Tips to help you get started with Twitter

Twitter has been in the news a great deal in recent weeks, sometimes for trivial reasons, sometimes for headline-grabbing reasons.

Whatever the reason, one thing is true – more and more people are signing up for accounts and joining the fast-expanding Twitter universe.

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Like many other users, I receive new followers on a daily basis. Indeed, according to TweetDeck stats, I’m currently averaging five new followers per day. With people unfollowing me averaging about one user every couple of weeks, growth is strong.

At the same time, I discover people new to me and start following them.

In deciding whether or not to follow someone – whether it’s someone I’ve discovered myself or someone who’s started following me and I’m deciding whether or not to follow them as well – I have four questions I ask myself before making a decision:

  1. Does he or she have something interesting (highly subjective, I know) in their Twitter bio? Important point: there must be something written in the bio.
  2. Is there a location shown and a link in that bio to a website or a blog, or to a Facebook or LinkedIn profile?
  3. Does the person have more followers than he or she is following or is the ratio pretty close at least?
  4. If I’m considering following someone back who’s just started following me, is their profile open on Twitter?

If I can’t say ‘yes’ to all of these questions, I do not follow the person.

A couple of other questions I ask myself, whose answers aren’t so critical:

  1. Are there any people I know (not necessarily who I follow or follow me) shown in the list of little icons of followers on the person’s Twitter page?
  2. If I glance through the person’s tweets on the screen I’m looking at, what feeling do I get about the person? Is it someone I instinctively would say “yes, I want to know what you talk about on Twitter”?

These simple guidelines have worked for me so far and I hear similar sentiment from many of my Twitter friends.

Yesterday on Mashable, Atherton Bartelby lists “The Top 10 Reasons I Will Not Follow You in Return on Twitter.” My seven questions from above are in there in one form or another.

Here’s the description of people Atherton wouldn’t follow if their Twitter profile and/or behaviour matched these attributes:

  1. You have no user avatar
  2. You list no location, no website, or no bio
  3. Your “website” listed is a MySpace profile
  4. You’re following over 1,000 users, have 20 followers, and no updates
  5. Your profile features any variation of “Internet expert”
  6. Your updates clearly indicate that your Twitter activity is always, only, about pushing your own service/product
  7. Your following and my return follow result in a poorly-constructed auto-DM reading, “Thx for the follow! How can I help you get to a 4-Hour Work Week?”
  8. Your most recent updates make references to any need to achieve “more Twitter followers”
  9. Your Twitter stream indicates a propensity for consistent arguing
  10. You do not engage your Twitter followers

Absolutely, this is a great list! Head on over to Mashable to read the detail.

If you’re starting out with Twitter, my advice would be to listen and learn: find a couple of people you know, follow them, “listen” to what they say, start participating in some of the chit-chat. Soon enough, people may start following you.

Much really depends on your own objectives for being part of the Twitter community. But, like much of other social media including blogs, you need to show some authenticity and ability to listen.

Some recommended reading that might help you discover how to genuinely connect with others on Twitter:

  • All of a Twitter, a PDF written last October by Luke Razzell which he describes thus: “I look at the incredibly diverse ways that people are using Twitter, then tease out some common threads that run through all these User Experiences.” It’s good.
  • Yesterday, Shane Richmond, the Daily Telegraph’s Communities Editor, posted Twitter: a step-by-step guide to getting started. Equally good.
  • The Twitter Power guide eBook by American podcaster and blogger Christopher Penn: “This little eBook is about how to make the most of Twitter’s power without spending your entire life on it. In other words – how to make Twitter work for you without Twitter becoming work itself.”

Just the tip of an iceberg, though – there’s an awful lot of posts and publications about Twitter out there. For the ultimate, check out Twitter for Dummies, a project-in-progress that you can be part of, from social media maven Laura Fitton in the US.

(The cartoon at the top of the page comes from Geek and Poke, a recent discovery.)

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Linda Forrest

    These are some great tips, Neville. As a PR consultant, I've read a lot of horror stories of people using Twitter badly, to negative effect for both them and their clients. Before I dive headlong into Twitter, I'm doing research and assessing whether Twitter will be an effective tool to both promote our business and enhance the communication we have with media and analysts on behalf of our clients. As we grow our participation in the Twitterverse, we'll certainly keep your useful tips in mind.

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