Twitter: 5 things I wish I’d known when I started tweeting

A few weeks ago, a long-time friend mentioned on Facebook that she had just joined Twitter and was finding the early going frustrating. I remember having exactly the same reaction when I joined Twitter in November 2008. While opening a Twitter account could not be simpler, there is definitely a learning curve involved with using this microblogging site to its best advantage. Here are some things I’ve learned in the past year and a half that I wish I’d known when I started. I hope they help other newbies like my friend move up the Twitter learning curve faster than I did.

•  Download Tweetdeck ASAP. Strange as it may seem, Twitter.com is a long way from being the best way to use Twitter. Their site doesn’t allow you to do a number of important things that make the experience so much better. With the Tweetdeck application (downloadable for free at http://www.tweetdeck.com) you can customize the Twitter feed to meet your own needs.

For example, responses to your tweets and retweets of your tweets show up in one column. You can also add columns where you break out the people you are following into subgroups. For instance, I created a list of people I know in real life (not just in Twitterdom).  I want to have them broken out of the main tweet stream so I don’t miss their posts and don’t miss an opportunity to help them out by retweeting one of their tweets. These are just a couple of the ways in which you can customize Tweetdeck to make it more efficient to use.

•  Read Twitterville by Shel Israel. Published last fall, this is a great, quick-to-read primer on how to use Twitter effectively to promote your business. The author really brought home for me the need to have your own content to share on Twitter. This insight played an important role in my decision to finally start a blog; I have seen my number of followers grow at a faster pace as a result of posting my own articles.

•  Don’t stress out over fluctuating follower counts. One of the things that was frustrating my friend a couple weeks ago was that she had already lost a couple of her then small group of followers. This happens all the time on Twitter; follower counts go up and down for what appears to be no reason at all. But when you’re a newbie you don’t realize this. The first time my follower count fell, I wondered what I had done wrong. Now I know that if I don’t tweet for a couple of days, like over a long weekend, my number of followers almost always falls. And there are Twitter-related sites that let you eliminate someone who hasn’t tweeted in a certain number of days. People on Twitter like consistency, so try to tweet on a regular basis. But don’t take it personally if someone unfollows you.

•  To be followed, you must follow. Unless you’re someone famous who will attract thousands of followers just by letting people know you’re on Twitter (á la Oprah), building what I think of as your starter list of followers takes some detective work. In a nutshell, you get followers by having people follow you back after you’ve decided to follow them.

My first approach to building followers was pretty scatter-shot because I didn’t learn about search.twitter.com for a month or so. This is a place where you can type in topics connected to your business to find other people to follow. You can also use a directory like wefollow.com or use a site like whoshouldifollow.com, which invites you to enter the Twitter handle of someone you already follow and helps you find related tweeters to follow.

Things will go slowly at first, but after a while your list of followers will start to grow organically, especially if you have your own fresh content to tweet about. I found that once I got up to around 300 followers, things pretty much took off on their own and built from there without a lot of effort.

•  Go to Tweet-ups. I have come to  think of Twitter as just one more way to expand my network of contacts here in the Pioneer Valley where I live. So last winter I started attending Tweet-ups, events  where my online community of local people get together for networking. Through these events, I’ve met new people and also reconnected with people I already know but haven’t seen in a while. In the long run, I think this is how Twitter will produce business results for me. So find the Tweet-up group in your neck of the woods and go out and start to establish business relationships that go beyond cyberworld. Or if there isn’t a Tweet-up group in your area, start one! This is a great way to gain visibility.

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