Twitter is immensely useful as a utility for joining in the global conversation and sharing thoughts, opinions, information, and media. But for new users, there’s also a fairly steep learning curve. For many people new to Twitter, the site doesn’t immediately ‘make sense’ and it can be a bit daunting. But there are things those users can do to make the service more useful from the get go.
Below are five steps for new users to take in order to make the Twitter experience more enjoyable from the beginning. New users have both third party services and built-in tools at their disposal to make Twitter work for them, and this post highlights some of the best.
STEP ONE: Find People You Already Know
I joined Twitter later than most early adopters, but once I finally became a Twitter newbie in early 2008, it was much easier to jump into the conversation when I was following some people I already knew — people who I was sure were already talking about things I was interested in and would value my input.
The best tool available for new users directly on Twitter is the Find Friends on Other Networks tool, which lets people allow Twitter to scan their AOL, Yahoo!, or Gmail address books and see if anyone they know is on Twitter. Once you’ve synced your address book, Twitter will locate and suggest users to follow that you likely already know outside of Twitter. When you follow those friends, they’ll get an alert message saying that you’ve followed them.
New users can also turn to third party Twitter people search engines like Tweepz, which take things up a notch by offering more detailed and easily scannable search results than Twitter’s own built in people search. Also check out our recent Twitter people search round up.
Another way to find friends is to check out the Twitter Facebook app and see if any of your friends on Facebook are also on Twitter. Of course, not every Facebook user that uses Twitter also has that application installed — the app has just 250,000 monthly active users, so the number of friends you find via this method might not be too many.
STEP TWO: Find Like-minded Users
One of the most clearly beneficial things for new users to do is to find other Twitterers that talk about the topics they’re interested in. Getting fed a stream of tweets on topics you actually care about will go a long way toward making Twitter more useful and interesting, right off the bat. One tool new Twitterers can use to find like-minded users is Twitter Search. Twitter’s own built-in search engine lets users search for others who are talking about the things they’re interested in by searching for keywords. However, it’s also a bit of a slapdash method of finding users to follow. Because the search is real-time, you’ll only ever find the users who were most recently talking about a specific subject, not necessarily those who talk about it regularly.
Fortunately, there are some third party services that new users can turn to in order to find other like-minded users to follow. Twitter directories Twellow and WeFollow organize Twitter users based on topic, and are great places to find other users who will regularly tweet about things you’re interested in.
You should also look into third party sites like Twubble and Twitterel, which attempt to give people friend suggestions on Twitter, based on the friends of your friends and the things you’re interested in.
STEP THREE: Find People in the Area
When I first started using Twitter, I used it for a couple of months, then got bored with it and stopped using it for a while. Recently, I have begun to follow a lot more people in my local area, and I’ve noticed that the service has become much more useful. I get updates about local meetups, stay abreast of local issues, and am able to connect with people around things that only those in my city would understand.
I would have loved to have known how to find local users to follow when I first began using Twitter — I may never have taken a hiatus from the service if I had. A good place to start your search for local tweeters is Twitter search. By using the advanced search options, you can limit results to only those tweets originating from nearby to a specific location.
STEP FOUR: Get a Desktop (or Mobile) Client
Once you really get into Twitter and start using it to have conversations with friends and followers, you’ll want to upgrade from the Twitter.com web interface. Using the web for tweeting becomes difficult when you start following a lot of people and doing things like sending and receiving replies and direct messages. But don’t worry, there is a solution: a desktop client.
Desktop clients are software built specifically to utilize Twitter. Clients for the desktop generally do very helpful things, like let you put the people you’re following into groups, so you can be sure you won’t miss a tweet from those you care about the most, alert you when you get a new direct message or @reply, search Twitter without having to visit a separate page, or help you share images or videos. In other words, they help you get the most out of Twitter and not miss anything important.
Our current favorite desktop client is Tweetdeck, with Seesmic running a close second. Be sure to check out our round-up of 19 Twitter desktop clients, for the skinny on a large number of available options.
Mobile users can also download applications to help them get more out of Twitter, those users who tweet on an iPhone especially have plenty of options. There are some web-based Twitter clients available that make Twitter easier to use, as well, such as Mixero and PeopleBrowsr.
*Disclosure: TweetDeck partnered with Mashable to create MashDeck, a branded version of the software.
STEP FIVE: Learn the Ropes
Twitter can be very daunting for new users. It has its own set of jargon (#hashtags, @replies, retweets, direct messages, etc.), its own set of commands, confusing rules about who sees your tweets, and a sea of third party clients to navigate. That can be overwhelming for someone new to get into. One place to start learning about Twitter, is the site’s own help portal and Getting Started forum aimed at new users. They’re not the most user friendly sites, though, and might raise more questions than they answer for some users.
At Mashable we just recently launched our Twitter Guide Book, which attempts to help both new and experienced users learn how to use the service and get the most out of it. You should also check out Twitter app directory Twitdom, where you can learn about many of the cool things you can do with Twitter.
Reviews: Facebook, Gmail, Mashable, Mixero, Seesmic, TweetDeck, Twellow, Twitdom, Twitter, WeFollow