What Twitter Is and How to Start Tweeting

By Corbin HartwickUpdated on April 18, 2019

Most modern people tend to lead very busy lives. That can sometimes make it difficult to keep track of current events or let the people we care about know what we’re up to. What’s needed is a platform where people can read or broadcast short, rich pieces of information quickly and frequently. What was created for that purpose was Twitter.com, a service that’s part short-form online journal, part social network.

So what exactly is Twitter?

Twitter is a short-form online journal (“blog”) service. What makes Twitter unique is that each entry in your blog can only contain up to 140 characters. This makes it ideal for short, frequent updates. Despite these limitations, you can include pictures, hyperlinks, or even videos in your posts.

Twitter allows people to post updates of where they are, what they’re doing, or what they’re interested in. Because each post can only contain 140 characters, most people post frequently and get right to the point. This allows you to post need-to-know information quickly so your friends and family can get an idea of what’s going on in your life at this moment. A lot of other users (including celebrities, corporations, and other organizations) do so, too, so you can be in the know when their next big development happens.

How Twitter works

Sign up for a account, create a profile, and then just start “tweeting.” You only have 140 characters with which to make a message on Twitter, so be brief! Not to worry, though: 140 characters is enough to accommodate pictures, hyperlinks, or even videos (if you’re using its mobile app)!

Twitter tweet

Twitter uses a system called “hashtags” (words, abbreviations, or phrases preceded by the “#” symbol) that let people organize their posts. You can use this system to see what the popular topics on Twitter are. It might even lead you to important news updates!

Twitter hashtags

If you want to make one of your posts about someone in particular, you can “mention” them by adding an “@” symbol before their user name (e.g. “@barackobama”). This will make the post show up on your blog, and on their blog as well. You can also send a “direct message” to another user if you want to discuss something with them, but don’t want to share it with people who may be following your activities.

Those are the basic functions of Twitter. We’ve got plenty of step-by-step tutorials on how to use these features in our free Twitter course, so consider checking out some other useful articles such as how to tweet, how to re-tweet, and how to tweet a video.

8 Reasons to start using Twitter:

1. Keep up with the activities of friends and family.

Have a conversation with your friends via Twitter. Set up your next lunch date, or comment on how much fun you had together the night before.

2. Ask a question to the world.

Have a question that you just can’t find the answer to? Send it out as a tweet into the Twitter universe and wait for a response. The more followers you have, the more responses you’ll get.

3. Keep up with the buzz.

Use the search function to type in a movie title, band name, sports team, or anything else you’re interested in to see what people are saying about it.

4. Follow your interests.

Twitter has achieved widespread use among celebrities and brands, so following those that you like allows you to see what they’re up to next or what they have to say.

5. Share your opinion.

Got something on your mind? Go ahead and share it on Twitter! Lots of people use Twitter for just that purpose.

6. Stay up-to-date on current events.

Can’t get access to a TV for the six o’clock news? How about the hockey game you’ll be missing? No problem. By following news stations and sports teams on Twitter, you’ll get a play-by-play of current events, so you’ll never miss a minute. You can even follow an airline to see if your flight may be cancelled due to inclement weather.

7. Get better customer support from companies with Twitter accounts.

If you have an issue with a company’s service, but don’t feel like waiting on hold forever to speak to someone, post a tweet on their account. Many companies now have an account, and will respond quickly to a problem if you post it there. As an added bonus, since Twitter is by-and-large public, the company will likely want to resolve your problem quickly in order to uphold its reputation.

8. See what is currently trending.

Find out what the world is talking about. With a “trending” section on Twitter, you’ll see the most popular topics that thousands of people are talking about.

Is Twitter safe?

Twitter is as safe to use as any social networking website, and most users have great experiences with no safety issues. However, some things to watch out for on Twitter include profiles that are fraudulent or that impersonate others (e.g. celebrities), scams run through users direct messaging you on Twitter, and users accessing others’ accounts without permission.

So long as protect your account with a secure password, and are wary of profiles that may not actually be who they say they are (especially those appearing as celebrities or public figures), you should be able to use Twitter with no safety issues. Just be sure to report any user who posts inappropriate content.

How much does Twitter cost?

Twitter is free to sign up for and use. You are never required to provide your financial information, or make a payment to any Twitter employee or user. Twitter makes its money through advertising and data licensing (selling user information), which you give it permission to do when joining.

The history of Twitter, and why it’s so popular

Twitter was founded in California in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams. It has quickly become one of the most visited websites in the world, ranking as one of the top 20 most popular websites on the Internet. The platform currently has more than 310 million active users each month, with hundreds of millions of tweets being published each day.

Twitter is so popular because of its unique character limit on posts, which forces users to be brief and clever with their writing. This limitation often results in people posting “tweets” more often, which allows people to keep in touch with friends and family, follow the actions of celebrities and public figures, and stay informed on global trends and events — all on a more immediate basis than ever.

Twitter terminology




The act of submitting a post to Twitter.

RT or Retweet

Forwarding someone else’s tweet to all of your followers.

@ (Mention)

Sending a public message to a user by following with their username (eg. @johnsmith). If you mention a user, they will receive a notification.

# (Hashtag)

Marks keywords or topics in a tweet (e.g. #yummyfood). If a search is done on a hashtag you’ve used, your tweet will be a part of the results.


The act of automatically keeping track of someone’s tweets. When you follow someone, they will be notified and their tweets will show up in your Home Timeline.


The current most popular hashtags on Twitter.


Messages you receive when someone follows you or mentions you in a tweet.

TL or Timeline

An automatically-updating list of tweets from users or topics you follow.

Direct Message

A private message sent by a Twitter user to one or more of their followers.


Twitter + Universe = Twitterverse. A shorthand for the entirety of content on Twitter.


"Overheard" or "Real Life Retweet." Indicates the tweet is something the user heard someone say in their day-to-day life.


"Follow Fridays." Indicates a time period during Fridays where users recommend new users and topics to follow.


"Today I Learned." Indicates a tweet containing a fact the user learned that day (e.g. 'TIL that the average pasta size is 480% larger than recommended.').

Twitter competitors

Though no website compares to Twitter’s user base, there are a few alternatives to Twitter out there that can give you a similar experience. One of the most popular is Tumblr.com, a simple but widely popular website for creating online journals (i.e. web logs or “blogs”). There’s also Plurk.com, a Taiwan-based site very similar to Twitter. Soup.io is another popular blogging website that makes posting images, links, and files easy.

That’s what Twitter is and how it works in a nutshell, but there’s a lot more that we can tell you in the rest of our course on Twitter. Consider checking some of our step-by-step tutorials out, including how to create an account, how to Tweet on, or who to follow on Twitter.