Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Some Twitter Advice for Newbies, Pt. 3

So, to recap, I posted some Tweets on Sunday morning on Twitter use and was encouraged to compile them in a blog entry. Being an academic, of course, it got expanded into three blog posts. 

The first was Finding people to follow: It's who you follow, not who follows you; the second was How do I get followed? Share, care and be yourself. This last post will just wrap up with some extra thoughts.

Dos & Don'ts: Some tips on best usage of Twitter
  • Do carefully select who you want to converse with.
Unless you are a business who is interested in contacting as many people as possible, carefully choose the people you want to follow. Although there is no right and wrong way to use Twitter, it's greatest use for an individual is to create lasting personal or professional relationships. 

To do that, you can't just Tweet, you need to read other people's Tweets as well. So, pick people who you find interesting! Think of it this way, if you were on Lost and you could pick 100, 500, or 1,000 other people to populate the island, who would they be? 
  • Don't Auto-Follow for the wrong reasons
Auto-Following is a fine philosophy
  1. if you are just starting out (say, 100 followers or less) and are trying to build your account so you have some people to talk to, or 
  2. if you have a huge account (20,000+ followers) and do not have the time to individually check out your new followers. If your account is this big, you don't have time to read the Tweets in your Tweetstream anyway and you are probably just reading @Replies and Direct Messages sent specifically to you.
Mutual, reciprocal relationships are what social networking is all about. But automatically following everyone who follows you is like throwing open your front door and saying, "Anyone who is out on the street at this moment is welcome to come in!" 

You'll get some neighbors popping by but you are also likely to get the lady who picks up aluminum cans for recycling and the guy who wants you to change your account to Verizon. You can also find that person with Chinese restaurant menus coming into your home along with a guy trying to get you to refinance your house.

Being discriminating isn't elitist, your time and attention is limited and you should only follow people who you'd invite in to your Open House: people who you find interesting or entertaining, who you'd like to get to know better or who live in your neighborhood (for me, New Jersey), who are old friends or new friends, or with whom you share common interests (kids, work, hobbies).
  • Do respond to people's messages
You should both respond to direct replies and direct messages as well as go out and comment on other people's Tweets. Otherwise, it's like you're at your Open House, standing in a corner and talking to yourself. This is also known as "broadcasting" which means you are just sending out messages about yourself ("I'm eating dinner", "I'm watching 'Heroes'", "I hate my job") as if you were a TV or radio broadcast. It's also been called being a bulletin board because you are only posting messages. You can use Twitter as a personal diary but why not just use a blog for that?

Social networks are about making connections which means that unless you are some mega celebrity, ignoring people's messages to you is rude. It's like someone putting out their hand to shake yours and you're holding your hand back at your side. Do it repeatedly and you'll probably be unfollowed.
  • Don't pester famous people
It can be tempting to send messages to prominent people on Twitter. It would be flattering to get a response and be acknowledged and sometimes a mention by a celebrity can result in lots of new people checking out your account. But these people can get hundreds of Tweets an hour...there's a chance you might get a reply but if you send a lot of messages repeatedly to celebrity Twitterers the people who follow your account might view you as a little desperate for attention.
  • Do find the best day and time to Tweet
Twitter is a 24/7 social network but the people who are online vary depending on how much time they have to Tweet, their life schedules, and where they live. The people you'll encounter on Twitter at 11 pm on a Friday night (U.S. East Coast time) will be different than the group of people sending messages at 8:30 am on Saturday morning. People also Tweet differently if they are posting from their job than after hours when they are at home in bed with their laptop or on a Blackberry at a restaurant. 

If you are primarily interested in business-oriented Tweets, you will most likely find themposted  during standard working hours. If you are trying to get to know the personal side of some high profile Twitterer, read what they're up to on the weekend.

You can also connect with people in different countries if you Tweet during the times when they are most likely to be active. Since I'm often up very early in the morning, I converse with a lot of Australians because it's evening there. If I only Tweeted in the afternoon, I'd miss them completely. Be aware of the fact that Twitter is a global social network and that different groups of people Tweet on different days and different times of the day/night.
  • Don't Tweet drunk
This was a big issue in Summer 2008 but can also happen these days with people who Tweet from conferences, birthday parties, TweetUps, etc. Drunk Tweeting is very entertaining to those people who read your Tweets but you'll probably be embarassed by it the day after and it can haunt you. Even if you go and delete the Tweets, they are still available for people to see via Search.Twitter. 

If you want to announce to those following you that you are at a great party/bar/TweetUp and these cool people are there, either Tweet early in the evening (before you've had too much to drink) or just talk about it the day after. And while you're at it, you might be careful about camera phone photos that get posted via TwitPic. Once a photo of you is posted on the web, you have no control over where else it gets posted.
  • Do give Twitter a rest
I am an admitted Twitter addict and it is easy to get sucked into constant connectivity. But I've discovered that most people do not appreciate a blizzard of Tweets coming at them, especially if they receive messages on their cell phones. I've seen people who send out 2 Tweets a minute and it easily overwhelms your Tweetstream. I've also noticed, surprisingly, that more people will follow me after I stopped Tweeting for a few hours. I don't quite understand this phenomenon but for your family's sake, your job productivity, your sanity and that of your followers, moderate your usage of Twitter.
  • Don't overuse exclamation marks, smileys or obscenities
By overuse, I am talking multiple use in a single Tweet. Messages like, "Sunshine! I am SOOOO happy!!!!!!!!!" give the appearance that you are about 14 years old or on drugs. Even if you are an accomplished 50 year old publicist, over-the-top positivity ("giggle! giggle!") will result in people not taking you seriously. You don't sound like a professional, you sound like you're at a slumber party. Things that are cute for teenagers to say stop being cute after you've graduated from high school.

It's fine to show emotions, just remember that you are not sending out IMs to your BFF, you are sending out messages that are publicly accessible to anyone with a computer. The same could be share with swearing. An occasional "Shit! I just got a parking ticket!" is understandable. But Twitter's terms of service allow anyone who is 13 years old and older to have an account. It might not be a great idea for them and for any future employer who'll look at your account if it's just a long stream of "F-you!"s.
  • Do explore all of the Twitter clients, applications and tools available to you
Even before Twitter became so popular this year, there were hundreds of different clients available to receive and post Tweets, applications that ranked Twitterers or provided you with trending topics, let you manage your following lists, or let you "Tweet Chat" and see a real-time flow of Tweets on a topic so you didn't need to refresh your screen. A lot of people swear by Tweetdeck and Twhirl but still about a quarter of people use the standard web interface at Twitter.com. 

I'm not going to list recommendations here but I encourage you to try out both old and new Twitter applications that inventive programmers are coming up with. You'll probably find a few that greatly enhance your experience and help you manage the large amounts of Tweets that will soon be flowing in your direction. It is all too easy to find Twitter overwhelming and creative people have come up with clever and FREE ways to deal with that large amount of information sent to you.
  • Don't use an Auto-Follow bot or advertising on your Tweets
I don't know what else to say about this than if I see a message about Tweetergetter.com or Magpie in your Tweetstream, I will never follow you. It says to me that you are either trying to make money off of your Tweets (and I don't want to be a "customer") or you are trying to rapidly build up your follower list and you are basically following anyone with a pulse. The fact that you are following me is not because you've chosen to but because the auto-bot found my name on some following list. It just have easily been my cat's Twitter account.

If all I am is Follower #6285, I'm not interested in talking with you and if people take the time to look at your Tweets, many will come to the same conclusion.

I could come up with twice this many other pieces of advice but this Tweet is already three times longer than a standard blog entry. Please let me know if you found this information useful. Thans for taking the time to read it!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Some Twitter Advice for Newbies, Pt. 2

Yesterday, I wrote up a blog entry with some advice to new Twitterers that focused on how you might choose people to follow. Today, I'm going to say a few words on being followed.

How do I get followed? Share, care and be yourself
First, let's distinguish between types of users. There are those who will Auto-Follow, that is, have their account set to follow everyone who follows them. I use to think this was a good idea as it worked to create mutual, reciprocal relationships. But now Auto-Following is a conscious strategy designed to build up ones follower numbers rapidly. Tomorrow, I'll tell you why this might not be a good idea for you.

There are 3 types of people who won't automatically follow you back:

  1. Users who have chosen to seek out, on their own, individuals to follow regardless of who is following them;
  2. Users who will check out new followers and evaluate them on a individual basis;
  3. Users who do a combination of #1 and #2.

You can't do much about first group of Twitterers. They are very selective about who they follow & frequently like to maintain a manageable number of followers (say, 500 or less). They may decide, for whatever reason, to follow you but, honestly, they probably won't! You just have to accept that. Repeatedly following and unfollowing them to get their attention will just annoy them.

The second & third types of Twitterers frequently will visit your profile page & make their decision on whether to follow you based on what they see & read. Here are some tips to help you get a favorable response:

Show Yourself!
Have a nice photo of yourself as a profile picture instead of the generic brown avatar. A few months ago, I did an informal Twitter poll asking people if an attractive photo induced them to follow someone. The response was no, attractiveness wasn't important but realness was. A candid or editorial/artistic photo reveals more of your personality than a professionally posed picture which looks like it was taken in a photo studio.

If you can't find a decent photo of yourself, try coming up with an interesting avatar, like a cartoon or Manga version of yourself. Or a baby photo. Or a picture of your dog. Anything that expresses your personality. People want to know they are talking with a person and it's nice if they can connect your words with a face. You don't have to be beautiful, honestly.

Another alternative is to have a logo but this implies you're Tweeting for your company, not as an individual. Unless you have a company that generates amazing customer loyalty (like Starbucks or Whole Foods), most people would rather follow a person than your marketing company.

Who Are You?
Now that you have shared yourself in a photo, tell the world a little bit about yourself. You have 160 characters so you can't say a lot. You can choose how personal you want your bio to be. Some people include their occupation or employer, others list foods they love, how many children they have or a political philosophy. It's your choice. But it will also help other people see you as a real and, most likely, interesting person they'd like to get to know.

Are You My Neighbor Or Do You Live Overseas?
Fill out your bio completely which means providing a location. Some people choose to name their home towns but unless you live in a large town like New York City or London or have a common last name, I wouldn't recommend this. It's safe to name your state and country but please do not use your GPS coordinates because they are meaningless to most people.

Why should you locate yourself? Three reasons. First, some Twitter services like Twitterholic or Twitter Grader group users together based on city or state. If you want to see how you "match up" against other users from your state, you'll want to have your location noted in your bio.

Secondly, some services like TwitterLocal can tell you about other Twitterers who live close by you say, within 5 miles. Personally, I haven't made any good connections through this service but it's been fun to see who else from my small town is Tweeting.

Finally, some people could choose to follow you based on your location. For example, I live in New Jersey, spend a lot of time in New York City and have family in Portland so I like to follow people from these locations even if we have little in common. For example, from the Portland people, I know about events that could impact my family and also about people who live there than I might be able to meet up with during the times of the year that I visit my family.

I also tend to follow people who live outside the U.S. if they Twitter in English because I want to learn about what is going on in Australia or Japan or India or Brazil. Twitter can be a small window into a much larger world.

Demonstrate Your Creativity
Avoid the dozen stock backgrounds that Twitter offers and choose one that reflects your personality and tastes. It could be a photo you've taken or one you've found on the web. It doesn't have to be pretty but avoiding having harsh images like the Twitterer I know who uses a photo of an injured child after a bomb blast. Be intriguing, not horrifying.

If you are really creative, design your own background with Photoshop or other graphic software. Or you could do what I did and rely on the talent and inspiration of people more talented than I. I have a custom background designed for me by TwitterImage.com. Designer @HughBriss worked with me to come up with a unique Twitter background that distinguishes my profile page from others. Although many designers will charge you a fee there are other sources of free Twitter backgrounds on the Internet if you search for them.

Link Me, Baby
The final element of your profile page which might induce people to follow you is the link you're able to provide on your bio. It should direct people to your website, a public Facebook page, your blog or maybe a LinkedIn profile. Providing a link to a site where people can find out more about you is important to some people. I really underestimated this in the past until someone told me that they checked out my blog and decided to follow me based on this blog. People who are looking for interesting conversation partners will go to the trouble of trying to find out who you are. Provide them with an easy way to do this.

Content, Content, Content
"Old-school" Twitterers (non-AutoFollowers) will follow you because your content is useful, interesting or you seem like a person they'd like to know more about. They are not following you so that you will follow them back and they can up their follower numbers. They follow you because in your profile page and in your recent Tweets, you've shown yourself to be a knowledgeable or entertaining person. Let these qualities be evident in your Tweets. As @joannejacobs says, "I keep saying twitter is about content, where Facebook is about friends." Personally, I think Twitter is about both.

However, It's Not All About You
My last point is that after you've filled out your bio, have an eye-catching background and profile photo, and Tweet clever or useful information, do not wait for people to discover how wonderful you are. This is like standing on the sidewalk waiting for people to slow down and talk to you. A person might eventually do that, out of curiosity, but a conversation is much more likely to happen if you reach out your hand and engage with the people walking past you.

What does this mean? It means you don't just post about what you are doing. Since you've learned how to find interesting people to follow, read their Tweets and respond to them! If they ask an interesting question, answer it. If they have a problem with something you know about, provide them with an answer. Hell, if they say "Good morning", say "Good morning!" back! Talk to people and most of them will wonder, Who is this person? and reply back. If it's a positive interaction, it'll most likely end up with them following you unless they are of the super-selective Type #1 mentioned above.

I don't want you to think that I've set an overly high bar. I follow one person who goes out a lot to eat because she tells me about interesting restaurants she goes to and another person who lets me know if it's snowing in Portland. Then there is the person I know very little about but who I follow because she always makes me laugh. Don't try too hard, just be real, reveal yourself, reach out, and trust the people you have something in common with will be attracted to you.

These ideas are not as quick-acting as signing up for an Auto-Follow bot but if you carefully and thoughtfully create relationships in an online network, you'll actually create a group of friends who will read your Tweets. And isn't conversation really the ultimate goal of a SOCIAL network?

Tomorrow: Final Dos and Don'ts

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Some Twitter Advice for Newbies, Pt. 1

At the risk of throwing yet another blog article on Twitter into the overflowing Internet pile, I am--by a request, mind you!--compiling some Tweets I made on the subject of Twitter into two blog posts. I hope you might find some of the ideas useful.

First, these are pieces of advice intended for individuals who come to Twitter with the intention of forming social connections with other people. They will not be helpful to people who wish to quickly build up a high follower count so they can leverage their Twitter rank into some financial payoff (it still boggles my mind that this is seen as a viable "strategy"). There are plenty of Twitter for Business/Enterprise social media experts, the less ethical of whom will sell you the advice you seek.

This is "old-school" relationship-building advice, meaning it was valid until Twitter exploded in popularity around November of 2008. Hopefully, it will help you meet some like-minded people so you'll find yourself talking with individuals with whom you share common interests or goals or you'll be introduced to people who will educate you about things you know nothing about!

Finding people to follow: It's who you follow, not who follows you (really)
There are various services that will recommend popular people to follow like Twitterholic, HubSpot's TwitterGrader or Mr. Tweet. These websites can be useful in exposing you to the more prominent Twitter users, those with a lot of followers or who have a high profile.

But with the advent of the latest Auto-Following craze , you can now find people with 30,000 followers who've been on Twitter a month and who Tweet nothing but crap. Seriously. I mean, I read their Tweets and think, I follow 3,000 people who have more to say than you do. So, now more than ever, popularity (number of followers) is not a reliable indicator of quality.

Last spring, the method I used to find people to follow was I looked at the blogs I enjoyed reading and I followed the authors if they had a Twitter link. Not all of them were active on Twitter but they will lead you to the pot of gold: the list of people who they follow. This is most useful with people who are selective about who they follow (say, following less than 1,000 people). A selective person's Following list says more about who they think is worth following than any long list of #FollowFriday recommendations.

See which Twitterers the interesting people think are worth following! Unless they are relatives, drinking buddies, or business partners (a small minority of contacts), it's likely you might find these other people interesting, too. On the web interface, it is easy, almost too easy, to hit the follow button and unless their Tweets are protected, you will be receiving their Tweets in your Tweetstream.

Following another person's followers should not be considered "poaching" as long as you don't try to duplicate their entire list. This behavior is viewed by some to be a form of stalking. If you don't mass-follow and just picking several names at a time, this is entirely appropriate, this is how networking happens.

Some of these new people will open doors into entire new worlds...they could be musicians, authors, artists, scholars, marketers, media types, event planners, computer programmers. For example, I didn't know a single entrepreneur before I joined Twitter, that part of business was just a foreign world to me. As was the life of a parent homeschooling four children. Or that of globe-trotting media consultant. Or a mom starting a home-based business. Or an NBC cameraman.

I encourage you to not only find "useful" or famous contacts but also follow intelligent people who have something to say about the worlds they live in. It won't always be pearls of wisdom but you will learn a lot about life from people who have occupations and lives different from your own. This is part of the magic of online social communities.

You used to be able to search Twitter bios (say, if you wanted to follow just User Experience professionals) but Twitter disabled this feature because they said it was being misused (?). You can still use applications like Twitter Local to find people in your geographic area as long as they include that location information in their profile.

The last point is the touchiest. Should you follow people who have a radically different view of the world than yourself? This is most evident since the election regarding political views. I'm a liberal person and I've noticed that conservatives on Twitter are quite organized and even maintain their own website listing the most prominent conservatives on the network.

I encourage you to embrace different points of view and listen to other people's positions on issues but I'll admit there are some one-dimensional ranters on Twitter (on a number of different topics) who'll just pollute your Tweetstream. Some people find hysterical Tweeting entertaining but if you don't, shed them from your system.

Remember, unless you want to put a fence around yourself and protect your Tweets, you really have no direct control over who follows you. But you can control who you follow which means you control the quality of the conversation you are engaging in. Do you just want useful information and links to blog entries? Or are you interested in how Apple users feel about the latest upgrade? Would you rather talk with moms with kids the same age as yours? Trying to find a group of 20somethings in your city who like to go out on the weekends and do karaoke?

All of these things can be yours if you carefully choose who you follow. For example, there is a group of about a dozen people I talk with almost every day and the only thing we have in common is that we get up absurdedly early (~5 am EST). We have nothing else in common but they have become close friends on Twitter because I like to chat when I'm drinking coffee, listening to news and waking up in the morning and so do they! I hear about their plans for the day, the job that drives them crazy, where they are going on vacation, whether their kids are over the flu. Take some time, be patient, and find your people!

Tomorrow: How to get followed back

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Is "Twitter for business" ruining it for the rest of us?

The obvious answer to this question is "No" since so many people blend their personal and professional lives in their participation in this social network.

But I'm talking about the relatively new movement to use Twitter not to connect with people you're interested in communicating with, in meeting or have met, but to build a huge public profile for personal branding purposes.

It makes me wonder what it now means to be "influential". It used to be judged, admittedly superficially, by number of Twitter followers but is that a reliable indicator any more? Or do we need to change what "influential" means in Social Media?

This morning, I sent an email to Twitter Grader asking them this question. Excerpts of it are below:

I don't know if you've noticed or not but since Oct/Nov 2008, newcomers to Twitter have grown exponentially due to TV and newspapers coverage of Twitter use by the media and celebrities and publicity of Twitter at business, tech & media conferences. Many people are using Twitter in a completely different way than before which might change (or not!) your grading system.

Past: People created Twitter accounts and began following other people...some followed them back, some didn't. But, for most people, who you followed was only roughly equal in number to those who followed you. Many people wanted to follow Twitter leaders in technology and social marketing like Kevin Rose, Mashable, Mediaphyer, Tim O'Reilly, Problogger, Ev, Fred Wilson, etc. Frequently, these popular users followed no or very few of their followers back. People accepted that not every relationship on Twitter was reciprocal and that their follower and following lists probably contained some different names.

Twitterers' follower numbers grew gradually the longer they were members on Twitter and active on it. Some people's accounts grew faster than others but unless one was a celebrity, your follower number roughly reflected your longevity and popularity on Twitter.

Now: Since Twitter has become more publicized, a new strategy of using it has emerged popularized by some people (I've seen conference notes detailing this strategy). The idea is to gain as many followers as possible in the shortest amount of time. To do this, you follow the maximum number of people Twitter initially allows (2000), drop all of the people who don't automatically follow you back, reach the maximum number again (2000), drop nonfollowers, repeat over and over again. As you gain more followers in this manner, your maximum number you can follow rises and you keep up this following/unfollowing pattern indefinitely.

The result? These new Twitterers can rack up 10,000 followers in less than a month and a dozen Tweets. But are they influential? I don't know. I'm sure if they get big enough (50K followers or more), people will pay attention to them purely because of their size. But there is no commonality linking the followed to the following because they weren't chosen because of shared interests or desire for connecting or for any reason other than they followed back. I'm not sure if any of them read the Tweets they receive other than Direct Messages or Replies to them.

I'm sure that the top 100 or 200 of the Twitter Elite list is radically different than it was 2 months ago if it is based on pure follower numbers. A lot of old timers have dropped off the list and have been replaced with people who I'm not sure can be considered "influential" as much as successful in racking up high follower numbers with a "I'll follow you if you follow me" policy.

You may or may not agree but I think this new strategic use of Twitter (to create a large personal profile rather than build a like-minded network), will test how you measure "influence". So many of these people with large accounts--5K, 10K, 20K+--came out of nowhere and have posted less than 100 Tweets in some cases.

My interest in this is the question of how we measure influence when people are gaming the old ways of building status within a community. A lot of people look to Twitter Grader as the definitive measure of influence so I wanted to just plant a seed of whether your algorithms should or can account for a new way of building social ties (influence? I think not so much).
What do you think? Am I observing a real and significant change on Twitter or just being sentimental for the old days when there were fewer users and a traditional system of building ones' social network?

And to answer your question, yes, I do think about Twitter, and social networking in general, a lot!