On Jul 28, 2007 at 8:43 AM, I turned on the lights over at Twitter.

Well, the lights to my own Twitter account, that is. And for ten years I’ve sent about 13K tweets into the ether… hardly prolific. In fact, it’s only something like 3.5 tweets a day. I’d consider myself to be more of a Twitter gardener, I guess… bouncing in and out, tweeting when I had something to share, remaining quiet when someone else was there to do the talking for me.

As a result, my experience using Twitter all these years has been enjoyable. I’ve made lasting friendships, earned business, connected with people I never dreamed I’d have a conversation with, and learned a TON about all sorts of interesting things. Sure, there is a ton of noise out there, and some of the anger floating around Twitter these days is disconcerting. But, overall, if you’re looking for a vehicle that can quickly introduce you to a vast array of people and ideas (and introduce others to yours), there’s really nothing better than Twitter. Here’s what I have found has worked well for me and others over the last decade.

First, Get Personal

If you really want to make a dent in Twitter, the best advice I can give you is to be yourself. Be multi-dimensional. If you like rugby and Cher, tweet about that. Marmaduke and the intricacies of Series A, B, and C financing? Awesome, go for it. Because if you tweet about topics you’re drawn to, you’ll naturally have more fun, and attract interest from like minds. Forget all the research about when the “best” time to tweet is, how long tweets should be, and how often you post. All of that depends on YOUR audience, and your audience is not being measured in these reports. So forget the junk, and just tweet. See what works. Then tweak your approach. Every audience is different. You are different. So, do that on Twitter. I promise you, it will work.

Being “yourself” was so revered in Twitter’s pioneer days that accounts deemed impersonal in nature (like brands) were chastised and often shunned for joining in on the fun. A work-around was to have a brilliant communicator/marketer take the helm of an account to keep things “authentic.” And early adopters like Sharpie and Ford benefited immensely from respecting this call for individuality. Susan Wassel, (aka Sharpie Susan) and Scott Monty, who helmed the Ford account were incredible brand representatives who shepherded their firms into “social.” This worked like gangbusters until, well… people left. So much for individuality. Today, brand logos are everywhere, and somehow we all survived. I follow a bunch of brands. But, like many, I didn’t at first. Why? Because they often didn’t get it. Too much pitch, not enough veracity. So, that’s what I’m preaching still today. Give first, by giving of yourself. Don’t hide behind a logo.

My friend, and former colleague at RevenueWell, Alex Nudel once asked me, “Did you sign up for Facebook to read about a company, or to see what your friends are up to?” It’s a good question. I think brands that honor personality perform exceedingly well on social. My guess is you’re far smaller than most brands, and you can pull this often with even greater ease. So, be yourself, that’s what unlocks the magic of Twitter for everyone.

Think of Twitter like a stock-ticker.

Before you dismiss my last piece of advice as nonsense out of a fear of inundating your business followers with personal stuff they may not have an interested in learning, always remember, what’s “now” on Twitter is ephemeral. Please, post your reaction to the latest Star Wars film – you may find a new friend. Or, maybe no one will see it at all. Whoosh!

Be the hummingbird.

People often ask me for tips on the best way to reach out to someone on Twitter. It’s a logical question, but I think the more appropriate question is “what’s the best way to respond to someone on Twitter?” Responding is a better first move, I think. Why? Because in real life no one dives into conversations cold, right?

Imagine how you would interact with a new contact in real life. From the stuffiest business gathering to the most welcoming of extended family dinners, in nearly every interaction you’ll find yourself listening first, and not responding until it’s appropriate. I call this the hummingbird approach. You’re basically hovering like a hummingbird waiting… aiming… balancing yourself in the wind, looking for the right time to make your landing. It’s what normal conversation is all about, and Twitter is no different.

This approach has worked wonders for me over the years, because it feels natural to the person with whom you’re engaging. It’s true that some of my best conversations kick off with me asking a question, *but* that question is based first on my observing the conversation and looking for an opening.

Such was the case back in 2009, when Kathy Ireland was talking about her work and fielding questions from folks. My brother had just had twins, and so I asked her a few questions about that. The result was a little back and forth, and the final message you see here.

Lob gracefully

Sometimes you’ll simply have a feeling you want to share with someone. In these instances, a conversation doesn’t necessarily need to be happening at the moment of your tweet. I love Marc Maron’s interviews. His podcast with guests of all sorts have helped me get past certain things in my life that were at times difficult to move beyond, and because an interview with Romany Malco was particularly moving to me, I wanted to let Marc know. The kicker was that I had never even heard of Romany before, so, I threw this one out there.

Now, Romany’s interview was in June and my comment was in September, but because Marc is always dealing with these lags in comments, and he seems to read everything that comes his way, I figured it would get through. It did. Marc retweeted my comment, which then led Tim Ferriss to also retweet it. Those two actions introduced me to the windfall of comments these cats must get on a regular basis. Good Lord. You can see from the likes and retweets (which happened within minutes) that I was busy for awhile. If that was even a small indicator of what it’s like to be well-known, I’m glad to be pretty darn anonymous. I love sharing this one, in particular, because it demonstrates that we’re all people, and if you’re genuine, people will feel that too. And, because Marc Maron’s podcast CAN change your life. Listen to it.

Go direct, and be succinct

As I mentioned, a lot of my interactions begin with a question. Sometimes, you’ll be fortunate to have a question for someone that is unique enough to get a response. After seeing Bryan Adams in Chicago in 2013 (my first show of his, after waiting decades), I was blown away by how every damn song he played was a hit. I’ve been a big admirer of Bryan’s songs since I was a kid in the 80’s, so, of course I knew of the popularity of his songs, but hearing them back to back astounded me. So, I started to think… “I wonder if I could take a songwriting class with Bryan Adams… wouldn’t that be amazing!” I figured he might respond. Not long after, he hit me back. How ’bout them apples?

I think the key here with Bryan was being succinct. He’s obviously busy. I also think I tweeted this within an hour of the show letting out, so he was probably tired as hell as well. But, man, gracious as ever. I love that he also responded using my name. Good form. 😉 So, if you’ve got a question for someone you think they may not have heard before, just ask. You’ve got nothing to lose.

Be persistent

Sometimes, reaching a person requires quite a bit of tenacity… and time. For example, in 1987, I sent a letter and a magazine to Paulina Porizkova’s agent Monique Pillard, in the hope of getting an autograph. I was a young guy in love with photography (I still am) and a few models (what kid wasn’t in the 80’s), and had an address for Monique at the NYC Elite Model Management office. So, I gave it a shot. Needless to say, I think someone in the mailroom at Elite ended up with a mint condition of one of Paulina’s early covers…

Then, Paulina happened upon Twitter. Do you think I noticed? You bet. When I had something meaningful to say, I gave it a shot. This is a lob, like the compliment I offered to Marc, and it was a genuine. My mother and I were one of about six people in the theatre to see Paulina’s debut film, and for some reason on this day, these words came to mind. Definitely an “aw shucks’ moment for me. When I posted a screen cap of it to Facebook later that day, my friends from college were just as happy for me, as I was, to have received such a warm response.

Anyway, if you want to have conversations with people for business, for advice, or just for the fun of it there is simply no easier, more direct way to do so, than on Twitter.  I’ve used examples with hard to reach folks here only to prove that you can connect with anyone if you try. Again, though, be genuine.

Bonus tips: Tweet to folks you want to reach when they’re tweeting. This takes a bit of luck and persistence, but I’m pretty certain each of these instances where I was able to reach these very busy people were when they were actually tweeting. And, thanks AGAIN to each of you, if you ever see this post! 😉

To grow your Twitter account, follow first

In my book, there is no better way to grow an audience on Twitter than by following first. Follow a ton of people. Go in every day and spend ten or twenty minutes just following people.

Because the common etiquette is to follow-back someone who follows you, you’ll get a substantial number of followers in return. I’ve helped grow a number of Twitter business accounts using this strategy, and all the other techniques I cover here, but this is my number one tip, next to being genuine. Following in large numbers translates into more interesting content to read, and more relationships you can foster. There are number of ways to do this. Use hashtags, use outside tools, go with Twitter’s suggestions, or just search near or wide with keywords that interest you, but remember this: to grow, follow first.

Follow-back to engage

There’s really no reason not to follow back. It’s polite, old-skool etiquette, that can only better your application of Twitter. Concerned about having too much in your feed? Then, my dear friend, you need lists. Follow. Follow. Follow. Okay, so… about lists…

Lists are the answer to Twitter overwhelm and faulty memory (and, they are… glorious).

If you find yourself wondering… “Who was I chatting with about that thing the other day?” Then, you need lists. If you’re on Twitter to indulge in a variety of interests, then you need lists. Me? I have 82 lists. Most are public, and a small handful are private. Other than helping you keep track of those you want to stay in touch with, lists are also a hat tip to each person on the list… they’re a way of saying “thank you, I dig what you say.”

Here’a a tip for lists: in addition to your topic-specific lists, create lists based on where people live. This helps others follow other interesting people in their neighborhoods, and it helps you interact with people during their specific time zones. My geographic lists are my most used, and I’ve been using them since way back in 2008. Here are a few other Twitter list ideas to keep yourself organized and sane.

Use at least one productivity tool

(Image: Paul Strand)

Managing Twitter for business and relationships can be a beast. Over the years I’ve used many tools that have come and gone (Gosh, how I miss you, Contax.io) to help me manage followers and content I post on the platform. Rather than call out the myriad of tools you can use, I’ll share three I use faithfully today: Crowdfire, CoSchedule, and bit.ly.

These three are enough to keep me busy. I love Crowdfire for its ability to help me follow inactive accounts, or people who follow, and then immediately unfollow (yes, such dastardly characters exist). I use CoSchedule to reschedule my tweets so they get a little more exposure at different times, and bit.ly as a link shortener. Several link shorteners have disappeared over the years, so hopefully bit.ly is around for the long haul. Without such tools, however, you will feel inundated with the workload, and become quickly frustrated with Twitter’s “following” cap. Crowdfire makes that worry go away. Give of these tools a shot, you’ll be happy you did.

Use the native interface

Speaking of third party tools… with Twitter, I generally still prefer the native interface. For one, it’s quicker. There’s no need to schedule things, or put links in separate fields, etc., just put your message in there and hit enter. Simple. Unfortunately, because I now live in Japan, and the bulk of my Twitterverse is in the U.S., I’ve been forced to use a scheduler to keep things in the correct time zone. It’s a tradeoff, and I’m not entirely grumpy about it because being in Japan is awesome. So if you can get by without a third-party tool in the early stages of growing your Twitter account, the immediacy of using the native interface will help you develop real time relationships you can’t match when using a scheduling tool. That said, even if you already use such a tool, test  the native interface more often, and let me know if it changes things for you.

Pull your Twitter archive

If you’ve been using Twitter for some time now, you’ll have fun digging through the results of your archive. You’ll find interesting things you can tweet a second time, friends you lost touch with, and perspectives you completely forgot. It’s free to download, and you can have it in your inbox within ten minutes or so based on my last effort at pulling mine. Get yours today. Yay!

Take extended breaks

Sometimes running far away from Twitter is the best thing you could possibly do. Over the years, I’ve disappeared many times, and I’ve found these rather long absences fueled a deeper more meaningful dive into the platform upon my return. I’ve noticed others do the same, so absconding once and a while appears to be healthy. This year, I’m taking another stab at greater use of Twitter as I’m writing more, and I’ve seen excellent results. Just using Crowdfire, for example has helped me boost my follower numbers by 1K in one month, and upped my interactions tremendously. So, don’t sweat it. For the most part… no one will miss you. 😉

Hit mute

if you’re someone who generally likes to avoid topics not polite to discuss around the dinner table, 2016 and 2017 have likely been nightmarish for you. I’m with ya. So, imagine my absolute delight when I discovered Twitter’s advanced mute functions. What an amazing joy it has been. Got a topic you’re tired of hearing about? Head on over and mute the beejeesus out of it. I guarantee your Twitter experience will improve dramatically… and instantly. President who? Mute!

Play around with post volume

Other than being able to manage followers, the other thing I like about Crowdfire is it’s ability to help me mess around with how many times I tweet in a day. They have a sliding scale functionality you can dial up or down based on your mood, or whatever you’re trying to test. Looking through my archives, I can definitely see that the more frequently I post, the more two-way interactivity scales upward, so how often you post on Twitter does seem to make a difference (at least for me). So, play around with it using a tool, or within the native interface.

Curate

Share stuff… you’ll learn more. Your followers will also learn more as a result, and you’ll start to prove your worth as someone in the know. Your grandmother was probably great at this. I know mine was. Back in the day, she cut articles from newspapers and magazines and sent them to me in the mail to keep in touch. And, I loved every one of them. It also showed that she cared, and that she was thinking of me. You’re doing the same when you curate and share with your audience. So do that. People will silently (and, maybe if they read this, sometimes publicly) thank you for sharing.

Comment within your retweets

When Twitter implemented it’s retweet function, it allowed users to retweet another person’s tweet with a single click and reduced the character load within a tweet, but also hampered the ability to customize retweets. In the old days, we used to place an “RT” at the front of a tweet to credit the original poster, and often add a comment. Thankfully, Twitter incorporated a “quote tweet” function that allows us to add a few words to a retweet. Its a great way to personalize the content AND demonstrate you’ve actually read whatever it is you’re retweeting. Don’t be the person who retweets hundreds of times a day simply to build followers. Sheesh. Please don’t be that person.

My retweeting approach is basically this: if I have something to add… a question… comment, (maybe even a better title), I’ll add it. If an article doesn’t need my input (if I’m retweeting its often articles) then, I’ll simply retweet without inserting a comment. By and large, though, I’m adding my voice first to personalize things.

Lastly (and firstly), be thankful!

I’m constantly amazed by how often people ignore feedback on tweets. And, I’m not talking about Twitter superstars. I’m talking about simple folk like you and me. I just don’t get it.I believe we should be thankful for the feedback.

Years ago, in an attempt to take Twitter offline and make it even more personal, there used to be offline gatherings called “Tweetups.” It was a great way to meet people in your local area whom you only really interacted with on Twitter. At one of these gathering’s Ford Motor Company’s resident tweeter Scott Monty was in attendance. Scott’s a great guy, and as I mentioned earlier, his warm online personality helped fuel the growth of Ford’s account, as well as his own reputation.

At one point we were chatting, and I mentioned how much I appreciated him taking the time to respond to my tweets. Now, this is going back a number of years, so I’m sure this isn’t an exact quote, but he basically said: “Of course… not replying would be like you standing here next to me talking right now, and me ignoring you. Who would do that?” That’s Scott being thankful for the interaction.

So, reply. Thank people for sharing your content. Thank people whenever you can. It’s polite, and people appreciate it. And, it’s what you would do if someone were standing right in front of you. Another way of doing this is with a Twitter hat tip (h/t in Twitter lingo). A hat tip is given to an original tweeter, to someone you feel deserves kudos for introducing a topic to the world, or to someone you believe deserves a shout-out because of their innate generosity. Don’t miss the opportunity to h/t people. It’s good form, and sometimes, you don’t even need to use the h/t!

Sarah Evans, remains to this day one of my favorite people. We have had limited contact over the years, but ever time I run into her, or ask for her advice she is right there like a champ. She is a true example of how to do Twitter, (and every day communication), right. So, I’ll close with that…

 

And, that’s it. Be nice. Learn. Build relationships. Happy Tweeting!

If you enjoyed this article, and are interested in productivity, lead generation and business development, you may enjoy my once-a-month newsletter. As a thank you, I’ll send you my five favorite prospecting tools report when you sign up. Oh, and yes… I can help you with your social media account management, just reach out on Twitter! Thanks!