My sister posted to Twitter a while ago:
Six months later, she has more than 11 followers!
... She has 19 followers.
So I figured I'd post a few basic things I've learned about how to use Twitter effectively if you are a person and not a company or brand.
(Note that when I say "use Twitter effectively," I don't mean "get lots of followers." If you want followers, go on a reality TV show. These tips are for using Twitter to build relationships with your followers, no matter how small their numbers. The best tweeters I know think of Twitter as "that place where all my friends hang out," not "that place where I have 1,300 followers.")
- Have something to say. Twitter has a rep along the lines of, "Why would I want to know when someone I've barely met is eating a sandwich?" Well, yeah, you wouldn't - unless what that person has to say about the sandwich is really interesting. This "what I'm eating" tweet of mine got some responses (and Facebook likes), so it's probably a passable example:
That's a better spin than "ice cream for lunch ;-)" - right? Here are a few examples of Twitter superstars making everyday stuff interesting:
When you sign into Twitter, you're asked, "What's happening?" When you ask yourself this question, make sure you add: "... and why should anyone else care?" I love Twitter because it's forced me to distill and clarify my writing into a very small space, while still making it interesting. It's a fun challenge for a writer, but it's one that anyone can rise to.
- Start with people you know. Family, friends, your favorite co-workers: These are the people who will constitute your follower base. Follow them, and make a note of whom they seem to be tweeting with. If those people seem cool, follow them as well. Think of Twitter as a tool for expanding your circle of friends.
- Follow locals (or those who share your interests). I doubt Cincinnati is unique in this respect - we have a huge base of awesome, engaged Twitter users devoted to exploring and promoting the city. If you want to learn more about cool restaurants or fun things to do in your town, follow your local food bloggers (@winemedineme) or social butterflies (@mojojacob). If you're tweeting about your city as well, this group will embrace you. (If, like my sister, you live in Columbus, I recommend my friend @ShelleyMann, editor of the Columbus Alive arts weekly.)
You can do something similar with shared interests or hobbies - but please do not be one of those people who does a daily search for "Paramore" and starts following everyone who shows up. If you're involved in an online community or a fandom, by all means, reach out to its members on Twitter so you can connect in a new way.
And here is the big one, the real key to Twitter - I dropped out and nearly deleted my account before I figured this one out.
- Use the reply button. Without the engagement of replies, Twitter is just a bunch of narcissistic shouting into the ether. If someone's tweet makes you think, reply and tell them! (You can also retweet them, but use the retweet button sparingly lest your followers think you have nothing original to say.)
I told my sister this once, and she said she felt like it would be rude or stalker-ish to reply to someone she didn't know. Heck no! I judge my success with Twitter not by how many followers I have, but by how many replies and retweets I get each day. All the people I've mentioned in this post so far have Twitter feeds that are just crammed full of replies, and many power users (myself included) have an unofficial policy to only follow back people who reply to them.
Reply. Reply early and often. Replies beget other replies. Replies turn into conversation, which then turn into virtual and even in-person friendships.
That's me with Katy and Laura, two Twitter pals whom I now occasionally hang out with in real life. And I'm on the outskirts of local Twitter society; I know other people who get together with their tweeps just about every day.
Hope this helps you understand Twitter a little more! Oh, and one more tip:
- You can follow celebrities if you want, but don't expect them to reply to you. There are only a few celebs on Twitter who actually reply to their fans, and they tend to be of a cultish, geeky sort. We're talking, say, @ZacharyLevi or @wilw-level geeky, and they will @ or RT you only if you are intensely funny or pithy. If you sign up for Twitter because you want a direct line to @OGOchoCinco, you will be severely disappointed.