Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Ten Commandments of Twitter

The Ten Commandments of Twitter
By James Dickey. Filed in Twitter

10 Commandments on Cement Tablets

1. Decide what your goal is in using Twitter.

Everything else you do - or don’t do - in the rest of the commandments depends on this. Are you looking to send people to your website, build social relationships, advocate for a cause, or something else? The handle, picture, bio, who you follow and how you follow back, might all be different if you wanted to promote your ad agency vs. raising awareness for the plight of the almost-extinct blue-tailed pigeon fish.

Stop right now and think about this. What is your goal? Got it? Ok.

Ok, here’s caveat number one: you might not yet realize the full power of Twitter, and as your understanding of its potential grows, your goal in using it might change. So don’t be paralyzed by this one, just think about it some and try to be intentional.

2. Use your real name as your handle.

It is becoming a standard, for good reason, for people to use “firstlast” as their handle. For example, I use “jamesdickey” as my handle. If you’re determined to use “CoolBabylonGeekDaddy” instead, at least fill out the name portion so those trying to address you aren’t forced to refer to you as Cool, but can instead use your real name (Mortimer).

Of course, if your goal is to sell your “Earn $972 Per Year Without Working Weekends” get-poor-slowly program, you might want to be tempted to go with “GetPoorSlowly”. Don’t. People trust real names much more, and it’ll save you the trouble of changing the handle when you go back to your day job and don’t want to lose either follower you attracted.

On the other hand, if your purpose is to advocate for homeless cartoon characters and there’s nothing else in your life, feel free to go with “AllHomelessCartoonCharactersAllTheTime” as your handle. You may not be able to get any followers, but if you do they’ll never be able to claim you didn’t give them fair warning. On the other hand, it’d be a drag to start over with your own handle once all the characters have homes, so even then you probably should go with your name instead.

3. Use a picture of yourself as your avatar.

Twitter is all about talking to, talking with, or listening to people. When people decide whether they’re willing to “listen to” (follow) you, or let you talk with them, it’s a lot easier for them to make that decision if they can actually picture you.

Of course if you’re the world’s best animator or graphic artist you’ll be tempted to show off your skill with some great hand-drawn or computer-generated example of your work. Don’t. Put those things on your page background instead. It’s much more space to work with in any case.

The latest trend is to somehow do animated avatar images. These things look amazing, really. They move, they flicker, it repeats. Did I mention they move? Nothing as impressive has been seen since the Nickelodeons of 1908, except perhaps the Ronco ViewMasterMatic 3D slide viewer in the 1970s. Don’t bother. Twitter only shows 20 avatars on any page, so it’s not like you have to worry about people missing your picture if it doesn’t move.

4. Have something true and interesting in your bio.

When someone is deciding whether or not to follow you, this is the biggest set of text they are able to see without leaving Twitter, so it’s the one they’ll read the most often. You only have 140 characters here so put some thought into it. Whatever you’ve selected as your goal, it’s important to grab people’s attention, build their interest and start building trust.

Look around at other people’s bios for examples. There are many, and most are great. You’ll recognize the others. Use the great ones for inspiration.

5. Include a link to your site.

Twitter gave you a spot specifically for a link. I wish they gave two or three, but hey, it’s a link. Use it. Even if you’re only goal is to make social connections, put a link to your MySpace or LinkedIn profile or page. If you’re in online business or a freelancer, put a link to your site. Who knows, it may become the highest source for traffic to your blog in no time (as it did for me at

From everyone else’s standpoint, it’s a chance to get to know you even better - if they’ve already liked or hated, or been enraged or intrigued by - your handle, name, picture and bio.

6. Type something.

It’s only 140 characters. It doesn’t need an outline, multiple drafts, or an editor (hopefully). Look at what your purpose was and talk about it. Since it’s only 140 characters, no one expects the next great novel. As long as you’re not a nationally-known intellectual, no one expects much of anything. So go ahead. Type.

Of course, you might want to remember that people can only see your picture, link, bio and what you type, so they will judge you by what you type. Misspell everything, type in all caps, intersperse random other languages, and people will have no choice but to make conclusions from those. Type things you’d be okay with your mother (or your next prospective boss) seeing and you’ll be fine.

Go ahead and write four or five “Tweets”, or posts. Enough to let people know your thoughts on a few things that are related to your goal. You’ll add more quickly if you follow the rest of the commandments. Be thoughtful of others though. Just as you wouldn’t - I hope - walk into a room of people and start shouting your tagline and web address, don’t have every Tweet be your tagline and your web address. People who do that in Twitter are as boorish and irritating as they would be in person. If you provide value to the people who see your Tweets they’ll want more, and they’ll follow the link you so thoughtfully included in your profile.

7. Set your options.

There are a few main choices you can make. You can start with the defaults, but those may not be ideal depending on your goals and use of Twitter. For example, the default is for Twitter to send you a text message and/or email every time anything happens on your account. If you’re adding hundreds of followers every day that might have a tendency to fill up your inbox or drain your bank account.

Definitely set up your cell phone to be able to send tweets. Twitter gets much more powerful when you don’t have to use it at your PC. Of course, if you have an iPhone or your company lets you install TwitterBerry on your BlackBerry, you could use those or your smart phone’s web interface instead. But there are times when text is best, such as when stuck in West LubAmMidOdPaso where the 3g network covers the baggage claim area in the airport and nothing else.

A word of warning, though. The text interface lets you send commands to Twitter, so using it you can send a direct message, an @reply, or a broadcast message, for example. You can even add and remove followers and view your statistics using the text interface. Be careful doing this unless you’re absolutely certain of the text command. Otherwise you may accidentally broadcast to all your followers that you intend to “Dump NowExBestFriend”.

Now for the most controversial option - locking your Tweets. Unless you’re a minor (in which case I’m not sure you should be on Twitter at all), DON’T. It’s the Twitter equivalent of walking into a room and asking everyone else who’s already there to put on earplugs while you talk to the 3 people you like the most. Mostly it just makes you look like you don’t understand Twitter. If someone’s a bore, or a spammer, or a creep, block them. Assume everyone else is just another nice person like yourself looking for a new outlet to reach whatever goal they selected.

8. Grow your followers.

Depending on the goal you selected, you may want 30 followers, or you may want 30,000. Either way, you need to have people follow you in order for anyone to see what you Tweet.

For people to follow you they have to see you. The easiest way for them to see you is for you to follow them. Another way for them to see you is for them to see someone else’s @reply to you.

So, start with some of the Twitterers with the most followers. Look through the list of their followers. Look at their handle, name, bio, link, and Tweets. If they look interesting, follow them. Since you found them interesting, it’ll be easy to find something they said worth commenting on. Send them an @reply about it. Odds are they’ll reply, and most likely follow you back also if they like what they see.

There are more complicated/sophisticated ways to attract followers, but unless you’re looking to attract thousands, this approach will work really well. Once someone is following you, see who follows them and repeat the process.

9. Connect Twitter to Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, websites.

Twitter can take a lot of time, and you won’t want to neglect your other social media (never a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket). Fortunately, there are easy things you can do to leverage Twitter in those other media. One of the easiest is to install the Twitter application in Facebook. It will automatically set every non-@reply Tweet as your Facebook status update. You’ll need to keep this in mind when writing your Tweets, but that’s a small price to pay for being one of the most-frequent-status-updaters on Facebook.

Once you have a few followers, you can invite them to connect with you on LinkedIn, Facebook or MySpace if you use those sites. The invitation to all or each only takes a small amount of time, but can make a big difference in the breadth and depth of your connected networks.

10. Deepen your Twitter connections offline.

Shocking, I know, but most of your followers - and all of those who follow these 10 commandments - are real people with real lives, who actually eat, travel, and (sometimes) talk using their mouths instead of a keyboard.

This means that you can arrange to talk over the phone, or meet in person for a meal or cup of coffee, or whatever. Of course be safe and sensible, but I’ve already been able to meet in person or on the phone with over a dozen people that I otherwise might not have ever met had we not first met on Twitter. Those people were all kind, courteous and helpful, and each meeting was positive.

As said above, be smart and be careful, but also know that it is possible to take the relationships started via social media and make them actually social.

That’s it on the Commandments of Twitter. Guidelines, suggestions, hints, whatever. I hope you find them helpful. I’m open to your comments or suggestions for improvement. What did I leave out? What should I add or change? On what was I dead wrong?

The Ten Commandments of Twitter
By James Dickey. Filed in Twitter

1 comment:

Jeffrey Summers said...

Twitter Commandment #1. Listen first, Talk second