Friday, September 7, 2012

Blogger Outreach

I spend a lot of time writing a blog but it's not often I get to define myself as a blogger. Normally I'm on the other side of the fence, helping people to identify useful blogs and do a bit of "blogger outreach" - asking bloggers to spread the word about an activity or campaign that we're running. And it's not an easy task.

Every campaign has a different topic or a unique theme so quite often we're starting from scratch. We not only have to identify opinion leaders, we have to understand the topic so we can talk to them without looking like sad noobs.

Here's what we've learned so far:

Cold calling mostly flops - it's no different to any other cold calling. Unless you can demonstrate a really compelling reason why a blogger should pay attention to a total stranger, it's likely that they won't. A lot of bloggers spend way too much time reading emails from marketers that start "I read your blog and it's really interesting. I think it would be a perfect fit for a campaign we're currently running about [insert totally unrelated and irrelevant topic here]". It's left many recipients feeling pretty jaded and you'll need to overcome that.

Build relationships - this is like every other social media interaction. If you find a blogger you'd like to connect it with, then take some time to actually read their blog and make a valid connection with them. Comment on posts, be useful - make suggestions, link to their blog in your own social media posts if it's relevant. Try to make sure they're aware of you and appreciate your attention before you ask them anything.

On a related note Keep it personal. There's a whole clutch of Do's and Dont's here. Avoid sending template emails. Try to customise each message to make it relevant for each blogger.  Bear in mind that it's possible they may compare notes, especially if they are in the same interest community and neither of them have ever heard of you. Similarly, make sure you look smart and consistent. Be up front about what help you need and why and, if you're working with other departments, colleagues or an agency, make sure you all have access to a master list of people being contacted - and keep it updated and checked regularly. Few things are going to make you look as bad as one group not knowing what the other is doing. 

Do your homework - find out more about the bloggers you want to contact. Has anyone in your organisation dealt with them before? Are they already supporters? (this goes back to looking joined-up again) The connections you find may not even be in relation to work. Recently one of our fundraisers helped connect us to the mother lode of crafting bloggers since she blogs about that in her spare time and was able to introduce us to some of her peers online. Alternatively, have a look at Linkedin - do you have any mutual contacts who could make an introduction? It may sound excessively formal but the best way to be taken seriously is to show you take the other person equally seriously. And bear in mind that an increasing number of bloggers write professionally and expect to be treated as journalists. 

Show how it might help them - Let's be realistic here. The best way to get anyone to help you is to demonstrate that it will also benefit them. Don't insult their generosity but if you can see positive advantages for them in helping to spread your message it's OK to highlight those.  Ideally if you've been involving yourself within their community, the bloggers will already see the benefit of your input and you will already have some credit. However if you haven't been able to forge some solid connections beforehand, then try to illustrate any ways in which they may benefit. 

Disclaimers/Disclosure - keep it transparent. Be clear about who you are and where you work. This isn't as relevant for charities as for companies getting paid placements of stories but it's still worth keeping in mind.Similarly the bloggers may ask to include a disclaimer on anything they write. However that should only be in cases where they're receiving payment of some kind and shouldn't really apply here. 

Interns. Interns are fab. However it's not fair to give them projects where you can't support them properly.  The whole point of working with interns is that it's a two-way street. You get extra help and they get a chance to learn and develop their skills.  However, if this is a task that you've never done before - and I'm assuming that may be why you're reading this post - then there's not a lot you can do to support them. It's great if they can still complete the project and learn the necessary skills anyway but, unless you get properly involved, when they leave those skills will go with them.

Make it easy for them If you've ever had to handle a press release you'll know this bit already. Although any copy you supply is likely to be edited to fit with a blogger's own voice, that shouldn't stop you supplying suitable copy with all the necessary supplementary information - website and email addresses, dates, images etc. Don't just email a URL and expect them to go there and forage. 

Original content - this bit is sometimes hard. Naturally bloggers need to produce original, unique blogs. They're really not interested in simply repeating what their audience could have seen elsewhere. Sometimes that can be a problem since there's only so much content to go round and print media often takes priority. There are no easy solutions to this. You can try using your own online network to find examples and case studies - appeals on Facebook can work really well. However, over time you'll find that your work will prove the value of bloggers to the rest of your organisation and case studies will be easier to allocate to them.

And lastly a quick summary of the little obvious things that I'd hope you'd do without being told.

  • When someone blogs about you, tell the world about it and LINK to them. 
  • Remember to say thank you. Tell the blogger about the impact their work has had - hopefully they might feel inspired to do it again in the future
  • Assemble a portfolio of your successes - use them to help sell your organisation to new contacts and also to help promote blogger outreach within your organisation.

So that's it. Simples eh? Let me know in the comments how you get on.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Is it trending? Probably not....

From Blog-Blond
I get the logic behind Twitter's latest tweak to Trending but it's making me the official assassin of joy at work.  Here's what happens:

Every few days we get a phone call from someone who has recently run a campaign that has included some kind of activity on Twitter, normally with a hashtag. Through tears of pure happiness they announce that their chosen hashtag is trending on Twitter. Visions of the countless millions who have seen, understood and passed on their message dance before their eyes. Screw you Justin Beiber, a worthy cause has finally triumphed in the twitterverse

And that's when we have to kill the joy. Stone dead.

Taking a deep breath, I or my trusty sidekick have to say "No, it's not"
"But how can you say that??" they blub "I'm looking at it on my screen. It's TRENDING I tell you!!"
"On your screen it is - but that's because a lot of the people you follow have been talking about it, not because everyone on Twitter has. Twitter's started customising trend reports"

And then we sit back and listen for the distant sound of dreams exploding or the high pitched squeal of an ego as it deflates. Neither one is pretty.

Twitter's logic is OK. They've realised that global or even local trending topics may not be of much interest to some people.  Personally I find them useful - admittedly I couldn't care less about which footballer is transferring to what new club but I'm willing to put up with that - it's handy to know if David Cameron is getting crucified in PMQs. Furthermore deceased celebs pop up on Twitter a lot faster than in the Times obituary column.

However not everyone is the same. We're getting very cosy with being able to control or filter every bit of information coming our way. The idea of generic data being imposed upon us from above is increasingly resented.

So this month Twitter introduced "Tailored Trends". The algorithm isn't clear but now users chiefly see what is trending based on their location and the people they follow. For a lot of users that might be a good thing but then Twitter tripped up. It made Tailored Trends the default setting and not everyone noticed.

And that's when our phone started ringing....

So how can you fix this?

The quick solution is via your feed on the Twitter site rather than any twitter clients like Tweetdeck. At the top of the list of currently trending items there's an option to Change them.

Clicking on that will get you this:

Click on Change (I know, it's a no-brainer) which gets you this:

You can go as global or local as you like. Below are the contrasting lists of trending topics for London and the world taken about 2 minutes apart. They have nothing in common apart from the promoted trend which everyone ignores anyway). Looks like the cricket is on in the UK....

And finally, in case you were wondering what trending really means - here's a video clip from Tweetdeck showing a topic that is trending worldwide (watch the column on the right)

Good luck.

Friday, June 8, 2012

What makes a good tweet? Part 1

OK, I'm pretty sure there is no such thing as "The ultimate tweet". Someone will probably Google that and prove me wrong but until they do, the best way to work out how to tweet well is sometimes by looking at times when someone tweets poorly. We learn from our mistakes

So sit back, get comfortable and check out Carol's Hall of Shame (you mawkish little ghouls)

We'll start off with an easy one

Be interesting
Just been out for a great meal

Yeah, I'm real happy for you but your tweet is about as useful as a chocolate teapot and significantly less interesting. If you must tell everyone about your night out then tell them properly Why was it such a great meal? - Where did you go? Who were you with? What did you eat?

Whenever possible give your followers somewhere to go or something to look at. How about including a link to the restaurant's website or Facebook page? (the owners may even thank you for that). Failing that, what about a photo of that hilarious moment when the flaming sambuca torched the waiter's moustache?

Don’t make them work for it
@MacXXXX check my tweets for an event worth RT'ing guys. All profits going to @macmillancancer

This is basically asking people to go trawling back through the writer's tweets for some unspecified nugget of information.  No-one has the time to do that kind of detective work. Make it easy for your followers - put the important stuff up front every time.

And here's another from the mystery meat department
I posted a new photo to Facebook

Someone has posted a photo on Facebook (bet that was hard to guess) but not bothered to give the image a caption. They have their Facebook account set up to cross-post to Twitter and - in the absence of a caption - you're seeing the default text that Facebook uses for the tweet.

My usual reaction to this kind of tweet is not gleefully rushing over to Facebook to see this photographic wonder. I'm more likely to mutter "well goody for you!" and ignore it.

But then I'm more curmudgeonly than most.

However, I 'm not unique - c'mon people, tell me WHY I should be doing this for you, or don't act surprised when I do nothing at all.

And they say size doesn't count...
Doing a stand up comedy night for Macmillan Cancer Support. You can get tickets here Please RT + add your favourite joke

Nothing wrong with this surely? It does what it says on the tin, provides a call to action with the link and even gets imaginative by engaging readers with their favourite jokes.

There's only one wee problem - this tweet is exactly 132 characters. In a retweet this leaves just enough space to add "RT @..." and your username for the credit. So unless your reader's favourite joke is about one character long, he's pretty much screwed without having to edit your original tweet. A lot of tweeters don't like doing that.

Do your retweeters a favour - leave them some space to comment.

So, to recap
  • Make it interesting, be of value
  • Give your followers something to do or to look at (that they will be interested in)
  • Make responding easy for them
And finally here's a link to an audacious example of getting it right - more of those next time

Monday, May 28, 2012

12 ways to get more Twitter followers

Photo : cc by-nc-nd - Bruno Monginoux -
Having persuaded colleagues that Twitter can be a useful tool, inevitably the next question is "How do I get more followers?"

From personal experience, I generally recommend a combination of lurking, not being afraid to experiment until you find something that works for you and strict adherence to Wheaton's Law 

However there are some specific things you can do to improve your chances of getting more followers.

Above all, remember that there are many different ways for people to find and follow you on Twitter - they may see a #FF recommendation and read your bio, they may see a retweet of one of your posts and go read your feed. So you need to treat every publicly-visible thing about yourself as one of those potential avenues.
  1. First listen, then have a conversation, don't just talk
    Too many Twitter accounts are still using the channel to broadcast information - mostly about themselves. Although some accounts have built a following around this approach, it generally doesn't work. It's fine to make a statement or post a link on Twitter but you need to follow up. If someone comments on your tweet, make sure to answer them. If they retweet you, then thank them.

  2. Be interesting/ Be useful
    By now everyone knows that Tweeting what you had for breakfast is taboo. But it goes further than that. Think about the tweets you enjoy reading. What works in them? Will that also work for you?

  3. Be Human
    Although it's a good idea to post useful information, it's also important to behave like a human being rather than a auto-posting robot. Expressing your opinion is fine as long as you keep it polite. A quick glimpse into what's going on in your world is good too - it helps people to connect to you as a person. And you never know what might work - after a lot of concerted posting on Social Media topics, the only retweet I got this week was about my misadventure when running for a bus!

    Additionally, it's wiser to avoid any kind of autoposting or autofollowing services. Autoposting is risky - how will you look if a major news story breaks and your only comment is "watch my video on...."? Similarly if you don't have the time to decide who you want to follow, you certainly won't have the time to wade through the flood of spam you'll get when you autofollow all the spammers who exploit such behaviour.

  4. Be Original
    Half a billion people use Twitter. If you want them to pay attention to you, you'll probably have to offer them something they can't get elsewhere (legally).  I'm not saying that you have to be posting Buddha-like insights on life, but just rehashing content that your potential audience has already seen simply won't cut it. It's OK to Tweet links to other content but add your own opinion, put something of yourself into it - remember that you are the most original thing you have.

  5. Be confident enough to promote others
    If you see someone else doing something good, don't be afraid to tell others about them. It won't detract from what you're doing. Instead you'll be respected as the person who recognised it was good and was happy to tell everyone else about it. Clearly you are a dude who knows where your towel is.

  6. Follow others - and use lists
    The easiest way to make people aware that you exist is to follow them. Most twitter users regularly scan their list of followers to see if they have anyone new they'd like to follow back. I've already talked about Lists in depth. Just remember that they're a great way to identify and attract valuable followers.

  7. Use your bio
    On Twitter, your bio can work like your business card. Often, if they're scanning lists or new followers it's the first thing about you that people see. So make sure it tells them who you are and what you're about - assure them that you're worth following. Don't forget to include a link to somewhere useful like a LinkedIn profile so you can tell them even more about you if they're interested.

  8. Be consistent
    Don't leave your followers feeling conned. If your Twitter profile says that you breed racing turtles, then your twitter stream should probably contain plenty of tweets about breeding turtles and racing them. If things have changed and you're now into racing snails then update your profile accordingly. Otherwise you're misrepresenting yourself and that wins you no love.

  9. Hashtags
    You should always be on the lookout for ways to help new people find you and your content. Hashtags are an ideal way of doing this. Getting involved in a discussion around a hashtag means that a lot of people - who might never see you otherwise - can become aware of you. Just make sure it's for the right reasons so post intelligently (unless the hashtag is #eurovision in which case all bets are off).

  10. Review and make note of what works.
    It pays to step back periodically and look back over what you've been doing. Just do a quick sense check - does your output look intelligent and interesting to someone who has only just found you? Have some things worked surprisingly well (do more of them), have some been total flops (any idea why? Stop doing them)

  11. Prune your followers
    Yes, I know this sounds counter productive but by your followers shall ye be judged. So make sure they're not predominantly busty blonds fronting obviously spam accounts. Do us all a favour; report and block them. You'll look less of a novice as a result.

    And finally...
  12.  Do NOT sign up to those services that promise you 1,000 followers - remember it's quality not quantity you want

Monday, May 14, 2012

Celebrity retweets

This man can melt our
webserver with a single retweet
Since I'm one of the people who keeps an eye on mentions of Macmillan on Twitter, I regularly see a lot of tweets like this

@[celebrity]- I'm running a marathon for @macmillancancer. Please RT

Sadly, I hardly ever see any retweets of posts like that.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Before I get started though, let's be clear that this isn't going to be a charity person having a pop at unhelpful celebrities. The celebrities who work with Macmillan are a great bunch who are all willing to go the extra mile to help and we love 'em to bits. However we also know of at least one presenter who now refuses to work with any charity whose supporters swamp them with fundraising requests.

Let's look at it from the celebrity's point of view:

Imagine you're a celebrity with a twitter account. You run the account yourself and you try to follow everyone who follows you but a lot of people want to contact you and it's making things pretty unmanageable. In fact you have so many followers that you've had to turn off twitter alerts on your phone as they were flattening the battery.

Consequently, when you check your twitter feed, there are several things you'll be prioritising:

1. Check for messages from friends or fans you already know.
2. See if there are any messages you need to get answered urgently
3. Make sure no-one's being too rude about you

Let's assume that once all those are cleared out of the way, you still have time to read other messages and you see one addressed to you: "@[celebrity]- I'm running a marathon for @macmillancancer. Please RT". Let's also assume - unrealistically - that it is the ONLY charity retweet request you've received (in reality there will be loads)

Now, if you've got time to do anything with this, firstly you'll ask is "who is this person?". Do I know them?. Is this from a fan?. Have they tweeted me before? You take a look at the sender's Twitter page and it looks like this:

I'll leave aside the fact that this account has obviously just been set up and the sender can't even be bothered to do it properly.  Anyone looking at this page will realise a few things -
1. "This person is spamming" (even if they don't intend to)
2. "I don't know them from Adam"
3. "They're asking lots of people for help; if I don't have time to do anything they probably won't notice".

The response of most people would be to block this account and report it for spamming. However, you're a beneficent celebrity so you don't do that. In fact you give serious thought to a RT but you have a responsibility to your followers. What will happen to your reputation if you pass on a message that turns out  to be a scam? With no other information available, how on earth do you make sure this person is legit?

And at that point our beneficent celebrity finally gives up - and who can blame them?

So how can a fundraiser stop that from happening? What can make one tweet stand out from a load of very similar posts?  Here's some ideas. They don't guarantee success but I promise they'll work better than spamming a bunch of overloaded celebrities.

1. They'll pay more attention if they know who you are
Firstly don't set up an account just to promote your fundraising activity. This may sound obvious but it isn't. If you already have a twitter account use that. Make sure you've got a sensible photo in your bio and some genuine information. Use the link option wisely too - either link it to a page about the event itself, or to your Justgiving page.

Additionally, you're much more likely to get a retweet if you have a pre-existing relationship with the celebrity and they recognise your name. I'm not suggesting you have to take them out to lunch, but taking the time to have a chat, making it clear you know who they are and what they do can make a difference. That may sound like a lot of work but you're much more likely to get a response from a few celebrities you've taken the time to engage with rather than 50 you've casually spammed.

2.Keep it personal
 Pick your celebrities wisely. It helps if you know they are already interested in a charity or a cause. Highlight the connection if you can (although if it involves a illness or bereavement, you'll need to be very tactful about it). Alternatively explain why this fundraising is personally important to you.

Make it relevant - if you're taking part in a  local event, approach local celebrities. They may not have as many followers as Lady Gaga but their audience is more likely to be interested in what you're doing.

3. Avoid looking stupid - do your homework
Rather than blundering in, check out your celeb beforehand - see what kind of messages they post and what time of day they're likely to be online.
  • Does your celeb run their own account or is it clear that someone handles it for them? - if it's clear their agent tweets for them, asking for a retweet during office hours might work better. Also if you can connect with the agent themselves, perhaps they have another client who might be interested in tweeting your request?
  • How Twitter-savvy are they?- whilst I'm not suggesting you exploit newbies, I did once get a lot of publicity via a retweet from an actor who had only just signed up on Twitter. He got over 2,000 followers overnight and was innocently happy to publicise the awareness week I was working on.
  • Do they normally retweet fundraising requests? If it's clear from their twitter stream that they rarely pass on fundraising messages, you may be wasting your time.
  • Have they already published guidelines on their website about how they handle retweet requests? - Big twitter users such as Stephen Fry and Philip Schofield have been asked for RTs so often that they have put up useful guidelines on their own websites. The best way to annoy a celebrity who has gone to that kind of trouble is to ignore the guidelines and expect them to pay attention to you regardless.

4. NEVER indulge in sour grapes.
Obviously if they retweet you, make sure to thank them promptly for their help. However if, after doing all that work, you STILL don't get any attention the worst possible reaction is to complain about it.  That just makes you look petulant and will get you blocked. Everyone's human - perhaps there wasn't time, perhaps they didn't understand what you were asking them to do. So rather than whinging, see if there's anything you can learn from the experience.

And, with a bit of homework and some effort you can get that retweet.....

....just don't ask Stephen Fry; I wasn't kidding when I said he can melt our web server.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Deciphering the Geek Greek

The one thing that seems to deter newcomers from using Twitter is how much jargon they think they'll have to learn: “HT, RT, <, +1,LOL,#,, yfrog, #ff,” - to an outsider the list can seem endless.

The truth is, like every other group, Twitter folk can behave like a clique - a private little club with its own jokes, language and culture. Some of the Twitterati probably like it that way.

However, that's not how to be a good member of the Twitter community. With a 140-character limit, some abbreviations are necessary but they're not to be used as a badge for the in-crowd. Remember that Twitter is for communication and that's not possible when you're hiding behind a load of clique-speak.

So with that in mind, here's a handy guide to the most commonly used shorthands:

@[username] - indicates a message that is intended for a specific person. Use this and Twitter will notify them that they have had a mention. Twitter's web site tends to filter tweets starting with @ out of most peoples' feeds on the grounds that  they're not likely to be interested in messages intended for other people. However, Twitter clients such as Tweetdeck or Seesmic don't always work the same way so don't assume that you're having a private conversation - use DM for that (see below). Conversely if you want to get around that filter - for example if you want to direct a message at a specific account but you want everyone to see it - then just start the message with a full stop
eg: .@TalkTalk you have dreadful customer service! 

DM[username] - in theory you should NEVER see this unless you wrote it. It indicates a private (direct) message to a [username].

RT = Retweet. Reposting another Tweeter's message. Indicated by RT followed by the original author's name. Normally this is so you can comment on it or just boost the signal a bit for them (more information)

HT or via – used to give credit when you’re not retweeting someone but have based your message on something they have tweeted (HT = hat tip). Normally followed by the original poster's name. 

MT - modified tweet. Usually used in similar situations to HT but when you're still quoting some of the original message.

# - hashtag. When followed by a phrase (no spaces or punctuation allowed), this will appear on Twitter as a link to a feed of all other tweets also using that phrase. Proper explanation of hashtags will get a blog post of its very own shortly, but basically hashtags are a great way to pull people together around a topic - check out #bbcqt which is the one for Question Time. It's also a great way to find new people who may share your interests.

< - often used as a separator between the content of a retweet and your own comment on it

+1 = quick comment on a retweet meaning “me too” or “gets my vote too”. Not to be confused with all the signage for Google Plus likes, although probably inspired by that. – URL shortening services. Twitter’s web interface and a lot of the twitter client programs will automatically shorten URLs so that they don’t take up an entire tweet by themselves. If you're given a choice of services, is currently the one least likely to be blocked by firewalls. is Twitter's own shortener and you'll probably get that if you tweet using Twitter's web site rather than a Twitter client.

Twitpic, Yfrog – photo hosting services that let you upload a photo and automatically tweet a link to it. Most of them let you log in with your Twitter account so you don't have to worry about a separate sign-up process. A lot of twitter clients will connect with your favoured service automatically, you just have to let them know which one you use.

OMG = Oh My God. Twitter has embraced many of the acronyms originally used in chatrooms and in text messages. Plenty of other bloggers have documented them. However take care not to overdo it. Text speak is not welcome on Twitter. Tweets are not text messages and your tweets can be read by anyone rather than just the mate you texted.

Trending = when a lot of people are using the same phrase at roughly the same time, Twitter will report that the term is trending and it will appear in a list of trending terms on your twitter home page. Often the trending terms will be hashtags but they can include breaking news or commentry on sporting or TV events. Twitter has been taking advantage of this by selling an advertising space for "promoted terms" at the top of the trending list which can be unhelpful. Nevertheless, news can break on Twitter up to an hour before mainstream channels report it so it's worth keeping an eye on the list if you need to keep up to date (remember that news of Twitter is not verified). 

Bear in mind that, like every other language, Twitter-speak is constantly evolving and a lot of it is unique to specific groups or cultures. So this list is not comprehensive and some of it may even be out of date before I hit post. I'm always happy to update so if you come across something I've missed, just sling it in the comments below.

Or tweet me

Friday, April 27, 2012

Retweeting ettiquette

Image Credit
Retweeting is another bit of Twitter functionality that that should have evolved according to how people want to use it. Unfortunately the Twitter developers got the wrong end of the stick this time so it doesn’t quite work the way everyone wants and so a lot of people prefer sticking with old school.

Retweet the Old School way – copy someone’s message, then hit reply so you get @[theirname], paste their message back after their name and slap an RT on the front. If you want to comment on it, add your text in front of the RT or after the message but prefixed by <

Simples! (not)

Apart from being a faff, this is not always feasible without some editing if it’s a long message (another reason to not push the 140 envelope in your own posts – keeps them retweet friendly). 

However the advantage is that you can track the influence of a tweet. If someone retweets your retweet (stay with me), you’ll know about it as well the original author since you'll both get a mention. And the original author will know you helped spread the word (subtext – you’re influential!)

Retweeting the new school way – push the button labelled Retweet. That’s it. It’s low-effort but the disadvantage is that simply spreads the word without any opportunity for you to add your own value/comments or get the credit.  It cuts out the middle-man. The original author learns that lots of people passed on his message but they’ve no way of know HOW those people saw it in the first place so you lose out on a chance to connect.

When to use old school and new school - Best rule of thumb, use old school if you have the time and space. Go for new school if you’re in a hurry or there’s not enough room left for an edit anyway.
How much editing is allowed – you can edit tweets a little bit (remove irrelevant hashtags or unnecessary words); there's no set rule on how much. Generally just respect the original message and do not change the meaning

Credit, Credit, Credit – eventually you’ll reach a point where you can’t use the original tweet and have to write your own, BUT STILL MAKE SURE YOU CREDIT YOUR SOURCE. When all else fails use HT ("Hat tip) or just "via" followed by the original tweeters' name.

Don't overdo it. Although very few followers are going to review your entire twitter feed, some will. And if they see a feed that are entirely comprised of retweets, especially without any comment, they'll assume that's all you do. At best they'll ignore you, at worst they'll report you as a possible spammer.

To retweet or not to retweet? 
It's a question of value - 
-Will other people find this interesting/useful/fun?
-Will I be reaching a larger/different audience to the original message
If the answer to either is NO, but you still want to acknowledge or bookmark the message in some way then use the Favourite (of which more anon).

Happy (re)tweeting.

Friday, March 30, 2012

"I've got a little List"

So you've built up your Twitter followers and now you've got....well lots. And you're happy. What more can a successful Tweeter want?

Actually there's loads more you can do if you're looking to use Twitter effectively.  What about your lists?

Twitter Lists are an odd phenomenon. As with so many features of the service, it's something that has evolved in response to the way Tweeters use it. And there are so many different uses.

The fundamentals:

In brief, lists are simply lists of user names. You can either view the list of names or a stream of tweets from those users. Yes, just like your regular twitter feed.

You can create and maintain up to 20 lists. Within reason you can call them what you like. You can make them public or private. You do not have to be following someone to add them to a list.

You can follow a public list maintained by anyone else. There are no limits on the number of lists you can follow.

You can be added to an infinite number of other people's lists. You cannot stop your name being added to a list nor can you demand its removal (although you can ask nicely and hope)

So what's the point?

The obvious advantage for most people is the chance to filter tweets. If you follow a lot of people there's a good chance that your regular feed is updating too quickly for you to follow it properly. Messages you really want to see  are buried by those chugging in behind them and there are too many for you to scroll back, even assuming you knew what to look for. In those circumstances, a shortlist of important users is invaluable and lets you see the tweets you can't afford to miss.

I run several lists for this kind of purpose - I've got one for colleagues that I follow during the day and one for friends that I can check when I get home. Neither list generates a massive number of posts but if I had to deal with both at the same time it would slow me down enormously.

Additionally lists only show unaddressed tweets (those starting without the @ symbol) and those addressed to other people on the list. So it's a very useful way of following people without getting just their half of an online conversation.

But there are more sophisticated uses for lists....

Bear in mind that you don't have to follow accounts to put them on a list. Whilst it's always polite to follow back people who interest you, sometimes you may not want to.

For example I used to follow a lot of companies whose electrical products I owned; they would announce special offers and it was handy insurance in case anything ever broke down. However, following them meant that they could send me DMs, and a few were rather tiresome. It also meant their customer support tweets clogged up my main twitter feed. So I syphoned the worst offenders off into a list - their information was still at hand if I needed it but I didn't have to engage with them unless *I* wanted to.

Lists are a labour-saving device when you use other peoples'.  If you want to know who's worth following in a particular field, find an expert in that area and see who is on their lists. If they really know their stuff they'll have a list of industry experts that they update regularly - which saves you the job of doing a list of your own.

Flip that around and you realise that it's also useful to be ON lists as well as following them. It helps build your reputation. Adding someone to a list is a way of saying "I think this person is worth some attention". And if you look at the titles of the lists you're on, you get a very handy snapshot of how people view you.

Is it how you want to be viewed? Are you getting your twitter footprint right?

Additional reading

To find out the mechanics (adding, deleting, following etc) of lists, check out Twitter's own help page on the topic:

To turbo-charge your use of  lists, try

Friday, March 23, 2012

"...International Tweeter of Mystery"

So you've set up your twitter account, posted a few times and followed a bunch of people. And what's happened?

Nothing. Nada. Zip.

With the exception of Barack Obama, a handful of pneumatic blondes with oddly similar profiles and your Mum, the twitterverse has ignored you.

Maybe it's because your profile looks like this:

Hear those crickets? See that tumbleweed? This profile screams "I GAVE IN AND SIGNED UP, OK? DON'T ASK FOR MORE THAN THAT!!!"

Let's dissect this:

User name

From an individual professional standpoint, your name is your brand online so it helps if all your social media identities reflect your real name in some way. Of course if your name is John Smith then I'm afraid you've pretty much missed the boat. However JnSmith or Jn_Smith might still be available. 

I'll admit this is a case of "Do as I say not do as I do" since my own twitter name is nothing like my real name - like many old Internet lags, it's a hangover from the halcyon days of message boards in the mid-90s when no one dared use their real name. I'd grab mine now though if I got the chance.

Profile photo

Lose the egg - nothing says "Ignore me" more than the default Twitter egg avatar. Ideally post a photo of yourself; if possible one that wouldn't make your mother wince. You want people to talk to you, they want to know you're a real person, this helps them to know who's at the other end of the line. For this reason don't be tempted to use those photos of hot blondes - you'll get rumbled eventually and by default everyone assumes that model photos aren't real.  

Failing that, pick something eye catching, something that will let people spot your tweets quickly without having to read your name as well.  One of my former colleagues used a striking photo of some branches against a brilliant blue sky.  I came to associate the photo with her and it was easy to pick her posts out in my twitter feed. Of course the drawback came when she decided to change it - it took me forever to adjust. Similarly you may find that your followers complain when you switch avatars - so chose wisely young Jedi.


A blank bio says "I'm probably a spammer who could not be bothered to fill this out".  There are 300 million people using Twitter. Your bio is the first thing many potential followers will see. Given the choice between "British Actor, Writer, Lord of Dance, Prince of Swimwear & Blogger" and "                               " which do you think would be more interesting?

However, you only have 160 characters for this so you need to get clever. If you can pull off humour then go for it, but remember that one man's comedian is another's smartarse so don't get too cocky. You need to give people a good idea of who you are, what you're about, what interests you AND persuade them you're worth their time and attention. No pressure.

Some tweeters - especially those who have a list of interests - get sneaky and add hashtags to key words so that their profile is more likely to pop up in searches for those topics.

If you're happy to say where you work, it's a good idea to include a mention of your employers' official Twitter account. Besides, it'll probably take up less space than the full company name. However if you do that, make sure that you include a disclaimer that all opinions are your own; you are not an official channel for your company.


Don't waste any chance to give potential followers access to more information about you if they want it.  If you're using Twitter professionally, a link to your own web site or LinkedIn profile would be perfect here. 

Number of Tweets/Followers/Following

There's only so much you can do here. As far as the number of tweets is concerned just work on it and accept that you won't pick up too many followers while the numbers are still low unless you're a celebrity or a brilliant tweeter.  Regarding following/followers, ideally you should have something close to equal numbers here. Don't obsess about it but the classic sign of a spammer is someone following about 1,000 people of whom only a handful have followed back.

Of course there may be a dozen other reasons why you're not getting followers but at least with a decent profile you can rest assured it's not because they think you're a spammer/not real/a sociopath

...unless of course you are.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Don't be a Muppet

From Nalsa
We published our social media guidelines this week. It's been quite an revealing process. I haven't had to make much of a distinction between behaviour online and offline. We haven't had to set up a Digital/HR/Legal steering group to define a brand new code of online conduct; the existing contract for staff has covered it all pretty well.

The overriding principle in either case is simply "Don't be a Muppet"

Curiously most feedback has been focused on the importance of following them if you're using social media for work or in an official capacity. In fact it's probably a good idea to follow the main points if you use social media period. If you behave like an idiot online, you may not damage your employer's reputation but you'll almost certainly dent your own.

It's a point that a lot of people miss. When it comes to reputations there are really no divisions between your employer, your own professional life and your private one. If someone searches on your name, they're going to find whatever is online relating to you and you won't get to stand by their keyboard anxiously explaining "Ignore that, it's my personal page....oh no, I don't drink like any more....of course I left that political group a long time ago...".  If they find it, they will read it. And by they I mean friends, neighbours, employers, prospective employers, spouses, prospective spouses, the press or - worst of all - your mother. 

Let's all take a moment to think about that.

Don't kid yourself that because you don't mention where you work, no-one can guess. Inevitably you'll follow/tweet/make friends with colleagues who DO say where they work. And then you'll be associated with them by all those recommendation algorithms. You know, like the ones on Amazon that suggest you might want to buy Preparation H because you just looked at communion wafers.
Of course not every search result will relate to you. I'm quite lucky to share my name with a very eminent artist. Her results tend to outrank mine so all the sad fangirl posts I wrote on Sci-Fi boards back in the 90's are now safely languishing around page 20 of the search results. But not everyone is so fortunate. If you have an usual name or your job is quite high profile, you're pretty much screwed.

So what can you do about it?

Well the best option is to make sure that neither you nor your friends post anything online about you that you'll later regret. However if your friends are anything like mine I think we can safely assume that horse has long since bolted. My chums delight in taking candid photos of me asleep, half-awake or looking bored and posting them with the least flattering captions they can devise.

Plan B is to make sure that the good outweighs the bad. Doing a retrospective clean-up will always help but don't rely on it; Google cache is always there to fill in any newly created gaps. People are far less likely to be critical of a single mistake when it's drowning in far more positive search results about you. So get out there and do sensible stuff - get involved in useful conversations on Twitter, share interesting content in public on Facebook, post cool photos on Pinterest or Flickr or even make intelligent comments on blogs.

Not that I'm hinting or anything....

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Follow Friday, Charity Tuesday, Teddy Bear Thursday, Caturday.....

You see them every week... #CT, #FF. They pop up with depressing regularity, in fact you've seen them for so long now that it's too late to admit your ignorance and ask #WTF they are.

Charity Tuesday, Follow Friday - basically a neat way to share the love a bit.

Friday is the one everyone goes wild for, it's TGIF for teh Twittah. It's a way of saying "Thank You" or "I Think You're Cool" or "This Person is Worth Our Attention" to the people you've been reading or tweeting during the week.

However unless you know what it's for, you're worried you'll look a bit of a twit when you join in and get it wrong. Common mistakes include:
  • doing a shout out to people you've met and not including their username
  • recommending people who have a Twitter account but never actually use it
  • recommending people who aren't even on Twitter
  • tweeting a succession of username lists with no explanation of WHY you think they're worth a follow
  • not using the #FF hashtag
  • using the hashtag in the plural when recommending more than one account (#FFS means something else entirely, trust me on this).
Do any of these and yeah, you'll look a twit; not to mention wasting your time. Remember, you're recommending these people - it's your reputation on the line if they're not easy to follow or they turn out to be total losers.

Charity Tuesday (aka #CT) is one of the spin-offs. It's a chance for charities to get a look-in without having to fight through all the other noise on a Friday. Volunteers, fundraisers and other supporters can also get some attention especially if a charity wants to cyberhug its supporter base.

So remember - get the hashtag right, make it easy to follow people and make sure you explain WHY you think they're worth it.

This is an example of how to do it right

#FF for @popplestone who is interesting, funny, clever, knows her social media and is an all-round good egg.

In fact, if you'd just like to cut and paste that, no problem...feel my guest.

You're very welcome.

Other recommended reading:
How #FollowFriday Is SUPPOSED To Work - it has better graphics too 

  *In case you were wondering - Teddy Bear Tuesday is another spin off and Caturday is the grand-daddy of them all. I am not making either of them up.