Joining twitter can be like joining a new high school in the middle of senior year; except this high school is 288 million students strong and your most popular classmates consist of Katy Perry and Kanye West. How do you fit in, let alone stand out or become popular in a space where the cliques are established and the popular kids are already identified? While Facebook spoon-feeds users friends, figures out where they’re from and what they like; twitter is, on the other hand, a little tricky and let’s face it: super scary.

The stats speak for themselves. Not only does Facebook drive 20x more regular traffic than twitter does, but also, according to Convince and Convert:

“While twitter is known by 87% of Americans, only 7% actually use it.”

Facebook’s ratio, by the way, is 88% to 41%. So many new twitter users sign up and give up quickly because of the confusing clutter of this super cliquey network.

But don’t fret friends; before you pack up your strategy and eat lunch alone in the bathroom stall, I’ve put together a few simple tips to help you avoid twitter’s awkward stage and start embracing the platform like the cool kid you’re destined to be.

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Know that everyone is, or was, in the same boat as you.

Everyone (except maybe celebrities) has gone through twitter’s awkward phase. No one writes tweets hoping to be ignored. Everyone is looking for a response or a retweet. That being said, your twitter strategy shouldn’t exclusively consist of crafting tweets of your own – invest an equal amount of time to responding to people who are like-minded and interested in the same things as you. You’ll gain followers in no time.

Decide what to be and go be it… but don’t be one-dimensional.

Whether you’re joining twitter as a human or a brand, conversations are taking place around the clock all over the world. It’s a little daunting, so rather than commenting on everything you see across your screen, prioritize what you most want to talk about and make sure your tweets are in line with your brand and your values. That being said, don’t just tweet about what you do – it could come across as a little inauthentic and shallow.

Check it out: From live tweeting The Walking Dead to updating her followers about local news alerts, Melissa Reid is someone who I think really rocks at being well-rounded on twitter.

Find your clique.

Like you would at a party, find people who are discussing topics you’re already interested in. This way, you’ll be able to weigh-in with your real, authentic perspective. That’s where hashtags come in. Have a favorite TV show you’re passionate about? A non-profit you believe in or a political campaign you’re on board with? Maybe you’re at an event with a live twitter feed. These are all prime opportunities to start conversations and gain lasting connections.

Give credit where credit is due.

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Just like in real life, compliments lead to lasting connections. Rather than putting everything you tweet in your perspective, tell your followers what you’ve learned from others and tag them in your tweets. Did someone you respect write a blog that taught you something? Give him/her a shout-out. Don’t be the dude who talks about himself 24/7. Give people praise and lots of times, they’ll return the favor.

Check it out: Someone whose personal brand really inspires me is Lisa Zone. She mixes pop-culture references with real-life career advice.

Kindness always trumps comedy.

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Haven’t you heard? Everyone thinks they’re comedians on twitter, and while some find lots of success with this approach, ahem, actual comedians… others just end up looking like a-holes. Most of the time, people misunderstand sarcasm unless they can read your voice and body language in real life. Just because something sounds funny to you in your head, doesn’t mean it will be well-received online. So, until you get the hang of it, keep your quips to a minimum and try to engage in real conversations with substance.

Bonus Tip: Don’t be a “Mean Girl.”

While fellow tweeters may get you really heated, remember that it’s a little childish to hide behind the mask of the internet and confront people online. If you’re trying to build a brand, think about avoiding debates… for now.

Remember: your mother-in-law, your biggest competition and your best client all have the ability to see the last thing you tweeted at any given moment.

Don’t let your emotions get the best of you and always put your best foot forward…you never know who might be watching.