Twitter for Fun, but not so much for profit.

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Over Memorial Day Weekend, I made a new background image and coordinating avatar for my Twitter account (psst, I’m rachelnabors). It was oodles of fun, but before I started, I did my research (as always) and scoured the Web for resources that might help me improve my background (see the bottom of this post for a list of said resources).

I kept running into articles about “how to get the most out of Twitter,” articles from people who promised that with Twitter, you could “build a publicity powerhouse” and “harness the power of the masses.” This is of course, a very tall order for the microblogging site to fulfill. This contrasts nicely with the opinion of a coworker of mine, who stated that, “Twitter is a waste of time.” And they’re not the only person who thinks so!

I agree with neither of these sentiments. Twitter is useful, but it isn’t the be-all and end-all of marketing or promotion. It’s best to think of Twitter as a supplementary item, like a MySpace page or Facebook presence. It can be useful on both a professional and a personal level. In this article, I’ll try to dispel some Twitter myths and provide some insight to how you can get the most out of your Twitter account.

There are 3 things to do on Twitter.

  1. Listen
  2. Broadcast
  3. Respond

It is said that there are two kinds of Twitter users, Listeners and Broadcasters. Listeners range from the doting sycophants of celebrities to information hounds, licking crumbs of knowledge off the plates of Broadcasters. Broadcasters simply post a lot. About everything. To the point of sometimes annoying their Listeners

Of course this is a gross generalization. I find that most people listen and broadcast. Some people are just more enthusiastic about posting!

There are 3 ways to use Twitter.

  1. To learn from your peers (web designers, embroidery enthusiasts).
  2. To let other people know what you're doing (to promote something, to let your friends know where you are drinking).
  3. To keep in touch with other people (peers, family, customers).

These correspond roughly to the three aforementioned actions.

I used to use LiveJournal to let my friends and other comic illustrators know what I was doing. After all, the comics community was stronger on LiveJournal than anywhere else, so I would get lots of feedback from and chances to communicate with other professionals in my field. But then I got a job working in-house for a large marketing company doing graphic and web design. I just didn’t have the time to write long-winded blog posts about comicky things anymore. I found that Twitter’s microblogging format allowed me to make several short posts over the period of one day, which helped me keep in touch with those friends of mine that had Twitter. Additionally, the web design community is stronger on Twitter than LiveJournal, so I get to learn from and socialize with a set of people who help me improve my craft. I also post links to useful web desgn resources and articles. Sometimes I even promote new articles I’ve written or things I’ve worked on!

So I do all three things: I promote, keep track, and learn.

Twettiquette.

In almost all of those “promote your brand on Twitter and become a GOD!!!” articles, they go on quite a bit about getting followers. Here’s the secret: Some followers are more valuable than others. There are a lot of people promoting their agendas online. And they aren’t really interested in hearing about your agenda. If you follow a real Broadcaster, someone who is just on Twitter to sell themselves or their brand, they may follow you back out of politeness. But if you’re trying to sell to someone who is trying to sell to you… even if they do retweet a few of your tweets, who are they retweeting them to? A large pool of Broadcasters who are more interested in twittering about themselves and growing their number of followers than listening. And trust me, when you get thousands of followers, their twitterings become a wash of background noise that you must either filter or ignore. So don’t just go following people willy nilly because they have large numbers of followers in hopes that they’ll read your tweets–they probably won’t, even if they follow you.

So start small. Follow your friends and coworkers, people you know and/or trust. When they post something of value, retweet it. That flatters the author and hopefully provides someting useful for your followers or introduces them to someone they would like to follow.  Don’t only post about yourself and your agenda. People don’t like the person who can’t shut up about themselves at parties, and they don’t like them online, either. (Unless you happen to be a celebrity of one sort or another, in which case, people will fawn all over you, but rest assured that someone, somewhere finds you boring and wishes you would just shut up.) Do respond to other tweets. It is okay for Twitter to be used, moderately at least, as a glorified IM client. Don’t be afraid to answer questions if you have answers, and likewise, don’t be afraid to query the Twitterverse if you need answers yourself.

Twitter Myths Revealed!

  1. Twitter Myth #1: Twitter is a Waste of Time

    Only if you aren't using it right! Truth is, you can use Twitter to stalk your rivals, learn from your peers, and keep abreast of trends in your line of work, and in general stay more on top of your game than if you sat in the ladies room reading trade journals all day. My Twitter is stuffed to the gills with industry top dogs, and I'm not ashamed to have it running on my desktop all day. And if my mother's quiche recipe pops up under a link to a fantastic Photoshop tutorial, so much the better.
  2. Twitter Myth #2: You can become an overnight sensation! Just use Twitter!

    No. No. No. You can no more become an overnight sensation on Twitter than you can on Facebook, MySpace, or any other social media platform. The whole, "If you tweet it, they will come," mantra is misguided. Twitter is a supplement to a good publicity machine, not a replacement.
  3. Twitter Myth #3: Twitter will help you make money! Somehow.

    Not really. People are very cagey about being sold to. Twitter will, however, let you better serve and reach customers. Case study, the CEO of Zappos has a Twitter account. When I first joined Twitter, I immediately started following him, thinking he would twitter about one of my favorite subject, shoes. However, most of his tweets were "blah blah I am on a plane-this," and "blah blah I shook hands with so-and-so-that." Not only boring, but frequent! Most likely Zappos employees gained more from following him than I would, so I stopped following him. But when I noticed that my searches for size 12 women's shoes at Zappos.com were returning apparel listings as well as footwear (a fluke of their search system), I sent him a tweet to let him know, and he responded. Another case in point, whenever I work with a client who uses GoDaddy as a host, I inevitably end up twittering about how frustrating GoDaddy's backend is for me. And GoDaddy's personnel, ever vigilant on Twitter, immediately starts twittering back at me to ask how they can help. (Snark Attack: Funny, it's faster for me to get help from them on Twitter than it is for me to find help in their client area!) So Twitter makes people accessible. That's it. It doesn't magically make people like you or bring them in great flocks to your site.

Twitter Resources

Here are the links I found useful on my Twitter Background Quest:

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