If you’re already on Twitter, you know it’s more than just talking about what people have for breakfast. It’s more like “conference call IM” to me. Link sharing, conversation, personal connections that break the ice before in-person meeting, professional networking.
If you’re just getting started on Twitter, you’re probably a bit overwhelmed and looking for a few ways to help optimize your experience. So here’s my take on Twitter, how I use it, and what I think you should pay attention to.
Getting Set Up
Use your real name and a picture on your profile. It lets your followers know that there’s a real person behind the profile. I’m not a big fan of business names for handles (i.e. your Twitter name), but they can work if you have a real picture. In general, I’m of the mind that you should use something related to your real name if not your name itself, and stay away from things with tons of numbers (they can smell spammy to the casual observer).
Let your bio be a little fun, but have it there regardless. We want to know who you are. I encourage people to use their bio they way they’d introduce themselves in person, not as a 140 character “elevator pitch”. That turns off followers that might like to connect with you, especially if they think they’ll get pitched if they follow you. (Unless it’s a purely business account, in which case a description of your company is probably the best approach.)
Following and Being Followed
When you’re just getting started, you can search Twitter for people you know by entering their name. Twitter also has an option to search the contacts you have on Gmail, Hotmail, AOL and some others. Also, there are tools like Twellow, Twitter Grader, SocialOomph, Mr. Tweet that can help you get connected with people with similar interests or that are local to you. Use Twitter Search to plug in topics that interest you and see who’s talking about them. There is a local app that I am currently looking at called TweetSurge.
As you get more followers, check out who *they* follow and connect to others you see them conversing with on Twitter. To me, that’s the most organic way to build your network, and the way that I did it. If you do use an app to build followers be sure and check for spam and porn. I am relentless with the “block” key.
Be aware that if you run out and follow a slew of people out of the gate, Twitter is very likely to mark you as an account with spam potential and suspend you. It’s not a race. Follow a handful of people, start talking to them. Grow from there.
I don’t subscribe to the philosophy that more is better. I have a large network personally, but I built it connecting to people slowly over time, and it matters much more to me that I’m having a conversational, interactive experience.
I don’t put much stock in ranking/scoring/grading tools that claim to say who’s a good follow and who isn’t. And I don’t fret if someone unfollows me; again, it’s about each person’s personal experience, even if I’m not their cup of tea. I encourage you to consider following people as reaching out and shaking hands, connecting individually rather than just an accumulation of numbers. It’s not a popularity contest. It’s a communication experience.
The best advice I can give here is to treat Twitter like a conversation (because largely that’s what it is). Start with 30 minutes, twice a day (say morning and after work). There’s no “right” way to use it and your own feel for it will emerge over time, but there are a few tips. 90% of what I do on Twitter is conversing with other people. If you look at my profile page, you’ll see that “@ replies” comprise the bulk of my interaction. The other 10% is sharing links I find across the web that I think are interesting or useful, and about one out of a dozen times, I’ll drop a link to my recent blog post. The important thing is that your links are much more likely to get attention – yours or otherwise – if you’ve spend the time to build the relationships behind the connections before you ask people to look at your stuff.
The best way to build relationships and a community on Twitter: participate. Spend some time sitting back and listening, then join the conversation. Jump on in, say hello. Don’t beg for followers – trust me when I tell you that if you’re interesting and interested in others, they’ll show up. It’s really that simple. Talk, share, contribute. And above all, have a little fun.
Twitter has it’s own lexicon of sorts. Here are a few terms you might see tossed about.
@ replies: This symbol precedes people’s “handles” or screen names on Twitter when a tweet is directed at them. Want to reply to someone’s comment? Start your tweet with @<their twitter name> so they’ll know your reply is meant for them. You can track your own replies in the “@ Replies” tab on your Twitter page, or many of the Twitter clients will do so automatically for you.
RT: Stands for “retweet” and means that the tweet is being reposted from someone else. If I retweet something of yours, that means I’m passing it along for others in my network to see. When you see a tweet that starts with these letters, it means that the person is passing along something that someone else wrote. Many of the third party applications have a one-click button to retweet a post.
hashtags: You may often see tweets that end with a hashtag, or a pound sign followed by a term, such as #marketing. The purpose is to keep track of tweets that are all part of a single subject, event, or topic. If you head to Twitter Search and type in the full hashtag, you can track all the tweets related to that term. You don’t need to do anything special to use a hashtag, just make one up and tell folks to use it if you want them to tag their tweets for your event or discussion.
link shorteners: Twitter’s 140 character limitation makes posting big links impossible. So you’ll see shortened urls from services like TinyURL, Bit.ly, is.gd among others. They take a long URL and condense it down to a short version. Again, clients like TweetDeck, Seesmic and Hootsuite have this built in, but you can use the web versions as well, many of which have a bookmark button you can use in your browser. Personally, I use HootSuite. It allows me to track analytics. My most popular tweets by clicks, date, time, country, etc.
DM: This stands for Direct Message and is Twitter’s version of a private message. If you DM someone, you send the message directly to them and no one else can see it. To send one, type the letter and a space followed by the person’s Twitter name (or use the Direct Messages tab on your profile page). The recipient of the DM needs to be following you for the message to go through.
Favorites: If you “favorite” a tweet, it’s like your bookmarking it for yourself. You can see your favorites on a separate tab on your profile, and others can see them too.
Most of the above post and additional information can be found below.