I was like most people when I first heard about Twitter; I didn’t get it and I was dismissive. I said things like, “Oh, this is like AIM, only you’re broadcasting to EVERYONE on the planet.” “What’s with this character restriction… 140 characters?” “This is crap.” Then I realized that it was tied to standard mobile texting character limits. “OK cool, but I really don’t get this Web interface, and why are they asking for my mobile number?”
Life happens, and Twitter moved on without me, time passing by as Twitter’s user base just kept growing. I started to come around slowly. First I put it on my Blackberry. Then I played with Tweetdeck and got immersed in its Matrixlike view of the public consciousness.I got busy filtering for keywords, and I realized I was looking at news and information almost in real time. It was slightly addicting watching this stream of thoughts go by, processing breaking information that I normally would read about online or see on the evening news several hours later. The power of Twitter began to sink in.
“I can use this to research a topic and get timely information, and even tap into public opinion to form a consensus.”
Around this time, I was reading a lot of articles about how social media was a critical promotional and networking tool for anyone that wasn’t a dinosaur. I even read about Dell computer’s recent 6.5 million Twitter strategy that was considered a great success. This is, of course, after they publicly mentioned they’ve made 3 million off Twitter since ’07 earlier in the year. I took notice.
I decided I was wrong-headed about the subject initially, and jumped on Twitter seriously in late October of 2009 adding it to my toolset of online media channels. I was in the planning stages for this blog and it just made sense.
It’s now 4 months later and by observing the rules and guidelines I mention below, by the end of 2010 I should have 3,000 Twitter followers. Sure, that’s conservative by some standards but that’s plenty for me. Racking up a big follower list isn’t so important to me as is finding new people to interact with and learn from.
I’ve compiled this list from lessons learned so far. Some of this is old news to Twitter veterans, but I get asked all of the time for advice about Twitter. So, I threw this together to help the conversation.
Here is my quick list on how to use Twitter effectively:
1. Hunt for your crowd
We like people that have common interests and if you’re a fan of somebody, a hobbyist or a company, you’re looking for a certain audience. One of the ways I find people to follow and hopefully follow me back is by finding what I call “touch points” or connections. Looking for geeks? Explore the followers of SlashDot. Looking for Flash developers, check out the followers of FlashMoto, etc.. Just like a lion that waits by a watering hole, hunt for friends where there are basic common needs of a community.
Here’s a great post by John Jantsch entitled “7 Insanely Useful Ways to Search Twitter for Marketing” that expands upon this topic. He explores filtering your searches to find the crowd you’re looking for on Twitter.
2. Mind your manners, and avoid TMI
Some people use Twitter as if it’s a personal AIM account, but they should be mindful that if their tweets are public (and possibly even if they’re private), we’re all in the room with you. Ranting about your football team’s loss, your job or your personal life might make you look like a narcissistic child to people who don’t know you — except, of course, if you’re a celebrity and you make money doing it. I personally don’t tweet anything I wouldn’t say to someone’s face or in front of a client.
Of course, by now we’ve seen the effects of “too much information” being shared on a Twitter feed. Some examples are: Kim Kardashian outing an Air Marshal while she sat next to him on a plane and the college football player that ended his career by sharing that he had a mysterious source of income and inordinate amounts of cash handy.
3. Don’t be a content “bait and switcher”
Tweeting “link lists” of things is a popular thing. This post is a perfect example of a list. However, some Twitter users have taken to LAME behavior, and put up “shell blog sites” (no real original content) and regularly stick them in between you (as the follower) and the list content (what you want to read) as an interstitial (e.g. “here’s a list” link on my Twitter feed —>you arrive at the site saying “here’s a list” link with ads and all kinds of garbage —> the REAL site with the list content) People that do this, suck. Hard. Integrity means something; don’t lose it for a minor bump in site traffic. Yes, you know who you are. What you’re tweeting isn’t original so eventually you’re just going to lose followers.
4. Respond to interaction, and follow back
If someone is directing a query @you, or retweets you, or references your feed, you should respond. Sometimes you miss something. Of course that happens, but even if your response is not timely, people will appreciate some acknowledgment. When someone follows you it’s nice to follow them back. It’s not necessary but it’s a sign of good manners. I tend to examine my follower list and try to check out if they’re a real person before I do that.
5. #FollowFriday or #FF
This is a great way to find new feeds you might like. Twitter users share feeds they like, or think should get more love by first starting with the hash mark #FollowFriday or #FF then listing users. This is done every Friday as a community.
6. Trending topics
Participate in timely trending topics. Sometimes this results in traffic back to your feed by people who may be curious about you. The Oscars are coming up this weekend. No doubt that will be a trending topic and maybe you’ll find some movie-going friends or followers.
7. Lists and Listorious.com
Lists are a relatively new feature on Twitter and help showcase the things that you’re personally into. Being known as a curator of a good list is a nice way to get street cred, like being a reviewer on Amazon or Ebay. Here’s one of my favorite lists on Listorious: jQuery curated by Paul Wallace.
8. Be relevant
Between Digg.com, Delicious, and Google Alerts you can find something highly relevant to your interests and “meaty” for the followers of your feed to talk about. Mundane stuff only works if you’re really brilliant at it like Conan O’Brian. I’m sure you’ve heard how his feed exploded with followers once he signed up.
9. Avoid spammers
They’re everywhere and especially in your direct message inbox. Do not click ANY link that looks like an advertisement without testing it under high security settings or Googling the service first. There are things you can do to combat the spam, like using a validation service. They can stop spammers from following you but they can only cut down on the DM’s; you’ll have to manually “drop” or ban the spammer via your followers list. As with emails, never click a suspicious link from an unknown source. I’m currently evaluating TrueTwit to cut down on the spam direct messages.
10. Automation, apps and flooding your feed
There’s a whole culture of third-party applications based on Twitter.
One of the issues that pops up for me in regard to “apps” is that some of the people whom I follow use automated services that can flood feeds with posts in rapid succession. This tends to dominate the “conversation.” Usually you can tweak your settings to not “vomit” all over your followers. People will realize it’s not a real person that just tweeted 10 entries in a row in 3.6 seconds. Besides, you’re just adding to Twitter’s maintenance problems by chewing up their bandwidth with this kind of nonsense. Services like SocialOmmph and HootSuite allow you to time your Twitter posts in a schedule. I have a few people that flood my feed and I hate it, but they provide interesting tweets so I tolerate it. On the flip side, use automation to keep your feed alive when you get busy or want to appear engaged when you have to step away.
11. Use short user names and link shorteners
You have 140 characters,and that space becomes valuable when you’re trying to make a point or re-tweet someone. An example of a popular link shortener is Bit.ly. Bit.ly is cool because they provide an archive of your shortened links for you to examine at your leisure with a reasonable level of analytics you might find useful. It’s also native in some third party apps. Feedburner , Google’s RSS service that posts to your feed for you, uses Goo.gl shorter and Hootsuite has its own called Ow.ly.
12. Don’t solicit people with your widgets or services
It’s possible via automation to send spam about whatever you’re up to in a “welcome” direct message when someone first follows you. There’s a serious problem with this — they didn’t ask for your spam. Your customers want to be reached on their terms, not yours. Twitter is highly intimate and contextual, so you’re basically being rude, barging into their virtual personal space and waving marketing materials in their face and interrupting their day.
Look Rudolph, no one cares that you’re at the laundromat. Use this for stuff we want to hear about – sharing about parties, events, or favorite eating spots that we can go to ourselves. Then we will appreciate participating in your reindeer games. Also be careful about announcing your where-abouts to the whole world especially if it can compromise your safety or your property.
14. Watch your back
Twitter is great for corporate espionage, as in keeping tabs on the competition and what they publicly announce. It’s also a great way to keep tabs on your own reputation online.
Just as recruiters advise to regularly Google yourself and address negative information, so too should you do this on Twitter. Check your @replies and references regularly to make sure you nip problems in the bud early, or encourage praise.
15. Be yourself
Even if you think you have nothing to say, you’re wrong. You have likes and dislikes, and you’re an authority on something even if it’s 80’s TV stars, Hello Kitty collectibles, or vintage video games. You can certainly weave yourself an online persona that has a place in some niche sub-culture. Just be yourself and people will find you.
16. Brand your profile page
Everything from your Twitter profile page background to your Twitter icon is scrutinized. If you care at all about first impressions, put in the same effort into setting up your Twitter account as you did into your resume. It’s also been said that using a nice photo of yourself as your icon is preferable; it helps to make you seem more “real” to your Twitter followers.
Granted, many Twitter users access feeds from mobile devices, but trust me if they’re considering doing business with you, it’s highly likely they’re googling you and reviewing any public information about you. I personally do really quick assessments based on available information, and a Twitter page tells me a lot about you…
My advice is that if you need help with your “presentation,” kick it up a notch and ask for referrals for a designer and a photographer (shameless plug for the wife). If you’re doing a portrait, go with quality. It counts.
Bringing it all together
Your compliance with these guidelines speaks volumes about you, and sets off a chain reaction of assumptions that will be made by people who don’t know you personally. Granted not everyone uses Twitter the same way. But, people who are consider associating themselves with you for any reason are accessing all kinds of data about you to make a decision if it’s a good idea or not.
You don’t want what you’re doing in your social media channels to undermine the message you’re sharing with people in person.
You can even manipulate this to your advantage, of course, by using your appearance in your social media channels to support your story. For example, you may want your profile to APPEAR as if it were a personal account (e.g. as part of a viral ad campaign), a small start-up, a BIG corporation, or a collective of people that share a feed ON PURPOSE. But, it should be your choice what that communicates to your audience, not general ineptness.
Tell me what you think of the list. One Love.-C.
Add your own tips in the comments. I’m here to learn and I’d love to hear them.
1. Here’s a fun tool that gives your Twitter profile a grade.
2. 50 Cool Twitter Profile pages courtesy of Indeziner.com.
3. 100 Fantastic Twitter profiles for your Inspiration from Splashology.com.
4. 5 Mistakes to Never Make on Twitter courtesy of American Express’ Open Forum.
5. Here’s a post by Margaret Mason from 2008 on polite Twitter etiquette.
6. You rebels will enjoy this post about breaking Twitter etiquette rules by Robert Scroble in 2007.