Twitter Basics

Written by Nigel Brunsdon on . Posted in Equipment

Twitter is an incredibly useful tool for both networking and sharing information, but for new starters it can seem like an intimidating sea of noise. Hopefully this quick guide will help you get the most from it.

First things first

Head over to the Twitter website and set up an account. Make sure that you fill in the personal info section and upload an image, as profiles without an image or information on are less likely to be 'Followed' by people.
Also please make sure you don't set the profile up to have your tweets 'protected'. Many people on twitter just won't engage with people unless they can see what kinds of things they've talked about in the past (plus in some cases it can cause problems with your replies to people who don't follow you not being visable).


Twitter is very different from Facebook where in most cases you become 'friends' with someone by asking their permission, on twitter you find people you think are interesting and 'follow' what they say. They don't need to follow you back, and don't get annoyed if they don't. Most long term twitter users have criteria for who they follow, in my case I follow someone back if either:
  • They have a bio that talks about working in harm reduction AND they are tweeting about it as well
  • They engage me in conversations (I don't need to already be following someone to have a conversation with them, more about this later).
So spend some time finding a few people to follow and see what they have to say. To help get you started I've set up a section of the site with some recommendations (you can also access this section below this article).


Sending out a tweet of your own is simple just write into the box and send it out, talk about the things you feel passionate about or post links to interesting articles. But after a while you'll want to start doing what Twitter is best at and talking with others so here's the messaging rules you need to know:
@messages: if you start a message with the persons Twitter name and an @ either by typing it or hitting 'reply' then that person will receive a notification you've messaged them, it's worth remembering though that this message will also appear to anyone who follows both you AND the other person (and anyone who visits your twitter page itself).
@injectingadvice thanks for the chat today, it really helped me understand
Direct message: this is a way to send private messages to someone that are not visible by anyone else the software you use will likely have an option to send a direct message, but if you need to do it manually you do this by typing 'D' Followed by their name.
D injectingadvice hello Nigel, have you seen the latest shooting up report?
ReTweets (RT): Twitter allows you to retweet a message, this will send their message out to anyone who follows you. Many people prefer to do this manually as you can track back who has shared the message. Some software allows you to edit and RT which is the same as a manual one. So if I retweeted Matt Gleeson (Sonetree_aus) it would look like this.
RT @HIT_org_uk: Only 24 days to go till Hot Topics, have you booked your place yet? <- excited!


I'm sure you already have some idea what these are, they look like this #naloxone. These allow people to search based on a topic, I've connected the hashtags in this article to twitter search so you can get an idea what I mean. They're a great way to get your messages seen when you're a new user, just tag them with the subject.
"Hi folks I'm very new to twitter but I've heard it's a great place to chat #harmreduction"
There are other uses for hashtags:
  • Emphasis: "Just found out that I'm going to be speaking at a conference #excited #scared"
    Obviously in this case you're not likely to click the hashtag and search every tweet about people being excited.
  • Twitter traditions: "#followfriday for @2thirty because he's a fantastic filmmaker and #naloxone advocate"
    #Followfriday is also often shortened to #ff. There are quite a few of these traditions #ff is the most popular but there is also #charitytuesday for instance.
  • Games: "One flew over the batman nest. #movieswithbatman"
    Please note these games are possibly more addictive than many street drugs.


After a while you're likely to want to stop using Twitter's own page and start using other software on your PC or even better using it on your phone. There are many options for this as a quick google of "twitter client" will show you. Personally I use Hootsuite because I can manage multiple Twitter accounts, Facebook pages and other social platforms from one location. But really you need to find the one that suits the way you work.

Staying Safe

As with most areas of the internet Twitter has it's risks but if you follow these simple rules you should be OK.
  • Don't click dodgy looking links (even ones from friends that say thinks like "have you seen whats being said about you" are likely to lead to your account getting hacked.)
  • Don't say anything that could lose you your job if your boss finds out (seriously don't, a definate one to avoid is calling the local drug commisioner an idiot for saying naloxone is too expensive, trust me on this)
  • Don't feed the trolls, if someone is obviously trying to annoy you the best thing you can do is just block their account.

Go and engage

OK those are the real basics you need to know, it's time to go out and engage peolpe in conversation, join in, comment, let people know what you think of the things they're saying. Make sure if you do join twitter to follow me and let me know who you are (remember engaging me in conversation is the best way to get me to follow you back).

Further Reading

Twitter itself has a great help section including a Glossary and a Twitter 101: Getting Started guide.
Nigel BrunsdonNigel Brunsdon is the owner of Injecting He's been working in harm reduction since the 1990's, although he's previously a frontline needle programme worker he now spends most of his time developing online resources for drugs workers and users.
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