go is a quick way to accumulate dislike. If you don't have an official website or a website that's relevant to your feed, don't include a link here. It's that simple.

screenshot of twitter profile website link

Profile Picture

Show off your smile - Research shows that a picture of you smiling will convert better than that moody pic you took at the park the other day. When people are thinking about clicking that follow button there's only one thing holding them back - fear. Fear that you are going to fill up their timeline with spam, and fear that people will judge them negatively for following you. So definitely no nudity, rudeness, or obscenities. That will reflect badly on them if they follow you, and so they'll avoid it.
If they think your profile is low-quality then they will worry that you are spamming or fake. Your job is to send as many signals as possible that you are real, authentic, and a valuable tweeter. We discuss what to tweet later, but authenticity can be signalled immediately through your profile photo and info.
A profile of you smiling will work best. As strange as it sounds, showing real happiness (laughing, etc.) can send a really positive signal. Our brains are hard-wired to spot danger and safety in other people. We've been doing it for millennia. Just don't do this...

screenshot of twitter smiling profile picture

With respect to edginess, this can definitely work if done right. A photo of you that shows some unique aspect of your personality will work even better than a standard smiling pic. But make sure it still conveys the right trust signals. I mean, how can you not like this guy..

screenshot of Dwayne Johnson twitter profile

Even if you are an individual, by launching a twitter account you are introducing your brand to the world. What this means for you is that it would be wise to upload an image that's consistent with that brand. For example, you might have gotten some awesome glamour shots a while back of you wearing a sexy leather jacket and aviator sunglasses. But if you're a tax accountant, this might not be the kind of image that will appeal to your ideal audience. Everyone can benefit from a professional photoshoot, but make sure the tone of your image gels with your overall brand.
If you are launching a business account, use a version of your brand logo that's optimized for the square format of the profile image. Again, keep in mind the small size of a logo and stay away from tiny script or overly packed content. Remember that directly below your image will be the name of your business or organization and the bio that you compose, so don't try to fit too much information into the profile picture. It should be an appealing, visually simple introduction to your brand.

Header Image

Twitter now allows users to upload a header image that's much larger than the profile picture and spreads across the top of your feed. Many different users have gotten creative with this feature, and you should take the time to find a header image that works for you. Consider hiring a designer to create something visually appealing and effective. This can also be an opportunity to promote a product, whether it's a new software that's just been launched or a new book you've just released.

screenshot of The Today Show twitter profile

As with your profile picture, remember that your header image should speak to your overall brand, or vibe. A professional and straightforward profile picture paired with a wild and artsy header image will appear distracting and unprofessional, leaving your audience scratching their heads at exactly what kind of feed they're looking at.

Your First Tweets

Now that you've created your Twitter profile and defined how you'll be presented to the Twitter world, it's time to start building your account. The first thing you'll want to do is seed your timeline with some great tweets.

screenshot of first tweets

A general rule for tweeting down the road will be a ratio of three substantive tweets for every one self-promotional tweet, but when you are just starting out that ratio should be much higher. Why? You need to show potential followers that you have something to offer them before you can start leveraging their attention to ask for something in return.
Post inspiring words, funny thoughts or quotes, commentary on current events - whatever you think your target audience will find interesting. Begin with enough tweets that your account appears to be one that will be active going forward, but not so many that it looks like a crazy person shouting into the abyss. Remember, you'll be starting off with zero followers.

Following Accounts

You've set up a great profile, seeded your account with some high-quality tweets - now it's time to start following other users to let the world know you exist. Seek out relevant, interesting and engaging users that fall into your same industry or at least share your interests. Use twiends to quickly and effectively find accounts that share your interests and your target audience.

screenshot of twiends home page

Targeted following may attract the attention of those users that you follow, but more importantly it will give you visibility of their tweets, thereby creating opportunities to interact with them.

Get Engaged

Now that you've started following some great accounts, engage with them! This is not only one of the most effective tools in getting your account off the ground, but it's a critical skill in maintaining an effective twitter account for as long as you use the service. Comment on tweets that you find interesting and that inspire thoughts of your own. Like tweets that you appreciate, and retweet (with comments, occasionally) the ones that you think your followers will find particularly interesting.
Strike a balance with your engagements - spread your contact across multiple users rather than pestering one big account with attention in the hopes of receiving a mention or retweet. Constantly commenting on others tweets might seem like a good idea, but many users become frustrated with followers who are always commenting on their posts without sharing them. It's all about reciprocation - by retweeting or quoting the tweet of someone you follow, you're showing them that you appreciate what they do enough to share it with your audience. On twitter, as in life, do unto others as you would have them do unto you…
Entering the world of twitter with a new account can seem a lot like being the new kid in school - everyone seems to already have friends, they already know where everything is, and you're left feeling lost and alone. But with patience and a dedication to devoting daily time and effort into your timeline, you'll quickly find your audience growing and your ability to leverage that audience for your benefit expanding every day. Put in the time and follow the practices listed above and your account's first days will be productive, encouraging and conducive to a powerful foundation.
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