Lately I’ve had a lot of people asking me about Twitter, the popular microblogging platform. Usually the conversation centers around “How do I do it right.” In actuality, doing Twitter “right” is a lot like good sex; it’s about connecting with someone in a way that’s mutually satisfying.
As with sex, there is no one formula that works for everyone the same way. But there are some basic principles that will help save you time and grief during and get past that awkward Twitter virgin stage.
It’s the Journey, Not the Destination
Why you want to Tweet? What do you hope to gain from it? Building your business or personal brand? Build relationships with existing or new clients? Provide customer service or support? Make new friends? Learn something? Just as there are a million ways to use Twitter, there are as many reasons to do so. Regardless of your reason, you need to begin by thinking about that reason. Once you know what your goals are, tweet them!
Friend or Foe? Identify Yourself!
Now that you’ve sent your first tweet off, it’s time to take a look at your profile. Does it reflect who you are and what you are all about? Your goals should be pretty clear to anyone who visits your profile. Upload a photo of yourself. People like to interact with other, real people, not a logo. Add a little bio that says something about who you are and why you’re here. This alone will set you apart from the spam and drek.
Keeping in mind your goals for Twitter, search for and follow people who can support your objectives. You can do this by searching for keywords that relate to your reason for being there. For example, if you’re there to share hiking tips and meet other hikers, you might search Twitter for “hiking” or “outdoors” and even include cities, parks or popular hiking areas around you. This will show you people who are tweeting on the subjects that interest you. Follow the ones that look interesting (check their profile first). Sometimes they will also have lists that match your interests. Lists can be a goldmine of great Twitter-ers that someone has already gone through the trouble of finding for you!
You should go through this exercise periodically, growing your list and pruning the people who you decide really aren’t interesting to you.
As you follow people, you’ll find that many of them will automatically follow you back. This is called reciprocation. It’s not a requirement, so don’t feel compelled to “follow-back” everyone who follows you. Instead, choose the people that you really would like to learn from or connect with and who can support your goals.
It’s useful when starting out to look for and follow the “connectors” — the people who have a lot of followers and seem to be doing it “right.” Over time, make a note of how they tweet, the kinds of things they tweet or retweet, and how they use hashtags and mentions. You can learn a lot from observation.
What the heck is a hashtag and how do you use it? Well, it’s simply a key word prefixed with the pound or “hash” symbol. Hash tags only work on a single, contiguous string of text, so sometimes you’ll see people string words together as a “single” hashtag, #likethis. In general, hashtags can be either something useful for you or your circle of contacts, or sometimes they trend — becoming a popular meme that people use to show how clever they can be. Read more about hashtags on Twitter.com.
A mention is a way of replying or referring to another Twitter user. To do this, you simply type their Twitter username with the “@” symbol in front of it. My Twitter name is jeffhester, so to mention me, you would type @jeffhester anywhere in your Tweet. This is a powerful way to get people’s attention, but don’t abuse it. People like to be mentioned, and you can see who has mentioned you on your Twitter page. Be kind and thank people who mention you! Read more about mentions on Twitter.com.
Quantity vs. Quality
Some people advocate tweeting frequently. Scott Stratton (@unmarketing) decided to really give Twitter a shot and tweeted over 7,000x in a month. His follower count grew exponentially. But the thing to keep in mind with both tweet and follower count is that it’s really not about the numbers. Sure, consistency is a good thing, and having a lot of followers can feel good, but when it comes right down to it it’s about connecting with people and having conversations.
In this respect, having more followers can make this even more difficult. So start small. Pick a few people that you follow and whom follow you and create a Twitter list. This will help you reduce the noise and pay closer attention to those connections that are really important to you.
Then begin the conversation! Share things that are interesting or useful. Have a goal to share three things each day that are really awesome — really worth sharing. If it really is awesome, soon people will start sharing — retweeting — your tweets. Congratulations, you are on your way to becoming a Twitter Power User!
There’s a heck of a lot more to cover, but this is a good start. I’ll post more tips next week. Until then, be sure to also check the excellent Twitter Help Center.
If you’ve got a question about using Twitter more effectively, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below and I’ll respond.