A friend of the blog emailed this question last week. He’s new on Twitter and wants advice on getting going. What would you say?
Q: How does anyone know I’m on Twitter? Spam?!
A: People know you’re on Twitter because you use it
Okay, let me put some meat on that bone.
Why do you want to tweet?
You ask how does “anyone” know. You probably don’t have enthusiasm to communication with just anyone though. So think some about groups you care about. Are there shared topics, experiences, businesses, or geographies that connect the people you want to talk to? Would these audiences prefer your personal and professional comments separately, or mixed together?
Think in terms of what groups matter to you; where you have something to say. Where do you want to be part of the buzz?
At some point the number of followers is meaningless. There are studies that show little difference in impact between people with thousands vs. tens of thousands of followers. So, think about what audience matters to you, and what you can do that matters to them.
People often first find out about you because you follow them
Anyone who is seriously using Twitter has a nose for “follower spam.” Here’s what a few Twitter friends said they look for before returning a follow:
1. Relevance. Is the Twitter stream of interest to them? Relevance might not just be topic, but perhaps shared location, network, profession, etc.
2. Engagement. Does the person retweet and interact, or just spew links? Have they updated the account in the last day or so?
3. Humanity ( Not an ass / Not a ‘bot)
Do you get the sense this is really a person, and one you’d like being acquainted with?
In short: be generous, or interesting, or focused on something people care about. Any of these is a win.
Don’t think followers, think audience
The social media terms “follower” and “friend” are terribly forced. I prefer to think in terms of everyone being in the hive together. The people I read and talk with put ideas in my awareness, and they set my expectation for this medium. You have to join, you have to listen, you have to give a damn about people you read, or Twitter quickly becomes irrelevant.
The whole idea of followers is a bit bogus. Buddha has followers. So do communists leaders. In social media, we have people we share with, enjoy, and learn from.
Search for interesting users
One of Twitter’s strengths is that it is highly searchable. Recent data suggests it processes as many search requests daily as Bing or Yahoo. This debatable fact aside, search on Twitter is huge. Following a #tag’s stream creates an ad-hoc BBS. So use #tags, lists, and people’s @names.
I tweeted about the Boston Pops with other people who were at the event, as well watching as locally and nationally on TV. We shared an interest in Boston and the 4th of July, and a desire to talk about it. Some of the people I followed — those who wanted to — followed me back.
You can also see who people follow, and who follows them. So that’s a source. And public lists gather similar people together. Directories such as WeFollow provide more ways to discover interesting users.
Finding people isn’t hard. Being worth their interest is. That’s what the medium is about at its best level: engaging.
People you tweet about will notice you.
It’s not much of a jump to believe that people will engage with you if you engage them first.
So that’s a second path of discovery. Tweet about people referencing their @name, and either they or the people who pay attention to them will see your tweet. If it’s remarkable (and sometimes just being noticed is remarkable), you’ll get a response.
So, how picky or promiscuous should you be on finding people to follow?
There are good reasons to use some judgment about who you follow.
1. There are implications. Your mix of followers to follows says something about you. I recently noticed that famous communists follow nearly nobody in return — they sure look like monolithic leaders that way, but not like friends who will engage and reciprocate. Of course, the opposite, someone who follows 1,000 and has few followers back, looks like a spammer who merits no interest or encouragement.
2. There are rules (right here). Twitter punishes or restricts those who bulk add, delete, or act in spammy ways. For instance, there’s a 2,000-follow limit — you can’t follow more than 2,000 Twitter users until 2,000 users follow you. It’s a barrier to keep bad actors small. That’s another reason no to follow just any one back; it keeps bad actors under this threshold.
3. There are tricks. You can add people to lists and see what they have to say without following them. This is anonymous and lets you read them without following if they’re not likely to reciprocate. There are also tools that show the people you’re following who haven’t followed back, so you can then unfollow them. (Always do so gradually, as bulk follows and unfollows look spammy to Twitter.)
4. There are consequences. What’s the punishment for seeming spammy on Twitter? Well, you’ll miss meeting its smartest and best users, and Twitter has a sort of probation spammish users sometimes find they suffer. Their Tweets show up to their own followers, but not in the search stream for anything. If you go to a conference and use a #tag, you won’t show up in the Twitter stream to anyone who isn’t already following you. Twitter can undo this, and will do so automatically over time or by request. It’s another way to deter bad actors.