Twitter is an amazing public resource, and has grown from a niche micro-blogging website into a valued communication tool that is often the worldwide source for breaking news. Anyone can set up and use Twitter, and sometimes it seems like everyone already has.

The basic premise of only having 140 characters with which to say something has become something of an art form for some users – depending on who you decide to follow on Twitter, your timeline will be filled with jokes, news, links, pictures and (typically) arguments.

The service is gradually allowing users more room for what they want to say, removing photos and URLs from the standard 140-character limit in first tweets and now also replies. And it has increased the video time limit from 30 seconds to 140 seconds.

But Twitter remains a confusing place for those new to Tweeting. We break down the basics of Twitter and its features to provide you with a guide to one of the world’s most used online resources.

Here is our separate step by step guide to setting up a Twitter account, and don’t forget to follow PC Advisor on Twitter.

Twitter’s basic rules

Tweets are 140-character messages. You can send as many as you want as often as you want, and anyone else on Twitter who chooses to ‘follow’ you will see these tweets appear in their timeline.

Your Twitter timeline displays the tweets from all the accounts you follow in the chronological order in which they were tweeted. You can follow as few or as many accounts as you like.

Accounts can be run by anyone from your mates to corporate enterprises. So for every debatably hilarious meme your mate posts, it could end up appearing next to a Microsoft advertising tweet.

Remember that anyone can see a tweet – even someone doesn’t follow you, they can go to your account and view your tweets.

You can change yours setting so that your tweets are viewed only by the followers you approve. This goes against the point of Twitter, but if you want to, there’s an option to do so.

What is a hashtag?

A hashtag is a simple way to tag your tweets with a relevant word or phrase: just don’t use spaces. So if you want to tweet about the Samsung Galaxy S7, for example, you’d have to put #samsunggalaxys7

If you hashtag something in this way, you can click on it and view all the other tweets from around the world that have used that hashtag. If a certain hashtag is used often enough at the same time, it will ‘trend’ on Twitter. Read up about trends further down.

This is a tweet to a brand, so probably won’t get a reply (unless you’re lucky!). Using @ tags is the way on Twitter to start a conversation with people or join in on a popular conversation with people you don’t necessarily have to be following.

You can tag other Twitter users in your tweets, which will notify that person or account that you’ve tweeted them. For example:

Replies, retweets and likes

You can reply to any tweet directly, but email etiquette doesn’t apply here – you might not get a reply! You can also retweet others’ tweets, which will in turn appear on your followers’ timelines.

This is a good way to spread the word about news or share a good tweet without drafting a tweet yourself.

Another way to interact with a tweet is to like it, by clicking on the little heart that’s in every tweet when it’s read. This is next to the icons to reply and retweet.

There’s also three little dots – click on them and you’re given more options on how to interact with the tweet.

How to tweet

We don’t want to be patronising here, so we’ll keep it brief. A tweet can be anything at all – a status-like update like on Facebook for example:

Once you’re logged into Twitter, simply click on the blue ‘Tweet’ icon and you are faced with the composition box. This is where you can type in your tweet, and also the option to add an image, location, GIF or poll.

How to tweet an image

Adding an image restricts the number of characters you can use in your written message, the number remaining for you to type is displayed next to the ‘Tweet’ button that you will click to send your tweet.

On a computer, you’ll have to find and save the image you want to tweet first, before clicking the camera icon to search your hard drive for it.

How to tweet video

Twitter now lets you tweet up to 140 seconds of video. Simply press the camera icon under the new tweet field and then choose the camcorder icon. Press and hold the red button to record.

How to add a location to a tweet

Adding a location is handy if you are somewhere and tweeting about that place, like if you want to tweet a picture of the huge dinosaur at the Natural History Museum.

If you’re tweeting from your mobile, the GPS in your phone will help you find locations nearby. Simply click the location pin icon.