Recently I wrote about my experience using Facebook for business and personal life, and juggling them both on the ever evolving platform — and I received a lot of great feedback. Clearly many of you are in the same boat and taking action to clean up their social profiles.
With that in mind, I want to talk about Twitter.
I want to share my experience using Twitter for seven years, a few tools that help me manage Twitter in very little time, and some important lessons learned — lessons that have helped me create engagement, conversation, authenticity, and traffic back to my website.
Getting Started With Twitter
Like with Facebook, I originally signed up for a Twitter account back in December 2008 (7 years ago!) after attending an online marketing conference. It was during those early, wild west days of Twitter, when business owners, freelancers, and entrepreneurs around the world were discovering the platform as a way to gain online visibility for their brand and reach new audiences.
Within days of signing up for a Twitter account, hundreds of people followed me and I followed back everyone that had a photo of a real human as an avatar. I followed everyone I met at the conference I attended, I followed who they followed, and everyone I knew was doing the same.
Twitter at that time was a follow free-for-all.
In just a couple of months, and even weeks for some, people I knew had gained thousands of followers and followed thousands. It wasn’t done maliciously or for the intent of spamming, or even with the intent to just boost numbers. It was done out of excitement for something new. It was done because there was no precedent or etiquette set yet for the platform.
Twitter was going crazy because there was possibility.
What’s Working On Twitter Today
A few months back, our kids asked Brian why I have so many more Twitter followers than he does. We explained that over time things change — including social media platforms, and now that Twitter has matured and evolved, and it’s user base has done the same, it simply doesn’t work the same way.
Early on, very few were protective of their Twitter feed, and even fewer thought to carefully curate what and who actually showed up in their Twitter timeline. Everyone simply followed everyone else.
But that’s not how it works today.
Today, users don’t follow back everyone who follows them. Instead, they are careful about who they follow and what content they let into their timeline. They evaluate the value of another account before following, and that’s why, if you want to grow a following on Twitter today, your strategy can’t be the same one used years ago.
To effectively use Twitter for business today, you need to:
- Begin by following people you know and engaging with them in a meaningful way. It’s much easier to begin and join conversations with those you know than total strangers.
- As you participate in conversations, follow others in the conversation you have connected with, nurture those new relationships and connections, and slowly continue to expand your network by connecting with their network through real human conversation
- Follow influencers, peers, and colleagues in your industry. You already have something in common, so again it will be easier to begin and join in conversations with them. As you connect with and meet new people, follow them as well, slowly expanding your network with meaningful connections.
- Attend conferences, seminars, live events, TwitterChats and virtual events that use a common hashtag. Watch the hashtag in the weeks before the event, during the event, and in the weeks after the event to connect with others who are participating in the same event. The hashtag creates common ground to not only foster new connections but to discover new people to follow.
- Look for other hashtags that are relevant to you and the content you post, and find ways to add value to conversation happening there — and be careful never to spam a hashtag. As long as you’re adding value, it will provide an opportunity to expand your network and meet new people.
- Always focus on real, authentic, person to person communication and providing value. It’s okay to also share blog links and promotional content, but it is critical to find a balance so it feels natural and never spammy. Personally, I’ve found that, 20% blog links/promo and 80% personal engagement works the best.
- Use a tool like CoSchedule or Post Promoter Pro (which we use) to market your blog posts via social media and gain more visbility and traffic to your website.
Managing Your Twitter Account
For Brian and I, our experiences with Twitter are drastically different.
As we had to explain to our kids:
- I joined in the follow everyone and follow everyone back heyday, so I have much higher numbers than Brian. — and I didn’t even go crazy with it. (Some people I know, in the early days, followed 20, 30, 40, even 60 thousand people just to get follow backs.)
- Brian had an account early on, but didn’t start actively using it until much later, when people were much more discerning, and dare I say, responsible with their follow/follow back actions, so his numbers are much lower.
But let’s be honest, the numbers really don’t mean anything.
While some celebrities and authority figures have legitimately gained large followings, I see marketers with huge numbers on Twitter and semi-giggle, because I’ve been around long enough to tell you that they were part of that heyday too.
But those who joined the platform in the past few years have no idea what those days were like. They’re in awe. They’re wondering, “How did they earn so many followers?!”
Unfortunately very few admit their numbers are inflated because of early adoption and that it’s rare to achieve the same thing today. I have a lot of respect for those who openly admit that achieving the same results they did back in 2008/2009 is much, much more difficult today.
And that leads to frustration for many entrepreneurs, freelancers, and business owners trying to make Twitter work for them and trying to achieve similar numbers.
Managing a Small Twitter Account
Sometimes I envy Brian (@brianbourn) because he has a small account, with only people he knows personally, has met in person, or provide real value to him. Other times, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t leverage Twitter the way I have, so I’m okay with it.
The benefit to keeping your Twitter account small, is that it requires fewer tools to manage and maintain. Brian almost solely uses Twitter through the web browser on his computers and through the native app on his iPhone and it does everything he needs.
He also regularly evaluates his feed and the value he finds in it, and adjusts what accounts he follows often. Many people I know with tight, small Twitter accounts, use a loose one in/one out policy.
Managing a Large Twitter Account
I on the other hand, am the primary marketing arm for Bourn Creative (@bourncreative), joined Twitter semi-early (@jenniferbourn), have been attending large conferences and events for years, and just know more people through 17 years of business, 10 owning my own business.
The larger account, means I have to manage Twitter differently.
Managing who I follow on Twitter:
- Because I follow a lot of people, I leverage Twitter lists quite a bit to organize people I follow by category, event, where we met, industry, etc. This helps me see content from those who matter most to me very quickly and engage with them more often. I actually spent most of my time using Twitter in my lists.
- I use both the Native Twitter app and TweetBot. I like the native app quite a bit and it allows for multiple images and group DMs, but TweetBot hands down, offers the best Twitter list management.
- Today, I only follow people I have met or personally connected with, or provide value, and as I follow new people, I add them to a list so I can better manage my own experience.
- For years I used Hootsuite to schedule tweets because that’s what every marketing person under the sun teaches you to do. Many people use Edgar now as well. But, when I stopped using scheduling tools and focused more on personal, real time, authentic communication, my traffic, response, and engagement went way up — so today, I don’t use any of those tools.
- Every so often, I scroll through my main timeline and if I see someone who is particularly negative, pushy with beliefs or religion, judgmental, or spammy, I unfollow them. I’m slowly culling down who I follow to those who add value to me.
Cleaning Up A Messy Twitter Account:
As I mentioned, I followed a bunch of people without much thought in the early days of Twitter. My reward was a cluttered and messy Twitter feed with content I didn’t care about getting in the way of content I really wanted to see.
To clean up my account and who I follow over the years, I have always used ManageFlitter.
Every six months or so, I login to ManageFlitter (the free version) and quickly review lists of accounts I follow who are now inactive, haven’t tweeted in a specific amount of time, don’t follow me back, etc.
- I typically immediately unfollow all abandoned or inactive accounts. As you can image, there are a lot of those “early days” accounts that still exist but are no longer being used.
- I then browse through those I follow who don’t follow me back. I make notes of those I want to nurture a relationship with, I unfollow those I don’t know or have never seen pop-up in my feed, and I unfollow those completely and utterly unrelated to my life or business as it is today. I just do this for a few minutes, as I figure it’ll all get cleaned up over time.
Because I have been actively managing my Twitter account and cleaning up the mess from the early days, the amount of people I follow has decreased quite a bit, even taking into account new people I follow after meeting them at events or connecting with them personally.
At the same time, I can’t manage who follows me. I see spikes in new followers after speaking engagements, webinars, guest blog posts, and live event attendance — but overall it’s pretty consistent, growing slowly but steadily over time. Unfortunately, I am sure there are a good chunk of accounts that are inactive or old but part of that number.
This is exactly why numbers don’t matter.
Making Twitter Work For You And Your Business
Today, there are services like Commun.it now that track Twitter engagement. I regularly get automated tweets from those in my networking using this service saying “Thank you for being a top engaged member of my community.”
I know “engagement” is a marketing buzzword, but it is critical to your success using Twitter for business, for a brand, or for building a community or tribe.
The WordPress community understands this better than any other community.
Those I follow in the WordPress community have diverse Twitter feeds with lots of thought, personal content, mentions, @replies, links, and more that show true communication and conversation, which is in stark contrast to the marketers and many of the entrepreneurs I follow, whose feeds seem to be an endless stream of links to their blog and self promotion.
Today, before another Twitter user follows you, they are more than likely going to visit your profile page and view your stream of tweets. If they see no real conversation and connection, and only links, quotes, lame tips, and spammy marketing messages, you won’t earn the follow.
You may also find yourself frustrated with Twitter and confused by the platform if all you’re doing is broadcasting your own marketing messages and pushing out links.
Not Every Social Media Platform Is The Same
As a result your strategy on each platform must be specific to that platform. Using Twitter for business is very different than using Instagram for business, or using Facebook or business. Whether you have one Twitter account for everything, or you have separate business and personal accounts, the key to finding success with Twitter is infusing personality into the profile and feed you’re creating.
Twitter accounts — personal and professional — thrive when the focus is on personal connections and real conversations, and you’re sharing personal stories, jokes, photos, and asking questions, and then mixing in some business here and there.
I’m sure you’ve heard the popular saying, people want to do business with people, and Twitter works the same way.
- Use your photo. People follow accounts that use a photo of an actual person as the avatar more often than accounts with a logo, a pet, or something weird — and most never follow an account without an avatar.
- Provide value. People follow accounts that provide value, not just in business, but overall value. Think infotainment. Mix in some personal stuff, fun, and entertainment around the business stuff.
- Be human. You’ll find more success actively managing your account yourself, than automating loads of content — even if you think it’s valuable content. Make it personal, have conversations, tweet with other people.
- Stay positive. While stirring up some controversy and voicing your opinion are sometimes good to get conversations started, overall, keep it positive and upbeat with your posts.
- Remember that “know, like, trust, conversation” marketing mantra? Use Twitter as an opportunity to primarily help people get to know you and like you. Then mix in the blog links and marketing messages to help build trust and drive traffic back to your site where the conversion will happen.
Active Social Media Management
Whether you like social media, or you despise it, your customers and potential customers expect to see you there — and they expect you to be accessible, available, and responsive.
So, as I mentioned in my recent post about actively managing my Facebook account, every social media platform you have an account on needs to be actively managed. This will not only ensure your personal and professional brands are represented in the best light, but to create the best experience for yourself and your network.
Just remember not to get too hung up on the numbers, as usually there is a much deeper story behind them. What matters most when using Twitter or any other social platform is how many of the people you are connected with are actually listening to what you have to say and paying attention to the content you post.