Everyone from Oprah to Ashton Kutcher is convinced that you need to be on Twitter. And if you look, you can find a zillion social media experts telling you to be there, and how to make money there (good luck with that, btw). Mashable has just published a great all-Twitter all-the-time guide so you can plan your every move.
And yet, I still keep hearing about people staring at blank screens, wondering what all the fuss is about. People who join Twitter, all excited, then leave after a month. People who haven't the foggiest idea of what to do, how to really live here. This column's for you.
I am revising and refining this as I go along, but here's what I know so far. When I first joined Twitter (@michebel), I followed people like crazy. Mostly tech people and podcasters that I knew about, cause that's who was talking to me. I followed and followed and followed, and pretty soon I had amassed 3000+ people that I was following. Not long after that, Twitter put these stopgaps in place (rather than getting fail whales all the time), which only allowed people to add up to 2000 people. Period.
So, I was stuck with the need/desire to add lots of people, and had a doorstop put in front of me. I did what many did to get around this: I opened another account. Pretty soon, that too, had 2000 (different) people that I was following. Now, I don't recommend that you have unlimited accounts that fill up to 2000. Even two is probably not a good idea.
The deal with Twitter is that once the same number follows you, you can start adding more. So, for example, if I was following 2000 and 3000 were following me, I could add another 1000 more. Your followers can be unlimited, but the amount you can follow is capped.
Most folks don't know all that. Many learn the hard way, like I did.
Let's just say I wanna start all over again, like I'm a Twitter newbie. How would I do it now? What have I learned about adding people to my stream?
Start with the basics. If you only follow ten people, for example, say your close friends, you are going to see posts from all of those ten friends. And that's it. Some of them may post like mad, and some of them not at all. So, no matter how much you love those ten friends, you may see a whole lotta hogwash from one friend and nothing from the other nine. Or even lots of posts by a couple people, prompting the often heard refrain: Twitter is stupid!
Well, all due respect, but that's because you're not doing it right.
Think of it like this. Twitter is like a constantly running stock ticker. Words are constantly coming out, and I do mean constantly. To get the most value out of it, you have to add the most value in. I mean that in several ways.
If I were starting over, I would cherry pick those I add to my stream. I would seek out each person's profile, read some of their Tweets and see if even one thing on the page makes me go: Hmm! or Wow! or Interesting! And if several things do, they are a definite add.
When you are looking at other people's profiles: look for this especially: the following-follower ratio. It should be about even. The best Tweeters are good about following people back. (If I wasn't constrained by the 2000 limit, I'd be following everyone.)
Since I didn't take a lot of time when I originally added them, I'm taking that time now. I have a running list of those I want to add, and I fine tune my list every single day. Those who target ads at me, or use words like #moonfruit to win a MacBook are removed, and I add new folks from my list. And every single day, my Twitter stream gets better and better.
I suppose it varies what people want out of their Twitter stream, but I look at it like this: a constant flow of information I want/need. Some, for example, are happy having friends who just spew links at them. I find this to be tiresome. In fact, there is only one guy on my list who only spews links. (But his links are really good, so I keep him.)
But I find a mix of people who spew links, people who quote some wisdom or poetry, people who just write funny or interesting things and people who might inform me about something I want to know about (a concert, a movie premiere, a TV show starting), is really what I'm looking for. And that is, by and large, what I spew back.
I also listen to music on Blip, and post the songs I'm listening to there. If you do more than a few, you'll lose a few followers, but for me it's worth it.
It's a give and take stream of consciousness. You put stuff in, you take stuff out. It's constantly going back and forth. My roommate (who still doesn't "get" Twitter) said recently: "Do you read every single thing in there?" Yes, by and large I do. And I look at the pictures that people send, and watch the videos and follow their links, and repost interesting stuff back to my Facebook page, or add things of my own. That's REALLY what it's about.
People who don't get it yet (including mainstream media, MSM) can see Twitter as a waste of time. Lots of people saw chat rooms as a waste of time too. I made some of my best friends through hanging out in chat rooms, so I respectfully disagree. But since the early days of CompuServe and AOL, I've learned the importance of developing community online. And Twitter now, really does (as we've seen by all the correspondence with Iran in recent times) plug you into the whole world.
That is pretty overwhelming indeed.
So break it down. Down to your own personal little chunks. Not everyone is going to have gold nuggets every single time. But have people on your stream who amuse you or make you laugh or make you think or just make you feel better. That is really the reason to be on Twitter. We are the World, Twitter is us.