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From Here to Tweeternity: A Practical Guide to Getting Started on Twitter

From Here to Tweeternity: A Practical Guide to Getting Started on Twitter

Getting Started on Twitter

    Twitter is clearly the Next Big Thing. In the past couple of months, we’ve seen CNN adopting it as a way of giving living feedback during their shows, celebrities from Britney Spears to Demi Moore opening accounts, and hundreds of thousands of new users join the ranks of Tweeters.

    Businesses are getting into the Twitter game, too, using it as a way to provide near-instantaneous customer service, to promote their services, or to maintain brand awareness by staying engaged in ongoing conversations about their products and their competitors’.

    We here at Lifehack have given plenty of advice about using Twitter effectively. Dozens of other sites have as well. But a lot of that advice has focused around principles for using Twitter, and often vague ones at that: join the conversation, don’t spam, add value, be helpful – that sort of thing. What’s missing is a guide to actually using Twitter, a “best practices” guide that will walk people and businesses through the process of building up a core of followers and beginning to build a reputation on Twitter. 

    This is that guide. If you’re on Twitter just to keep up with friends and find the best parties, this guide isn’t for you. But if you’re looking to promote a business, build a brand, or keep up with your customers’ problems using Twitter, these 10 steps will get you through the early phases – and hopefully build up enough inertia to carry you through the next ones.

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    1. Sign Up.

    You can’t win if you don’t play. Go to Twitter.com and sign up. Choose a good username – your name or some variation, or your company name. Avoid “cutesy” names (unless you have a “cutesy” brand) and names that are easily confused with someone else. Definitely avoid “AOL Disease”; that’s where every possible variation of your name is taken so you end up with your name and a string of digits after your name, like “dustin73948924” – if you have a common name, use a memorable and representative handle (but make sure you use it elsewhere as well, since you’re effectively [re-]branding yourself under this name). Make sure you post a link to your Twitter page on your blog, website, emails, and anywhere else you connect with people.

    2. Download and Install Tweetdeck.

    There are lots of Twitter clients out there, and of course you can use the website as well, but for business and branding use, Tweetdeck offers several features that make it the best choice. First of all, Tweetdeck is an Adobe AIR application, which means it runs on virtually every current major operating system. Second, Tweetdeck’s multi-column view lets you view a wide range of Twitter streams easily. Third, it allows you to create groups containing the tweets of a subset of all the people you follow, so you can separate out, say, business partners, clients, and suppliers. And finally, Tweetdeck has Twitter Search built in, and allows you to create permanent columns for each search term that are updated in more or less real-time. We’ll be using this last feature a lot in step 4.

    3. Tweet 10 times.

    You can tweet all at once, or over a few days, but before you do anything else, you should start getting a history built up on your profile page. The reason is that as you follow people, they’ll be checking you out, and many people won’t follow someone that doesn’t seem to be actively using Twitter – what’s the point? Your Twitter profile doesn’t say when you joined, so they have no way of knowing whether you’re brand new or possibly the worst Twitterer ever.

    So put up a bunch of tweets right away. Make them good, but not fake – personal tweets are ok, as long as they’re substantive, but no two-word posts, or inane comments like “whee, this is fun”. And puh-LEASE avoid the urge to write “Is this thing on?” or “Checking out Twitter” as your first post. Everyone else does that.

    4. Run three searches for your keywords.

    At the top of Tweetdeck’s window is a strip of icons, one of which will say”Search” when you mouse over it. It looks like a magnifying glass. Click that and run a search on keywords relevant to your business or products. This is how you’ll follow (and join in on) conversations that are relevant to you, demonstrating your expertise while participating in the community. Tweetdeck creates a new column for each search – pick three keywords you think people are most likely to use to start with (you can also use phrases, just put them in quotes). For instance, if you’re Mountain Dew, you might search for “dew”, “thirsty”, and “extreme sports”. (You can always add more searches later – for now, while you’re getting started, stick to tree so you don’t get overwhelmed.)

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    5. Respond to 10 or more tweets.

    If you’ve picked good keywords, you should have plenty of examples of people talking about your company, your product, your competitors, or things your audience is likely to be interested in. Pick 10 of them, hit reply (hover your mouse over the speaker’s avatar and click the “swoopy arrow” button (it will say “Reply To” when you mouse over it), and talk to them. Answer their question if they’ve asked one. Point them to a website or blog post they might be interested in (not necessarily your own).  Say how cool whatever they’ve linked to is. Ask your own question. Just generally, you know, talk to them. Like a person. NOT like a PR person, like a real one.

    As you go through the next few steps, keep doing this – every day if you want, every few days or so at least.

    6. Follow 100 people.

    Now you have a track record of interesting, helpful things you’ve said – you make a pretty compelling person to follow. Some of the people you responded to in #5 will already have followed you, as well as some of your homepage visitors and others you’ve shared your link with. Now you want to wade into the general stream of Twitter conversation and make yourself known. So follow 100 people – that’s where the “magic” starts to happen with Twitter, and it’s a reasonable amount for a beginner to track.

    How to find Twitterers worth following:

    • Check out your followers, and who’s following them.
    • Pick a couple of big names and look at who their followers are.
    • Use Twitter Groups to find groups of Tweeters organized by interest, place, or event.
    • Follow Mr. Tweet who will recommend Twitsters for you to follow based on it’s analysis of your Twitter stream.
    • Check out the top Twitterers overall, or by location, at Twitterholic.

    7. Follow almost everyone back.

    At this point in the game, it doesn’t pay to be too choosy about who you follow – you can always un-follow people later. There is a kind of etiquette to following and not following people – if you have few followers and someone follows you, it looks like a pretty big rejection if you choose not to follow back. On the other hand, once you have hundreds or thousands of followers, and especially when you’re already following hundreds of people, it looks more like good time management and less like a personal slap in the face when you don’t follow someone back. Of course, if they’re offensive in some way, use your own judgment, but the general rule should be “if they follow you, you follow them.”

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    Unless you change this in the settings, you’ll get an email every time someone follows you. And unless you’re insanely famous and can expect hundreds or thousands of new followers a day, I recommend you don’t change that setting.

    8. Find at least 1 Tweet to respond to every day.

    You’re following at least 100 people, you’ve got around 100 people following you, you’re watching and participating in conversations relevant to your company or brand – now you’re in maintenance. For a while at least, make sure you’re responding to at least one person from your keyword searches a day – these aren’t people you follow, so this is how you expand beyond your network of followers, and hopefully increase its size. It’s also how you build your reputation as an engaged, concerned expert. Which is the point.

    Do as many as you feel like, but do it every day – you’re building up a habit here.

    9. Post at least one “status update” every day.

    Also post at least one fresh, interesting thing every day for a while – again, you’re building up a habit. Plus, you don’t want to appear to only respond to other people – you want to present yourself as an original voice in the Twitterverse, someone who makes waves and doesn’t just react to ripples.

    10. Respond to almost every @reply or direct message.

    If people care enough about you to contact you directly, show that you care about them by responding directly, in the same way they contacted you. That is, if they @replied to something you said, @reply to them back; if they privately direct messaged you, DM them back. You’re showing respect for your audience, engagement with the Twitter community, and hopefully your extensive knowledge and compassion. All of which beat a stick in the eye.

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    Bonus tip: Enjoy yourself.

    Twitter is, first and foremost, a social environment. People use it to have fun. And they tend to be very good at sniffing out insincerity, PR-speak, and all-around social selfishness. If you’re not having fun, turn your Twitter account over to someone in your organization who will – or hire someone, if you have to. Twitter is not an advertising platform (yet?) and it is not a broadcasting platform – it’s a conversation platform, or better yet, an interaction platform. Interact genuinely and unselfishly – just like you’d like people to see you and your business.

    As you walk through these steps, your competence will grow and you can add more searches, follow more people, and tweet more. These tips are meant to get you steadily to about 300-700 followers – after that, your only limit is the size of  the audience for your niche or niches that use Twitter, and your own creativity. Remember, your niche is more than just your product’s users or potential clients – try to connect with people who live and work in your city, whose share interests with you, or even just people whose tweets you like – that’s how you’ll build your audience and, hopefully, your clientele.

    Good tweeting!

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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