How I use Twitter

This post bounces off a post titled What is Twitter to me? by @LiberatedWomble & also as a little helping hand for those relatively new to, or who are struggling to get the hang of Twitter. It’s not a ‘Twitter guide’ as such – there are lots of those out there.

Who to follow? 

I have lists of recommendations (with reasons) as who to follow under the Puffles’ Twitter List category. Whether you choose to follow any recommendation is your choice. Don’t feel obliged to follow anyone because they follow you. Before choosing to follow someone, I look at:

  • Profile – does the name and description indicate similar interests?
  • Location – are they UK-based?
  • How many people do they follow?
  • How many accounts follow back?
  • What are the nature of their tweets? Are they interacting with other people? Are they re-tweeting? Are their tweets a series of ‘announcements’ or a series of random corporate slogans?

Information in each of these will indicate whether the account is worth following (or whether said accounts are spambots.

How many people should you follow?

I follow over 1,000 accounts. This is a crazy number of accounts to follow because I’m always stumbling across someone new and interesting. In terms of numbers, you want your Twitter Feed to be exactly that – a feed – something that is moving and dynamic. If it’s not moving and dynamic, then the incentive for you to keep track of it becomes less and less. When that happens, it reduces the chances of you using it because very little will change on it. Therefore I recommend following enough accounts to get your feed moving but not too many leading to too fast a feed rate. I normally say anything less than 100 increases the risk of a slow/dead feed and anything over 1000 increases the risk of a feed that is too fast to keep track of.

 Who should you allow to follow you?

I am notoriously strict with who I allow to follow Puffles. This in part is a habit I formed when still in the civil service. I check for spambots several times a day – both in terms of who is following and who has been mentioning Puffles in tweets. Anyone who looks or feels like a spambot gets reported.

I also block people who send Puffles abusive tweets. Life is too short and Puffles’ House Rules are self-explanatory. Your account, your rules. If someone’s upsetting you too much, block them. There’s too much hate on the internet as it is.

The difference all of this made for me was that I was able to build up a sizeable supportive following where the flying of insults was reduced to a minimum. This also allowed for offline meetups several months after launching the account. As a result, not only have I met a number of amazing people over the past year, so have lots of other people who found out that they had a lot more in common with each other than following a baby purple dragon fairy on Twitter.

How to engage with people

In the early days, unless you are what I call a ‘news maker’ you are likely to have far fewer followers compared to the number of people you are following. This is not a bad thing in itself. Some people choose to use Twitter to keep track on who is saying what – several of those for good reason: Some may be in very ‘restricted’ posts where comment by them could be politically or commercially sensitive, therefore it’s best for them not to tweet.

For those of you without such restrictions, the first habit to get into is to respond to what people are saying. This might be something that comes up on your Twitter feed (i.e. of those accounts that you follow) or something that comes up on a #hashtag (which lists all the tweets of those who have included a given word preceded by the # symbol). If the individual thinks that your responses are reasonable and interesting, you increase the chances of that person following you. (That’s how it’s worked for me). The more regularly you engage with people, the more people are likely to read about you and the more likely you are able to build a reputation.

What should I tweet?

That’s up to you. Ultimately it depends on what you want to use Twitter for. What I try to do is to separate what is my opinion  (or the opinion of a dragon fairy – which are slightly different (!)) from what I state as fact. With the former I always try to put “Puffles thinks…” or “Puffles’ Bestest Buddy thinks…” before any statement. I also got into the habit very early on of linking any statement of fact to the original source. That way, anyone having any issue with such a statement can scrutinise the source. Unsubstantiated tweets are easily shredded.

The more familiar you become with the accounts that you follow, the more you will be able to ‘trust’ them. This is particularly useful when it comes to retweets (which is how things spread around the Twittersphere). Rubbish mobile receptions when I’m out and about means that in most cases I cannot click through to the links provided by people. However, the accompanying line tells me when the subject matter may or may not be of interest to followers. This means that it is incredibly important that I can trust the person or organisation who sent the original tweet.

What if things go wrong?

I have made mistakes using Twitter – whether re-tweeting things that on second thoughts I should not have, or tweeting something that at the time was an error of judgement.

It will happen.

When that happens, far better to apologise and apologise quickly & unreservedly (taking ownership of what you did) and take the hit. Don’t do the “I regret any offence that may have been caused by that tweet over there” – the fake apology we see too much of today. Far better to day “I’m sorry, I tweeted something that clearly did cause offence. I’ll learn from it.” So long as you manage the expectations of your readers and get into a habit of what is and is not acceptable to both you and your audience, you’ll reduce the risk of kicking up a storm.

When to tweet?

I’m addicted to Twitter. You can’t send out over 1,000 tweets per week and pretend to be normal. (Hey, my best friend is a dragon fairy! How can I be normal!?!?)

Most of my tweeting when I was in the civil service was during my travel to and from work – on the commute. Twitter is a distraction – a big distraction. If you think email pop-ups are a distraction, this is a million times worse. Therefore if you are in work, it is essential that you manage your Twitter use to ensure that it does not become a distraction as it could have become with me had I stayed on in the civil service.

I also have a habit of tweeting during some TV programmes – interesting documentaries, late night new comedy, the odd TV talent show for example. Given the nature of my normal tweeting through Puffles, this is the ‘downtime’ tweeting where we all take life that little bit less seriously.

And finally…

Have fun with it. Be aware of the pitfalls if you could get into trouble with your social media use. If you would not write it on a postcard, to a publication or say it in public, think before posting it on Twitter. Manage the expectations of your followers – for example by writing your own house rules and regularly referring to them. People soon learn. If you are to meet people who you’ve met on Twitter for the first time, take sensible precautions – such as meeting in a public place and/or with a group of people, and finding others to vouch for that individual.

If Twitter is not for you, don’t feel bad about deleting your account. One of the challenges of social media is to find that handful of platforms that work for you. Best to use that handful really well rather than to sign up to every platform going and using them sporadically.


2 thoughts on “How I use Twitter

  1. Thanks for the mention PBB!

    I agree wholeheartedly with so much of this! Esspecially with regard to not posting things you wouldn’t write on a postcard… It’s so easy to lose track of what you say online, maybe a huge lesson about Social Networking is about integrety. Which leads in to the idea that one has to take ownership for one’s own mistakes. Totally agreed on the fake apologies too, if you’re sorry then try to learn from your mistakes, far too many don’t.
    @LiberatedWomble 🙂

  2. My little bit of advice for getting followed…

    You get followed by being FRIENDLY
    Follow – follow freely
    Retweet – retweet frequently
    Involve – involve yourself in conversation
    Engage – engage creatively and constructively
    Network – make connections
    Deliver – do stuff for social consumption
    Learn – be constantly reflexive
    Yourself – be yourself.

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