Thanks, Anneke! It's no secret that I suck at Twitter. In fact, it's a secret that I'm on it at all. I look forward to taking your advice and changing my sorry status ASAP.
Confession: I used to be really bad at Twitter. I set up my account back in 2008, but it took me over a year of mediocre tweets and half-hearted engagement before I finally started to figure out how the heck this thing works.
Here’s what I learned: Your Twitter experience is only as good as you make it.
When used effectively, Twitter can be your one-stop shop for personally relevant news and online content, a tool to cultivate new relationships with previously inaccessible people and organizations, and a platform on which to establish your online identity within a given field. When used ineffectively, it’s a sparsely populated stream of boring cat photos.
The key is that you control the content. So if you don’t know what you’re doing, your experience will probably suffer. If you’re not sure you’re getting the most out of the Twitterverse, try these basic tips from a now-improved tweeter.
Don’t Just Follow Your Friends
If you think Twitter is pointless, you’re probably following the wrong people. A lot of new Twitter users treat the service like Facebook, and their first step is to follow all their friends. But guess what? Your friends probably suck at Twitter, too.
Unlike Facebook, Twitter doesn’t require relationships to be mutual. You pick exactly who and what to follow, so your Twitter feed should reflect your personal interests, even if that doesn’t include any of your college buddies. Try following columnists you read, politicians you support, artists you admire, or companies you want to work for. Twitter allows you to expand your content consumption beyond the confines of your “real world,” but once you get tapped into new networks, you’d be surprised how quickly those people can become true connections.
Always Use Twitter Handles
Whenever you mention a person, a brand, or an entity, check first if they have an active Twitter account. If they do, mention them by their Twitter handle instead of just by their name (e.g., @JetBlue instead of Jet Blue). That way, your tweet is pushed to their account as a “mention.” Not only does using Twitter handles vastly increase your chance of getting a retweet or a response, it facilitates connections for you and your followers.
Twitter is all about making connections, so the more you can connect your Twitter presence to others, the better. Notice if certain people retweet each other often or interact frequently. Look for patterns in content and interests. And when you see an opportunity to make a meaningful recommendation or connection, do it:
Share Links to Content
Discovering and sharing new content (articles, videos, photos) is one the best things about Twitter. Social media scientist Dan Zarrella has said there’s a correlation between the number of links you share and the number of followers you have—and therefore, it’s also related to your influence online. So, the next time you find something cool, share the love. Just remember, Twitter limits your tweets to 140 characters, so unless the URL you’re sharing is super short, you’ll need to shorten the link. Twitter will do this for you automatically, but if you want to track how many people click on the links you share, be sure to use a link shortening service like Bre.ad, Bit.ly, or Goo.gl.
Give Something to Your Followers
Before you tweet, ask yourself, “What are my followers getting out of this? How does this tweet add value to their lives?” If you’re not sure, consider revising. There’s a huge difference between:
Each tweet should provide more context about who you are, share content or a recommendation, or establish connections between you and other people or brands. The occasional irreverent or silly tweet is fine, but if your Twitter stream lacks substance, you’ll lose steam (and followers) quickly.
No matter what you use it for, Twitter is one of the most valuable social media tools out there. But if that hasn’t been your experience, know that you have the power to change it! Use these tips to open the door to a fun world of great content and new relationships.
And once you’re up and running, be sure to connect and let me know how it’s going. (You can find me @annekejong.)