If you are new to Twitter, or about to teach someone how to tweet for the first time (Hi, Mom!) you might not know, or remember, the basics of using Twitter as a social network. Twitter has evolved over the last few years and has become a place to share details of your life in 140 characters or less (that’s the limit of each tweet), interesting links, tell the world about your latest BM, express disbelief about celebrity gossip, and engage in discussion with other Twitter users. Here are a few basic tips, tricks, and basic etiquette for Twitter beginners.

Update your profile
Make sure you upload a photo of your pretty smiling face and update your bio. You can change your Twitter bio or update your profile photo anytime from the “Profile” tab of your Twitter account settings. Having a picture of you helps make you more recognizable on Twitter when you tweet, and a bio helps people get to know you better. An updated bio on Twitter also helps other Twitter users find you if they search for other people with similar interests. For example, if you like coffee and wine, make sure you include these in your bio; you might meet other coffee lovers, too!

learn how to retweet if you are new to twitterRetweet interesting tweets
Twitter features the ability to “retweet” someone else’s tweet to share with your own followers. If you’re familiar with Facebook, this is similar to Facebook’s “share” button. If you want to retweet a tweet you find interesting with your followers, just hover over the tweet and click the “Retweet” link that appears underneath the tweet. It will automatically be retweeted for you. No copying or pasting necessary.

Give credit
If you copy and paste someone else’s tweet, or reword it into your own, give credit to the original Twitter user for the original tweet. A good way to do this is addending the tweet with either via (if you changed it into your own words) or h/t (“heard through”). This one is used less commonly but is useful when you just heard the source from someone else.

Use mentions
Twitter allows you to include other twitter users as part of a discussion by including them in your tweet with an @mention. To write a new tweet that includes another Twitter user, by name, in context, just start typing @ followed by the Twitter user’s name. A drop down list will appear with the Twitter users you are following to help you fill in the names you want to mention. Mentioning other Twitter users in conversation helps alert them that you are talking about them or want their input, which can start conversations.

If someone mentions you in a Tweet, take the time to reply to their tweet with your thoughts — even if you disagree! Just be courteous and remember that anyone can see what you tweet, as Twitter is a public Web site. If you want to try to keep a conversation private, you can use the direct message feature. To send a direct message, click on a Twitter user’s name to visit their profile and click on the “Message” button. Note that they will have to be following you to receive a DM from you.

Use a link shortener
If you are tweeting about interesting blog posts, news stories, or celebrity gossip, you may want to link to these Web sites. Twitter does not shorten the link for you, which can waste valuable space. Bookmark Bit.ly in your browser, then use this URL shortening app to shorten links you want to use in Twitter. Bit.ly is a very self-explanatory tool, which is useful for maximizing space when you tweet.

Before you start tweeting into nothingness, take a few days to follow interesting people and the people they find interesting (e.g., the people they follow). Read their tweets to get a better understanding of what they’re tweeting and talking about, then hop into the pool. Even then, you shouldn’t feel a need to reply to everything you read. A few valuable and insightful tweets or replies will be much more meaningful than a spray of what will otherwise look like spam.

If you’re ready to get started on Twitter, visit Twitter.com and sign up. Once you’ve gotten the hang of things, you may also want to consider setting up lists, how to use hashtags on Twitter, and how to see if someone is following you on Twitter.