The other day somebody asked me how to get started on Twitter. I decided to write my answer down and post it here, because I thought it might be useful to others. If you’re already a Twitter user, then this post is probably not for you. Sorry.

If you aren’t a Twitter user and don’t want to be, then this is not for you, either. Sorry again.

But if you aren’t a Twitter user yet and you’d like to be, I can help. I took the time to think it through and write it out, and here are my step-by-step suggestions.

  1. Examine your goals. What do you want out of Twitter? It might be business relationships, leads, customer service, personal relationships, a new job, timely information. Get it straight in your head.
  2. Set up a Twitter account–and remember those goals as you do. Go to and follow directions to set up a new account. Choose a Twitter handle–your own name is often best; I use “timberry” and my daughter Megan uses “meganberry,” but some people use names related to their business or blog, like my friend John Reddish who is “getresults” or Anita Campbell, who is “SmallBizTrends.” Palo Alto Software uses the name of our business plan resource site, “bplans.” You’re going to have to live with it.
  3. Log in and upload a picture. First, look around, see what others are doing. You don’t follow anybody yet, so that won’t work to see a bunch of Twitter people; but you can search for a term, and that will work. Try a term that fits your interest. I searched first for “business plan.” That generates a list of 140-character published microposts, which we call “tweets.” The list will show the pictures or icons the people are using. Most people use their face, but some businesses use their logo, and some accounts have an icon or something. Do upload something. Only newbies have no picture.
  4. Edit your profile. Here, too, you should first look at some examples by searching for a term that interests you, which will generate actual tweets. Create a profile that is true and authentic, but also one that presents the side of you that best fits your goals. If you want to pursue your knitting hobby, let the profile show that. If you want to get a new job, have the profile show your present job in a good light. Make it all true, of course, but you just have a few words to describe yourself, so choose them well. Align them with your Twitter goals. Later on you can play with backgrounds and such to customize your look. But that’s later.
  5. Start searching for tweets that interests you. Your goal is to turn up tweets that address your goals. If it’s about your knitting, then search “knitting” and “yarn” and whatever else (I don’t know much about knitting) works. Look for tweets with links to blog posts on that subject. Click the links, visit the blogs. Follow people tweeting about things that interest you. Subscribe to blogs on subjects that interest you.
  6. Learn how to retweet. That means you see a tweet that interests you and you click a button and tweet that same tweet again, giving credit to the originator. For example, if I tweeted:

    It’s Easier to Maintain Business Momentum Than Overcome Intertia

    (the last bit there is a link to a blog post, and it’s included in the tweet), then you would retweet it as follows:

    RT @Timberry: It’s Easier to Maintain Business Momentum Than Overcome Intertia

    That’s gives you several benefits: First, it’s publishing something that seems like good content, so that later, as somebody looks at your Twitter presence, you’ve been adding useful tweets. Second, it gives you a record of a tweet you liked. Third, it alerts the originator of the tweet to you, that you follow him or her and, maybe, that he or she should follow you back.

  7. Repeat steps five through seven from now on, building your presence in Twitter, your list of people to follow and the list of people who follow you.
  8. As the lists get bigger, experiment with tweetdeck (my favorite) or its competitors that allow you to organize your Twitter world better. I divide mine into lists of friends and family, cyberfriends, business, journalism, news, leaders and so on. Tweetdeck displays the different groups in different columns, making it easier to see what’s going on.

I like Twitter; I use it a lot, and I recommend it. It seems to me like the debate about Twitter is calming down now, meaning that few people care that much who uses it and who doesn’t. But if you’re an entrepreneur, and you haven’t tried it, I would recommend that you do. It’s not about what people are having for lunch–you don’t have to follow those people –or annoying sales pitches–because you don’t have to follow those people, either. It’s about what’s up, what’s interesting and what’s going on.

Follow me on Twitter: timberry. Please.

Tim BerryTim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.