How do you get started on Twitter? (1/4)

I thought Twitter was a waste of time until launching into it and discovering a fascinating bunch of people, sending useful information, thought-provoking opinions and having rewarding conversations. Plus the wittiest observations and retorts I’ve ever read.  Opinions, facts and laughs all mixed together.  Twitter is a brilliant, worldwide, bush grapevine.

Many obviously think likewise as the number of rural people on Twitter is growing exponentially.  It has reached a point in which the absence of some people and businesses from Twitter is very noticeable.  Frequently I want to comment on something great a particular person has done or said, or a good company, and find they aren’t on Twitter.  So there’s a public conversation about them, which they aren’t even aware of, let alone participating in.  It is rapidly shifting from “why be on Twitter?” to “Why aren’t you on Twitter?”

On a personal front, apart from the local newspaper, Twitter is now my number one source of information.  Most surprising of all to me – using Twitter has greatly improved a wide range of my skills.

My Twitter account is called ‘FionaLakeAus’.  Over the last couple of years I’ve gathered a few thousand interesting people involved in agriculture, mostly Australian, and clicked on ‘follow’ so that my account receives the messages (“tweets”) they’re writing.  My ‘followers’ are the people who’ve found my account and want to read the messages (tweets) I’m writing.  Some people I “follow” don’t follow me, and vice versa, and there are daily changes as new people find me and others wander off.

Everyone is nervous when they start on Twitter.  But:

Twitter is just one big public conversation.  Ever written a letter to the editor of a newspaper? Writing a tweet is similar, only the audience is potentially bigger and the response may be instant.

  1. Remember Twitter is just like an in-person conversation.  The same good manners principles apply online as in person.
  2. Start slow, keep it simple, poke around and see what others are doing, then launch into it more as you get more confident.
  3. Don’t hesitate to ask others questions if you have any. People are happy to help.


How to set up a Twitter account; it’s free and really can be done in just a few minutes:

  1. Enter your first and last name.
  2. Enter your email address.  (Use an email address you check regularly, because message notifications are delivered to this email address).
  3. Think of a password that’s easy for you to remember but hard for someone else to guess. Like all passwords, ideally it should include a capital letter, at least one number and one symbol.
  4. Choose a “user name” for your Twitter account. It’s important to keep it as short as possible, so it doesn’t take up too many of the 140 characters allowable in Twitter messages. But keep it logical/memorable.  Unless it’s really long, your real name is by far the best choice, because it makes it easier for people who already  know you, to find you.  Instantly your accound looks more credible than one with an odd name.  There’s millions of people with the same name, however, so someone else may have already used yours for their Twitter account.  So you might have to add a number or something extra to your name (as I did; it’s why my account is called FionaLakeAus).
  5. Now you have a Twitter account. Fill in the other details that people will see, so people have confidence that your account is legitimate:
  6. Write a summary, called a ‘bio’.  Maximum 160 characters; about 1 sentence (about you and/or what you’re interested in). Having a look at what other people have written will help you decide on the style you like. It can be as simple as you like. “I live on a sheep property in Central Victoria” is entirely adequate – you can add more information down the track, if you want to.
  7. Add your location (at least a state, if not a region or a town).
  8. Add a pic.  It doesn’t have to be a closeup head shot, it can be whatever you like.  But the pic should give clues as to what you’re interested in (eg a rural landscape), if you want to make it easy for like-minded people to find & follow you.

It is really important to set your account up with a bio and a photograph from the outset, before you start following people. Because many of the people you follow might go straight to look at your account. If it looks legitimate and like you have things in common, they’ll follow you immediately. Or the reverse – and they might never come back for a second look.

Don’t forget; the pic, bio, location and password can be easily changed any time.


Finding people to ‘follow’:

Look for people, media organisations or businesses which you think may be interesting and click on “follow”.  (Remember you can ‘unfollow’ them easily, any time, with just a click on ‘unfollow’, if they turn out to be not your cup of tea.)  You really only need a few to start with.

I have many favourites here and overseas, too many to list! Here’s just a tiny handful of my highly recommended, particular favourites, likely to appeal to a wide range of people involved in agriculture.  If you just start with these people and look at who they interact with, you’ll find they’re part of a grapevine linking to a whole lot of other really interesting people:

  • ABC: @LeighRadfordABC (Leigh Radford) (Whole of Australian rural)
  • WA:  @farmersway (Michael Trant) (Livestock farming & off-farm employment)
  • VIC:  @jimandlara (Jim Wakefield) (Mallee farming)
  • TAS:  @JanDavisTas) (ex TFGA CEO; Agriculture)
  • SA:    @heatherbray6 (Heather Bray) (Ag science/education)
  • ACT: @ColinJBettles (Fairfax ag media, Canberra)
  • NSW: @Martin_Murray1 (UNE ag student, Nthn NSW cropping)
  • UK:   @FarmersOfTheUK (Each week a different UK farmer hosts this account)

How do you decide who else to follow & who to not follow?

  1. When you look up someone’s twitter account:  look at their name, bio, location, picture and read some of the tweets they’ve been sending. This will give you a good idea of whether you’re likely to enjoy reading their messages, and who they are having conversations with.  If you’re still uncertain, look at who they are following, especially at who they first followed, as this will give you a good idea regarding who and what they’re most interested in.
  2. If you like what you see, click on “follow”.  (When setting up your own account, bear in mind that this is the process others will go through when deciding whether to follow you.)


How do you start tweeting (sending out messages)?

  • Read other people’s tweets, and if you’ve got any comments to make, click ‘reply’, write your message, then click ‘tweet’ (i.e., send message).
  • I found the easiest way to get started on Twitter was to think of something interesting or funny to say in reply to someone else’s tweet, rather than trying to think of a good conversation starter myself.
  • It’s also easier to talk to someone you already know at first.
  • As you follow more people and join in conversations, people will find you and start ‘following’, so they see the tweets (messages) you are writing.
  • How quickly your follower numbers build up depends on how much time you spend on Twitter.  Like everything, the more you put in the more you get out.
  • If you invest a bit of time upfront into building a good foundation, you can then reduce the time you spend to just enough to keep it rolling along nicely.
  • You’d be amazed how many people there are on Twitter who are keen to help. If you want to know something, just ask.
    If you know someone in particular who is helpful, then include their twitter name in the message, so they see it.  Feel free to send me any queries you have.

Keep it simple to start with:

I recommend ignoring the fancier aspects of Twitter until you’re been using it for a little while. Just start with the information above, then pick up other details later.  I have written other blog posts about different aspects of Twitter, such as “retweeting”, as well as information on some other types of Social Media, such as LinkedIn and blog writing. These blog posts are all found in Social Media for Farmers.

Basic-to-complicated information on how to use Twitter is also plastered all over the internet. Simply Google whatever specific information you’re after and you’ll find someone has written about how to do it –  abbreviation meanings, hashtag use, how to create lists, etc.  I have stuck to writing information specifically aimed at helping rural users of social media.

More than one twitter account:

I recommend starting with one twitter account, and only then thinking about opening a second account only once you’ve got into the swing of running the first one.

Why have a second twitter account?

It’s a good idea if you have disparate interests. For example, I run a local/parochial (North Queensland) focussed twitter account, @TownsvilleNQ;  as well as my main “global agriculture” focussed twitter account; @FionaLakeAus.  Very few twitter followers of one of these accounts, would be interested in following the other account.  It just helps make sure I’m not boring someone senseless with stuff irrelevant to them.


  1. Twitter requires each twitter account to have a unique email address. AND
  2. You can only be logged into one twitter account at a time, per web browser.

The easiest way to get around the latter, is put both accounts into Hootsuite (more on that in a later twitter-related post).  And I’ll often have one twitter account logged on in Firefox and the other open in Google Chrome.  Regarding the necessity to use different email addresses: you can get around this by tweaking gmail account names (others have posted info online about how to do it). It’s easy and appears simple but I don’t recommend it.  Because if you don’t stick to the fine print, there is a chance that twitter or gmail will change their arrangements, and eeek then you have a potential headache with your twitter account that you’ve put time and effort into setting up.  Ultimately I prefer to avoid easily avoidable headaches!  It seems eminently more sensible to simply open more than one email account.

I also recommend NOT posting identically worded messages in two or more twitter accounts (except on rare occasions). Instead, you should keep top of mind the original reason for having more than one twitter account in the first place – because you’ve drafted up two sets of twitter followers, who have different interests.  If you do run more than one twitter account, make sure they are distinctly different, to avoid confusing people (or driving them nuts).  Otherwise, just stick to one account!

Other points to remember:

  • You can use Twitter on a computer or a smart phone (ie with internet access) or both.
  • Remember that Twitter is like LinkedIn – a very simple system. Both have occasional glitches and sometimes you wish both systems had a few extra features. But then they would become more complicated to use, and they may not remain free services.
  • Twitter’s search facility is unreliable.  Even if you have someone’s exact twitter account name, they won’t always show up if you search for them on twitter. Especially if they haven’t sent many recent tweets, or any at all.  It’s often easier to find people you know by searching with Google (eg ‘Fiona Lake on Twitter’).
  • Using Twitter via a (free) management system such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck makes it so much easier (plenty of internet information online, regarding these free services).  A little more info on Twitter management  on this blog post.
  • It is a good idea to sort people you follow into twitter lists, right from the outset.
  • Twitter is very different to Facebook.  I describe Twitter as outward looking and instant, whereas Facebook tends to be conversing with people you already know, rather than meeting new people.
  • Twitter highlights the fact that no two people agree on everything. It teaches tolerance of different views. Well at least it has taught me that!

The essential Twitter abbreviations:

RT – “retweet” – forwarding on a tweet (message) written by someone else

MT – a retweet that you have altered or abbreviated, before sending on.

DM – direct message. Put a ‘d’ in front of the message, then the person’s twitter address, and the message will only be readable by that person.  You can only send a Direct Message to somebody who is “following” you, and vice versa.

There are other abbreviations but they’re infrequently and inconsistently used; RT, MT & DM are the 3 important ones to understand.  There is more information on the Twitter information blog posts listed below.

Twitter terminology:

Tweet – A message sent out via Twitter. A tweet can only be 140 characters long, or less.

Tweet stream – the stream of tweets your account is receiving (from the people you are ‘following’).

Handle – Someone’s ‘handle’ is their twitter account name (ie for me, it’s “@FionaLakeAus”).  Twitter “handle” is not a term I’m fond of, so I tend not to use it.

Followers – other Twitter users who have decided to ‘follow’ your account, so they see the messages you are writing.

Following – the people whose accounts you ‘follow’, so the messages they write appear in your ‘tweet stream’.

Ping – not especially common, but very useful. If you want someone in particular to see a tweet written by someone else, you retweet it after tacking the word ‘ping’ on the end, followed by that person’s twitter account name. They will see it, and it will be clear to other people, that the person you have ‘pinged’ didn’t write the message and wasn’t previously involved in the conversation.

Trolls – people who enjoy winding other people up. Akin to the schoolyard bully who gets joy out of provoking someone, in order to observe their reaction.  Sometimes tormenting is overt and raucous, sometimes it’s like a subtle dripping tap – different bullies have different ways of operating. You’re not likely to attract the attention of fanatics if you don’t poke sticks down logs; and they’re actually easy to deal with anyway (ignoring the ignorant is the best approach). There’s more information on other Twitter-related blog posts (refer to the list at the bottom of this page).

Keywords – this is a search-related term which isn’t twitter-specific, but applies to the internet generally.  It’s worth explaining for anyone unfamiliar with search jargon, and it relates to twitter hashtags; as they are most often used with ‘keywords’, or abbreviations of keywords.   For example, #organic. When you are searching for something online, you enter ‘keywords’, ie the main words associated with the information you are after. For example, if you’re looking for ‘Adelaide hotel accommodation near the showground’ you can just google ‘Adelaide hotel near showground’ – just the keywords – and you should get the results you’re after.  If you’re looking for information on the ‘International Rural Womens Conference Adelaide March 2015’, you can google all those words, or just google or search twitter for the hashtag if you know it – which in this case, is #IRWC15.  The twitter search facility is fairly hopeless – unless you’ve spelt out the exact name of someone or something, or exact hashtag, it won’t find it. Usually, you’re better off searching twitter via google (odd though that might seem).  The exception is when looking for new followers on twitter and there’s a single term that can be used.  For example, searching twitter for ‘farmer’ or ‘cattle’ brings up a list of people who have tweeted messages containing those words.  If you want to make it easier for searchers to find you, include the ‘keywords’ you like to be associated with, in your twitter bio and/or tweets.  That said; most people find new people via other people (and retweets and conversations).

Note: The majority of this blog post was written in July 2012. It has since been updated, and the above info is current as at March 2015.

Summary of blog posts with tips on how to best use Twitter:

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