After a recent thread in the “Tweeple” discussion group on Linkedin, I am spurred to write a piece about twitterquette or perhaps one could say, about the twitter quest: what’s Twitter for and how do you get many followers?

What’s Twitter for?

Twitter is a space where you share — with people who follow you — “tweet” messages (up to a maximum of 140 characters).  These tweeted messages represent, for the most part, what you are doing, reading or thinking about in the present.  Your messages become your “stream” and, over time, become a sort of journal.

Twitter is the pinnacle of “now-ism“. Up to each of us to define what we make of it.  Twitter is neither Facebook (social) nor Linkedin (business) as you do not choose your followers (although you can choose to block someone).  Twitter will surely evolve — so we must remain nimble, if not humble, and in all cases, careful about our online presence.

How do you get many followers?

Some people are obsessed with getting as large a number of followers as possible.  I have two thoughts about this.

First, concentrate more on the quality of your own stream, rather than worry about the number of followers you have.  Your stream of tweets will become, more than your bio per se, who you are.  Whether you are more interested in Twitter for the personal or professional side, make sure your stream becomes you.  Key concepts to bear in mind: authenticity, consistency and meaningfulness.  Some good general practice tips are: to thank people who RT (retweet) you; if you RT someone, I recommend adjusting the message to reflect your input; always reply back to questions directed at you (i.e. @you); and reply to general questions when you have a solid answer.  Slowly explore the different themes and symbols.  For example, you will find some fun little twitter memes such as #FollowFriday (when you suggest someone new to follow on Friday) — but don’t go hashtag crazy (what’s a hashtag#?).

Secondly, find people of interest to follow.  Qualifying the people you follow will allow you to have a stream of your friends’ tweets that will always be of interest to you — as opposed to junk or, worse, spam.  People I follow tend not to post too frequently (overdose), not to over-promote themselves (egohead), participate in conversations (@reply, ReTweets…); and, of course, write about things that are in my spheres of interest.

Today, Twitter allows for the “mass follow” approach and there are numerous programs and schemes to get thousands of followers.  Personally, I hope that the quantity quest will peter out — but that won’t happen as people and business will naturally want to equate quantity with popularity and/or as business opportunities, etc.  Fortunately, Twitter has an easy opt-out scheme, so if the result is that you receive some senseless twits or spam from someone one doesn’t trust or respect, follows can be just as easily unfollowed… which keeps it a free market. Hopefully, Twitterville will find a way to find and create a layer of trusted twitterers… There are already some great tools for vetting who you follow, and there will surely be more created given Twitter’s recent opening up of its development platform.

My top 4 favourite Twitter tools are:

  1. Tweetdeck – for following the tweet stream of my friends, @replies and direct messages
  2. Socialoomph – for checking keywords (great way to find other people of interest) & managing/scheduling my posts
  3. FriendorFollow – for finding out who is following you but you are not following back, and vice-versa.
  4. Echofon – Twitter on my iPhone

For those of you contemplating more than one twitter account (one for personal tweets and one for business tweets, for example), I’d suggest keeping yourself to one account and figuring out a consistent voice that suits you … This is simplest path because a healthy twitter stream requires upkeep and vigilance.  Moreover, specifically when considering your professional profile, the boundaries between personal and professional are increasingly intermingled because the stronger professional leaders are able to include personal notes of humour & emotion, etc., in short, personality.

Meanwhile, from a trademark perspective, you might want to reserve/capture the twitter username of your brand as well as your personal name if that option still exists… you may want to do this even if you don’t plan to use it, since there is no way to protect the name officially at this point.

In conclusion, find your voice in your tweets, tweet regularly (but not too much) and meaningfully, and follow who you find of note/interest. The rest is up to Twitterville whether or not they choose to follow you.  Otherwise, the best advice is just to launch yourself and bear in mind that your stream is your brand.

Would love to have your input, so please don’t hesitate to add your best practices and thoughts on how to use Twitter better!

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