Finding Value in Twitter

Twitter is a micro-blogging application that allows you to share, in real-time, pretty much anything you like. Want to share an article of interest? Just had a successful meeting with a new client? “Tweet” the information through the application and it’s out there for all to see — well, your “followers” at least.

Twitter works because of the relationships you build. You “follow” people you’re interested in and others follow you back. The more people you follow, the more information you’re exposed to. It’s therefore crucial to find what’s valuable and what isn’t.

Popularity isn’t valuable

Many Twitter users feel that growing your network is the most important thing you can do and it’s true that having more followers will get you more exposure. But there’s no value in simply being popular for the sake of it. It’s an ego boost, sure, but not necessarily valuable.

Twitter allows the instant sharing of information and this makes it useful and powerful. I couldn’t care less that you have 5,000 followers, or 10,000 or 100,000. If your tweets don’t give me something useful and relevant, I’m not going to follow you. I am as fond of Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) as the next guy, but I don’t need to know how good the GSM signals in Malaysia are.

I follow

When I joined Twitter, I initially followed people I’d previously been following through their blogs, mainly other web designers. This provided a good initial pool of connections, but surprisingly these “tweeters” weren’t putting out much that was valuable. Jeffrey Zeldman (@zeldman) for example (a web rockstar and effective design god with a devout following) doesn’t tweet much that interests me – his is a more personal twitter feed than related to web design. Do I keep following him simply because he’s Zeldman? Of course not, that’s pointless. If I’m not getting value from what he’s saying, then I’ll stop listening.

Similarly, Julia Roy (@juliaroy) has a massive following of around 25,000 people. A social media guru, she undoubtedly knows her stuff, but after following her for a few days, there wasn’t anything in her twitter stream that really piqued my interest, so I stopped following.

Both Jeffrey and Julia are undoubtedly wonderful people in real life, of course, and this isn’t an observation on them as people. I’m simply observing that the information they are putting out on Twitter has no value to me personally.

In fact, people that I’ve never heard of are often the most useful to follow. Grace Smith (@gracesmith), a web designer from Ireland, became known to me via a previous twitter connection. In the two weeks I’ve been on Twitter, she’s proved to be one of the nicest people to follow, for two reasons: #1: she’s friendly and welcoming and #2: she posts links to things related to web design that I wouldn’t have found otherwise. These might not be valuable to you, so you wouldn’t necessarily follow her, but for me? Priceless.

You follow

On the flip side, why should you follow me? Some Twitter etiquette seems to suggest that you should follow everyone that follows you, but I disagree.

I’ve had some automatic follows from people I’m following. I accept that it’s polite to follow people who have followed you, but I’m not going to worry if you decide to “un-follow” me if I’m not saying something that is valuable to you. You need to decide if what I’m saying is worthwhile, don’t just follow me for the sake of increasing your numbers. I find it pretty absurd that there are now apps to tell you when someone un-follows you so that you might un-follow them back! Crazy, huh?

I know that if I’m to be valuable I need to tweet interesting and useful information. After two weeks on Twitter, I now understand how I might tie this is with my blog. I haven’t sent out much original material yet, but I will be doing so as I get into my stride on Twitter and return to blogging more frequently.

Re-tweets

Re-tweeting is taking someone’s existing tweet and posting it again. Etiquette states that you should always include the original author when you re-tweet. For example, David Airey (@davidairey), a graphic designer from Northern Ireland, said today:

Twitter is not a competition — http://tinyurl.com/7q7899

I re-tweeted this as:

RT @davidairey:Twitter is not a competition — http://tinyurl.com/7q7899 – I completely agree: popularity does not equal value.

The link is useful and re-tweeting it extends its reach to people in my network that might not be in David’s. But I also add an extra small bit of value by adding my own perspective. Of course you don’t need to do this, but if space allows I think personalising a re-tweet can be useful.

Follow Friday

Follow Friday is a great way to share recommendations on who to follow. Every Friday, tweeters are invited to share the names of people that might benefit the followers in their network. For example, a typical Follow Friday tweet might look like this:

#followfriday: @RichardLaksana @webupd8 @fotofacade @phaoloo @sharonhayes @derFrankie @bnrbranding @designsojourn

This is a really nice way of recommending people, but I find it a bit impersonal. I’ve noticed that other tweeters prefer to only do 2 or 3 names each Follow Friday, and add some personal information to each. I think this is far more valuable that simply dumping ten names into one tweet. For example, I posted this one today:

#followfriday: @laura_carlson Accessibility advocate and provider of great links about accessible web design. Highly recommended.

I think that’s much more useful and it also received a nice reply from Laura :-) — and that’s where real value lies too: establishing conversations.

Conversations

I think the real value in Twitter really is very simple. It’s the ability the establish conversations that make it worthwhile. Whether those conversations are with your customers, with prospective clients or with your peers, you can never underestimate the opportunities that come from engaging with people.

Make the first move, talk to people and see what happens. I’ve been surprised by Twitter, maybe you will be too?

Summary

  • Follow people who are discussing subjects that interest you
  • Un-follow anyone who’s not delivering anything useful
  • Don’t follow people simply for the sake of it, or simply because they are “popular” or famous, unless they genuinely have some value to you
  • Retweet useful links to widen their reach, but remember to credit the original tweeter
  • Publish interesting information, in particular original content not already tweeted by your network
  • Search twitter for “#followfriday” to find recommendations on good people to follow
  • Establish conversations – real opportunities come from talking to people. Now there’s a thought!

So those are my initial thoughts on finding value in Twitter; I hope you found it helpful. If you have any comments, please do so below. Thanks!

10 thoughts on “Finding Value in Twitter

  1. Excellent post from someone relatively new to Twitter. You summed up the real value of Twitter, which is often very difficult to do.

    I had a converstion with a friend over the weekend who lambasted my usage of Twitter. His perception of it has come from the recent media exposure of Twitter brought about by some of Twitter’s high profile celebrity users.

    When I explained to him how I personally use Twitter I managed to convince him that it was worthwhile particularly for work-related reasons, and I think he gave me the benefit of the doubt!

    As I said, great blog post, keep up the good work, and make sure you tweet all your blog posts so I don’t miss any n the future.

  2. Hi Richard, thanks for your comments.

    There does seem to be a lot of misunderstanding around Twitter; it took me two years to see the benefits after all! Hopefully more people will begin to understand how to better use it, and in turn this will benefit others.

    I’m going to be making more of an effort to update my blog over the coming months, and will definitely “tweet” the updates :-)

  3. Great pointers Matt. Indeed what Grace offers is much more valuable than many well known personalities in the same sector.

    By the way, may I suggest that you add your twitter info somewhere on your website so future visitors don’t have to search for you on twitter :)

  4. Hi Cem, thanks for the comment. Yep, I need to sort this site out with Twitter info. I keep putting little things like that off, since I have a complete re-design in the works, but I guess I should add it in the short-term.

  5. I think you hit the nail on the head, Matt. Your perceptions as a twitter newcomer actually underline the fact that most people make up their mind about whether to continue using twitter within the first week.

    I strongly believe that twitter should be about making positive connections with people, having conversations and sharing info. Twitter has really helped me to connect with an online community that consists of folks that I chose to folow as ‘friends’. I’ve unfollowed folks who I felt were not adding value to my stream and I know that users have done the same to me; no matter because there were no real connections there. I’m learning how to use twitter to continue making valuable connections each day.

    I came across some rather nasty intolerance tweets yesterday that culminated in a very public ‘unfollow’ spat which inevitably drew in a few onlookers (like myself), some of whom felt the need to participate in the negativity. It left me wondering whether the instigator of the ‘unfollow’ trend (a tireless self-promotor) had actually thought about the damage he may be doing to his own brand? Sadly, for some, twitter will always be about popularity and gathering more followers.

    By the way, have you thought about putting digg/ stumbleUpon /de.li.cious/twitter /design float icons on your blog page to get people to circulate your blog posts?

  6. Hi Alice, thanks for stopping by and adding your comment. I’m still not very good at the ‘making connections’ bit, but it’s happening slowly (where do people find the time!?)

    I didn’t come across the “un-follow spat” myself, but what you described does sound rather bizarre. I guess there are those who crave virtual popularity as some sort of validation. Makes no sense to me!

    About social bookmark icons: I did have them once, but thought they looked messy, so just used a link to an all-in-one bookmark service. Maybe I’ll revisit this on the re-design.

  7. You made some great points here. The only value to following those that don’t necessarily have the same interests or career as you is the resource they could potentially be later.

    For example, I tweeted that I was going to the Colbert Report. A woman DM’s me who I follow saying “my husband works there, here is his email.” Because of that, I was able to have an incredible experience at the show that I would not have had if I was not open to following people outside of my industry or interests.

    You would be amazed at the random but so valuable relationships I’ve been able make through being open to connect with almost anyone. Sometimes it is people outside of your circle that can help you out the most.

  8. Hi Julia, thanks for your comment.

    That’s a great point that I didn’t cover in my summary. I focussed on getting value from (and giving value to) people working in a related field, in this case web design.

    I haven’t really extended my network beyond this yet, but I can see that following wider circles of people can be worthwhile.

    However, I think it’s easy to become overwhelmed by Twitter and the bigger your circle, the harder it is to manage and follow, so I prefer for my network to stay smaller and manageable.

  9. Great post on Twitter. I generally follow my followers for a trial period except for the obviously irrelevant ones.
    Yesterday I had my best twitter experience ever – I followed a conference (that I was unable to attend but very interested in) using the # search. It was superb, really busy and a bit too many things getting the old RT but so good, I will think twice about the time, environmental impact and expense of going to conferences in person from now on.