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As someone who started using Twitter back in the fall of 2007, I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. 33,000+ updates later, there’s almost nothing I can’t say in 140 characters or less. I started using Twitter before anyone knew what it was (or how to use it for that matter) so I had time to experiment. Today, there is a little more pressure to figure out right away how to use Twitter, and unfortunately, Twitter doesn’t necessarily do the best job helping new users get started.
Before I share my 10 tips with you, I should mention that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to use Twitter. However, there are tweets that are plain annoying. To that end, keeping in mind those who I consider to be the best people on Twitter, I’ve created this list of effective steps that will have your tweets go from novice to noticed.
1. Choosing a Handle: If possible, it’s usually a good idea to grab your name e.g. @SueAdams. If that name is not available, try variations of first initial/last name or insert your middle initial. Another option if you have a common name is to add the city you live in into your name or maybe the year you graduated college e.g. @DenverSueAdams or @SueAdams98.
2. Signing Up: When you sign up for Twitter, make sure you have a picture and a bio. Your picture doesn’t have to be of you (although that doesn’t hurt) but not having a picture screams “I’m new on Twitter and don’t know how it works.” For your bio, mention where you work if you feel comfortable doing so and then one or two interesting facts about yourself.
3. Your First Tweets: Before you start following anybody, enter a few tweets (that’s what Twitter calls “updates”) into the box that asks, “What’s Happening?” This will give people a sense of your style and what you plan to talk about.
4. Who to Follow: While there are a number of sites that provide lists of people to follow by category, your best bet when deciding who to follow is to start with a few people you know. Ask a few of your colleagues or neighbors if they are on Twitter. Then see who they follow or who they are interacting with.
5. How to Follow: Some people like to take a, “I’m going to get this all set up in one fell swoop” approach and immediately start following hundreds of people. I’d like to advocate against this for two reasons. First, keeping a balanced ratio of who you follow and those people that follow you back is important, at least for your first month or two. Users that have severely unbalanced ratios e.g. following 500 people with only 10 people following back, tend to look like spammers. Second, it takes a little while to get used to the flow of Twitter so in the beginning, keeping the number of people you follow to 25 or under is best.
6. Following Strategies: This is probably the one area where people diverge the most in terms of approach. In my case, I mostly a “follow me and I’ll follow you back” kind of guy. What I don’t do is follow accounts back that look spammy or that are in broadcast-only mode. Other people I know and respect have taken a slightly different approach where they only follow back people they know. As I mentioned before, there is no “right” way to follow. However, if you want to build up your following, you might consider the first approach unless of course you are a famous author, musician or actor.
7. What to Tweet: The $64,000 question that many people ask is, “what should I tweet about?” Well, what would you talk about with someone at work? At a conference? Or a business lunch? Probably a mix of business and personal stuff. Personally, I find sharing links to great articles, blog posts and research gets a positive response. But I also like to talk about sports, BBQ, movies and current events. Being a human being helps people connect with you emotionally and that makes for stronger ties.
8. @s, DMs and hashtags: If this subhead looks like beeps and clicks to you, that’s okay. As you start to use Twitter, you will see people using “@s” and “#s” in their updates. It’s not a foreign language but rather a way of getting people’s attention and tagging content. With the “@” sign, putting it in front of someone’s user name like @sueadams alerts the person to the fact that you are mentioning them in your update. Everyone following you will also see your updates but that’s okay. If you want to send a private message to someone, you include a “d” and a space plus their user name e.g. d sueadams. If you are tweeting about a particular topic like CRM or a movie like “Avatar”, you can allow people to follow your tweets (and others tweeting about the same topic) by putting a pound sign or hashtag in front of the word e.g. #CRM or #Avatar in your update.
9. Tools for the Pros: Once you get your sea legs with Twitter, you might want to start using a tool like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to provide real-time, multi-views of your Twitter activity. With these free downloadable tools, you can watch certain hash-tagged content, mentions, direct messages or special groups of people that you want to pay closer attention to.
10. Retweets Old School and New School Style: One way to share information on Twitter is via something called a “retweet” or “RT” for short. It essentially means that you like someone’s update enough to rebroadcast it to one’s own set of followers. Several months ago, Twitter introduced some new functionality (for tracking purposes) that allowed users to retweet in two different ways… the old way which allows to add parenthetical commentary in front of the update you are passing along and a new way which – irrespective of the number of characters – allows you to pass along the update verbatim. Both are good and have their place. For me, I’m a big fan of using the old style because I like to let my followers know why I’m passing something along to them.
Hopefully these 10 tips are enough to whet your appetite and get you headed in the right direction on Twitter. Another helpful guide should you want to delve deeper is the Twitter For Dummies guide put out by Wiley. My friends Laura Fitton, Michael Gruen and Leslie Poston are the authors and what I can tell you is that they are all a pretty smart bunch.
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