Getting Started with Twitter

I have to be honest – it took me probably a year, maybe more, to “get” Twitter.

Even now, I have a love/hate relationship with it, but there is no denying that it is an invaluable tool for building relationships with your customers and growing your customer base.  In fact, I can attribute the blossoming of my personal blog to Twitter, when one well-known blogger re-tweeted a post of mine she liked.  Alas, to this day, I don’t know who it was.

I have heard many of my friends and colleagues say, “I just don’t get Twitter!”, “It’s just too much.” “What are you meant to do?”

I could give you a platitude and say, “Just jump in!”, but you’d probably just stare me down and walk away. So I won’t.

Here are some tips I’d like to share with you for getting into the Twitter groove.

1. Take your time.  Set up your account, grabbing your username before someone else does and just let yourself take it in.  Explore the home screen and get to know the menu bar – click on everything and find out what each menu option does.  You don’t need to jump in boots’n’all straight away and expect to be brilliant at Twitter. If you don’t take your time, you will probably have a quick look around, follow a few people, send a few tweets and then walk away and forget it, because you won’t see any interaction or benefits.

2. Set up your profile.  Use few well chosen words to describe who you are and what you do.  Use keywords relevant to your business.  If you’re a blogger, say so, if you make hand-made soaps, use that, if you’re an IT specialist, again say it in your profile.  Make sure you include a link to your website so people can find you.  Also, make sure your profile has a photo of you – not many people will engage with a featureless egg, or your cat, unless they know you really well already.

3. “Follow” people. When you first sign up, Twitter will recommend some people for you to follow. They will most likely be celebrities, news services, or others that it recommends based on the description in your profile.  I would suggest searching out people who you know are on Twitter and following them.  Seek out the leaders in your field or industry, your competitors, clients, suppliers and friends.  Check out who they follow and interact with and follow those people as well, if they seem like an interesting bunch.  This will result in a domino effect and you will quickly find yourself following a large number of people.  And, most often, they will follow you back.

4. Watch and learn.  Observe others’ interactions.  Don’t be shy in clicking on their comments and tracing back the conversations. Twitter isn’t merely a broadcasting tool for sharing information about your business, it is a tool for building relationships through conversation.  Very public conversation.

5. Jump in. OK, I know I wasn’t going to say that, but once you have watched for a while it’s time to respond to people’s comments and questions, even if you don’t know them.  It’s like being at a party. Someone says something interesting, you respond and before you know it you are having a deep and meaningful conversation.  A very public conversation.  Don’t be afraid of jumping into other people’s conversations.  It’s called “tweavesdropping” and is highly encouraged.

[Tweet “Don’t forget that Twitter is a very public conversation.”]

6.  Get organised.  Twitter can be all consuming and confusing.  The Tweet stream moves too quickly for anyone to keep up and it can end up being a time suck just trying to figure out what is going on. I think this is where most people get turned off.  Unlike Facebook, for example, conversations are truncated into single comments and the speed of updates is mind-boggling.  The trick?  You don’t HAVE to follow it all.  No-one person needs to know everything about everything.  There will be certain topics and people you do want to keep up with and here are  my tips  for doing just that without feeling overwhelmed:

  • Use lists to create groups of people you really want to keep in touch with.  For example you can have a “client” list, a “news” list, a “PR” list – these allow you to quickly scan through what people in those groups are saying.
  • Use programs such as Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to keep all your social media in one place.  What I love about these programs is that you can set them up to show the Twitter stream of individuals, lists and searches in separate columns, making it so much easier to keep tabs on what’s going on.
  • Set up your program of choice to follow key people in your field.  These people will be the ones most influential and knowledgeable in your specific area of interest.  Based on their Tweets you’ll be able to follow back on the key conversations in your stream and stay in the loop.  I am finding that Twitter has become today’s office grapevine.  Global and local news spreads faster on Twitter than it does anywhere else.  If you want to know what is going on in your industry, Twitter will tell you.
  • You don’t need to spend all day checking Twitter.  Dip in and out depending on your daily schedule.  Put aside ten-fifteen minutes a couple of times a day to check your mentions, your lists, your searches and they key influencers in your field.

7.  Don’t forget it’s public.  Hopefully, by now you have noticed my hints about this.  It’s easy to forget that Twitter is a public space, especially when you’re having a hilarious conversation about bananas. (Yes, bananas.)  It is also forever.  You can delete your Tweets, but if they include a mention of someone, that someone will get the Tweet anyway.  So be mindful of what you say.  Remember, it’s a party.

8.  What to tweet?  A wise person once told me that your interaction on social media should be 70% personal and 30% business (if you are trying to promote your business).  I don’t know if there is a magic formula, but if all you ever do is Tweet information about your business or links to your articles, you will quickly lose credibility and followers.  Another bit of advice I read was, “Talk AS you, not ABOUT you”.  This means – don’t tell people what you’re having for breakfast, include them in the conversation you are having over breakfast.

My preferred method of learning is experimentation, so I suggest you experiment with what you Tweet.  Follow a few people who are good at Twitter and watch what they do.  For me, that has been the best way to learn.  Your tweets could be mundane, funny, inspirational, profound, informative – work out what fits you and your business.  You can even Tweet about the weather, everyone will have something to say about the weather and, just like in real life, it’s a great conversation starter on Twitter.   Your aim is for people to get to know you as a person, not to tell them about your business.  Once they know you, your followers will trust you and be more likely to click on your links and buy from you.

Now that you have my 8 tips, sign up for your Twitter account, or go back to your long abandoned one and have a play.

Are you a Twitter fanatic  or a noob?

A glossary

Tweet – The message you send out on Twitter – 140 characters max.  Also used as a verb meaning sending your Tweet.

Handle – your username @your_name

Mention – when someone uses your Twitter handle, that is @your_name

RT – when someone re-tweets someone else’s Tweet.  This is mostly a good thing.

Hashtag – a key word or phrase, used to identify the topic of discussion, that is #topic.  These are often used to identify specific events that organisers want people to Tweet about, like #Blogher12 (a blogging conference  in the US), topics like #praus (Australian PR), or made up on the spot as a tagline #justsaying

DM – a direct message between two people.  You can only send private messages to people who are following you.