Twitter 101: A 7-Step Guide For Teachers, Newbies, And Everyone

Social media has become a part of seemingly everybody’s everyday activities. Twitter has officially broken the 100 million user mark so that means it’s officially mainstream.

Being mainstream means that it’s being used by students across the country. This means teachers need to at least take this crash course in Twitter if they hope to be able to relate to students when it comes to social media.

If you’re a teacher, school administrator, or are just new to Twitter, this guide is for you.

Step 1: What Is Twitter?

Often called a micro-blogging service, Twitter allows anyone to offer quick updates and engage in conversations in real-time using short bursts of content. From sharing text to uploading pictures and videos from smartphones, Twitter is becoming the biggest and easiest way for people to share and converse. It’s different from Facebook since Twitter connects more strangers to you than Facebook does. Facebook requires you to ‘friend’ people but Twitter allows anyone to ‘follow’ you without your permission. (You can always block them at a later date if you wish.)

You can follow anyone (as long as they’re on Twitter). Many prominent faces in the world are twittering from Ashton Kutcher (the most followed account on Twitter) and President Obama (also up there) to your local politicians. More no how to find these people below in the Resources section.


Step 2: Get Past The Common Misconception About Twitter

Many people think Twitter is pointless (“I don’t want to know when strangers are going to the bathroom”) but those types of updates are no longer a problem. The millions of people on Twitter are (for the most part) actively engaged in news, conversations, and basically just want to offer helpful advice to others. It’s a generally positive atmosphere, unlike YouTube comments. For example, Twitter has been a lifeline for major world events like the Haiti earthquake, Iranian election, and recent British elections.

While there is a ton of interesting content on Twitter, there’s still plenty of pointless babble. We’ll tell you how to avoid this nonsense below.

Twitter, like most social networks, is easy to use. You don’t need to know really anything about computers to be able to use and enjoy Twitter. (Sign up here, it takes about 20 seconds)

Did you know? There are thousands of conversations about higher ed, academics, and edtech happening every day on Twitter. Check out Step 6 below to find out more!

Most people are quite hesitant as they start using Twitter. It takes at least a few weeks before you can develop a following, have regular conversations, and find your niche. It’s important to not give up after a day or one week. Stick with it and you’ll reap the rewards of becoming highly knowledgeable about everything you’re interested in (and more!)

Step 3: Get Started

  • Sign up here. It takes about 20 seconds and Twitter is good at walking you through what the service is, which of your friends are using it, and how you can use it.
  • Decide on a profile picture. It’s understood that having an actual photo of yourself (can be cropped to just show your face) is the most helpful and gives your account a trustworthiness. If you are starting Twitter for your school, it might be helpful to use the school’s emblem. But if it’s just your personal account, definitely use your own picture so your friends can immediately see your gorgeous mug and get in touch with you.
  • Write a brief but informative bio. Use keywords like ‘teacher, education, technology’ to gain quick interest from others in the field. Did you know more than 60% of Twitter users don’t fill out the bio section? It’s easy and a really helpful way to get people to find you on Twitter (so they can listen to what you have to say!) Need help? Twitter Grader scans bios for keywords for their ‘search’ feature.
  • Put in a URL even if you don’t have a website (personal, business, school, etc.) because people like to learn more about people they’re going to follow. As you keep tweeting, people will want to see what you’re all about so put in a link to your LinkedIn page, teacher profile page, or even facebook page. Just don’t leave this part blank!

Step 4: Get Involved

Find people to follow. It’s not hard, we have a list of the top higher ed people on Twitter here. We also recommend using Twitter Search to find people chatting in real-time about topics of your choice. There are also many other ways to track down helpful tweeps (twitter peeps):

  • Twitter Grader – search by keyword, such as “education” or “ICT” (or “rock climbing”!)
  • Twitterholic – this shows most followed, by location, so you can find people near you
  • Localtweeps – more local tweeple

A word of caution: Don’t overdo it. You will quickly become overwhelmed if you follow 1,000 people and only have 2 followers. This makes you appear to be a spammer to potential followers and also makes your Twitter ‘stream’ (the always-updating list of tweets on your twitter homepage / timeline) update too quickly to be able to keep up with it.

Time to start communicating. Now that you have a few hundred people you follow, start tweeting! The big box on your twitter homepage limits you to 140 characters, a number that allows for short bursts of thoughts without making things too involved. One of the biggest benefits from this 140 character limit: learning to write concisely and efficiently. After all, you really only have about 120 characters if you want to include a link to a website and room for others to retweet your tweet (more on retweeting later)

Step 5: Understand the Lingo

So now that you’ve written something sure to set the Twitter world on fire, it’s time to add a link to a website you’re writing about (if applicable.) You don’t want to paste in the entire link into your tweet, that would take up the entire tweet. Not to worry, there’s an entire industry devoted to making links shorter (believe it or not).

  • TinyURL – if you want to tweet a link, but it’s very long, this will shorten it to 25 characters.
  • – this also shortens a link, and it allows you to specify part of the new URL.  If you sign up for an account, you can track how many clicks your shortened URLs get.
  • TwitterSymbols – fun symbols you can insert into your tweets.


If you start a tweet with @(username), this will automatically land in that person’s “@replies” folder.  You’ll notice that if you reply to something someone said, your message will automatically start with this “address”.  These tweets will show up in your friends’ tweet-streams only if they have chosen to see @replies – you can change the settings for this.


This stands for Direct Messages.  These are private messages that most people choose to use to introduce themselves or to bring an elongated “@reply conversation” over to a more appropriate venue.  You can DM someone from your DM folder or from the sidebar of their profile page, but only if they are following you.


This stands for ReTweet.  If you want to share what someone else tweeted, it is only polite to give them credit by including “RT @(username)” somewhere in your message.

Following Etiquette

Some people say that it is polite to follow anyone who follows you, others choose to follow very small, select groups.  I think it’s best to follow most people but to not feel bad about unfollowing someone who is spamming, boring, or just not helpful. After all, your Twitter account is supposed to keep you informed and engaged, not upset at someone else. There are only two types of people that I avoid following:

•   Those who only write mundane, one line messages, like “Going to the bathroom”. This is how Twitter used to be but these boring updates are becoming less tolerated.
•   Spammers. They can be tough to find nowadays as they’ve gotten crafty. The telltale way to spot a spammer (someone who only talks about one thing like a special offer, giveaways, etc.) is to see if they’re following 5,000 people but only have a dozen followers. Don’t follow these accounts as they are not beneficial.

The Fail Whale

Twitter, as have have said, is a new company. It’s only been around a few years and is seeing exponential growth right now. (May 2010) There are frequently times when Twitter’s servers are completely overwhelmed and an error page is displayed. Twitter developed a cute image of a whale trying to be lifted by small birds as it’s error image. It’s dubbed the ‘Fail Whale’ and has gained a cult-like following. People even have tattoos of the Fail Whale!

The Fail Whale

Step 6: Become A Twitter Expert

By using these resources listed below (there’s a lot!) you could probably spend years reading up on everything Twitter has to offer. We at EduDemic recommend you learn by doing. Figure out what works for you, what gets your tweets retweeted, what you like talking about, who you like to converse with via @ replies, etc. After all, Twitter is only a few years old so anyone who writes about the ‘best practices’ is also making a list that is going to be changing all the time. Have fun out there and be sure to follow us at @EduDemic!

Pretty soon you’ll find Twitter invading becoming a big part of your life if you find the perfect niche. Good luck!

Step 7: More Resources Than You Require

Some of these require you to enter your Twitter username and password but none of these resources have given us any trouble at all, even after logging in and trying them out. This list was cobbled together from a variety of sources, such as But Wait Wiki and Chris Brogan. And with that, here’s…

The Twitter Resource Center

  • Searching Twitter: Tweetscan – & Twitter Search
  • Cool Stats about your account: TweetStats & Twitter Counter
  • Who’s following you compared to who you’re following: Twitter Karma & Friend or Follow
  • Make a poll to tweet: TwtPoll
  • Tweetdeck –  This is a free download that gives you a separate window (your Tweetdeck) that has multiple columns to display tweets concurrently – with a live-feed, too!.  You can choose their content – personalized groups, an entire column just for your DM’s or @replies.  I like to keep it in the background of my computer-work all day.
  • Twistori – live-feed for tweets that include “love”, “hate”, “think”, “feel”, “believe”, or “wish” – the result could be called art.

Useful Links For Teachers On Twitter

If you feel like you’re starting to “get it,” you may want to find some more folks to follow:

If you’re analytically oriented, you might want to do some further reading along these lines:

If you’re a visual learner, feast on these goodies:

  • Graph your own tweets via tweetstats: (Tip o’ the hat to Daryl Tay, aka uniquefrequency, for the heads up on these last two.)
  • Put your finger on the pulse of the Twitterverse’s emotional state:
  • See what url’s folks are Tweeting about:

If you feel like you’re “ready to take it to the next level,” consider some of these sites:


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