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How I Use Twitter, October 2010

In response to an email thread/questionnaire about how various people use Twitter, I sent the following as my reply to the questions. I thought it might be interesting to share here.

I’ve been on Twitter since July 2006, and have been responsible for pushing it into many of our community efforts at work. Here’s how I use it, personally.

Listening & Posting

I keep Tweetie for Mac running on the side of my screen at all times when I’m at my computer. My timeline flows by – I don’t worry too much about reading every post. @Mentions and DMs are highlighted and usually catch my attention, and I have other ways to get notified of those types of communications. I get email for DMs, and I’ve created a search for my Twitter handle, name, and common misspellings at search.twitter.com, and have subscribed to the RSS feed for that search, so I never miss a mention. I have in the past also done this for specific topics I want to follow/be able to respond to quickly, and I think it’s a great “best method” for listening and monitoring. I also use the official Twitter app on my iPhone and iPad a lot – my saved searches sync there, and it’s a very nice way to make sure I’m always plugged in to the stream and able to post or respond quickly, and not be tied to my computer. Twitter is just as usable and useful for me on my mobile devices as it is on my computer.

Reporting and Analytics

Honestly, I don’t worry too much about metrics and analytics. Follower and post count are just interesting numbers, not the be all end all of my Twitter usage. It’s all about the conversations and the human connections to me.

Hashtags

Hashtags usually get picked by the users, and forcing/creating too many specific hashtags is usually counterproductive. Go with the flow. Try to use desired keywords in your actual tweets, rather than relying too much on hashtags. They’re just a way to get a keyword into a tweet when it wouldn’t otherwise be there. Write creatively.

Searching

Learn the advanced search syntax on search.twitter.com. Learn how to exclude terms and people to better hone and filter your search results. Iterate until your search is good enough. Don’t include the # sign in your searches – just search for the word. That will catch what you’re looking for regardless of whether or not the person remembered to type the #. Save searches, and learn to use the RSS feeds for search results, to pipe them into other channels (your reader, email alerts, etc.)

Managing Followers & Bots

Don’t obsess about how many followers you have, and don’t tweet asking for more. You’ll sound like a dork. :-) Tweet as if you had the audience you dream of, regardless of how many people follow you. Tweet well, and they will come. Don’t follow people back just because they follow you. I don’t even bother to investigate every new follower I get. Many of them are spammers, and unless I already know them somehow, I won’t follow them back anyway, so it’s a waste of time for me. I do report people who spam me with @replies as spam, and block them, but I ignore the rest. It’s not worth my time. Use Twitter Lists to organize the people you follow. Whenever I follow someone, I add them to one of my lists (work, developers, news, companies, bots, friends, etc.), and I’ve gone through all the people I follow to make sure they’re on at least one list. This gives me a way to categorize the people I follow, and filter on those categories.

Measuring Influence and Reach

To a one, I’ve found these types of tools fun to play with, but ultimately useless. They don’t really provide any significant meaning on the stuff I care about on Twitter, which is the relationships and humans I’m connecting with. Every score-based tool on Twitter does nothing but assign an arbitrary and meaningless number to you. Fun to compare with your friends, but ultimately of not much significance.

This is Just Me

What you do think? I know everyone uses Twitter for different ends and by different means. There is no right or wrong, and I’m won’t tell anyone how they should or shouldn’t use it (unless they ask me :-). Have you given any though to how and why you use tools like Twitter, Facebook, etc.?

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One thought on “How I Use Twitter, October 2010

  1. Aaron Hockley says:

    Thanks for writing this Josh. It’s quite timely; I’m leaving this comment as I’m flying back from BlogWorld and have had a ton of conversations about social media usage including a few that have me thinking about how I use Twitter.

    I’m going to write up a similar post and will let you know when it’s online. Much like you, I use Twitter for personal connections and don’t give much thought to stats or numbers.

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