Twitter 101 for 201

Twitter Basics

If you don’t already have a Twitter account, get one. There’s no harm in having it, even if you never use it.

  • Choose a good Twitter handle. If you’re going to use it for networking and brand-building, use your own full name if possible. If you have a common name and it’s already taken, try using your middle initial or full middle name as well, or add an underscore (a great example of this is developer @_ericelliot.)
    If you don’t want to use your real name (*although there are really good reasons to do so, which I’ll address), choose something interesting and smart. Basically, don’t choose @partyperson1987!
    “Brand” whatever you do choose, by using it anywhere else that requires a username where you don’t want to use your full, real name.
  • When you tweet, use the “@” to refer to people, so that they notice that you’ve mentioned them. ONLY DO THIS WHERE APPROPRIATE. Otherwise, it’s spam. I regularly tweet @codefellows & @CodeFellowsSEA when I blog about school. I do NOT tag anyone just to tag them. Ever.
  • Use hashtags (#). Hashtags on Twitter actually serve a purpose. If I want to see who is tweeting about JavaScript, I can search hashtags like #JavaScript, #javascript, #js, etc. Try to be aware of what hashtags other people are using – your tweets are more likely to get seen than if you just make something up.
  • Tweet about yourself. Share a blog post you’ve written, or a link to a project you’ve just finished. It is also okay to tweet about things you are doing that have nothing to do with development – going to a really cool concert or trying a new restaurant? Totes ok to tweet! So too are things like family reunions, sporting events, books you are reading, your thoughts on “Making a Murderer” etc. These all give an indication of who you are, and can show that you are intelligent, interesting and well-rounded.
    I hope I don’t have to remind you to not tweet about how drunk you were last night, and FOR THE LOVE OF EVERYTHING, DON’T TWEET WHILE YOU ARE DRUNK.
  • Tweet about other people. Did your classmate/co-worker just make a really awesome webpage, or write a great blog post? Share that! Support others and they will support you.
  • On that note – re-tweet. It’s great to tweet a great article you read, but if you re-tweet the author’s tweet about that article, not only are you sharing information that others may find valuable but you will likely get the attention of the author as well. Right before I wrote this blog post,  Sam mentioned the following tweet:
    “The code does not belong to you. It is in your care for a time. Others may need to use it, maintain it, or patch it.  by @_ericelliot”
    I had already re-tweeted it before, but on that day, I re-tweeted it with a message about how we’d just shared it with the class. Guess who liked my re-tweet that day? (Hint: His initials are E.E.) Networking is about connecting with others and connecting with others in your industry.
  • On another related note – Beware what you tweet. Although we’re going to talk about who to follow and why, just because you’re following someone because they generally have good information, no one has good info all the time. Make sure you READ EVERYTHING you intend to tweet or re-tweet before you do that. Don’t just assume that because someone generally trustworthy posted it, it’s a good share. I’ve read a lot of headlines that sounded great only to find out that I disagreed with the content of the article. If in doubt, don’t tweet/re-tweet. If the subject matter is really important to you, look for another article/blog post/tweet that is more appropriate.
  • Why not tweet it? There are some obvious reasons – you may discover that the actual content is either not what you expected from the headline, or that while the content is on topic, it’s somehow offensive.
    Less obvious reasons – I’m often suspicious of people who are too opinionated. If you follow someone for a while and read a lot of their posts, you may decide that they have good reason to be that opinionated. A lot of people do not.
    Just because a tweet has a great headline doesn’t mean that the blog post or article it leads to is well written. If the content is incomprehensible, or filled with grammar and spelling errors, I won’t share it.

*Name/username – If you are going to try to get a job as a developer at some point, your potential new employer WILL Google you. The more things that use your actual, real, full name, the more results they will get. Obviously, you don’t want to put your name on anything that would give a negative portrayal of you, but you can make all your results positive. I recommend using whatever name you’ll use professionally for Gmail, Twitter, GitHub, LinkedIn, etc. 

Who to follow & why, and managing that

I am currently only following about 400 accounts. Sometimes that number grows, as I add accounts all the time, but I also prune my list back at least a couple of times a year. I find that it is extremely difficult to actually pay attention to even that number of people, and I have a number of ways I manage it.

  • It’s only natural that you’re going to follow your friends, even if they aren’t in your industry. That’s cool, but pay attention to some of the other tips here that may be relevant to that.
  • You may also find yourself following family members. I don’t personally (mostly because most of my family are not THAT tech savvy) but plenty of people do. Similar rules to following friends.
  • Before we go any farther, here’s the number one rule that applies across the board, but is going to come up most often with your friends and family – While Twitter has proven to be a great communication tool (see The Twitter Revolution), it is NOT a public text messaging system. Replying to tweets is fine, literally using Twitter instead of texting someone is not. (If you really cannot reach someone any other way, use Direct Messages!)
  • Following celebrities/public figures is okay too, although I’d use a modicum of caution here. Again, I only follow a limited number of people – that’s primarily because I’m going for quality over quantity.
  • I find that the most valuable use of Twitter is to follow industry related accounts. Why? Because companies, groups and individuals that I follow who are in my industry tend to tweet things that are of interest to me. I’ve often found myself searching Google for information relevant to JS programming only to come up empty and then discover that other developers have tweeted well written blog posts or articles about exactly the subjects I’m looking for. Curating a good group of Twitter accounts will lead to fresher topics than Google will have been able to pick up on, because you’ll be following the authors.


This leads us to one of Twitter’s most valuable tools – LISTS. Every time you follow a Twitter account, it is aggregated into your main feed, in no other order than chronological. So everyone that you follow shows up there, with whoever has tweeted most recently at the top, but with no other relevance whatsoever. I rarely just look at my general feed, as it is rare that I have time to sort through everything that isn’t relevant in this moment. Instead, I use lists, in a few different ways:

  • FILTER OUT – I do follow some people who tend to use Twitter like their own personal text messaging system. This doesn’t mean I want to unfollow them – most are friends, and they just aren’t savvy to how annoying that is, or they just don’t care. So I put them in a list, and since I don’t look at my main feed often, they are basically talking amongst themselves, out of sight and out of mind, for all my intents and purposes. Sometimes I do catch on to that they are discussing something of interest to me, and then it’s much easier to follow that.
  • I also like to filter out what I refer to as the “RT Circle of Hell”. Twitter isn’t my only social media interest, as many social networks have value to our industry, so I happen to follow a bunch of social media accounts. Because social media has become a big part of marketing, these accounts tend to tweet, re-tweet, and then re-tweet again. And they re-tweet each other. And re-re-tweet each other. While there is often valuable information to be gleaned from these accounts, I got tired of the fact that in any given day, 50 accounts were really just recycling about 5 posts or articles. Social media accounts are not the only type of accounts that do this, just the only type I tend to follow.
  • FILTER IN – otherwise, I filter like with like. For the purposes of this conversation, you might easily assume that every account I follow that has anything to do with Web Development and Technology and Programming (etc) is in one list. NOPE. I follow about as many dev and tech accounts as all others put together, so these accounts are actually split into 3 lists.

The Lists

I look at 3 lists fairly regularly, but with varying degrees of frequency.

  • Web Dev and Tech – This is where I put businesses, organizations, & groups. Anything that isn’t an individual person. There’s all kinds of stuff in here, from learning resources (like Code Fellows and Udacity) to online publications (like Geekwire), and businesses (such as Formidable.) I look at this list least often, as the information that these accounts post tends to be more general (I probably don’t need to read about events in other states, or articles about languages that I’m not currently using) and because a lot of the authors of the shared articles are in my second-most-frequented list, there is some redundancy.
  • Web Dev and Tech People – As noted above, this is where you’re going to find the people who wrote, or are the subject of, relevant articles and blog posts. I find this list to be more specific and of great value. I often find things shared here that I didn’t even know I was looking for until I found it. I read a lot of really relevant things here, as I often read about subjects that are actively being discussed here at CF, as CF stays very current, and so do most of these devs.
  • Code Fellows – This is by far my most frequented and valuable list right now. It includes the main Code Fellows & CF Seattle accounts (by which I stay on top of CF news and events), admin accounts, staff/instructors/TAs and alumni. CF has great blog posts on a regular basis, and tweets and RTs valuable info, and staff and alumni are other developers, who I not only trust to share quality info, but there is GREAT value in being connected with your peers. These are people who will work places you want to work, and who will be most qualified to give you a recommendation. Additionally, for some reason, they just happen to be some of the most entertaining people I follow.

Managing Lists

Lists are pretty simple, but to follow are the practical details of how to use them.

  • Make a list – From your profile, click on the “Lists” link in the nav bar under your header, next to your profile pic. On the right-hand side of the page, you’ll see “Create a list” and a Create New List button. Once you’ve clicked the button, it’s pretty self-explanatory. You can also create a new list when you go through the process of adding an account to lists.
  • On this page, you’ll also see “Subscribed To” – these are lists you’ve made or other people’s lists you are following.
  • On this page, you’ll also see “Member Of” – these are lists other people have added you to. I am a member of 50+ lists, 30+ of which are industry relative. People have added me to these lists based on content I’ve tweeted and re-tweeted. Just like anything else, getting people to follow you on Twitter is good, getting them to put you in a vetted list is better!
  • If you go to one of your lists, on the left you’ll see “List Members” and “List Subscribers”. List member is an easy way to see who you’ve got in that list, and list subscribers will show you who is following your list. Sometimes following someone else’s vetted list is easier than making one of your own!
  • Adding an account to a list – next to the “Follow” button on the right of all account profile pages, is a cog icon – clicking on it will give you a number of options, including “Add or remove from list”. Click on that, and you’ll get a list of your lists, each with a check box next to it. Just click the box, and then you can just close the pop-up. No need to to save or do anything else. There’s also a button at the bottom to create a new list. To remove someone, follow the same steps, but just un-check the box.
  • To view a specific list – Click on your profile icon next to the Tweet icon at the top right. You’ll get a menu with a number of options, including “lists”.

This is really just a very basic overview of Twitter. There is SO MUCH MORE I could tell you about its history, how it’s been used effectively over the years, how to figure out who to follow, how to get people to follow you, how to write good tweets, how to figure out what hashtags to use,  how to get people to notice your tweets by writing good tweets and using the right hashtags, integration with other social media (like Instagram and Facebook), Impressions, Analytics, and so much more. Twitter is a much more complex tool than it initially appears!


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