Your first reaction to Twitter will probably be to ask, "What the heck is this?" I like to describe Twitter as a combination of a blog and an instant messenger. Twitter gives you the opportunity to build a community and interact with them like never before.
Sounds daunting, doesn't it? But have no fear. Here are some easy things you can do to get started:
1. Fill out your profile. Put a picture in there. Enter your hometown. Enter a link to your personal homepage.
2. Do some searches on Search.Twitter.com for key words: your hometown, the Chicago Tribune, of course, a big issue in your town -- whatever. See who's talking about them.
3. Post a Tweet or two. Say you're new to Twitter and are looking for some cool people to follow. To post links, use a URL-shortening service like Tr.im, Plurl.me, Zi.ma, etc. Your Tweets must be fewer than 140 characters in length, so URL shorteners are your friend.
Also, As Martha Stewart would say, self-editing is a good thing. Twitter's not the place to be long winded.
4. Remember those folks you saw in your Twitter searches? Find a couple to "follow." Just click the little "follow" box under the person's profile.
5. If someone who is obviously not a spammer follows you, send them a private message thanking them for the follow. This builds Twitter goodwill. (NOTE: Send someone a private message by going to their profile and clicking "message." Send a public message to someone by typing in your Tweet, "@NAME Your message.")