Sunday, April 12, 2009

Twitter -- Getting in on the conversation

Twitter: How to get more targeted followers

After using Twitter fairly seriously for a while now, I feel like I’ve been on an absolute roller-coaster ride. How I wish I had chronicled my ups and downs along the way! First—like so many people—I thought tweets were utter stupidity. Teeny blasts of partial news. In fact, Twitter reminded me of that short story I read in high school (don’t ask when that was!) that had a title something like “Pfft!” The story was a sardonic description of depleted future literature of which Reader’s Digest’s abridged novels were but the tip of the iceberg. Rather, the prophetic author (sorry, if you can find it, puh-lease pass it along!) forecasted the shortening of everything, including news, into shorter and shorter sound bites, until all that remained would be a single, all-inclusive, barely pronounceable syllable! Okay, we’re not there yet, but we’re close. Read on...

Twitter is a humongous conversation whose ‘bits’ and ‘bytes’ are limited to 140 characters and to people who sign up and create a Twitter profile. Unlike face-to-face conversations, or phone conversations, you can ‘cheat’ by including links and conventional abbreviations. What’s more, you can reference prior conversations using a whole other set of Twitter conventions (explained quite well by blogger Deanna Zandt who clearly knows more about it than I do). And the most important piece is two-fold: (1) You can be ‘following’ the conversations of others, and (2) ‘followers’ are those who have chosen to follow your conversation. You can use Twitter as a replacement for email or IM, but I haven’t seen that Twitter is an improvement on those tools—yet. That’s Twitter in a nutshell!

So what about the question: what good is Twitter? My current guess is that Twitter has potential, and that we have to figure out what it is and how to unlock that potential for ourselves. You’ll read a ton about how to gain ‘followers’, those Twitter participants who read what you have to say. I would say that indiscriminately adding followers is probably a waste of your time and theirs. The only people who benefit from nonselective followers would be the marketing spammers -- you just started using gmail to avoid those people; why would you want them to triple-team you on Twitter? You wouldn’t. Enuff said. Well, almost enough. I did experiment with some of the applications that work like a bad chain letter and offer you followers by the thousands in a matter of days. I probably got about 20 followers from the chain before it went dead, which took 1–2 days. And, by and large, the followers were not going to be interested in anything I had to say or sell. They were just interested in selling me the kind of stuff that is spammed all over Yahoo if you are looking for ‘work at home’ or if you’re interested in earning $3,000 per month without doing any work.

So how do you get and become targeted followers? I think you leverage the search space of and around Twitter by taking two important steps:

        First: Develop a profile that says something about you--showing what you can add to the conversation--answering the question “Why should someone be your follower?”; and

        Second: Converse (okay, ‘tweet’) about topics that interest you or that are part of your brand--what you can offer to the conversation.

Once I started searching the topics I was interested in, and directing my conversational bits to things I cared about, I saw my followers steadily increase--and I, too, began to follow some kindred spirits based on the same principles. As I added important pieces about myself to my profile, I also saw followers increase; but by then, I was more involved in the conversation and less concerned about who was following or how many (but more on that later).

Last piece of advice. Take these four simple steps:
    1. Sign up on Twitter
    2. Lurk for a week or two
    3. Massage your profile
    4. See how you feel

As you can see, I’ve changed my mind about Twitter (for) now; but if you, too, are wondering whether Twitter is a ‘good’ thing or a useless time-suck, perhaps these tips will give you some new ways to think about the phenomenon and decide whether you want to try it out.

If it isn’t your thing, you can always click delete and move on to the next social medium. One thing is certain: Twitter won’t be the last of those!