Today, I wanted to write a bit about Twitter, in a post that I've been meaning to write for a long time. I regularly speak to clients, business contacts and people at our conferences who want to use Twitter more, or who have struggled with getting past the initial stages of using the site.
If you are an experienced Twitter user, then hopefully you'll still be able to share this post with friends or clients who are just starting out in building their brand or their own profile on the site.
There are plenty of guides and blog posts that cover the basics of signing up for Twitter account and advice about how to use the site in general. Twitter has released their own Twitter for Business minisite, and Mashable have compiled a number of blog posts into a Guide Book.
It can seem daunting to an outsider or a new Twitter user, that eveyone has established circles they interact with. Indeed, there can still be a significant hurdle to getting started just because of questions like "what should I say now", "who should I talk to" and "what's the point of tweeting if no one is following me?"
I think it's valuable to think in terms of building an early base of followers, since the flywheel effect comes into play beyond a certain threshold. I would pick the number 100 as a target where anybody can say that they're beyond the 'beginner' stage, and where all the advice from the other guides becomes much more applicable.
Preparing for Promotion
If this is a brand new Twitter account, the first few tweets will demonstrate that you're actually using the service and lets potential followers know what to expect. This makes the subsequent steps – gaining followers – a little easier.
After creating the account, you should immediately try to publish a few interesting tweets. If there are things on your mind about your industry / area of expertise, then make a comment or two.
You could make insightful remarks about your niche or publish links to useful/interesting content (though avoid promoting your own content at this stage.) You could even supplement these tweets with less formal comments, such as something funny, a comment about something that's been bothering you, or just mention when the weather is going to change.
You can also share images and photos. When photos are shared through certain prefered services (such as Twitter's mobile apps, yFrog, TwitPic and Instagram), they will be added to your own 'photo gallery'. Thumbnails of these pictures will be displayed on your profile page - this makes your profile look more interesting and can encourage people to follow you.
First 100 Followers
Depending on the existing 'influence' of you or your company, your first 100 followers might be stunningly simple to find, or particularly difficult. We've suggested some straightforward ways to being building up this solid base of followers.
Your Friends & Contacts
The first batch of people you engage with could be coworkers, friends, clients or partners. Aim for people with whom you have a close relationship, so that you can simply email or ask them directly; friends won't mind you asking, and you could easily pick up your first couple of dozen followers this way.
You can promote the account on your blog, by writing about it and explicitly asking people to follow you. (These readers can visit your Twitter profile to see the types of thing you've published already, and make a decision about whether to follow you.) Your blog should be a great source of followers, since the readers are already a self-selected group that trust you enough to subscribe and are interested in what you have to say: this translates well to having an interest in following you.
If you have an email newsletter that gets sent to certain people, you could use that list to promote the account as well. If you have separate lists for different audiences, it's worth trying to tailor your description to each of them.
For example, a recruitment company with an email list of HR Managers could tell them something like "We'll be sharing new advice from our recruitment agents about finding and retaining the very best employees."
Meanwhile, the same company's email to job-seekers might say "I'll be publishing the best new job listings on Twitter, so you could find out about the hottest opportunites before anyone else."
Promoting your Twitter handle
You should also begin using your Twitter username on and off the web, so that people can find and follow you without you explicitly asking them to. There are many easy ways to do this such as:
- Include a link in your email signature
- Add your Twitter URL / Name on print media such as business cards and flyers
- Consider including it on any advertising
- Include a link to your Twitter account anywhere you participate online, such as in forums or when blogging.
In these cases, people often present their Twitter username by preceding it with the site name, or showing the full URL. For example: "Twitter: AlanSmithee" or "twitter.com/AlanSmithee". However, most Twitter users will now recognize a Twitter username if it is simply presented in the form "@AlanSmithee"
Finding People to Follow
Through your regular use of Twitter, you'll discover interesting and relevant people to follow. However, it will be important to find some relevant people to follow early on.
The focus should be on accounts who you are legitimately interested in following or talking to. For example, suitable accounts might include:
- interesting or well connected people from your region
- local companies, restaurants, events, etc.
- other accounts focused on your business niche
- people with similar interests to you, etc.
Three particular methods for finding these people are listed below.
Twitter's advanced keyword search tool (more details below) will let you find people who are tweeting about particular topics. It also allows you to restrict your search to a geographic area. For example, I might look for "seattle mariners" or "520 bridge" to find people have an affiliation with or live in my area.
The official 'Lists' feature allows you to view user-generated lists of account. Finding lists created around a particular topic may give you a selection of people worth following. (TheNextWeb has more information about Twitter lists.)
You can find the lists that a particular user has created by following the 'Lists' link on their Twitter page.
Third Party Services
One of the most useful services, FollowerWonk allows you to search the profile bio text of Twitter users, which can help to find users in particular niches or local regions.
There will be two distinct types of tweet that you publish. The first type are those tweets which you decided to write, independent of others. The second are those which are reactive to what else is happening on Twitter – these are discussed in the next section.
Early on, I'd recommended that you post tweets of the first type at least once or twice a day. These updates could include:
- A comment from you that demonstrates expertise of thought leadership in some aspect of your niche
- A link to news or blog content that your followers might find interesting
- Photos that are either taken yourself or found online
- A more personal and potentially off-topic that demonstrates your human-side, e.g. "It's Ashlee's birthday today, so the office is filled with cake and balloons!"
As well as this type of 'broadcast' message, you can also try to engage your followers, by asking broad questions that people can respond to with their answers or comments. For example:
- "Exposed beams still split opinion: do you love them, hate them, or couldn't care less?" (A tweet by a commercial real estate company.)
- "Our receptionist, @ErinHannon, has just moved into her own place, and wants to know: what your one dish that you think everyone should know how to cook?"
Of course, you can still post content or questions that are targeted at specific people, by mentioning their username in the tweet. For example:
- "A quick question for @RobOusbey: is domain diversity still as important a factor as it was last year?"
- "@BobSmith: I know you'll like this: it's a guy who visited every state in five days: barrystiefel.com/50_states..."
Monitoring for Mentions
In addition to creating content, it is important to engage with users more directly. At minimum, this should include checking and responding directly to direct messages (DMs) and @ mentions from other users. (The @Connect link on the site lets you see people who have mentioned / responded to you. In addition, various smartphone apps will alert you when someone mentions you in a tweet.)
We recommend checking relatively frequently and responding to these messages quickly. Whether people are asking you a question or just mentioning you, a quick response will be well received by the other person.
You can also use the search box at the top of the page to check for mentions of your brand or company name; use quote marks to group phrases and the term 'OR' to combine different terms. For example:
funwidgets OR "fun widgets" OR funwidgets.net
(You can then hit 'gear icon' followed by 'Save search' to be able to quickly access the same search results in the future.)
In addition to seeing things that people have said explicitly to you, scan through the content posted by the people you follow. Are there interesting posts that you would like to comment on, or conversations that you'd like to join? Go ahead and respond to anything that people have posted.
Remember that people on Twitter never mind receiving responses or comments from people they've not talked to or met before. Don't feel you have to stick to any 'off-line' social conventions about butting in to a conversation: this is Twitter, and people have only posted content looking for a reaction or response.
You can also find interesting Tweets to respond to by using Twitter's advanced search feature - allowing you to filter your keyword search by a particular location. For example, our fictional recruitment company might run a search for 'job hunting' that is limited to their region, or for exact phrases like "need a job in boston" to help find people who are at the right stage in their career.
As you read content from those you follow and search for interesting tweets, you may not only find things to reply to or comment on, but also things worth sharing with your own followers. Twitter users typically either quote a tweet, showing who it came from, or use Twitter's inbuilt 'Retweet' function to instantly re-share it.
In this example, the user has re-shared tweets by two people: the top tweet was ReTweeted using Twitter's functionality; the lower tweet was simply copied & pasted, with the 'RT' and username prefix added. This notation will become familiar to a new Twitter user after spending a short time with the service.
By responding to others, joining appropriate conversations and sharing content from other people, your overall interaction will change from using Twitter as a broadcast platform to a powerful relationship building tool instead.
However, the most valuable successes on Twitter come when other people ReTweet your content; this can lead to significantly more people seeing what you've written. Being personable, not coming across as overly-promotional, and offering value (through educating or entertaining people) will help users feel inclined to ReTweet you. However, there are some specific tips that will encourage people to re-share your tweets:
- leave room for people to add your name or other comments to your tweet (i.e. limit your tweets to 100-120 characters).
- share links to a variety of content frequently (the majority of ReTweets include links, according to this research).
- ask people to ReTweet! This can have a high success rate, particularly if your followers trust you.
Going Forward with Twitter
Hopefully, the advice presented here will help you find your first hundred followers. By that point, you should have a good understanding of the most useful ways you can use Twitter and you'll also be able to make sense of guides, such as those linked to above.