How to Use Twitter Effectively

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Photo representation of Twitter

Used correctly, Twitter is arguably the most powerful social media tool for making connections and spreading messages.  And yet, it’s been dismissed as pointless by giant swaths of the population.  You know why?

There is an invisible barrier between those who use Twitter effectively and those who just don’t get it.  That barrier best described as Twitter culture.

Understanding Twitter Culture

Twitter is not a classroom, podium, billboard or giant, personal megaphone.  It’s not even an intimate soiree with your best friends.  It’s a giant party with 150 million guests all talking about different things with different people at different times. That makes it a great place to meet  friends of friends or overhear interesting conversations.  It’s also a great place to connect with strangers  who share common interests.  You just have to know how to work the system.
Just like at real parties, there are ways to use Twitter as a platform for turning strangers into friends, clients and business partners.  There are ways for news to spread like wildfire from one room to the next.

On the other hand, it’s also possible to make a  giant fool of yourself or to feed your secret fear that no one likes you.

It all comes down to your behavior.

The good news is, the people you want to connect with on Twitter, also want to connect with you.  All you have to do is find your people and let them know you aren’t a jerk.  Here are some tips for getting started.

Follow a Hashtag

Before Twitter gets fun, you need to start following people who are interesting to you.  Here’s an easy way to find them.

Active twitter users use hashtags to filter conversations about specific topics–making them easier to follow.  There are general tags like #nonprofit that just group posts with a similar theme, tags like #2amt that serve as an anchor for a community–in this case, the  2 AM Theatre Community, and tags like #SupplyDemand that serve as follow-up to a specific live event.

There are also time-specific hashtags for twitter chats where users agree to meet at a specific time to discuss a particular topic.  Pamela Grow hosts a good one for development directors in small organizations (#smNPchat) and Nicole Harrison hosts a broader conversation about nonprofit success in the new economy (#nptalk).

Finding and following the right hashtag(s) is the fastest and easiest way of finding people who share your interests.  Once you’ve found where your people hang out, follow the individuals who are the most interesting to you.  Then you will be ready for the next step.

Jump into Conversations

It’s hard to get noticed when you sit in the corner whispering to yourself.  The best way to build relationships (and a following) on Twitter is to talk to people directly.  When someone asks a question, click reply and answer it.  When you overhear a conversation that interests you,use the reply function to jump in and share your thoughts.  Share links to sites that you found helpful or, even better, that you believe will be of interest to your followers.  The more you interact one-on-one with other Twitter users, the more people you will meet, the more fun you will have, and the more successful you will be in spreading the word about the things you care about.

Stay in the moment

Twitter moves fast.  The only way to read every message in your stream to severely restrict the number of people you follow or to camp out on twitter 24-7.  Neither option is good for your organization.  When you log-on, read the messages that were posted in the last hour or so, respond to the ones that interest you.  Start a conversation if the opportunity presents itself and don’t worry about the messages you missed in the 8 hours since you last logged on.

This rule doesn’t apply to conversations in which you are specifically named.  If a follower retweets something you posted, responds to something you wrote, or asks you a direct question–by all means, answer, even if the question is several hours old.

Don’t be “that guy”

We’ve covered the Twitter culture “dos,” here are some of the don’ts:

Don’t send automatic direct messages (DM) to followers suggesting they visit your website.

Sending the same message to every new follower breaks this rule even if you re-type each message by hand.  If you feel compelled to thank new followers*, send a personalized message about why you are glad to be connected to them–not why they should be glad to be connected to you.  Don’t include a link.  Self promoting DMs will get you unfollowed by the people with whom you most want to connect, so resist the urge!

Don’t be boring

This goes back to the “Twitter is a Party” analogy.  Talking about yourself and what you need all the time is boring.  Saying the same thing over and over is boring.  Ignoring people who are talking directly to you is rude (and boring).  Regurgitating press releases; boring.  Speaking like a corporate drone–not at all interesting.  I think you get the idea. . .

Don’t ignore the little People

When you use Twitter to promote a cause or an organization, it’s  tempting to focus all your energy on users with big followings who can help spread your message quickly.  Unless you represent a huge organization with a built-in support base, that strategy is likely to fail.  Twitter celebrities have lots of people vying for their attention so getting one to notice you (without annoying her) can be difficult.  It’s much easier, and ultimately more effective, to build relationships with people who have smaller followings but share your passion for the cause.

Your Turn

Share your favorite tips about Twitter culture, or ask your questions about what mystifies you the most.  Don’t forget to include your twitter username so we can hang out over there–just like parties, Twitter is more fun with friends.

*Thanking new followers is not actually necessary.  It’s much better to just start paying attention to what they say and responding to their tweets (in public).

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