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How I Do It: Twitter

October 21, 2009

Vodpod videos no longer available.

If you’re a Twitter novice, check out the four-minute video above for a quick how-to, then keep reading.

Anyone can have a Twitter account, but it takes some consideration and experimentation to have a successful Twitter account. Are mine successful? Yes and sort of. I’d consider my personal account successful because it accomplishes what I want it to (more on that later). My business/company account is sort of successful, but I’d like to see it do more (also more on that later).

Twitter has absolutely blown up in the last couple years and whether or not Twitter itself sticks around for good (growth has flattened out a bit), it would seem that the form of communication it ushered in is here to stay. I don’t know if Twitter proper will be around in five years, but I’ll be using whatever is around and when I build new accounts, here’s what I’ll do:

Figure out what you want it to do

Why are you using Twitter—business networking? mobile journalism and beatblogging? fun? You’re going to get your best results out of Twitter if you sit down beforehand and ask, “What do I want this thing to do for me?” I went the experimental route and just started using it, which led to some early missteps and confusion about what the use of Twitter was. (I think one of my first Tweets was about what kind of sandwich I was eating. Whoops.) There’s nothing wrong with experimenting, you’re just a lot more likely to get frustrated and call Twitter stupid (and give up).

@paulbalcerak is my personal/professional account that I use for job networking and industry talk. Most of what I talk about is journalism or social media-related and most of who I follow are other journalism professionals. I don’t need a job and I’m not looking for a new one, but if something bad happens, I’ve got my face, name and mission statement out there to a lot of people who it might pay to know.

I use @pnwlocalnews to promote my company’s content (journalism) and to interact with readers. It’s not ideal because I’m one guy trying to Tweet out news and interact with people in 30 different markets. I also have no idea what’s going on in our newsrooms (at least not in real time), so I’m just as in the know about what’s coming down the pike as our readers. Obviously a Twitter account for each reporter would be the best (and a lot of our reporters are on Twitter). I keep the account because it’s not just a one-way device—I follow people, agencies and other news organizations in all our markets—and because, hey, it doesn’t hurt.

Give it some personality

Here are the people I definitely won’t follow:

  • People with no photo
  • People with no bio information filled out
  • People with no Web site
  • People with no updates/protected updates
  • People who have somehow combined all of the above

With exceptions, of course, but the point is, let me know who you are and what your purpose is. There are enough people on Twitter that if I see any of these “flags,” I can ignore you and never think of you again without missing anything. Don’t let me do that.

Tip: If you’re Tweeting for some professional purpose, link back to your site and dedicate some conspicuous space on your site to link to your Twitter account. It costs nothing at all for someone to right click and copy your universal avatar to a dummy Twitter account and start acting like you. A link from your Web page to your Twitter account says, “This account is the real one.”

Tailor your network to your goal/s

Remember how I said “figure out what you want [Twitter] to do”? Once you’ve figured that out, find and follow other people who are doing the same thing. There are several ways to do so:

Tip: Remember to not be all business, all the time. You want to build up a repuation, true, but you also don’t want that reputation to be of a robotic link spewer. Develop your voice, engage in conversation and every now and then, drop something in there that’s just personable and light. I try to divvy it up at about 90/10 (leaning toward business).

Keep tabs on yourself

You’ve got your Twitter username and that’s great…except that people could be talking about you without @ replying you, in which case you won’t know what they’re saying. You could run a search on your full name every now and again, but that would only give you recent Tweets and you may find something that was said three weeks ago—an eternity in Twitter time.

There’s an easy solution, but it does require that you have an RSS reader (I suggest Google Reader). Do a search for a few variations of your name or username. Even if nothing comes up, grab the RSS feed for that search result and pipe it into a folder in your reader. I set up RSS feeds for several searches—paulbalcerak, @ paulbalcerak, paul balcerak, balcerak, pbalcerak, etc.—so every time someone Tweets about me, I get notified. It’d probably also be a good idea for me to include a few misspellings in my name, since it’s uncommon and a little weird.

You should keep an eye on what other people’s perception of you is, too. Are you an annoying Twitter-er? Are you worth following? I look myself up every so often on follow cost (am I annoying?) and TwitterGrader (am I worth it?). The latter has a “popularity contest” kind of feel, but it is useful since it provides pretty good metrics on your followers and follows. It’ll also give tips and suggestions on how to “improve” your account and provides some decent search tools.

Find what works for you

One of the best things about Twitter is that it’s open source and there are a million ways to use it. The casual Twitter-er can update from The ADD-laden crowd (present) can keep TweetDeck open all day. Those of us on the go (also present) have any number of options for the iPhone and other mobile devices. Those are just my favorites. Twitter lists pretty much everything reliable on its Downloads page, so play with a few options and see what you like. What matters is that you find something that’s natural and doesn’t make using Twitter feel like a task.


Check out my Twitter-related links on Delicious—there’s a ton of good advice from a lot of smart people.

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