Social Enterprise

10 rules for the Twitter neophyte

If you're just beginning to explore the potential benefits of Twitter, these recommendations will help you build a network that has some real value.

If you're just beginning to explore the potential benefits of Twitter, these recommendations will help you build a network that has some real value.


If you're a longtime Twitterphile with half a million followers, you probably know most of the things I'm about to cover here -- or else it's coming too late. But if you're still getting things off the ground and trying to figure out whether there's any value in relationships that consist of 140-character snippets, I think you'll find these 10 rules helpful in building a more valuable network.

To be honest, my own interest in Twitter is in the potential it has yet to develop. At this point, I don't think it is what it could be. The value of attention is still real, but getting people's attention isn't the challenge anymore. It's getting the attention of the right people, which on the Internet means building a relevant network of people who share your interests. The natural shortcoming of Twitter is that it keeps racing by, and each message is just a blast that spreads for a moment and then gets washed away. Contrary to the premise that a good network is based on reciprocation and mutual interests, randomly building your "followers" to five, ten, or a hundred thousand can create a mess for you to sort out when the real worth of momentary messaging becomes clear. (Hint: I don't think it lies in blasting out "secrets" about teeth-whitening or free webinars about how to get/buy more followers.)

The intent of the guidelines below is to prevent the tendency toward superficiality and quantity-over-quality in Twitter's growing stream (just under 50 million unique visitors per comscore -- Facebook has more than 300 million by comparison). Many of these ideas I've picked up from other people who are better at it that I am.

Is it even possible to avoid Twitter's inherent weaknesses? Last week, Dell announced that it attributes three million dollars in revenue to Twitter since 2007. That's a start.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

The rules

1: Don't direct-message me with something you are selling, especially at odd hours. That will get you deleted.

2: Don't follow anyone whose messages say "Follow me." Saying it is not a good reason.

3: Never follow anyone whose name is a city, vacation spot, or other vague reference.

4: Don't follow anyone whose ratio of followers to following is more than 4:1. (Sorry celebs -- any exceptions to this have to be outrageously interesting, and most of you are not.)

5: If you talk more than once about what you ate recently, you get unfollowed. No exceptions.

6: Don't follow people who use "@" to direct-message someone with some personal comment instead of using "d." (e.g., @Joe "Yeah.") This either means the person isn't following you or you are just lazy.

7: Don't follow people with o_O as their icon/photo. Lame (or spam).

8: Porn and other raw sewage gets deleted and/or blocked. Sorry; not my idea of a network.

9: Unfollow people who keep sending the same message. Once might be an error or a correction, but this is the wrong way to overcome the "shotgun" shortcomings of Twitter.

10: Ignore and possibly unfollow people who consistently send out a URL with no explanation. Unless you have a network of only your relatives, why would anyone expect people to click on something just because they sent it?

Building the quality network

To sum things up, here's what you should be looking for in building your Twitter network:

  • People with the same interests you have (check relevant # filters)
  • Those in your professional field with pertinent things to say
  • People who generally make great observations and thought-provoking connections
  • Sources of relevant "early news flashes" that are relevant to their network(s)

Building this kind of group will take more time than using an auto-responder, but it will give you a network that has some real value. And keep in mind that the people who are successful with any social media tool are the ones who start with the premise "What can I give?" rather than "What can I get?"

Other rules?

What Twitter transgressions do you find counterproductive, annoying, and/or offensive? Share your own rules in the discussion below.


Jeff Cerny is a regular contributor to TechRepublic's 10 Things blog. You can follow him at @jeffcerny or e-mail him at jeffcerny@gmail.com.

About

Jeff Cerny has written interviews with top technology leaders for TechRepublic since 2008. He is also the author of Ten Breakable Habits to Creating a Remarkable Presentation.

15 comments
carolynrose9
carolynrose9

Interesting article. Please tell me how I can use Twitter to more effectively network in business.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Speaking as one, I don't understand a couple of your comments. I've also got a couple of quibbles. "6: Don't follow people who use "@" to direct-message someone with some personal comment instead of using "d." " What are "@" and "d.", and what's the difference? "People with the same interests you have (check relevant # filters)" What's a "# filter"? Quibble time: "7: Don't follow people with o_O as their icon/photo. Lame (or spam). ... here's what you should be looking for in building your Twitter network: ... Those in your professional field with pertinent things to say ... People who generally make great observations and thought-provoking connections" Must these be mutually exclusive? Just because someone doesn't know how to or care about an icon doesn't mean they don't have something worth reading. Plenty of TR members worth reading still have the default 'silhouette' avatar. "...keep in mind that the people who are successful with any social media tool are the ones who start with the premise ?What can I give?? rather than ?What can I get?? " I think this is why I get no value from social networking. I agree one gets out what one puts in, but I find I don't have anything to offer. I'm in complete agreement with the ephemeral nature of Twitter. I find it nearly impossible to follow a conversation.

Krummelz
Krummelz

Just to show how much twitter is being 'mis-used' -> http://cursebird.com/ Nice mashup though. Perhaps we need a tool such as this which could bring us twits related to tags we specify?

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

It might be worth noting that when users first sign up, they're given a 'default' set of followees. Dump 'em, and collect those who share your interest/s. The search feature is pretty good for finding folk worth following, provided you 'get' keywords. Numbers nine and ten stand out for me. One of my employers is trying to build a web presence. We're a small not-for-profit with limited activity outside the services we provide. We have privacy issues to deal with, too. It's difficult to come up with something new(ish), not to mention a description for our URL.

rhetorica2
rhetorica2

Great read. Thanks for sharing. Much here I agree with, and much I disagree with (especially the part about porn). ;)

SKDTech
SKDTech

What transgressions do I find annoying? Someone who is involved in a site with several associated blogs who blasts out twenty times an hour with the newest blogpost that just went up on the site. Some may be interested in knowing when something new appears on the site but I prefer to use RSS. And as far as @ replies goes, just because I am following someone does not mean they are following me. The last time I tried to send a DM it was refused by the system because the person wasn't following me.

rhetorica2
rhetorica2

What are you key goals in networking? And with whom would you like to network?

jeffcerny
jeffcerny

Hi Jon, This is a great point and I think there can be exceptions. For the record, although twitter.com/zappos has about three times as many followers as it is following, they are a good example of a company that sees value in following people back. They may not be following "buzzsaw" with a o_O avatar, but the did follow me right back as I recall. Jeff (@jeffcerny)

jeffcerny
jeffcerny

Hi Palmetto - thanks for the great questions. See if this helps: Using "d" (space) and a name sends a direct message to one person - just like an instant message but within twitter. Using "@name" is essentially a normal post that gets sent out to your entire network, but gets logged to the @ folder of the person named. Using the "d" takes you out of the giant river of posts and allows you to talk to one person about some point that was made, and also puts it in their "direct message" folder. Filters using the # sign allow you to use a keyword(s) to flag your post. When you're using the search window in twitter, you can just put in terms as you would with Google or Bing, or you can put in the # to allow you to see what has been flagged with those words (i.e. results for "lockerbie" will be slightly different than for "#lockerbie"). When it comes to the default avatar, it's just my preference. I've found that the o_O often goes with spam, frothy posts or people who haven't said anything for a couple months. I'm sure there are people who disagree with me. Similarly, I find the "following 8 / followed by 8000" crowd is generally superficial and uninteresting, and in spite of the hip celebs that do this, I don't think it's the way to use social networking - purely as a megaphone. I'm surprised you don't believe you have anything to offer. Reminds me of a quote by the late William F. Buckley that out of every 100 people, 99 are interesting and the 1 is interesting because he's the only one. Your comments here are very interesting, imho. Hope this is helpful, Jeff (@jeffcerny)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

When I signed up I received in the spring of '08, I got no followers.

santeewelding
santeewelding

"...difficult to come up with something new(ish),..." I think I know someone who may be able to help. You are the person to whom I am speaking, are you not?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I've tried Twitter a couple of times and wasn't pleased with the results. I tried blogging and abandoned that too. I found I have nothing to say as an author that I'm interested in as a reader. Sure, I can comment easily on what someone else has to offer. "Those that can, do. Those that can't, criticize." Original content is beyond me, especially within a 140-character limit. The advantages of that continue to escape me.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

is my five-point response to the mid-90's question, "Why don't you have a blog?" For those who can't find it or want to be bored to within an inch of their lives, peer mail me and I'll forward it to you. The points I express there also cover Twitter, although they pre-date the notion that a character limit is a beneficial 'feature'.

Jeneral22
Jeneral22

Palmetto, I read your posts here and you have great content but, as you say that doesn't mean you posses creativity to generate topics. That has been my issue with social networking garble. No Twitter, Facebook, or MySpace. I have my thoughts and opinions but, the burden of maintaining and adding content to any of them seems to be rather conceded and self promoting. I don't need attention from others to feel worthy. On the following standpoint with twitter, when do you have time to eat and have a real life when all of your followers are adding new content that you need to keep up with? Argghhh, what have I missed since I went to the restroom. I don't get it. Dinner with my parents and siblings turns into a text off with folks who aren't around the table because we can't turn off the technology. I realize communication is valuable but, not at the expense of the person who is in the room! Stop the crap and pay attention to the flesh and blood that can stab you not the babble coming from your smart phone! Whew, I feel better, carry on!