24 January 2011

Top 10 Twitter Efficiencies

I saw a tweet recently that caught my attention because I realized I used to feel the exact same way. A woman asked how people find time to tweet so much. When I first started using Twitter, I wasn't really sure why I was getting involved or whether or not I was even using it properly.

Over time, I got a feel for the rhythm of it. Then it became part of my job. And once I began using Twitter every day, it began to really make sense. I progressed from wondering what to say and to whom, to having to detach myself from spending too much time tweeting. Now it's a balancing act, but very worthwhile.

To get real value from Twitter, you really need to use it frequently. Not necessarily every day; there aren't rules like that. Unfortunately, a lot of advice out there is extremely vague. So I thought I'd throw out my personal strategies.

These are the tips I'd pass on to anyone who wants to get more out of Twitter, without downloading a mystery how-to guide or simply staring at feeds and streams all day that make as much sense as the Matrix.

When I got started with Twitter, I wanted concrete suggestions. Like these:

  1. Be relevant. Whatever the theme of your account, your followers are looking for thoughts, insights, information, and links related to the topic you cover. For business or personal accounts, decide what topics are of interest to you and deliver on that plan, even generally.

  2. Share articles. If you find it interesting, a number of your followers probably will too. Most publications make it painfully easy with share buttons that connect to your Twitter account and do the work for you. Most share links or buttons actually populate the text field and, unless you want to add or change anything, you just click the tweet button.

  3. Ask questions. Your followers won't always answer, but Twitter is like that. Sometimes you're talking to yourself. I felt more comfortable using the site once I made peace with that and stopped feeling shy or embarrassed.

  4. Share photos. Use your photos, albums you like, pictures from deviantART, Picassa, Flickr or wherever you surf photos. People like beautiful imagery because it can be enjoyed and appreciated quickly or referenced later. And like articles, this can often be done with share buttons.

  5. Use #hashtags for the key words in your tweet. Also drop-dead easy, this simply involves putting a number sign in front of your #keyword so that when people search Twitter, your tweet comes up. More advanced users create specialized hashtags in the hopes of their term going 'viral' or 'trending' but once you're worrying about that, you won't be reading a blog post like this one.

  6. Share products. This doesn't necessarily mean 'selling'. Nobody likes that. (Unless you're tweeting for a retailer and that's what people follow you for.) But as a regular user, if you see something really cool, share it. If you maintain a professional Twitter account, you may want to think more carefully about products you share as it can be considered an endorsement.

  7. ReTweet and do so selflessly. ReTweeting (an RT) is a good way to build relationships, but use this function as an extension of sharing what you're interested in, even if you don't receive RTs in return. When you do receive RTs, it's appropriate to thank the user, even if you thank several users at once. My only caution with RTs is that it can become easier than generating your own content, so you might want to use them sparingly to start.

  8. Mention other users. Like ReTweeting, this is a smart relationship-building tool already built into Twitter. You are, in a way, addressing the user when you add the @ symbol in front of their username. But like asking questions, you need to become comfortable with the prospect of talking to or about someone who may not respond.

  9. Sustain conversations. When you mention someone and they reply to you, take a moment to think of another response. If one doesn't come naturally, that's okay. Let it pass. Don't be a last word keener. But often it's very much like commenting on a thread in Facebook. Twitter doesn't make it as visually easy to follow comment threads as Facebook does, so using a free 3rd party management tool, like HootSuite, can be very helpful.

  10. Use a scheduling tool. I like HootSuite for this feature as well. It can turn a 15-minute session into a week's worth of tweets. I don't recommend scheduling too far in advance as Twitter users probably want a response within 24 hours. Incorporate your Twitter scheduling into a period of web browsing and you'll be surprised how many tweets you'll line up.