When I lead social media training sessions, I get the most questions on the slide about Twitter terminology: RT, MT, PRT, CC, HT (check out our cheat sheet). For everyday Twitter users, these are second nature, but the terminology and protocol get people caught up in the reservation that Twitter participation requires immersion in a foreign language. Knowing these terms often feels like a secret handshake in a private club. But it shouldn’t be that way.
The next questions always focus on dos and don’ts. I tell people that becoming active on Twitter involves the very same principles you might apply to attending a networking event. Dan Zarrella at Hubspot recently created a great infographic with some basics about getting followers that drives this point home. Following are my tips:
1. Be yourself
Zarrella cites the importance of a photo (of yourself, not a flower, city scape, dog, or favourite food) on your profile page, but it goes beyond that. If you aren’t tweeting about things you care about and about which you have an opinion, it will be obvious.
2. Respond when people talk to you
If someone says hello via an @ message, a retweet (RT) or a direct message (with the exception of automated DMs), respond. It’s appropriate to say thank you, enter a conversation, or express enthusiasm for the connection. Like networking, Twitter is a place for conversations and connections. Foster both whenever and however you can.
3. Avoid direct sales pitches
Don’t do them yourself, and feel free to ignore those who do. At a networking event, you try to build a relationship before sending someone your sales brochure. Do the same on Twitter. There’s nothing that turns someone off more than receiving an auto- direct message with a link to sales collateral. These tend to come from Twitterers who follow many thousands of people, and have roughly the same number of followers. I have a hard time believing that these people have quality followers, and their auto-direct messages after my follow convince me that no one is personally managing their conversations. I respond to these auto-DMs with an immediate un-follow.
4. Beware of fake followers
Go for quality, not quantity. A few weeks ago, I gained about 30 new followers in two hours. Each was a pretty girl who was following roughly 10 times more people than were following her, had tweeted a maximum of three to 10 times about things that sounded good on the surface but did not make a lot of sense, was located in a random small town in Maine or Kansas, lacked a biography, and had joined Twitter a few weeks prior. No need to follow these handles back. They are probably robots. While I don’t normally block these followers because they naturally drop off if I don’t follow them back, this experience motivated me to exercise my right to block.
5. Don’t be a stalker
If you mention another person in a tweet through an @ message, great. If they do not reciprocate, let it go. Your shining opportunity might be that person’s blatant sales pitch. Send one @ message, and if that does not elicit your desired response, move on. There will be lots of other opportunities to tweet and be retweeted.
6. Give credit
If you found a blog post, article, idea, or any other type of content through another Twitterer, give him or her credit, particularly if that person is the author. You would not claim credit for someone else’s idea if she was standing next to you at a networking event, so don’t do it on Twitter. It’s a public forum, and the same thing.
7. Be appropriate
If there is one part of you, even a tiny part, that is uncomfortable with a Tweet, don’t send it. This category includes a broad spectrum of comfort zones, but Twitter is a public forum. Unlike Facebook and LinkedIn, virtually anyone can look at your Twitter feed, even if you block them in some cases. Your competitors, co-workers, enemies, ex-spouses, and best friends can and might be looking. If Rep. Anthony Weiner has taught us anything, it’s that we must respect the public nature of the Internet. If you send something lewd or outrageously inappropriate, it’s going to get out. The bottom line: don’t send anything you would not want your closest relative, or fiercest enemy to read or see – especially if that message contains naked photos of you.
8. Be proactive
In general, do not worry about tweeting too much. According to Hubspot, the optimal number of tweets per day is 22. Retweeting is a great way to increase your tweets. You can follow reporters’, influencers’ and publications’ Twitter handles and retweet the stories that interest you. However, I recommend taking a proactive approach over a passive one. Retweeting without adding your own take is fairly passive. Granted, Twitter.com and a number of other tools don’t enable you to edit your RTs, but Tweetdeck does. It’s worth it. If you’re feeling ambitious, take this a step forward and proactively tweet the news articles and blog posts you find interesting. Don’t just tweet their headlines: add your own perspective on the story. This will position you as a thought leader and help your follower count.
One of the most effective ways to gain an audience on Twitter is to add quality content to the conversation. A blog is your ticket to this party. And the key to closing down the party is an awareness that your blog is not about your product or service, it’s about your point of view. If you contribute thoughtful ideas to the discussion, an audience will follow.
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