Chapter 23 — Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Twitter* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)

I can teach you everything you need to know about Twitter with a story about three witches. It gives you a framework for understanding which Twitter strategies are most effective. I’ve Twitter trained individual writers, journalists, and artists. I’ve provided internal staff training to charities and managed the Twitter accounts of businesses, third-sector organizations, and creative industries. I’ve also over 15,000 followers on my personal Twitter account so I must be doing something right. Here’s a guide to get you started, some tips and tricks, and that all-important story.



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Twitter is a Conversation

Imagine a party to which everyone in the world is invited. People talk to each other, some louder than others, and you’re more than welcome to join in. You can talk about anything with anyone — just try not to bore the other guests.



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Get Started

  • Sign up for an account:
  • Download the official Twitter apps for your computer, tablet or phone
  • The quickest way to learn how to use Twitter is by doing it so jump right in

@ Username

  • Your username is who you are on Twitter
  • People use it to tweet @ you, talk to you, and talk about you
  • Use your real name, company name or something sensible like that


  • Make your profile as complete, attractive and professional as possible
  • The better your profile the more likely people will follow you
  • Don’t tweet until your profile is done

Don’t be an Egg

  • The default profile picture for a new account used to be an egg
  • Change your picture as soon as possible or no-one will take you seriously
  • It’s best to have a picture of a real person (you) or your company logo



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  • A tweet is a message (originally of 140 characters or less) — the key question to answer is “What’s happening?”
  • You can add other media such as polls, pictures, videos, animated GIFs, links or your location
  • How you use Twitter is up to you but remember that when you tweet it’s public and can be seen by anyone
  • People can like, retweet (RT) or share your tweets with other people

Following and Followers

  • You follow people whose tweets interest you (or vice versa) — but no-one has to reciprocate or follow back
  • You can create lists of people to see their tweets grouped together — whether you follow them or not

@ Replies

  • Start your tweet @someone to talk to them or reply to their tweet — this can be seen by anyone following both of you
  • Mention @someone within a tweet — they’ll know that you mentioned them but the tweet can be seen by everyone
  • Anyone who sees a tweet can click on @someone’s name to go to their profile and see their tweets

Direct Messages

  • DMs let you talk privately with other Twitter users — they’re good for quick one-to-one chats but that’s about it
  • Assume your DMs won’t stay private — there’s nothing to stop someone taking a screenshot and sharing them


  • Hashtags are clickable keywords preceded by # — use them to find related tweets, track topics or promote events



Photo by Rudi Strydom on Unsplash

Brilliant Bios

  • Use relevant keywords in your bio, include an attractive header and profile pic — make sure you pass the sniff test
  • Link to your website in your bio as well as at the bottom of your profile (so that it appears in search)
  • Set your timezone and location — make sure that it’s clickable and works with the map

Pinned Tweets

  • You can pin tweets to the top of your profile that you want to draw attention to
  • Pinned tweets don’t move down your timeline until you unpin them

Hero Tweets

  • If you want a tweet to ‘go viral’ (and be shared lots) it helps if it’s personal, striking, amusing, interesting or useful
  • Tweet something funny with a big picture and a call to action, such as a link to your website, and people will share it
  • Pin it to the top of your profile and even casual visitors to your profile will see it and respond
  • I call these ‘hero tweets’ because the hero image makes it perfect fodder for pinning to the top of your profile
  • The best size for a hero image on such a tweet is so you can see it all without clicking to expand
  • You can even add more than one picture at a time so that they appear as a gallery

Twitter Doesn’t Have an Edit Button

  • You can delete your tweets but you can’t edit them and you can’t delete other people’s tweets
  • Even when you delete your tweets they may still be visible in other apps or online



Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash


  • Play nice but don’t be afraid to be yourself
  • Talk with people, rather than market at them
  • Respond whenever you can
  • Share interesting stuff
  • Add to the conversation

How to Deal with Abuse

  • Adhere to your social media policy
  • You can report, unfollow, mute or block people
  • You can force someone to unfollow you by blocking and unblocking them
  • Be warned that if you block someone they can actually still see your tweets if they log out

Don’t Feed the Trolls

  • Exercise caution if you respond to people who make derogatory or challenging comments about you via Twitter
  • Internet ‘trolls’ do this to provoke an emotional response or disrupt discussions for their own amusement
  • Conflicts can escalate quickly so it’s often best to hold off or not engage



Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

What’s the best time to tweet?

When your audience is awake — there are more scientific answers but that’s what it amounts to.

How do I keep up with everyone’s tweets?

Don’t try to read all of your timeline — that way lies madness. Use lists and third-party apps to manage what you see.

Who should I follow on Twitter?

Friends, colleagues, and people of genuine interest or strategic importance to you or your social media strategy.

Does it matter how many people follow me?

Your Twitter ratio is important as ‘social proof’ — it’s best to follow less people than follow you but don’t stress about it.

How do I get more followers?

Be remarkable, relevant, entertaining and/or of interest to your audience.

How do I get LOTS of followers?

Be famous. If you can’t be famous, be funny. If you can’t be funny, be friendly. If you can’t be friendly, BE CAREFUL.

What’s the big secret?

There are three main strategies to use on Twitter — Black Hat, White Hat, and Grey Hat. The secret is in the grey.



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Three Witches

Imagine there are three witches (Black Hat, White Hat, and Grey Hat) and each of them uses Twitter in a different way. Black Hat uses her powers for evil, White Hat uses her powers for good, and Grey Hat falls somewhere in between.

Black Hat

Black Hat is the bad stuff that nobody should do. Some of these strategies may appear powerful at first, and you can learn from them, but to use them will upset your followers, hurt your brand, or damage your reputation.

For example:

  • Buying followers
  • Automated Direct Messages or Replies
  • Churning (aggressively following and unfollowing people just to accumulate follow-backs)
  • Spam, Bots, or any other sort of fake engagement
  • Trolling (saying hurtful, inflammatory, or controversial things just to get attention)

White Hat

White Hat is the good stuff that everybody should do. These strategies are the absolute best practice for Twitter, and you should use them first, but used in isolation they won’t necessarily take you as far as you need to go.

For example:

  • Fill out your profile with accurate information
  • Be genuine, honest, and participate in the conversation
  • Share and retweet other people’s content
  • Engage positively with other Twitter users

Grey Hat

Grey Hat is the murkier strategic stuff that falls somewhere in between Black Hat and White Hat. You might dislike these strategies but they’re essential if you’re serious about building a following and using Twitter as a platform.

For example:

  • Scheduled tweets
  • Growth Hacking (and other marketing strategies)
  • Modeling your profile on successful accounts
  • Unfollowing inactive or unresponsive accounts
  • Strategic following of accounts (not based solely on interest)

Which Witch is Best?

Do you want to be Black Hat, White Hat, or Grey Hat? Would you use these strategies exclusively or in combination? At first, you should be White Hat. Make sure your Twitter profile and content is as good as it can be. By all means, learn about Black Hat strategies but steer clear of them. When you’re ready to grow your profile and want to get your hands dirty, it’s okay to go Grey Hat for a while. A healthy balance of White Hat and Grey Hat is probably the best combination. Just remember that Grey Hat is where the magic happens.



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Get Help

  • Help is always at hand — reach out to people on Twitter if you get stuck
  • Twitter has its own help pages, tutorials and support forums:
  • I can help you too — especially if you want to get more advanced — any questions?


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James Garside is an independent journalist and writer. You can join him on Patreon and chat with him on Twitter.