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.