Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Twitter 101, Part 4: Tips for Being Successful on Twitter

This is fourth and final installment of a four-part series on Twitter. If you already use Twitter, this post may not be of much interest, but as more people are drawn to the service, I find I am getting more questions about what it is, what value it provides, and how to be successful on Twitter.

Two weeks ago, we explored What Twitter Is, Why You May Want To Use It, and How To Use Twitter. In the final post of this Twitter series, I am going to offer some advice to help new and future Twitter users—both corporate and personal—avoid mistakes and make the most of Twitter. (If you’re a current Twitter user and wish to add to or provide feedback about my tips, please feel free to leave a comment!)

Decide what you want from Twitter (and who you’re going to be): Some Twitter users will take umbrage to this recommendation, but before you launch into Twitter, take some time to think about how you’ll use it and who you’re going to be on the service. Some will tell you to “just be yourself”—and you should certainly bring your personality to Twitter—but you must consider who will be following you and what impression you wish to leave.

In the post, “Social Media and the Job Interview You Don’t Know You’re Having,” we explored how the personal things people do and post to Social Networking sites—drink, gamble, swear, dress provocatively, share mature content, disparage coworkers, and the like—can be accessed by everyone from current bosses to dating partners to future employers. While those who know you can put your activities into context, the people who get to know you only through your Social Media activities won’t have the same experience and frame of reference.

So before signing up for Twitter, it’s a good idea to give some consideration to your goals. If you want to network for career reasons, then it might be best to keep this in mind before you Tweet about your weekday hangover. If you want to simply network with friends, then you may consider setting your Twitter account as private so that only the people you approve can access your Tweets. It might be that you have two different goals—the first to create a professional persona in Social Media and the second to meet drinking buddies—in which case you might consider creating two Twitter profiles instead of just one. (Applications such as Twhirl can help you manage more than one Twitter account simultaneously.)

Pick the Right Name and Create the Right Biography: Once you understand your Twitter objectives, you are prepared to choose a username and create your account.

Pick a name that suits your goals. If your objectives are professional, you might consider a username that reflects your real name; this makes it easy for people to recognize you and your Tweets among the hundreds they receive from those they follow. For example, I immediately recognize Tweets from blogger Steve Rubel because his Twitter handle is steverubel. On the other hand, I have to remember that my friend, Mike Kornacki, goes by Yellowledbedder.

If you’re joining Twitter on behalf of your company, think of including the company name in your username, as did RichardatDELL. Better yet, while I have yet to see any corporate users do this, it may be advisable to be even more descriptive in your username. I’m guessing Richard Binhammer is but one of dozens of Richards at Dell—what happens when the second Richard wishes to join Twitter on behalf of Dell? With many corporate functions beginning to avail themselves of Twitter’s benefits, it might be a better idea to sign up as JohnAtDellPR, JimAtDellHR, and JaneAtDellCustSupport.

When you register for Twitter, you should carefully consider the 160 characters you are allowed for your one-line bio. Keep in mind that people will visit your Twitter page to consider whether you’re worth following, and your bio is one of the primary pieces of information they’ll scan in order to decide. My recommendation is to avoid getting too cutesy, at least at first; once you are established with many followers you can change your bio to read, “Nose picker, navel gazer, and guzzler of ale,” but at the beginning it might be much better to say, “Professional copywriter, amateur cook, photography buff, and father of three sons.”

Post a few Tweets. Once you are registered, one of the first things you may be tempted to do is go searching for people to follow. Before you do so, keep in mind that the people you follow will be alerted and will respond by visiting your page where they will evaluate your list of Tweets to determine whether or not to follow you in return. This is why it is a fine idea to establish yourself with several Tweets prior to following many other Twitterers.

The importance of doing this cannot be overemphasized. You should realize that:
  • Following others and being followed is essential to the Twitter experience.
  • The best way to encourage followers is by following others.
  • If you follow a person, you can count on that person to quickly check out your Twitter page. This could be your one and only opportunity to encourage that person to elect to follow you. If that individual visits your Twitter page and sees little of interest, he or she may opt to ignore you, and you may never get another chance to prove you’re an interesting, relevant, and informative person worth following.
Too often, I’ve received a new follower notice and clicked through only to find a brand new Twitter user with an empty page or perhaps a single Tweet that reads something like, “I thought I’d check out this Twitter thing.” I and most veteran Twitter users will not follow someone we don’t recognize and who hasn’t established themselves with interesting Tweets. The reason is that as you begin to follow more and more people, your Twitter feed begins to fill up quickly. As this happens, you’ll value those who share interesting and pertinent Tweets and will avoid Twitterers who spam, share constant sales pitches, only link to their own blog posts, and lack relevance.

Find People. Once you’ve posted several Tweets that represent the kind of information and ideas you’ll be sharing on Twitter, it’s a good idea to go in search of people to follow. Participating on Twitter without following anyone is like talking to yourself—it will provide no value and will quickly grow boring. So, start finding people to follow. (If you’re looking for someplace to start, how about following me? Visit my Twitter page at http://Twitter.com/augieray.)

Twitter provides a search tool you can use to find followers. You can click “Find People” at the top of the page and locate others in one of several ways. You can have Twitter scan your Yahoo, Gmail, or Hotmail address books for friends and peers who already use Twitter; you can invite friends to sign up by entering their email address and sending a message from Twitter; and you can search for people based on search terms, such as the name of your employer, your city, or your hobbies.

If you already have a few people following you, a great tool to use to locate others is Twubble. Enter your Twitter username and Twubble will scan all of your followers to locate and recommend the people they follow. Another site to try is Twitter.Grader.com. Enter your Twitter username, and you’ll be provided with a grade (derived from a secret algorithm) along with a list of “suggested folks to follow.”

If you are on Twitter to represent your company, it’s a good idea to keep an eye peeled for people talking about your organization on Twitter. You can easily create an RSS feed of a search term, making it easy to track when people mention your organization. Go to http://search.twitter.com/, search for your company’s name, and when presented with the results list you may click “Feed for this query” to subscribe to a search feed in your favorite RSS reader (such as My Yahoo or iGoogle.) Any time your organization is mentioned, you should consider following and replying to that person.

Get Tweeting. Once you are following people and are being followed, start tweeting regularly. Check out How to Use Twitter for information on how to send replies and direct messages. In the same blog post, you’ll also find information about tools that will make it easier to follow Twitter and post updates, even when you’re not accessing Twitter.com in a Web browser.

So, what should you Tweet? Every person finds their own voice on Twitter. As each Twitter user Tweets, they fashion a history of their ideas, experiences, and opinions. This thread becomes a digital representation of who they are—each Twitter user is as distinctive as the human behind the Tweets. As in the real world, the Twitterverse is filled with the inane and the interesting, the selfish and the thoughtful, the useless and the vital.

Some people post Twutter, a term I coined to mean Twitter Clutter, such as when they wake up, what they eat for lunch, and when they visit the bathroom. One pet peeve of mine that is shared by many (but not all) Twitter users is when people reply (which is seen by all followers) rather than use a direct message for a personal message that is relevant to one person and not many. For example, replies such as “See you at lunch,” “Seriously?”, and “You were hilarious in this morning’s meeting,” might be very appreciated by the one person to which the messages are directed but may be perceived as irrelevant "noise" to dozens or hundreds of your other followers. Remember that people can opt to unfollow you, so keeping your Tweets pertinent for your followers is a good idea.

The people I choose to follow tend to share marketing and social media concepts, local restaurant reviews and news, breaking national news, interesting links, thoughtful ideas, helpful replies, and humor. So long as you keep in mind your goals, who is following you, and who may potentially see your Tweets, you should have no trouble finding appropriate information and thoughts to share on Twitter.

If you are Twittering on behalf of your employer, it is absolutely vital that you not fall into the habit of only talking to followers and not listening and replying. Twitter isn’t a one-way communication or advertising channel. While there are some rare purposes for using Twitter for unidirectional communication (such as CNN blasting headline news), the vast majority of corporate Twitterers must be as willing to listen and engage as they are to broadcast PR and corporate messaging.

I hope you’ve enjoyed and been informed by this series on Twitter. Your feedback, suggestions, and tips would be appreciated; please feel free to enter your comments below!

P.S. Sorry for the substantial delay in this post. Life at Fullhouse has been very busy. Considering the economic headlines and dismal news on TechCrunch’s Layoff Tracker these days, being busy is a welcome situation!


Anonymous said...

Extremely well done series, Augie. Great work!

Augie Ray said...

Thanks Jeff!

Neil Williams said...

"If you are Twittering on behalf of your employer, it is absolutely vital that you not fall into the habit of only talking to followers and not listening and replying."

Totally agree with that one. But as someone who tweets corporately on behalf of a government body, you have to be even MORE careful - and arguably, shouldn't even initiate any relationships on Twitter by following people. See my blog post for an explanation of why.


WOuld love to have your views on this.

stacyann.hayles said...

Hi Augie...I am an experienced tweeter about to train someone how to use it for business so I found this quite helpful.

One error though, when you are replying to someone or you start a tweet with @___, only the persons who follow both you and the person will see the tweet. Common misconception on Twitter.