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The web is replete with social media experts spouting off about how you can get more out of Twitter, and this post is no exception. I don’t claim that the following tactics will light a path to Twitter nirvana, but I can say that my own personal experiences have shown me some success in this area. If you are in fact interested in improving your experience with Twitter (and why would you be reading this if your aren’t) you need to try new things, assess how they are working, and repeat. No one set of instructions will work equally well for everyone so you need to be flexible enough to adapt to your own circumstances. If however you need some specific ideas, here are some of mine:

The first thing that you need to do is identify what it is you are hoping to get out of twitter. I think that the fundamental appeal of the service, that is, the product it is actually selling us is the sense that people are listening to us. That feeling that we are important and influential. Most people measure this success merely in terms of the number of followers they have, but that is a poor metric. It is illusory because it doesn’t measure the number of people that are reading what you post. There is no way that anyone with any kind of life is actually paying attention to what their tweeple are saying if they follow a thousand or more of them. I don’t know about you, but I’m not satisfied speaking to a large crowd if they aren’t paying attention.

If sheer the number of followers is all you are interested in, your task is easy. All you have to do is follow a large number of people and many of them will follow you back. That’s all.

If however you are interested in cultivating a group of folks that actually care about what you have to say, and will actually read your tweets, your task is a bit more complex. You need to embrace your role as an editor of information for the mob and improve the product you put out. As a twitterer your job is to produce value for the twittering masses. Whether that value is informational, entertainment, or something else, people want to listen to those that provide something useful for them. In many ways, you are parsing the information you consume and regurgitating the good stuff for your audience (citizen journalism indeed). With that in mind, a good way to improve your output is to improve your input. So, lets break it down into two tasks:

Task 1:  Improve your data intake

I’ve stated many times that one of the main tasks with making Twitter useful, is managing the signal to noise ratio. The biggest enemy to getting a clean signal is weeding out all the crap, and there is a lot of crap on Twitter. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Aggressively prune the list of people you follow on twitter:
    Twitter isn’t about friending people, your relationship as a follower is not an endorsement of any kind of social relationship. Likewise, unfriending someone is not an insult to the target. It is not rude to unfollow someone. Twitter is about information, not friends. The friend thing is what Facebook does really well. On twitter you need to relentlessly remove those folks from your list that are not providing value to you. You should be spending as much time considering who to remove as you do finding new people.
  • Follow searches, not just people
    Using Twitter’s search engine to find people tweeting about topics you’re interested in is the first step. But, did you know that the search engine provides an RSS feed for every search you perform? Just click on the orange RSS icon in the top right of the search results page. You can bookmark or subscribe to these feeds with your web browser or feed reader. Also, many Twitter clients like Tweetdeck and Nambu allow you to save searches and list them in the same manner you can group your followers.
  • Follow groups
    As stated above, Twitter clients like Tweetdeck and Nambu make it easy to assign the people you follow into groups. I’ve found that it is often useful to create groups based on my initial motivation for following a person. So, for example, if I encounter an especially insightful tweet in a search result, and I find that the person’s bio or timeline is compelling because they are an expert on topic X, I’ll add them to my ‘topic X’ group.  I also have a small list of people for whom I want to read everything they post, so I place them in my must read group.
  • Use ‘favorites’ as a bookmark for tweets you want to follow up on
    I find that most people aren’t even aware that Twitter allows you to label individual tweets as ‘favorites’. This action lists them in a separate list until you actively remove them. I find this to be useful especially when I encounter a tweet that links to something that I don’t have time to read at the moment. I essentially mark it for follow up attention, then remove it when I’ve completed that action. This works really well when accessing twitter from my phone, when I almost never have time to go off and read an article.


Tasks 2: Improve your data output

Keep in mind that your audience is not a static thing. People are hoppin on and off board the follow bandwagon all the time. At any given time, only a small percentage of your audience is actually paying attention to their own twitter stream. And, more and more people are getting your tweets via searches and other means. The result is, the group to whom you are speaking is different in the morning, during the workday, in the middle of the night, and so on. There are ways to take advantage of this. First…

  • Classify your tweets
    There are different kinds of posts that most people make to twitter. For example, there’s the classic lifecasting tweet (“This sandwich is good.”), event based editorial (“I think that guy on TV right now is full of it!”), news link (“XYZ, inc. is buying QRS, inc. read about it here…”), real-time reporting (“we just had an earthquake!”) and so on. Some tweets are time-dependent, meaning that there is some value in putting them out right now, but many aren’t. Think about it, does your opinion about last night’s episode of LOST have to be posted right now? By thnking of your posts in this fashion, you can tailor your stream to the audience that you have at any given moment.
  • Schedule your tweets in advance to accommodate your audience
    To make that tailoring easier you can queue up your tweets in advance. This has several advantages. You can write your witty posts when you have time, say in the evening after work, and have them sent out at appropriate times. So work related insights and links can go out during the day, when co-workers are likely to be paying attention, and more personal stuff goes out in the off hours. If you really wanted to get tricky, you could even time your geographically relevant tweets to accommodate the time zone when interested readers are more likely to be paying attention. To schedule your tweets you need to use a third party tool like FutureTweets.
  • Retweet, but try to add value
    Most are already aware of the advantages of retweeting interesting content as you encounter it. But it’s often more valuable to add in your two cents. That is, repost the essence of the original post (a link to a blog post for example), but give your own opinion about it, not the original poster’s. Of course, give credit to the originator, but instead of using the ‘RT’ or ‘retweeting’ protocol, use ‘via’. For example, “That full of crap guy is full of crap, read for your self here… (via @poster)”. That way you give credit, get attention, but don’t put words into the mouth of the original poster.

Hopefully we will see Twitter and third party developers create tools that make these tasks easier. For example, the scheduling service needs to be built directly into Twitter in my opinion. I’d also like to see services start using more sophisticated measurements of twitter value than simple ‘number of followers’. If you want to follow me, I’m @rworkman. I also produce a weekly Twitter news podcast called Thotcast (itunes link).

BTW, the title of this post is a reference to this guy, who cracks me up every time I see this…