Twitter was declared the most popular word in the English language for 2009, according to the Global Language Monitor. If you haven’t heard of this social networking and microblogging site by now, you are probably living under a rock in the middle of the Sahara Desert.

Even those people who have heard of it are skeptical of this “time-wasting trap”, as I’ve heard it referred to. And while yes, it does take up a significant amount of time daily, it’s also an amazing tool.

It allows networking in a way previously unheard of. For instance, I’ve landed a number of small freelancing gigs as a result of people following me. I’ve also become friends with several amazing fashion bloggers and am slowly getting to know literary agents.

It also gives answers faster than even a Google search can. Not sure of the best restaurant to visit in a specific city? Want to know if the Pandora application is worth downloading to your iPhone? Just ask the twitterverse (that’s twitter and universe combined) and answers will come at your quickly. For instance, over Christmas I was talking with an aunt who wanted to know the name of the restaurant we used to go to when I was in college. I remembered nothing about the place except that it served amazing pancakes and sat on a street corner. I tweeted my question and less than 2 minutes later had 5 responses from fellow alum. Ta-Da, mystery solved.

Want to try it out? Here’s how you can get started:

Think of twitter as one big meeting of text messages. You’ve got 140 characters to get a message across. This is the easiest and most difficult concept to understand. It seems almost too easy to be real.

Find followers. On your page you can get a live feed of others tweets to see what they are thinking and saying. Find friends, relatives, co-workers, celebrities, news organizations, whoever and whatever. Click the follow button and their tweets will automatically begin to feed into your page.

Get followed. Other people may want to follow you. Maybe they think you are witty, or you share interesting links to noteworthy news articles. Maybe you tell a good joke or offer an inspirational quotes. People will opt to follow you.

Shorten links. If you have an interesting article or blog entry to share with your followers you’re best off shortening the URL to something that will conserve those precious 140 characters. Use sites like or owly to shorten a long web address.

Terms to know:

Tweet – a message sent through Twitter. It can only be 140 characters long.

@ – To message a person directly you need to put the “at” sign followed by their name. You can also do this if the message is in direct response to something another person has tweeted. This is called a reply or a mention. @mercatornet

RT – this stands for re-tweet. If you like something someone else has said you can opt to re-tweet that message sending it out to all your followers as well. It is proper etiquette to put RT and then the person’s Twitter name before the message to give that person props for initiating the tweet.

# – Putting a hashtag before a word makes that word searchable, helping others with similar interests find your tweets. If you are recommending a restaurant to try putting the symbol before the city name so others in the area can find it. You can also hashtag catch phrases like FAIL or a TV show.

#FF – FollowFriday. Every Friday those on the Twitterverse offer their suggestions of other people to follow. You can get ideas on who else you’d like to follow this way and suggest your favorites to others.

Katie Hinderer

Katie Hinderer is a freelance writer and social media enthusiast. She holds a degree in Journalism from Marquette University. Over the years she has transitioned from traditional publishing...