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A Twitter Manifesto

I love Twitter. It has helped me meet several remarkable thought leaders and given me a new venue for sharing my own ideas. So it distresses me to see how rapidly Twitter is getting devalued by junk. You know, the programs that troll for followers, push the same generic automated tweets through subscribers’ feeds, and litter the twitosphere with garbage.

This is my reply to Twitter Trolls and those folks who promise to make you rich and famous if you buy their software, program, or advice. It’s a personal manifesto. It’s what I tell myself when I open Twitter (or HootSuite, my best friend in the world):

  • Know what you want. If you are using Twitter as a tactic in your business, then your activities better be driven by goals and strategies. I use social media to build visibility and credibility among the business leaders who matter to me. I do that by providing stimulating business content, including links to my own articles. I measure success by tracking how often I get retweeted, quoted, or clicked on.
  • What you tweet matters. Add value or go home. If all you’re doing is blathering about eating a sandwich, or RT’ing tired ideas that anyone who has been to high school has heard before, or hitting us relentlessly with your sales message, or using Twitter as a substitute for email or phone (a public display of half a conversation) … then you are not adding value. Personally, I spend a few hours a week surfing for articles and blogs that I think are outstanding, and always have at least one specific follower in mind when I post the link. My name is on the feed. I’m not going to associate my name with junk. I get some right and some wrong, but I try to keep a pretty high batting average. One tell on quality: if someone has thousands of followers but is on only a handful of lists, caveat emptor.
  • How you say it matters. I look for tweeps who have an authentic voice or unique point of view – and yes, you can show that in a series of 140 character messages. Or at least you can clearly demonstrate the absence of uniqueness. Voices that don’t work for me: overly assertive (“The meaning of life is…”), overly sales-ish (“Let me show you how to make real $!”), consistently generic (“Free video” “Good morning world!”), or insane (“My skull is being probed by aliens from the White House”). Also – and this pains me – I do not follow tweeps who primarily post in languages I can’t read; I know, it’s small minded of me…but what would be the point?
  • It’s personal! Currently I follow around 1500 tweeps. For the first several hundred, I reviewed each one before choosing to follow. It took a few weeks to get my first hundred followers, and I was delighted the first time I added 100 in under 10 days. But that approach took too much time, so I caved: I got TweetAdder and began automatically following tweeps based on specific criteria. Now I add 80+ followers a day when they follow me back, unfollow at least half who don’t interest me, and lose 30+ when they retaliate to my unfollow. Big whoop. I’m not going to follow someone just to build follower numbers. I have a very specific protocol for selecting who I will follow:
    • If I read an interesting tweet, I check out the sender’s stream. If that interests me, I manually follow and/or list them. I don’t care if they follow me back. I know who they are, and they make my world better.
    • If my auto-follow isn’t followed back in a day or so, I unfollow. After all, I had nothing invested in them, nor they in me.
    • If my auto-follow is followed back, I check them out. If they don’t add value (see above), I immediately unfollow.
    • If they do add value, I send them a personalized DM. With their name. Recognizing their contributions. After all, it’s called social media. There’s nothing social about an auto-follow-back or an automated DM.
    • Bottom line, I’ve researched and feel some level of connection with the 1500-odd tweeps I follow. Some of them have turned into friends. So even with the software, which has introduced me to people I would not otherwise have found, my follow list is strictly person.
  • Quantity matters. When I find tweeps who have only tweeted a few times but have a disproportionate number of followers, I usually permanently block them; they’re just playing the follow-back game, collecting numbers without contributing enough value (not always; sometimes they know the limits of what they need to say, in which case you bet I follow them). Conversely, when I find someone with tens of thousands of tweets, I usually block them.
    • Think of it this way: If you had tweeted once every hour since the inception of Twitter, you would have sent around 40k tweets. No one has that much to say. That’s just noise; I don’t want it around me.
    • Also, I noticed that whenever I found a tweep posting several tweets per hour, they were almost always impersonal, a sure sign of automation; almost always I can find someone else posting exactly the same tweets at exactly the same time, because they’ve both been conned into buying some service.
  • Quality trumps quantity. Maybe I’m in an odd business. Maybe other folks really do need to play the numbers game. But I’ve tested whether my approach of making it personal helps me achieve my goals better than full automation. The findings were remarkable.
    • First I set up some fully automated feeds. I automatically followed back anyone who followed me. Those accounts gained about 3000 followers in a few weeks, or about double what my real account gained in 8 months.
    • Second, I sent pretty much the same tweets on all the feeds.
    • Finally, I tracked RTs and clicks. So: different number of followers, same material.
    • The results? My real account, the one where I hand pick who to follow and communicate personally with all followers I want to keep, averages over 15 times more RTs and clicks than the automated accounts. Half the followers, fifteen times the results. That’s 30 times more productivity per follow.

I’m projecting to be at 2500 follows within a month, which should be equivalent to the productivity of 75,000 automated follows. So you tell me, should I be impressed when someone brags that they have tens of thousands of followers?

That’s it. Rant over.

I don’t advocate this or any other system for anyone. You need to find your own voice and techniques. That’s the point. But here’s my advice: If Twitter supports your marketing strategy, then define what you want to accomplish with it. Find some metric to track how you’re doing relative to that goal. Set some rules you can live with. Find your unique voice. Build relationships.

And don’t pay anyone who promises to get you a zillion followers without you doing any work.

P.S. – Don’t get me started on automated DMs thanking me for following, generally with some generic self-serving message or link. Don’t get me started…

What do you think about the state of Twitter? What do you do to keep things real?

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2 Responses to “A Twitter Manifesto”

  1. Bing Chou says:

    Having watched you build your Twitter following from the ground up, it’s been amazing seeing your growth along the way. Kudos for creating useful content, something that I am not very good at.

    Q: Have you been using Klout as a way to track metrics, or strictly Hootsuite?

  2. Mark P. Friedman says:

    Thanks, Bing! I occasionally glance at Klout, but find Twitalyzer much more robust.

    Best wishes for 2011!

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