The Evolution of How I Use Twitter

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I've written severallengthyposts on how writers can use Facebook to platform build.

I've said very little about Twitter use.

That's because it's so difficult to give advice on how to use Twitter that would apply to everybody.

So much depends on:

  • What type of audience you'd like to reach and how (or whether) they use Twitter
  • Whether you intend on being a source of information or using it for conversations
  • Where you're at in your career and how many followers you have

My philosophy about Twitter tends to align with the opinions expressed in this article, "Twitter Is NOT a Social Network." In it, a Twitter exec says:

Twitter is for news. Twitter is for content. Twitter is for information.

And that's how I use it.

I'm sure you've noticed my weekly Twitter round-ups by now. It's not about Twitter, but about great content I find through Twitter.

Since I started the weekly round-ups, I've gone from a few hundred followers to 40,000 followers. How did I get so many followers?

  • I'm extremely focused in what I tweet out.
  • Nearly every tweet links to information that's valuable—or offers a link to a new blog post.
  • I only tweet a few times a day unless I'm live-tweeting an event.
  • The weekly Twitter round-ups bring more attention to my presence.
  • Twitter started including me on "top people to follow" lists related to books/literature (probably due to the 4 previous tactics).

That strategy hasn't changed since I joined Twitter in May 2008.

But I've had to change my approach in following people and information on Twitter. Here are the stages I experienced:

  1. When I first started using Twitter, I followed everyone who followed me.
  2. At some point, that became too time-consuming. So I only followed people who directly engaged with me on Twitter, or who RT'd me, or who otherwise mentioned me.
  3. Finally, I stopped following even those people who were, it hurts to say, immensely kind. (Remember: I still get to have conversations with those people on Twitter even if I don't follow them.)

By stage 3, I was following about 3,000 people, and it became meaningless to follow anyone else. Why? Because there was far too much information in my stream and I had to stop looking at it.

So I resorted to Twitter lists, RSS feeds, and Yahoo Pipes to scrape information (tweets) from the people who I really needed to follow—to keep up with the industry and to report on best tweets.

Unfortunately, this has meant that my live Twitter conversation is fairly limited, even though I keep an eye on Twitter throughout the day. It puts the burden on other people to initiate conversations with me. I've always felt guilty about this.

So Now I'm at Stage 4
I actively unfollow dozens of people every week, in a slow march toward a manageable number of people to follow. Why bother now, you might ask?

This is critical: There are now tools (third-party applications) that use who you follow on Twitter to generate valuable content mash-ups.

Two popular examples include:

If I want to make the most of these tools, then I have to follow only those people who use Twitter in about the same way I do: To spread valuable information.

Perhaps more important: Because these tools can create content that the larger public can tap intoand follow, then it becomes imperative that I'm selective with the people I follow. Otherwise the content that's generated becomes a meaningless hash.

No one wants to ostracize their followers, but for the good of the many, it seems necessary to focus the following list. (Certainly Twitter lists are supposed to perform this function in part, but I'll leave that discussion for another day.)

I welcome your thoughts, especially from those who have been using Twitter since 2008.

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