Thoughts on getting the most from Twitter

There are loads of people out there who know far more about Twitter (see my previous post on the power of Twitter) than I but here a few of my observations:

  • Don’t try to follow too many people. Too many and you will start to get lost in the noise and be unable to get a grip on what’s going on. Be selective about who you follow and don’t automatically follow someone who follows you. Look at their Twitter feed and profile and try to gauge if they will add interest and substance to your network. If you decide to follow a large number of people then use an app like TweetDeck that offers groups and filters. Don’t be afraid to un-follow people who you feel have begun wasting your time.
  • You can benefit from following a variety of people with a mix of opinions. Don’t just follow people like yourself or only people you agree with. If you want to really understand the world then you need to engage with people who may not share your world view. Select a few interesting people in this category, you may learn something and have the opportunity to influence them once you have gained their respect. Try to remain open minded and be prepared to discuss issues with people on all sides of the debate. It is possible to be friends with someone you totally disagree and it’s very healthy when both sides can respect each other and communicate without resorting to abuse.
  • Avoid mundane personal info but keep it real. “I’m on the train” or another photo of your breakfast will not add much to the sum of human knowledge, can become annoying and probably get you unfollowed. However talking about the stuff that is going on in your life is important and helps people get to know you.
  • Remember Twitter is a mainly conversation not a billboard or broadcast medium. Be prepared to engage in conversations. Twitter becomes really interesting when you get into a discussion or observe other people’s conversations. If you ONLY use Twitter to promote yourself, your events or just your point of view you won’t attract many followers. Engage with the community, chat, share and discuss. You will quickly find, as in life and on the web generally, there are plenty of people with extreme, weird or offensive views on Twitter. Be careful not to be provoked into hasty ill-thought out responses which you may regret later. Be prudent about who you engage with, sometimes it’s wise just to avoid being dawn into rants or dead-end conversations.
  • Find a few subjects and Tweet mostly about them. People with similar interests will then follow you and you can be an influencer or ‘go-to’ person on that topic. The most successful Twitter users are usually talking about a few niche subjects rather only randomly talking about what is on their mind that particular day. For example my personal Twitter feed is mostly about my work, the Mac & iPhone, church stuff and a bit of football. Being interesting is the first priority and endlessly just re-Tweeting other people’s stuff or nothing but links is rather mundane. Try to let your personality show through and talk about the things you know and understand best.
  • Don’t Tweet too much. There is no hard and fast rule about how often it is advisable to tweet but I know I get annoyed when I see that same person filling my twitter feeds with endless chatter, however interesting they may be. Avoid automated Tweeting systems (that for example Tweet every song you listen to on Spotify). Automated Tweets will get you unfollowed fast.
  • Tweet your photos and links to photos when you can. Although Facebook is a generally better medium for sharing photos, tweeted photos, particularly as of events as they happen are very useful. I find them particularly interesting when they show an event or subject that I’m interested in when I am unable to be there in person.
  • Don’t get obsessed with the number of followers you have. If you think Twitter is a competition to get the most followers then you’ve missed the point. Obviously it’s desirable to have a larges network, but what is more important is the quality of your followers. It is better to have a few followers who re-tweet you and chat with you than loads who are not really paying much attention. Building a good Twitter network involves playing the long-game, it will take time and effort to build a valuable network. Avoid shady offers the that promise to “add 5000 followers instantly”. Even if these schemes actually work, then followers will be spammy and probably of little relevance to you. This in not going to enhance your network or credibility on the long-run. Accept that you will lose followers as well as gain them. Don’t worry if you lose a few followers from time to time but if you suddenly have a big drop in followers then maybe re-consider how you are tweeting.

[Baltant self promotion alert] Follow me on Twitter

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The power of Twitter

When I mention Twitter to friends who are not yet using the service, usual reactions are either to dismiss it as “more noise I don’t need in my life” or “why do I want to hear the dreary details of strangers lives?”. Having been using Twitter now for several years I thought it would be useful to look at the case for and against and sum up the experience. Is this just a passing fad or are we experiencing a communications revolution? Is it worth the time and effort or should I turn off my computer/mobile and do something more useful instead?

Twitter for Mac screenshotAlthough not a substitute for real face-to-face relationships, it can enhance the relationships you already have and allows you too keep in loose contact with people you know only a little or don’t have time or opportunity to hang out with in the real world. For example I am a member of a large church (1000+ members) and can’t hope to get to know even half of them. However an increasing number are on Twitter and with a simple “follow” I am able to get an insight into their lives and some of the things happening amongst the church community that I would never otherwise be able to do. It also allows you to meet interesting strangers and chat in a way you would rarely do in real life or on Facebook.

Probably the single most useful aspect of Twitter is the links that are shared. Many times I have clicked on links to web pages that are fascinating and informative, sites that I would never have otherwise heard of or seen. Information, ideas and pictures that broaden our understanding of the world, and each other.

Twitter allows a group of people to experience an event and pass comments and feedback as it happens. It can add a whole new dimension to watching something on TV or attending a conference. (The Olympic opening ceremony was a good recent example) There is often extra insight, a new angle or just witty comments that can expand and deepen one’s thoughts on the subject. Getting immediate comment on things as the happen, even though they maybe located anywhere in the world can add to the excitement a make you feel part of a shared experience. It is also a good way to gauge a cross section of public opinion free from the biases of the mainstream media.

With a network of people instantly contactable at your fingertips it is easy to pose a simple question to the ‘group mind’ and get quick responses. “Anyone know a good electrician?“, “Has anyone has the same issue with WordPress?” “where’s the best Italian restaurant in Brighton?” Most people love to give advice and opinions so you will usually get quick answers.

Assuming your tweets are interesting and worthwhile, you will start to build a group of followers and this gives you the chance to influence them in a small way and of course they may begin to influence your thinking. Whether its offering them links to good websites, commenting on events or offering a glimpse of your lifestyle you can become an online influencer in a way that was never possible before. I run a campaign website as a sideline to my work and in addition to my personal/work account I have a separate account, tweeting regularly about issues relevant to that campaign. The number of followers for this single subject twitter feed is growing fast and the influence of the Twitter account is probably now more significant than the website it was originally set up to support.

Many see Twitter as something that is mainly for personal use and are becoming dismayed by the increasing use by PR and marketing people to sell and promote brands and companies to clients and customers. However it is possible to engage an audience by being a good ‘net citizen’ and avoiding blatant marketing and blatant self-promotion. Good practice is to make subtle and occasional ‘promotional’ tweets mixed with stuff that is interesting and useful to your followers.

Anything that takes time away from your main focus in life should be carefully considered. Twitter (and Facebook) can become addictive to the point that we are always thinking “what’s happening now?“, “what have I missed?“, “I must post this…” There are already plenty of distractions that can de-rail us from our main purpose of in life. Time spent with family and friends is precious and we need to be careful we don’t spend more time with the laptop or smartphone than with people. Are we wasting our employers time when we should be working? If not used carefully, Twitter can just send us a stream of information about stuff that is of little, help, use or importance and it just becomes another noise to add to email, the web, TV, radio, texts, phone calls etc. Information overload is a hazard of modern life. We need to control the flow of information and not let it control us.

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