You may have heard about Mastodon, you may have read about my first 10-day experience, or you may wonder how the heck you’ll ever leave Twitter. In any of these cases (or others), I’m happy to share my tips for getting started on the Fediverse.
You’ll need to set up an account on an available server. You can go to joinmastodon.org and select one in a theme or category that interests you. No matter which you choose, you can still see content from other people on other servers. And, you can always change later.
Just as with other social platforms, personalize your account! Focus on these areas to start off with:
- Upload a photo or avatar and create a header (it will be downsized to 1500×500).
- On your bio, get creative and use hashtags of topics that interest you.
- You can also add four metadata items. These can include your location or region, a website, and/or your pronouns.
- Under your profile, you can also add feature hashtags for those interests you post about the most. On mine, I have nonprofits, fundraising and philanthropy. It helps other find your content quickly.
- Another great tip: under Preferences > Appearance, you can choose Mastodon light, dark or high contrast theme. I started with the dark as the default but discovered light and love it so much more.
The button for publishing a post is no longer called a “toot.” About mid-November, the software developer and founder decided to use a word more familiar to users. You may still see references to the term and some use of the hashtag #BringBackTheToot. But I believe that all instances now use the word “publish.”
Introduce yourself and pin this to the top of your feed. You don’t have to do an introduction post right away. I waited for a few days to get familiar with the platform before posting mine, which you can see here. If you’re not sure what to post, simply search the #introduction hashtag for some ideas. I’d recommend checking the intro hashtag regularly to connect with others. As one user said “Follow, follow, follow. Interact with random people and enjoy the magic happening from that.“
Since the community is the algorithm on Mastodon, boosting is the highest form of “currency.” Without it, posts can become dead pretty quickly. Sometimes I just log in to boost a few things I find interesting to keep the feeds and the conversation strong. How to boost? Just click the double arrow in a square button at the bottom of any post.
Hashtags and Camel Case
Much like the early days of social before algorithms and ads, hashtags are an integral way that users find content. The Mastodon community is very thoughtful about accessibility so if your hashtag is more than one word, use initial caps, or “camel case” so that screen readers can easily translate. An example would be #GivingTuesday or #PollOfTheDay.
Still not convinced? Imagine a screen reader saying “I’m interested in hashtag sunsets and love hashtag photography but while at hashtag [unrecognizable: universityofvirginia] I discovered hashtag beaches hashtag starfish hashtag scuba and hashtag sandcrabs and have hashtag [unrecognizable: neverbeenthesame].” Yuck! How is that helpful?
Also, use in-text hashtags sparingly. Try to put them all at the end. Image how much more effective the above post would be if all the hashtags were at the end of the post!
Alt Text on Images
With accessibility in mind, it’s imperative that you create alt text on your photos. Lots of blind users have enjoyed using Mastodon because the thoughtful alt text that makes their experience so much more rich and rewarding. It’s polite, it’s respectful, and it’s necessary. And it’s very easy. After uploading your photo, just click “Edit” to add a description.
Check out this “It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it can be” example.
Yes! You can edit your posts if you make a mistake. If you forget alt text, simply remove the photo, re-upload it, and edit at will.
A content warning, or content wrapper as some users refer it, means that you put your post behind a sensitivity notice. Again, with no policing of the content, it’s up to the users to decide what is sensitive. As Mastodon is a safe space for everyone, a CW doesn’t necessarily mean adult content or violence. It is designed to protect marginalized communities from triggering or oppressive content, it helps make the timeline more concise, and allows others to choose what they see so they can easily opt out. This can be a little intimidating (it was for me) until I saw one user say: if it doesn’t elicit a smile, put a CW on it.
CWs can include the following:
- Food content for those with eating disorders
- Alcohol images or references for those with addictions
- Eye contact for those with types of autism or neurodivergent sensitivities
- Flashing images for those with epilepsy
- Anything related to mental health, abuse, or suicide
- Anything related to panic-inducing fears: spiders, snakes, horror movies, guns
- Many recommend anything related to politics or the “bird-site”
- People (especially white people) should be sensitive to their posts on racial issues. See a full post here about creating a safe space for all users, particularly BIPOC and marginalized communities. This is also an excellent example of a post with a CW in which you have to “See More” to view the entire post.
Just Try It!
This all may seem overwhelming and intimidating, but just try it! You don’t have to post anything when you first join. Check out the hashtags #FediTips, #newbie, #NewbieQuestion, or #YouAreTheAlgorithm to get familiar with the experience.
I have found my experience to be so fulfilling compared to the other platforms where I see the same ads and the same brand accounts over and over. Every time I log in there is something new and fascinating. It’s pure joy.
If you’ve recently joined (or have been a long-time user), let me know your experience! Send me a note.