Tips for a transformed twitter

With everybody from Britney to Obama now on Twitter it is safe to say the social networking platform has gone mainstream. But what does this mean for the service and how can we as website owners use it?

Paul Carter from New York writes:

Paul, I notice that you have been lamenting a lot on twitter about it becoming a marketing tool. Is that really wrong? Shouldn’t we be embracing and using it?

I sent my first twitter in November of 2006, only 7 months after the services launch. For me it was a way to keep in touch with new friends I had made at the Refresh 06 conference. It was less intrusive than instant messaging and less formal than email. I quickly became hooked.

For the longest time it was the tool of geeks. My friends laughed at me as I sent tweets from the pub, my family stared blankly as I explained the service. However, that has all changed now.

Like Facebook before it Twitter is everywhere at the moment. It was even recently discussed by Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross on the BBC in front of 4 million viewers. It has become mainstream and increasingly it is being used as a marketing tool. There is no going back.

However, Paul is right. I am wrong to lament what Twitter once was and should embrace it as a tool I can use. Nevertheless like everybody, I need to be careful how I use it. I do not believe Twitter users will allow the tool to be reduced to a broadcast mechanism for pimping the latest blog post or special offer.

So how am I choosing to use Twitter?

I guess the first thing to say is that I am not a Twitter success story. Sure I have nearly 4000 people following me but that pale into insignificance when compared to others. That said, Twitter is turning into a third string of my online presence, alongside this blog and podcast.

With that in mind let me share with you a few tips that have helped me better utilise this interesting new tool.

1. Above all, keep it personal

Although twitterers like CNN breaking news have been very successful, generally I feel corporate twitter accounts are a mistake.

In my opinion twitter is about person to person communication and not a broadcast tool for faceless corporations. To use it in that way is to miss the potential of twitter.

Does that mean you cannot have a twitter account for your organisation? Not at all. For example if Vitaly Friedman created a twitter account you might not recognise the name. However, if he used the name SmashingMag you are more likely to follow because you know the Smashing Magazine website.

It is not the name that matters so much as the tone of posts. In my opinion your tweets should be more than an endless string of press releases and links. It should include personal content and a dialogue with followers.

This is important because it enables you to make a connection with your users. An open and honest relationship with users is very powerful. It builds trust, loyalty and engagement. It encourages repeat traffic and word of mouth recommendation.

CNN Breaking News Twitter Page

2. Learn from others

I have learnt a lot about Twittering just by reading the tweets of those I admire. Merlin Mann for example injects a lot of humour into his posts and his followers really respond to that. Darren Rowse on the other hand strikes a good place between recommending content others have written with promoting his own posts.

As well as examining the style of others you can also examine statistics. Use a tool like TweetStats.com to examine how often others tweet and how often they reply to their followers. All of this helps to build up a picture of what makes a successful twitterer.

There are also a growing number of great sites which give advice on how to get the most out of twitter. One of my personal favourites is TwiTip that covers subjects such as “The Merit of Twitter Competitions” and “How To Get Unfollowed On Twitter“.

TweetStats

3. Get a good desktop client

Without a shadow of doubt the most powerful twitter client currently available is TweetDeck. This air application not only runs on Windows, Mac and Lynx but also provides a range of superb tools for managing your life on Twitter.

With TweetDeck you can create groups, filter tweets, monitor certain subjects as well as tweet, reply and retweet posts.

In fact it is so powerful that it can be somewhat intimidating at first. Don’t let that put you off. Check out this short tutorial into TweetDeck’s core features and you will be up and running in no time.

TweetDeck

4. Use twitter on the road

If your twitter account is going to be personal as well as professional then you will almost certainly want to use it on the road. One option is to simply use Twitters mobile website. However if you are fortunate enough to have an iPhone then there is a wealth of Twitter clients available to you.

I think I have paid for and tried almost every twitter client on the Iphone, but the winner hands down is Tweetie.

I love Tweetie. It has a clean, easy to use interface, and yet is packed with powerful features including the ability to:

  • Handle multiple twitter accounts.
  • Navigate reply chains.
  • View twitter trends and perform custom searches.
  • Access complete user profiles.

In many ways it is even better than TweetDeck because it has much of TweetDeck’s power, but in a much cleaner interface. If only they did a desktop application!

Tweetie Screenshots

5. Tracking the results

Although I have already mentioned TweetStats, that is just the tip of the statistical iceberg.

There are an ever growing number of tools you can use to track your activity on twitter. However, the ones that really interest me are those that track click throughs. What I really want to know is if I mention a link in twitter, how many people click through.

If the link is one on my own sites I could use Google Analytics using their URL tagging tool. However, this is somewhat fiddly and only applies if I am linking to my own site. What is more these URLs can get long, which is a problem when limited to 140 characters.

Fortunately there is a tool called TwitterBurner which solves these problems. It shortens the URL and tracks all click throughs even to sites you do not run yourself. Best of all it is now supported from directly within TweetDeck (although not Tweetie unfortunately).

Tweetburner Homepage

6. Follow as well as be followed

Always remember that Twitter is a two way conversation. A big part of successful twittering is about replying to those who tweet you.

Twitter is also not just about who follows you. It is also about who you follow. One service that I find particularly useful is Mr Tweet.

Mr Tweet will provides two type of information.

  • First it suggests people you might want to consider following because they fall within your broad network (people who are followed by your friends).
  • Second it suggests those from your list of followers who you should follow back.

For each of these people it provides various stats including:

  • The number of followers they have
  • The chance of them replying to you
  • How often they update

This is a great way of extending your network of contacts and potentially increasing the chance of your tweets being retweeted. Its also a great way of meeting new people!

MrTweet homepage

7. Integrate whenever possible

If you are intending to use Twitter for anything other than personal use it needs to be incorporated into the rest of your web strategy. That means it needs to linkup with your other online activity including your website and other social networks.

There are no shortage of tools that help you do this from the basic twitter widget to a tool for sending your tweets to facebook.

One tool that particularly caught my attention is called TwitterFeed. It posts content from an RSS feed to Twitter which is a useful way of updating your followers about new posts.

However, use any tool that automatically posts to Twitter with caution. It can easily become annoying if used too much. Also it lacks the friendliness of a personal post.

twitterfeed homepage

8. Don’t over think it

Of course the problem with all these tools, statistics and analysis is that it can suck the spontaneity and personality from your tweets.

Although some of those late night drunken tweets are best gone, you want to avoid your tweets becoming too sterile.

Let me explain what I mean. I am naturally a fairly good public speaker. However, once I was sent to a public speaking workshop. They taught me all the techniques you should use to be exceptional. However, instead of it improving my skills it made me so amazingly self conscious that I was paralysed. I was over analysing what I was doing.

The danger is we do the same with Twitter. Sure, Twitter can be used as a marketing tool but that doesn’t mean it cannot be fun too. Don’t let articles like this suck the joy out of twittering!

Twitter message from Boagworld: mmm... caburys cream egg and redbull. Nice post lunch snack

  • http://www.bigpewler.com Nathan Crenshaw

    Great post, Paul. I really wish some of the “power tweeters” out there would heed some of your advise. I much more enjoy the personal tweets (even from those I don’t personally know) than folks pushing their sites and services. A tweet about a new blog post every now and then is great, but when it is insistent, I find myself going for the block button. The exception, of course, being tweeters like SmashingMag that are clearly a website/blog and don’t try to present themselves as an individual.
    Thanks for the great post!

  • http://danzelikman.wordpress.com/ Dan Zelikman

    Well organized post thank you! I have been working with some clients and helping them understand Twitter and I felt like this post was a great tutorial for someone just starting out. Cheers!

  • http://www.bitsnbobs.info/ James Fenton

    Some of my friends who dont use Twitter see it as the perfect tool for stalkers, fraudsters and nutters. I can understand their aprehension, though I think used with some caution we can avoid it becoming a ‘wretched hive of scum and villainy’ (like Facebook possibly).
    In regards to ‘2.Learn from others’, I think we can learn from the likes of Stephen Fry and others in the public eye who use Twitter, as these people have had to live with their guards up against malicious privacy invaders for most of their careers. Manners and a little sensible caution can see us through.
    Enjoyed your rant at BathCamp last night Paul. You sounded frightengly like an old boss of mine.

  • Sarah

    I like this post. It clearly shows what different people use it for and how it can be used!
    My mum and dad don’t see the point of Twitter at all but I enjoy it.

  • http://webaxe.blogspot.com Dennis at Web Axe

    Great tips Paul, thanks. Also, there is a new accessible Twitter web site at http://accessibletwitter.com

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