Some people have derided Social Media as a "time suck." My belief is that if you feel this way, you're doing it wrong, unless your goal in Social Media is to kill time (and if it is, then stop complaining about the "time suck").
Certainly, it's easy to get sucked into Twitter debates, Facebook quizzes, viral videos, and the like. While a certain amount of random surfing and inconsequential discussion can be fun and even vital for creating personal connections, these are the sorts of habits that can overwhelm one's time and get in the way of successful Social Media participation.
The key is to know what your goal is--do you merely want to get closer to family and friends, promote a brand, or advance your career? If you know your goal, then it is less likely you'll get waylaid by frivolous activities such as the "Five Things I'm Usually Wearing" quiz on Facebook. (The only reason I am even remotely interested in this quiz is that I may de-friend anyone whose list does not include underwear.)
Twitter doesn't have all the diversions of Facebook (which is probably why its adoption rate is higher among older, busier, and more professional people). Still, Twitter can be overwhelming and distracting. If you know your goal, wish to enjoy and create success on Twitter, and are looking for some assistance with helpful and productive habits, here are my suggestions for Twitter in just 20 minutes per day:
Three Minutes Fives Times a Day: Monitoring, Dialog, & SharingWhen it comes to Twitter, real success requires a certain amount of monitoring and vigilance. Since Twitter is such a real-time form of communications, it can help if you constantly keep Twitter open in your browser or via your mobile phone. I'm not suggesting you stare at Twitter 24/7, but it can be beneficial to have your Twitter feed instantly available for whenever you have a minute or two free and can glance at what is happening in the world and with your followers.
This sort of constant availability is not for everyone. For those who can't afford or don't want to stay in touch with this sort of persistence, my recommendation is to find three minutes five times a day. In that three minutes, you should:
- Sign into Twitter or your favorite Twitter tool.
- Check recent tweets in your friend feed. Look for one or two that are interesting and pertinent, and retweet or reply to them. If your friends retweet or reply to someone you don't know, consider adding that person to your follow list.
- Check your @replies. If someone directed a question to you and is awaiting a response, reply immediately. If someone mentioned you in a positive manner or retweeted something you shared, thank them with a private DM. And if someone retweeted or replied to you who is not yet in your follower list, consider adding them.
- Check your Direct Messages. Respond as appropriate.
- Tweet--Share something!
The "three minutes five times a day" habit helps you to be responsive, engaged, and available on Twitter.
As I've done in the past, I'd recommend HootSuite as a terrific site to help you manage your essential Twitter tasks. On a single page, you can set up columns to view your friend feed, replies, and direct responses. HootSuite will keep this information constantly updated, which facilitates easy and efficient access to vital Twitter communications throughout the day. If you go dark for an hour or more, HootSuite will snooze, but you can wake it up and update all of your columns with one click.
It's important that you not only listen but also contribute. Twitter doesn't ask you "What are you doing?" for nothing. So, what are you doing? Share something about yourself or something you find interesting and relevant.
Again, keep your goal in mind. If all you want to do is keep in touch with friends, then Twittering about being stuck in a lousy meeting might be fine (provided your boss isn't following you) and might even spark some supportive dialog. If, however, your goal is to advance your career, then complaining about meetings may be counterproductive.
My primary goal with my Twitter account is professional, so one of my habits is to share interactive and social media news as I read it. If I find something interesting in an article, my followers might find it interesting as well, so I tweet. (I can be confident I am sharing news and opinion that is of interest because people frequently retweet and reply to my posts, and because HootSuite tells me that my links are clicked around 2,800 times each month.)
If you don't have anything to share right this moment, then think about asking a question. Some folks consider Twitter a "Social Search Engine" because of its power to gather information and opinions from a large number of people very quickly. Want to know the best restaurant in an area, which Twitter application is right for your phone, or the keystroke to insert a link into a Word document? Ask it on Twitter, and if you have enough followers, the answer will be delivered within minutes.
Five Minutes: Searches, Introductions, and Expanding Your Follower List
A decade ago, people who created Web sites started paraphrasing the movie Field of Dreams; they found, "If you build it, they won't come." It wasn't enough simply to have a site--you needed to promote it, link to it, email about it, maximize the site's visibility in search engines, and put the URL in printed material.
The same is true on Twitter--the fact you created a Twitter profile and tweet occasionally doesn't mean that people will find you and that your follower list will grow. Those using Twitter for professional reasons or on behalf of their employer will likely want to expand their spheres of influence; doing so means seeking out others, engaging in dialog with people you aren't already following, and following new people. (The best way to gain new followers is to follow others, most of whom are likely to reciprocate.)
You can begin to find new people to follow (and encourage others to follow you) with just five minutes a day. You cannot do all of the following tasks in just five minutes, but if you pick one each day and try another the following day, you will steadily and appropriately build your Twitter list:
- Conduct a search for pertinent terms within Tweets, find relevant discussions, engage in dialog, and follow the Twitterers you find intriguing. You can conduct a search for your topics of interest, your brand, or your site on Twitter at http://search.twitter.com/. If you use HootSuite, you can also save search terms in order to see pertinent tweets as they happen throughout the day. Engaging with people you don't know and following new people are the most effective way of increasing your Twitter network.
- Conduct a search for relevant terms within Twitterers' profiles and follow the ones that match your interests. Using a tool such as Twellow, you can search Twitterer's profiles for key terms. This is a great way to find link-minded Twitterers and add them to your follower list.
- Use a third-party directory to seek out Twitterers with similar interests. Sites like Twibes and WeFollow allow Twitterers to associate themselves with specific areas of interest. Seek out Twitterers who have identified themselves as interested in the topics that are pertinent to you, and follow them. (Of course, registering yourself on sites like these is also a great way to increase your visibility and gain new followers.)
- Find local Twitterers: If your Twitter interests are geographically based, you can find the top Twitterers in your state or city on sites such as Twitter Grader. Following popular Twitterers may help to raise your profile (provided your tweets are perceived as interesting and worthwhile.)
If you perform these tasks every day, you will begin to create and build relationships with a commitment of less than 30 minutes per day. Very quickly, you may find yourself expanding the time committed to Twitter, but if you stick to the essential tasks to achieve your goals, Twitter can become a vital tool to improve communications, promote your business and network with others.