A recurring question I get from Twitter users shortly after I follow them back is, “How can you follow xx,000 people?” (the number on November 11th is 16,928, with 19528 following me.)
It’s not easy. Twitter, for most people, is the chance to engage with like-minded people, or geographically similar people, or otherwise to align your interests along certain lines. Most people have a hundred, or a few hundred. Some folks feel the crush of too many tweets at around 300-1000 followers. Still others don’t follow back that many people, but consent to having several people read their tweets.
Update: People often ask me how much time I spend on Twitter a day. That assumes I ever turn it off. It’s a flow. It’s like asking you how much time you spend on the phone or in your inbox. I process tweets and stay active with tweets throughout the day. I comment during meetings. I comment at red lights. I think about things late at night and when I wake up. Answer: all day.
At volume, it’s a bit different. It’s a lot like showing up to a very busy, very loud cocktail party, but also a business meeting, plus a focus group, plus several other social situations. Twitter, unfiltered, is like someone with mind reading powers walking down 38th Street in Manhattan. It’s not especially easy to manage, and it’s very different how things work at this pace. Looking at unfiltered Twitter at this volume just doesn’t cut it.
Further, goals at this volume are different. I can’t exactly answer every reply message. I can’t dig into every passing story or fun conversation. I can’t be part of all the action. It just doesn’t span. So, I have a few goals: be helpful, be informative, be human, and be as responsive as I can in the time allotted.
My Four Goals
Be Helpful – Being helpful is how I’ve built my reputation and personal brand. I am known for being a guy who shares as much as I can of myself, and I give as much as I have capacity to give. By the way, at almost 20,000 people, that means that if only 1% of folks ask me for something on any given day, that’s 200 people. So, I try to help as many folks as I can, but that also means disappointing people from time to time.
Be Informative – I love sharing links to things that are interesting. I’m frequently emailed and DMd links that people want me to share. I look at everything before I send it out. I’m not a posting service. I’m not a robot. I’m a human. If the information is interesting to me, then I share it. I share as many Amber Alerts as I can, because I want to spread that effect as much as I can. I also share lots of links to various social causes. But I also run into trouble doing that all day, because it could be a full time job on its own.
Be Human – When I say be human, I mean that I’m a person, not a company. I run a company, but I’m a person. Thus, I get cranky, or I tell jokes, or I run at the mouth sometimes. Whatever. It’s part of the tapestry, not a flaw. If you’re not treating Twitter like a personal communications device that also happens to be a business tool (or some mix of the two), you’re missing what makes this fun and vital.
Be Responsive – When I say be responsive, I try to answer as many people as I can in a given day. I get about four angry unfollows a week from people who were mad that I didn’t respond back to their tweet, or their request. Most DM me an angry last message and unfollow. Others spew it out into the main channel. Either way, I can’t do much to help. I answer as many people as I can. If you leave, sorry.
Here’s how I handle most of this, technically:
Primary Application: TweetDeck
I use TweetDeck when on my laptop. It gives me windows for search, to see Direct Messages, plus a general flow along the left hand side. It seems to be the app I see at most of the conferences. Other folks use Twhirl and like it. Note: both of these applications require Adobe Air.
Mobile Device: Twittelator Pro
I just switched to Twittelator Pro for the iPhone, after a suggestion by Justin Rasmussen. Before that, I was using Twitterific Pro, as recommended by Nick Saber, and it worked mostly okay. What Twittelator pro does better is that it handles direct messages, has some location-based information in it, and does a few other things like report trending topics natively. It has four different color schemes, if that kind of thing matters. (I set mine to dark).
What I think will appeal to me (haven’t tested it fully) is the “nearby” feature. Another Twitter app or two have similar features, but I agree with Justin that it’s pretty useful.
I do a great deal of twittering while in meetings, while between jobs, while out and about. I tweet at events. Having a mobile app helps with that a great deal. Being tethered to the desk takes 2/3 of the fun out of Twitter.
Search: The Most Important Element
I use search all the time. I’ve got searches and searches and searches. Sometimes, there are as many as four tabs open. And the more I learn how to use Twitter Search, the more I learn that search is how it will endear itself to the general public.
If you leave this blog post with nothing else, learn that search is what matters. Search by location. Search by topic. Search by filtering out links. Search and learn how to interact with people in that way.
Am I Using It Right?
Twitter’s the new phone. It’s not meant to be a broadcasting tool, as such. It’s supposed to be a one-to-many, but at a slightly more conversational level.
I don’t recommend twitter at volume for most folks. I understand that there are some benefits. I realize that it’s different when I ask a question versus when other people ask a question, or when I direct people to check out a certain link versus the average user.
But that just happened that way. I’ve done nothing to actively grow my following. I’m just me. I just follow those four rules above.
You’re probably using it right.
So, that answers a question I’m asked a lot. The other question I get asked often is, “do you ever sleep?” Want the answer?.
Photo credit, Striatic