Monday, June 8, 2015

How to Get Started, Have Fun, and Profit with Twitter

I've made no secret of the fact that Twitter is my favorite social medium. Not that I've tried many or even most: just Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Vimeo, Soundcloud, Instagram, Ello, Google+, Instagram and maybe a couple more. But I get much more out of Twitter than the rest.

That's doubly true if you take into account the ROI. You really don't have to give anything. At most you have to give 140 characters of thought. But in return you get a virtually continuous stream of ideas and dialog.

If Proust can fit "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes." into a tweet-sized sentence, certainly you can write something brief and engaging about your personal interests or areas of expertise.

Someone once wrote that Twitter is about sharing ideas and that pretty much nails it. I like to ask rhetorically, "Who knew you could send an email without specifying a recipient?" And as a matter of fact, I often use Twitter's direct messages in place of a quick email.

When done well, a tweet's 140 characters function like the parts of a Formula 1 car. Form is liberating and forces you to choose your words well. And while brevity might be the soul of wit, a tweet's terseness still gives you enough slack to come off looking like an El Camino (i.e. the mullet of cars).

So, interested in giving Twitter a shot? Maybe you have an account that's grown dusty. Or maybe you're ready to create one. Either way, here are 8 of my best practices for Twitter disguised under the thin veil of a how-to guide.

1. Replace the Egg Avatar

When you create your Twitter account they give you an avatar that looks like an egg. (Get it? Twitter, bird, egg.) So the egg may indeed come before the bird. But before the bird tweets you MUST replace the egg avatar with one of your own.

A Twitter account sporting the egg avatar screams "I am a n00b." Or it's a condescending "I am sinking to your level by using Twitter but I won't even consider customizing it." Or it's a spammer. Either way, I won't follow you. Nor should anyone else.

Customize your Twitter avatar.
There's plenty of other advice out there on how to choose your avatar. A nice head and shoulders photo of you is a good place to start.

You have no choice. Do this first or tweet no more.

2. Write A Follow-Worthy Profile

Your first tweet needs to be your profile. Before you dare write the obligatory "Hello World" tweet, use the 140 characters that Twitter gives you to describe yourself and your intentions.

Are you shy, coy, or playing hard to get? Forget it - this is social media with the emphasis on social. From a practical standpoint, it helps you get found and followed. For example, if you include "CFD" in your profile, I can find you and follow you. If you follow me, I can look at your profile and decide whether you're worth following back.

As for what to include in your profile, a lot of folks put a "top 10" list of their life priorities beginning with supreme being, spouse, and children. That's very nice and I applaud you for putting Mom before CFD.

However, I suggest you include in your profile the things you'll be tweeting about. It's not like I'm going to follow you just because you're married or I won't follow anyone with more than 2 kids. But if you're interested in CFD and progressive rock/fusion or modern art or... You get the idea.

Bonus tip: Create a profile at and link to it from your Twitter profile. You can stuff it full of all sorts of info that won't fit in 140 characters.

3. Upload a Nice Cover Image

The cover image appears at the top of your page on the Twitter website (i.e. If nothing else it simply makes your page more appealing, as though you care and are an active tweeter. If you want to take it to the next level, there are all sorts of tips and templates out there on how to create a cover image that is a hybrid business card and scrapbook.

Avatar? Check. Profile? Check. Cover image? Check. 

4. What to Tweet

There are two schools of thought here. One school of thought says to have one Twitter account for work tweets and another Twitter account for personal tweets.

I say mix 'em up. Why? Have you ever been cornered at a party by a guy who only wants to talk about work? Dull, dull, chew your arm off to escape dull. That's how a business-only Twitter feed comes off. Frankly, your business isn't all that interesting.

But you - you're very interesting because if nothing else you're not 1-dimensional. In addition to news releases from your workplace and goings on in your industry (to cover the professional aspects) you may tweet about restaurants, sporting events, TV shows, art exhibits, comedy performances, concerts, your family, even - dare I say it - politics.

I'm not saying you shouldn't follow businesses on Twitter, especially if you're a customer. You'll learn about what they're doing, where they're going, special promotions, etc. But it's hard to get emotionally invested in that kind of dry stuff. You'll find value certainly, if the company is doing it right.

5. There's an App for That

Tweetdeck is my Twitter app. There are many others like it, but this one is mine.

Tweetdeck is my best friend. I must master it as I must master any tool.

You get the point.

You could use Twitter solely through the website or smartphone app but that's like trying to view the world through a soda straw. Dribble, dribble, dribble. One. Tweet. At. A. Time.

Tweetdeck. Image from
With Tweetdeck (either the desktop application or the website you can follow multiple streams at a time: your full feed, any replies or mentions of you, direct messages, your scheduled tweets, and then any search term you like. I have search feeds open for my company name, my last name, my industry, and then hashtags (see below) for specific events.

Bonus tip: Mutual followers (i.e. if I follow you and you follow me) can communicate privately using what Twitter calls a direct message. Think of it as a hybrid email/text message. Very handy.

6. What's in a Tweet

How should you make best use of your 140 characters? 
  1. Share something interesting. 
  2. 99% of tweets should include a URL to a web page with more information.
  3. Pictures are worth a thousand words and that's a lot more than 140. 
And hastags, while widely ridiculed and often overused, are quite beneficial. Many events encourage tweeters to use a common hashtag so that one can easily follow all tweets from that event regardless of whether you're following the individual tweeters. Some examples are #aiaaAviation, #SimulationFriday, #COFES2015.

Note that there's no formal hashtag registry. You can use whatever you want as a hashtag. The trick is using one that enhances your tweet's discoverability.

Bonus tip. If you reply to someone's tweet as in "@someone You should really see this..." only people who follow both you and someone can see that tweet. That's because the tweet begins with "@." If you want to broaden the scope of who can see that tweet, simply begin with a dot "." There's nothing special about the dot, it's just a de facto standard. You could begin the tweet with anything other than "@someone" such as "Hey @someone..."

7. Follow and Retweet

I wrote above that you can use Twitter without actually tweeting, by simply lurking.

But there are two things you really should do. 
  1. Follow people. Actually click on the Follow button and get them into your feed.
  2. And retweet. If you think something's cool, odds are that others will think so too. So press that retweet button and share it with your followers.

8. Things I've Never Done (on Twitter)

There are a couple of Twitter features I've never used and I'll be interested in your feedback if you start using them.

You can "favorite" a Tweet. I haven't figured out the benefit of doing that. If I like the idea you're sharing I'll click the link and bookmark the website. Otherwise, I see tweets as transient entities to be enjoyed in the moment and never again.

You can create "lists" of the people you follow on Twitter. Despite my acknowledged anal-retentiveness I've never felt the need to organize my Twitter feed by "CFD people," "News," or whatever.

Time to Tweet
Hopefully you found some of that useful and will soon start enjoying Twitter. When you get online feel free to follow me @jchawner.

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