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


PCF said...

Liz, you can control who follows you on Twitter -- you have the ability to block users (however, unblocking them is very difficult so you should only take this step with the most annoying Twitterers or those who are harassing you).

Liz said...

That is true, you are right. I forgot about blocking. Although they won't receive your Tweets they can still view them on your profile page on the Twitter website.

PCF said...

I wonder, if you're logged into Twitter and if you've been blocked by someone, can you still see their tweets? Something tells me not. But then, logging out of your Twitter account would be the get-around to that problem. of course, anyone who goes to such lengths (logging into and out of their account in order to view your tweets via the web) is pretty mashugana, in my book...

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