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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

How to use Twitter

Twitter has become a global phenomenon. Part social network, part micro-blogging service, Twitter allows users to broadcast text messages to the world – just as long as they use 140 characters or less!

After it was launched in 2006, Twitter picked up a steady stream of members before exploding in 2009. Estimates of the number of people using the service on a regular basis vary widely but the site had over 60 million visitors a month at the end of last year, with nearly one-third of them coming from the U.S.

Despite its early reputation as a celebrity gimmick and poor publicity resulting from a series of technical hiccups, Twitter appears to be growing in relevance. Dozens of companies use Twitter to network about their products and you can find good advice and useful commentary on practically anything.

Twitter is also finding its feet on the world stage. It played an important role in keeping communications open during last year's elections in Iran, and only last week it played a vital role in letting the world know what was happening in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.

So, maybe now is a good time to jump on the bandwagon and start Tweeting yourself. Here's how to get started:

  1. Log on to http://twitter.com and click on Sign up now.
  2. Establish your Twitter account by filling in the appropriate information and choosing a Username. (Twitter will tell you if your username is already taken.)
  3. Confirm your account by clicking on the link in the confirmation e-mail that Twitter sends you.
  4. Twitter can check your e-mail accounts – Gmail, Yahoo or AOL – to see if you have friends and acquaintances who already using the service. It's a great way to let people know you are on Twitter and pick up some friendly followers.
  5. Start tweeting! Compose a message in the What's happening? box – must be 140 characters or less – and away you go!

Some additional tips:

  • Don't forget to fill out all the information under Settings. It will help people find you and tell them more about you.
  • Use the Find People search box to look for people that you are interested in following – TV shows, celebrities, organizations. A constant stream of incoming tweets is the best way to get a feel for how to use the service.
  • Remember, if you just follow celebrities you might not build a following of your own. (Oprah may be less interested in you than you are in her: She has over 3 million followers but follows less than 20!) Follow ordinary but interesting people as well.
  • Take time to customize your home page and add a good photo. An attractive Twitter page is one of the best ways to build a following.
  • Once you build a little traffic, you might want to download a Twitter-management software package like TweetDeck to help you organize your incoming and outgoing tweets. (TweetDeck is free!)
  • Stick at it! Keep on tweeting – if you take the time to tweet regularly, you will build a following. Besides, if you follow people wisely, you will be in on all the breaking news and will be guaranteed to learn something interesting every single day!

Remember – unless you check the Protect my tweets box under Settings, your tweets may be publicly visible through the major search engines. Protecting your tweets will make sure they are only visible to your followers.

And finally, don't forget to follow The Online Mom!

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