I’ve been building brands on Twitter for almost five years, and I still occasionally hear from someone who just can’t seem to find a proper use for it.
It’s OK, and I get it. Twitter gets labeled as a social network, so people assume it’s like Facebook. Well, baseball and football are both sports, and they have about as much in common as Twitter and Facebook do. Twitter is its own beast with its own unique set of rules, conventions and utilities.
That doesn’t mean you have to completely go back to school to learn how to use it, though. Twitter can be very fun and rewarding (it helped me get my last two jobs) if you spend the time to figure out what works for you, and that’s what I’ll show you how to do in this post.
I’m going to assume you know technically how Twitter works, and if you don’t, I recommend you read Mom This is How Twitter Works and then come back.
Good? All right, let’s get started.
1. Find users with common interests
One of my all-time favorite posts about Twitter, Twitter demystified and debunked, describes Twitter as a bar. “It’s the local neighborhood bar/cafe thing where you hang out,” Havi Brooks writes. “It’s your place. It’s where your friends are. It’s where you make new friends. It’s where you go because sometimes being smart and funny in your head just doesn’t cut it.”
If you’re still trying to figure Twitter out, it’s the local neighborhood bar/cafe thing that everyone else hangs out in, in the town you just moved to. So it’s going to be a little awkward the first time you walk in.
The natural course of action will be to identify people you have something in common with. One way to do this is through a site like wefollow, which groups together Twitter users by their interests. Another is to use Twitter’s search operators to search for keyword phrases near your physical location (e.g. food near:Seattle within:10mi).
Once you’ve found some people to follow, you’ll want to do more listening than speaking at first. Don’t log on and just start yakking at people. Imagine how annoying that would be in a real bar.
2. Balance lifecasting and mindcasting
Everyone’s goals for Twitter are different -- everyone’s using it for a different reason -- but they all fall somewhere in the spectrum between lifecasting and mindcasting.
With lifecasting, you use Twitter to answer the question: What are you doing?
When you mindcast, you use Twitter to answer: What are you thinking?
If I’m a TV reporter, for instance, I’m probably mostly a lifecaster: I use Twitter to tell people what’s going on, in real time, at the scene of whatever story I’m covering. If I’m a film critic, I’m likely mindcasting: I use Twitter to ponder the meanings of various films and their impact on society and culture.
There’s no right or wrong ratio between the two. It’s all about what you want your feed to be, and what you want to accomplish.
Going back to the bar analogy, no one likes the guy who talks about himself all night. On the other hand, everyone wants to talk to the guy who seems to know about all the newest, coolest stuff.
Be that guy.
As you’re going through your day finding interesting content online, take a minute to share the absolute best stuff with your Twitter followers. As you do that over time, you’ll come to be seen as a source of good information, and people will come back to you again and again.
Another big component of curating -- and this could be its own sub-heading -- is to always give credit by @ mentioning whomever you’re referencing. Don’t just tweet “This is a really smart blog post about cats!” Instead, tweet “This is a really smart blog post about cats by @ZOMGCats2012!” This will help build awareness of your account and build your network -- some of the people you @ mention will follow you back.
4. Tweet in the moment
Twitter is, above all, immediate. People want to know what’s happening and what you’re thinking right now.
To build a useful account, you need to focus on being present. If you’re tweeting about politics, don’t randomly decide to take Election Night off from tweeting -- that’s your time to shine. Get a sense of the real-world events related to whatever it is you’re tweeting about and plan for a heightened level of activity during those times. You may even consider literally being present at those events and planning to live-tweet a few times while you’re there (I’ve survived many a low-scoring Mariners game that way).
5. One last step: Repeat
You’ll notice this post isn’t titled “How To Build A Useful Twitter Account In 4 Easy Steps.” Building a useful presence on Twitter takes work, and takes time.
Plan to continually search out new users to follow, adjust your lifecasting/mindcasting ratio, tweak what you curate and seek new real-world events to guide what you tweet.