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Twitter Primer

Use these handy tips to create and use your own Twitter account.

Step 3: Start Tweeting. To attract your own group of followers, you need to tweet. You can say anything you want, add a Web link, or include a photo. The only rule is that you stick to the 140-character limit (an on-screen counter keeps track for you). Just remember: Twitter is a public environment built on sharing. Unlike with Facebook, you don't control who chooses to "follow" you, so millions of people could see what you write. That is why you're encouraged to be interesting and compelling. Think of your exposure as a benefit, not a threat.

Write engaging tweets, comment clearly on subjects on which you're an expert or have something original to say, and use key words, so that people with similar interests can find your tweets by searching for those words.

Add links to interesting articles or photos you've seen. "Retweet" postings by forwarding a posting that you find interesting to your own followers. This way, you'll become a more engaged and active member of the community. And tell your friends you're tweeting, too.

Do all of the above, and you may even be able to position yourself on Twitter as a thought leader, as your expertise attracts attention. Don't use the site for spamming, though ("I sell vacuum cleaners in Orange County for low, low prices!!!").

Step 4: Make It Fun. The key to making Twitter enjoyable is to follow a collection of people whose updates you care about. You'll soon discover that some of your friends never tweet, while some tweet way too much. You can stop following anyone who overdoes it by clicking the Remove key beside his or her name.

By mixing feeds from your favorite posters and publications, you start to get a real-time take on subjects that interest you. And on the right side of your home page, you'll see a list of Trending Topics—a look at what the Twitter world is most concerned with at this very minute. Click an entry, and you'll see tweets from all over the world on that subject. Twitter can be your constantly refreshed op-ed page.

Step 5: Make It Useful. Another way to find members who share your interests is by exploiting one of Twitter's search features. If you type the "hash" or "pound" sign (#) at the beginning of a word, your tweet will show up when someone searches for that word. If you love tennis, for example, and you're watching a Roger Federer match at Wimbledon, include "#wimbledon" or "#federer" in your tweets, and you'll soon find yourself deeply engaged with other tennis fans from around the world. You can follow them, and they can follow you.

Step 6: Get Some Help. Twitter's interface is simple and sleek, but it hides some of the site's coolest features, like the ability to post photos and to repost your tweets to your Facebook page. To uncover Twitter's gems, try a free helper program, such as TweetDeck for PCs and Macs, Tweetie for iPhones, or TwitterBerry for BlackBerries. Each program acts as a sort of Twitter dashboard, giving you control over Twitter's shadow features.

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