Tentatively I stuck one toe in, shivered, and then took a step into the freezing sea water.

“Stop being a wuss!” shouted my friend splashing around in the surf. It was OK for him. He loves swimming so much I think he has gills.

But I like to take things gradually. I’ve noticed it’s the same for many of my clients, especially around social media. If you don’t ‘get’ Twitter or have friends who keep asking you about it, here’s how to check it out without signing up.

The big secret Twitter doesn’t want you to know

Right, are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin:

You don’t have to be a Twitter user with an account to look at Twitter.

Astonishing isn’t it? From the big Log in or Sign up for Twitter buttons on twitter.com it looks to be a closed club. But at the end of the day, it’s just another website and there is a way round this.

The back door for Twitter beginners

If you type in the Twitter address for any existing account, you can bypass the front gates. So if you type www.twitter.com/inkgardener into your browser bar, you will go to my Twitter account page. But that’s not the end of the journey.

Search to your heart’s content

Type a word you’re interested in into the search box in the top right-hand corner:

Twitter - screenshot

Deciphering the drop-down box

Twitter will start being helpful right away, as soon as you start typing. I’ll use the glitter-encrusted example of the BBC show Strictly Come Dancing. When I start to type ‘strictly’ a drop-down list appears of useful links.

What does a # in front of the word mean?

This is where the word you’ve searched for has been used by others as a shortcut. Click ‘#strictlycomedancing’ and you’ll be taken to a list of messages that include this phrase.

‘#’s or hashtags can be used in lots of different ways – check out my article #confused? Unravelling hashtags on Twitter for more.

What does a square photo and a name represent?

This is a link to the name of an account which includes your search word. The most popular are at the top of the list. For example ‘BBC Strictly’.

Click this to go the account and scroll through their past messages or ‘tweets’.

What does an @ symbol mean?

This is the Twitter account name or its Twitter address. @bbcstrictly is like saying ‘The BBC Strictly Come Dancing Twitter account’ but doesn’t use up as many letters.

As Twitter only allows messages to be 280 characters long, every letter saved can be used to say something else.

Can people see what I’m looking at?

No. As you don’t have an account, it’s just like looking at a shop window.

What you can do

Have a play! Spend some time having a look around and getting a feel for Twitter. You can:

  • Click on some of the links or photos to be taken to more in-depth articles.
  • Look up your heroes and icons.
  • See what’s happening in your local area.

Decide if it’s for you.

What you can’t do

Often you’ll hear the phrase “Join the conversation” on ads which talk about Twitter. But if you’re just visiting, you:

  • can’t reply to a tweet
  • or organise who you follow into useful groups
  • have no way way to show your appreciation of a good tweet by clicking the ‘heart’ or sharing it with others by ‘re-tweeting’
  • can’t write messages to send out to the world
  • won’t be able encourage your customers to share their reviews and suggestions with you

All of these are what makes Twitter so powerful and useful, especially for businesses.

Help with the next step

I find Twitter is a great way to keep up to date with industry news and local contacts. If you trade Business to Business (B2B) it’s essential.

However if you’re nervous about signing up, I really do understand. I had to dive in at the deep end to set up Twitter without any experience. Two years later I was having a great time managing four business accounts with thousands of engaging, supportive and sometimes really funny followers.

If you’re in or around York, UK and would like some personalised coaching, please get in touch.