Granted, when I get really into something I tend to be a bit of an overachiever, but my progress with Twitter seems amazingly fast. It’s only been seven weeks since I considered myself a Twitter Newbie and posted my tips for fellow Newbies. A week later, when I was up to 800 followers, and felt like I’d reached a new level, I promoted myself to Dilettante (a lovely word that means amateur), and posted my Stage Two tips. The snowball has continued rolling (you can really see it here), my follow/following numbers are both over 3000 now, and it seems time for a promotion (though I’m having a really hard time coming up with a title for this stage), and to share more tips and learnings.
First, I should say that nothing I say here should be taken as “rules” for Twitter, it’s all just based on my personal opinions, preferences, and what I want out of Twitter. As someone pointed out last night, the beauty of Twitter is that you can use it in any way you choose.
General Thoughts About Following and Followers
- It’s all about the conversation. I’m not interested in just being broadcast to or marketed at. At this stage in my Twitter development, I’m no longer following the gurus (except for the few who actually follow me back). That’s not to say I don’t admire them and think they have lots of great information to share, but I can go to their blogs or subscribe to their newsletters for that. Or even just drop in directly to their Twitter page.
- Follow liberally. There’s no risk to following. It’s not a commitment, not a statement of friendship or an endorsement. Think of it as if you’re at a big networking event, working your way through the crowded room. Following someone is like stopping to listen to or join in a conversation. You may be drawn by what they’re saying, or who they’re talking to, or by something random that catches your attention. And you can just as easily walk away (by unfollowing) if the person turns out to be boring or creepy or just not of interest to you.
- Clear out the non-mutuals regularly. In a tweetstream last night, I used the word “culling” and someone said that sounded really harsh, but since Twitter imposes a limit to the number of people you can follow, if you’re trying to grow your mutual connections, you do have to be pretty ruthless in cutting out those who aren’t engaging with you. But again, it’s not a big deal. You can always follow them again later, and next time they might follow back.
- Don’t forget to follow back. At the Newbie stage, I tried one of the auto-follow-back applications. But I found myself spending a lot of time unfollowing spammers, so I stopped using it. Now, I’m finding it difficult to keep up with checking out new followers and following back, so I’m considering it again.
Who I Follow
- Real people. My general policy (with a few exceptions) is that I don’t follow companies or logos or anonymous Twitterers. I look for a real first and last name, a location, a bio that tells me something about who they are, and a photo.
- People in my profession. In my case, this is strategic, because of my role as IABC Chair. I want to keep growing my contacts within the communication profession, both IABC members and non. I want to know who the big thinkers are. I want to know what issues are hot. I want them to see that IABC is on Twitter. So if you’re a PR or comms professional, I want to follow you.
- People who make me laugh. Just today, when I clicked on a new follower’s page, the first tweet there made me laugh out loud. I followed back immediately (BTW, it was @dayvision, and the tweet said: A computer beat me at chess once. But it was no match for me at kickboxing.)
- People who make me think.
- Or share a common interest. It’s funny, these don’t show up in bios usually, but come as a result of dipping into the tweetstream and following someone else’ conversation. Or they find me in a similar way. These are the frivolous tweets, like what’s for dinner, or when I live-tweeted Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and people were singing along.
- PR/Communication students. I am really happy to help them begin to put their social networking savvy to use in a business networking context, and of course, I want to help lure them towards IABC for the future.
- Journalists. I started following several just to see how journalists were using Twitter. What I found was that they’re often my favourite tweeple. Funny, smart, and laid-back. I think many of them are wary of PR people who might try to pitch them via Twitter. But since I don’t do pitching these days, they can relax with me. And sometimes they come to me when they’re looking for a source, and I can quickly find them one from my real-world network.
- Anyone who engages with me. If I get an @reply from someone, I usually click on their ID (which in Tweetdeck pulls up their bio and recent tweets in a side column), and if they meet my other criteria, I’ll usually click the follow button.
- People in other professions or geographic markets. I just thought of this today, but my new goal is to follow lots of doctors and lawyers and other professionals, so that if I ever need advice, I’ll have a resource. And I want to make sure I have contacts in key markets around the world, in case I’m ever stranded in an airport or need a local resource, I’ll have someone to turn to.
Who I Probably Won’t Follow Back
- No photo or avatar. And I have to say that I’m not especially fond of cartoony avatars, so it might depend on my mood. I do try to give newbies the benefit of the doubt, for awhile.
- Following 2000, Followers 12. Anyone who has hit the 2000 initial follower limit with almost no followers and updates is a soon-to-be spammer, trying to build their numbers quickly through auto-follow-backs. They’re the reason Twitter has the limits.
- People without a bio. Or whose bio tells me they’re not the kind of people I want to follow (terms like MLM, wealth-builder, etc. are big red flags to me).
- Scary or sexy photos. When I was still using auto-follow-back, I was getting lots of gorgeous, shirtless young men. Too distracting in the tweetstream.
Who Gets Un-followed
- Spammers of any kind. They’re usually easy to spot, but a few masquerade as real people (see above) and then send nothing but links to their website.
- Bleeping tweeters. I don’t mind swearing in real life, and do a fair amount myself at times, but it really turns me off on Twitter.
- Mean or angry tweeters. I’m ok with debate and criticism, but I don’t like mean people. Twitter is positive for me, I don’t want to follow those who are always negative.
How I Manage It All
- TweetDeck is the best! I simply couldn’t do any of this if the only way to use Twitter was through Twitter.com. It’s a free application that you can download and have up and running in minutes. But frankly, I would pay for it if I had to — it’s that good. TweetDeck makes managing it all really easy, because everything is viewable in columns, without having to go back and forth between pages. You can organize the columns to suit yourself, but here’s how I do it:
- All Friends – This column shows the tweets of all 3000+ people I follow, I dip into it for a few minutes a few times of day, whenever I’ve got a few minutes and am looking for conversation or news. But otherwise, I ignore it. It’s not an inbox with a need to catch up. It’s a live conversation. Back to the analogy of the networking event, trying to read all the tweets here would be like trying to get a transcript of every conversation going on in the room — on a 24-hour basis. I love dipping it at certain times of day. For me, early morning means my Aussie friends like @jenfrahm are still online (because it’s evening there), then the UK tweeps come in, and I see friends like @jangles. Towards noon the US east coast wakes up, right on through until it’s bedtime for me and I can see my Hawaiian buddies, like @pbarton2. Weekends it’s a completely different crowd and different vibe.
- Direct Messages – This column is for private messages from people I’m following. It does get a lot of those annoying auto-messages saying “thanks for the follow” (by the way, I don’t think it’s necessary to acknowledge a new follower, and wish people would stop doing it), but it’s still easy to skim quickly, and I usually only get a handful of real DMs a day, so it doesn’t take much time to manage this column.
- Replies (or @s) – This column is where the action is, because it picks up all replies to me, tweets that mention me, and retweets. So this is where the conversation is. But even with 3000 followers, this is generally easy to keep up with, and is only as active as I am. If I’m tweeting, there’s lots of activity here. If I go silent for several hours or sign off for the night, when I come back, there might be two or three tweets to answer. So again, it’s really manageable. I only spend time on Twitter when I want to. If I feel like a conversation, with such a large base I can always find one. But if I don’t, they’ll get by just fine without me.
- Search – I keep at least one search column active all the time, and use others when I’m looking for something specific. The TweetDeck search column can serve as a real-time keyword monitor. So you can do one on your company name, a hot topic, or in my case, I like seeing every time someone mentions IABC in a tweet. That allows me to welcome new members, see what’s going on around the world, and monitor for feedback or issues that need attention.
- Groups – I haven’t used the TweetDeck Groups function extensively yet, but Paul Barton promises a blog post soon to share his techniques for organizing his friends with it.
- If I’m not following you and you want me to, just send me an @ and tell me.
- I’m still learning here, which is why I enjoy it so much. All the above is based on where I am at the moment. It’s not right or wrong, and I may change my mind about it all by next week. If so, I’ll let you know.
- Don’t be intimidated by Twitter. If I can go from Newbie to whatever I am now in just seven weeks, anyone can. I’m not techy or especially cutting-edge. The only thing hard about it really is the clunky Twitter.com interface, and lack of instruction for Newbies. But once you get going, it gets very easy. If you need help, just tweet me.