On Twitter: Always Add Value

My flock of Twittersheep

I find it hard to believe that as recently as six months ago, I was dismissing Twitter as a pointless ripoff of Facebook’s status update, without any of the extras that make Facebook a “real” social network. From what I’d seen, it lived up to its negative reputation of mindless updates about eating lunch, waiting in traffic and unimaginative opinions on the pop culture distraction of the moment.

(Note: I’ve certainly been guilty of the latter, though in relative moderation; I vow to NEVER live-tweet a whole episode of American Idol!)

When I decided to start using Twitter for more than updating my Facebook status, and began to actively seek out quality tweeters in the publishing and media world to follow, I had a revelation.

The image above is from Twittersheep, “a word cloud generated from the bios” of the 200+ people currently following me on Twitter. The emphasis on “writer”, “media”, “book” and “marketing” tells me that I’ve tapped into the niche I was looking for and am, theoretically, adding value to that niche as the majority of my own tweets match up with those keywords. In fact, the number of people following me spiked dramatically a few weeks back during the Tools of Change conference, largely as a result of my following along on Twitter and adding my two cents to the conversation.

I’ll often throw in a little something about politics (check out @nprpolitics), pop culture (@Latinoreview), sports (@matthewcerrone), or how much I want to stab someone on any given day, but I expect the same additional personal spice from those I follow, too, as long as their primary focus remains on publishing, or in some cases, my peripheral interests.

Twitter is not for everyone, but I find the precision required to get your point across in only 140 characters without resorting to “text speak” a particularly inspiring endeavor that’s useful in many other forms of communication, from email to poetry. I’m actually rather surprised at the number of poets I know who dismiss it, especially slam poets, instead of rising to the challenge and turning it into a new creative form.

Beyond poetry, though, there are niches were it is an invaluable social networking tool, a perfect complement to blogging, an in-the-moment StumbleUpon, and absolutely nothing like Facebook or LinkedIn.

Publishing is definitely one such niche.

Coincidentally, Twitter is becoming an area of heightened interest at the day job, with several of our newly formed communities recently establishing presences, and I’ve dropped my two cents on how to best use it at every possible opportunity:

I love Twitter, both personally and professionally. It’s all about finding the right niche and then becoming a contributing member of it by adding value and interacting with others.

My personal rule of thumb is 60:30:10 — community:self-promo:conversation.

It’s not a PUSH medium by any means, especially for a “brand”. Who you “follow” should be chosen based on quality not quantity, and if you’re not interacting with your niche on some kind of regular basis (not necessarily daily), you’re wasting your time setting up an account.

Twitter is also a great listening post; I recommend using http://search.twitter.com to set up RSS feeds for search terms related your brand name, your Twitter account name, your competitors, and top-level keywords and monitoring them regularly. Knowing who’s talking about you and what they’re saying is one of the most valuable uses for Twitter.

Twitter is about as democratic a forum on the Internet as there’s ever been, offering all of the potentially viral dangers inherent in email and message boards and blogs, multiplied exponentially. There’s a legitimate danger in approaching it as a “sales” channel instead of a “communcations” channel, and brands — whether corporate or individual — that don’t understand that will undoubtedly get burned.

That 60:30:10 breakdown is important, because it follows the simple rule of “do unto others”; garbage in, garbage out.

Three major Twitter DON’T‘s that I’d recommend to anyone starting to use it are:

  1. Don’t leave any of your profile blank. It takes a minute to fill in a real name (personal or brand), URL, short bio and upload a picture. All of that information is relevant to potential followers, and is referenced in a variety of Twitter-related tools, including Twittersheep, Mr. Tweet and Twitter Grader.
  2. Don’t set up an auto-DM to followers. It’s impersonal, potentially misleading, and for me, a total turnoff. I’ve un-followed a number of tweeters after receiving an obvious auto-DM that tried to push me to check out their website or sell me something.
  3. Don’t be a dick. If your primary goal is to add value to your niche, that’s a great start, but even the most valuable contributor quickly becomes unappealing if they act like a dick. ie: @Mashable offers some great content and has a ton of followers, but after a couple of days of multiple tweets stroking himself for generating so much traffic to certain sites that their servers crashed, I stopped following him. (Note: Don’t be afraid to stop following someone because they’re not adding value to your chosen niche. Twitter doesn’t call them “friends” for good reason. Once you’ve found your niche, it’s also okay to eventually follow less people than are following you, especially if you’re actually engaging in a dialogue as opposed to just monologuing.)

In the publishing and media worlds, there are a number of people and brands I follow whom I’d recommend to anyone with similar interests, and you’ll see them peppered throughout my stream as I interact with them and/or ReTweet the interesting content they’ve shared.

One of them is @MariaSchneider, whom I already knew personally from our days at Writer’s Digest, and who recently offered some of the best Twitter advice you can get, noting, “At first, Twitter feels like being at a cocktail party where you know no one. But if you focus on making the right connections, Twitter can actually be quite useful.”

The ability to listen before speaking is critical in all areas of life, increasing the chances that when you do speak, you’ll add something of value to the conversation. The rules of Twitter are no different.

Always add value. And don’t be a dick. 

TwitterSheep Update: May 2009
TwitterSheep Update: May 2009

UPDATE (5/1/09): I just redid my TwitterSheep word cloud and, with nearly double the people now “following” me, I’m happy to see that the profile hasn’t changed dramatically. The notable shifts are “publisher” being deemphasized a bit and “pr” now matching it, while “media” and “writer” are now about equally prominent.

There has been a bit of a shift in the people and brands I’m following since I originally posted this, as I’ve come across some really smart marketing and PR pros (@geoffliving, @MackCollier, @MarketerBlog, @amymengel); some informative publications (@minonline, @foliomag, @AudDevMag, @WoodenHorsePub); and some interesting people in general (@dianavilibert, @ShawnaCoronado, @bradrourke, @patrickboegel).

I stopped following @LatinoReview and replaced them with @GeekTyrant.

Who are you following that’s really interesting?

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6 thoughts on “On Twitter: Always Add Value

  1. i had a hard time “getting” twitter, even a few days or so after i signed on. however, i sort of feel like i’m taking a really good class when i’m on twitter, learning things are a pretty good clip. it makes me wonder if there is a particular disposition and/or mind set of those of us on twitter. i especially like being on twitter when i’m feeling impatient, wanting some thing to happen. i can make something happen (tweet) or i can virtually watch tweets appear.
    i’m a poet myself, and i’ve been wondering where poetry and twitter intersect. thoughts?

  2. I’d love to see some poets experimenting, and not just haikus, either; 140 characters is longer than it seems and is perfectly suited for strong metaphor.

    Maybe I’ll put together a Twitter poetry slam for National Poetry Month?

  3. There are actually a ton of writers and poets, as well as a few lit mags (@nanoism, @picfic, @escarp, @outshine). It’s hard to find them amidst the noise, but there are whole groups of people who write and respond to each other’s twitter-based work.

    A twitter search for twiction, twitter-fiction, nanofiction, microfiction, twisters (etc) can often dig up some excellent #followfridays and recommendations if you’re willing to dig a little.

  4. Ben: I’ve come across a handful of interesting (to me) writers and poets, and just discoverd @nanoism earlier this week. Thanks for the tips on the other three: I’ll check them out.

    I’ve found #followfriday to be of limited valued, though, as so many people simply list a bunch of twitter handles with little or no qualification. There’s definitely a lot of noise, but I manage my list pretty ruthlessly to get the maximum value from it. I trust that the really interesting stuff will bubble up into my stream eventually.

  5. About #followfriday–absolutely. I think most people completely ignore recommendations and are right to do so. At the same time, sometimes the people you really enjoy are your only (or best) chance to find -other- people you’ll really enjoy, so when someone says these are some great twitter-writers, I might check them out. When it’s just a list? Not a chance.

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