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 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