January 15, 2014

Twitter 101

by Jesse Johnson

TwitterTwitter is a powerful tool that helps me stay in contact with my friends, and simultaneously helps me be influenced by Christians leaders whom I respect. It has been around long enough that it is awkward to ask how to use it if you don’t already know, because after all, doesn’t everybody already know? Nevertheless, I’ve been asked recently by a few people how (and why) to use Twitter. So today I lay out the basics of how to join, and tomorrow I’ll lay out some advice on how to get more out of it.  

What is Twitter…leading to the why:

[Allow me to say that I recognizethe nature of me writing this for new comers is going to get collective eye rolls from people—“you are writing an intro to Twitter? Are you crazy?”–Just know that I have already come to terms with your condescension, and have dismissed it summarily].

Twitter is a social media tool that as far as I can tell has two practical purposes: first, to pass on updates about what you are doing/what you think about a topic; second for passing along links to articles or blogs that you want others to read. Each update is maxed out at 140 characters (letters and spaces), so it is obviously brief. This brevity is actually what makes it effective, as you can look at updates from dozens of people relatively quickly.

This leads immediately to the why. Most people say “why in the world would I join Twitter? Isn’t that the height of arrogance to think that others care about my thoughts on something?” But this is the genius of Twitter—unlike Facebook, it is not reciprocal. So I can see, for example, what John Piper says about something without subjecting him to details about my opinion on the topic. You can choose who you read updates from, and so the only people that are reading what you post are those that choose to follow you—those that say they want to read what you post. So you are not acting arrogantly, as anyone who reads what you tweet had to ask for it.


But the real reason to join has little to do with what you actually post. The reason to join Twitter is that it can be edifying. In one place you see what your friends are reading, what blogs they are interested in, and how godly people you respect are responding to things in the news. Let me give you an example in the form of a confession: I don’t read The Gospel Coalition blog (gasp—there, I said it). But if I see a few of my friends on Twitter recommend a particular post there, then I check it out. I’m allowing myself to be exposed to only posts that others I respect have found helpful, rather than going there every day to see what’s new.

Through Twitter I can stay in touch with my friends who are pastors across the world. I see what they are preaching on every Sunday, what they are reading, and cool ministry highlights about their churches. That stuff doesn’t interest you? The same principle applies to your friends in any occupation.

So by following people that you know, and then by following pastors/authors/columnists/ politicians/organizations/whatevers that you want to expose yourself to, you increase your exposure to them and save yourself the time of tracking down their new articles or posts. It is a time saver that you can use to help your sanctification.


Where to start:

You can check out Twitter here, and just snoop around. Search for names of people you might know and read what they have posted. But to effectively use Twitter, you need to open an account here. Choose a user name (mine is jarbitro–don’t ask), and do the Twitterverse a favor and use a picture or graphic that helps people who know you identify you. It’s a form of social media, and withholding some kind of picture or graphic from your name is very anti-social. Then simply follow users you are interested in. Whenever you go to your page you will see what they have posted most recently, rather than having to chase them all down.

How to get followers:

This is sort of like making friends in school. Twitter works best when you are not trying to get friends. Be interesting by posting what you like, and those who appreciate it will end up following you. Nothing is more annoying than asking for followers, and people who do that actually let off a smell that can travel through the internet.  Don’t get offended by people who don’t follow you, even if it is your teenager. Remember: gaining followers is not really the main point. The main point is that you follow people who cause you to grow in godliness (or simply laugh) by what they post.

Three basics:

Retweets: If someone you follow has a tweet that you want to pass along to those that follow you, retweet it by pressing the retweet button below it. When you do that, it shows up on the feed of everyone who follows you but who does not already follow the person you retweeted. So if you retweet a Grace To You tweet, it will only show as your retweet to those who don’t follow it to begin with. In other words, you won’t duplicate the tweet on someone else’s feed.

Blog links: Most blog posts (like this one) have a twitter icon at the bottom. Click on that to post it your feed and to those who follow you.

Mentions: If you tweet about someone who is on twitter, or to someone on twitter, use their twitter name (aka handle) by putting  an “@” in front of it. For example, I am @jarbitro. When you do that, the person is notified that you mentioned them on Twitter, and that is one way of developing connections. Don’t be surprised if they respond, because after all, it is social media.



Books/blogs are written on this topic, but for beginners, here is the main rule: Don’t tweet about food. Seriously, stop. Food is enjoyed by eating it, not by taking a picture of it and showing it to your friends.

Beyond that, do as you see fit, post what you want, and gradually you will tailor those you follow to get the maximum benefit from it. Next week will be Twitter 102.

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • 4Commencefiring4

    As a non-user, I was hoping you would cover the “hash tag” rule because I don’t get when it’s expected or required. It seems to just show up randomly, or too often. But the biggest problem, to me, is just the name: “Twitter”–it sounds so…unserious. Somehow, I can’t see Eisenhower “Tweeting” about D-Day.

    • Next post will cover hashtags. Either tomorrow or Tuesday…

    • Linda

      “Eisenhower ‘Tweeting’ about D-Day”–LOL!
      As one who has never used Twitter, I appreciate this post. I’ll think about it. Between blogging, reading blogs, and FB, the time spent on internet sure ramps up. I wonder how much Bible study, reading of good books, or face-time with people I am then not doing that might be time better spent. The massive influx of ideas and thoughts of others and good articles and…, am I really taking the time to think? I’m not opposed to Twitter; just considering. I appreciate this post about it.

      • I so hear ya, Linda!

        And that was funny, 4C4 😀

    • From what I can tell, (for what that’s worth) the “hashtag” seems to have (at least) a twofold purpose-one to add “color” and meaning to the original text in an extremely short form; and two- to actually tag a thought/ideal/observation/(whatever) so that many others on the same “wavelength” can connect.

      Which reminds me of another observation…social media reminds me of Babel in many ways..

  • Appreciate this timely series, Jesse, thanks!

    After a year long hiatus from Facebook (and a fair certainty I won’t return) I recently made the move to Twitterville. The best benefit for me so far has been getting the latest updates from my favorite ministries, bloggers, news/weather/sports, and live traffic reports all in one place, convenient! And the varying hilarity interspersed here-and-there (was that redundant?) about the place has been a real treat as well! (subject to what/whom one chooses to follow)

    Since brevity isn’t a practice I’ve mastered in any sense of the word, another benefit I might find in twittering is being forced to learn to say more with less words (a skill I highly covet). I’ve hardly been a posting fiend in the short time I’ve been there (mostly a retweeter) but this concept could be rather helpful in my case.

    A couple observations..
    I happened to retweet the Lawson quote above, it seems strange to “reply” to an author when you simply want to bring what was said onto your feed along with words of your own. Another thing that feels awkward (coming from fb) is the “favorite” button. This seems to have taken the place of the multi-purpose “like” button where you could simply say yep, gottcha; I get that; I hear ya -or- I like what you posted. In twitter it’s all this-is-my-favorite!

    One thing I’ve found surprising and odd are the people who sort of come out of the virtual woodwork to “follow” me. Most have many thousands of followers/followings and I have wondered aloud “who are, these people??” (cue Seinfeld), and how in the virtual world did my teensy corner of the twittersphere appear amongst the multitudes? Such is the nature of these things I guess.

    The non-reciprocal aspect of twitter is an interesting paradox of human (non)interaction..being kind of needy and yet vanting to be left alone, I find this somewhat awesome in it’s no-need-for-interactiony-ness and somewhat left wanting in the same vein.

    Coming from fb I too have always disliked food posts (unless it’s a good dish with a recipe included)..and the constantly updated selfie; the TMI posts (hellooo??!!) and, and…(stop the inanity!)

    Oh – and yes, shilling for followers is downright tacky!


  • After I finished rolling my eyes………. 😉 LOL, seriously just kidding on that!!! I actually enjoyed this lighthearted post. I have been avoiding twitter for six years now because it just didn’t make sense to me but I will consider it as well. Thanks!

  • Ray Adams

    Helpful. Thank you. I see genuine benefit not previously understood.

  • Hashtag Queen

    #pigsfly #jesseiscracra #lovecripplegate


  • Andrew

    check out my pics on this great burrito I just ate!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Oh, wait. Nevermind.

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