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

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