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8 Useful Tips To Become Successful With Twitter


Twitter is the new big thing. With everybody from Britney Spears to Barack Obama now on Twitter, it is safe to say the social networking platform has gone mainstream. For many users worldwide Twitter has become a crucial tool for maintaining contacts, exchanging opinions and making new connections. But what does this mean for the service, and how can we, website owners, actually use it for our purposes?

I posted my first tweet in November of 2006, only 7 months after the service launched. For me, it was a way to keep in touch with new friends. It was less intrusive than instant messaging and less formal than email. I quickly became hooked. For the longest time, it was the tool of geeks. My friends laughed at me as I tweeted from the pub; my family stared blankly as I explained the service. However, that has all changed now.

Twitter is the new big thing. With everybody from Britney Spears to Barack Obama now on Twitter, it is safe to say the social networking platform has gone mainstream.

Some time ago I was wrong to lament on Twitter about it becoming a marketing tool; I should embrace it as a tool I can use. Nevertheless, like everybody else, I need to be careful how I use it. I do not believe Twitter users will allow the tool to be reduced to a broadcast mechanism for pimping the latest blog post or special offer.

So how do I use Twitter? I guess the first thing to say is that I am not a huge Twitter success story. However, Twitter is turning into the third facet of my online presence, alongside my blog and podcast. With that in mind, let me share a few tips that have helped me better use this interesting new tool.

1. Above All, Keep It Personal Link

Although Twitterers like CNN breaking news have been very successful, generally, corporate Twitter accounts are a mistake. Twitter is about person-to-person communication and not a broadcast tool for faceless corporations. To use it in that way is to miss the potential of Twitter.

CNN Breaking News Twitter Page
CNN Breaking News Twitter Page

Does that mean you cannot have a Twitter account for your organization? Not at all. For example, if John Boardley created a Twitter account, you may not recognize the name. However, if he used the name ILoveTypography, you would be more likely to follow because you know the I Love Typography website.

It is not the name that matters so much as the tone of the posts. Tweets should be more than an endless string of press releases and links. They should include personal content and a dialogue with followers.

This is important because it enables you to make a connection with your followers. An open and honest relationship with followers is very powerful. It builds trust, loyalty and engagement. It encourages repeat traffic and word-of-mouth recommendation.

2. Learn From Others Link

I have learned a lot about Twitter just by reading the tweets of those I admire. Merlin Mann, for example, injects a lot of humor into his posts, and his followers really respond to that. Darren Rowse, on the other hand, strikes a good balance between recommending content others have written and promoting his own posts.

TweetStats allows you to build up a picture of how successful twitterers use the service.

In addition to examining the styles of others, you could also examine statistics. Use a tool like TweetStats to examine how often others tweet and how often they reply to their followers. All of this helps to build a picture of what makes a successful tweeter.

There is also a growing number of great websites that give advice on how to get the most out of Twitter. One of my personal favorites is TwiTip, which covers such subjects as “The Merit of Twitter Competitions” and “How to Get Unfollowed on Twitter.”

3. Get A Good Desktop Client Link

Without a shadow of doubt, the most powerful Twitter client currently available is TweetDeck. This AIR application not only runs on Windows, Mac and Linux, but also provides a range of superb tools for managing your life on Twitter.

TweetDeck is the most powerful desktop Twitter tool available
TweetDeck is the most powerful desktop Twitter tool available

With TweetDeck, you can create groups, filter tweets, monitor certain subjects as well as post tweets, replies and retweets. In fact, it is so powerful that it can be somewhat intimidating at first. Don’t let that put you off. Check out this short tutorial on TweetDeck’s core features, and you’ll be up and running in no time.

4. Use Twitter On The Road Link

If your Twitter account is going to be personal as well as professional, then you will almost certainly want to use it on the road. One option is simply to use Twitter’s mobile website. However, if you are fortunate enough to have an iPhone, then there is a wealth of Twitter clients available to you.

Tweetie Screenshots

I have paid for and tried almost every Twitter client on the iPhone, but the winner hands down is Tweetie. I love Tweetie. It has a clean, easy-to-use interface and yet is packed with powerful features, including the ability to:

  • handle multiple Twitter accounts,
  • navigate reply chains,
  • view Twitter trends and perform custom searches,
  • access complete user profiles.

In many ways, it is even better than TweetDeck because it has much of TweetDeck’s power but in a much cleaner interface. If only they made a desktop application!

5. Tracking The Results Link

TweetStats is just the tip of the statistical iceberg. There is an ever-growing number of tools you can use to track your activity on Twitter. However, the ones that really interest me are those that track click-throughs. What I really want to know is, if I post a link on Twitter, how many people click through?

Tweetburner Homepage

If the link points to one of my own websites, I could use Google Analytics’ URL tagging tool. However, this is somewhat fiddly and only works if I am linking to my own website. What’s more, these URLs can get long, which is a problem when you’re limited to 140 characters.

Fortunately, there is a tool called TwitterBurner, which solves these problems. It shortens URLs and tracks all click-throughs, even to websites you do not run yourself. Best of all, it is now supported directly in TweetDeck (although not in Tweetie, unfortunately).

6. Follow And Be Followed Link

Always remember that Twitter is a two-way conversation. A big part of successful tweeting is replying to those who tweet you. Twitter is not just about who follows you, either. It is also about who you follow. One service I find particularly useful is Mr Tweet. Mr Tweet provides two type of information:

  • first, it suggests people you might want to consider following, because they fall within your broader network (i.e. people who are followed by your friends),
  • secondly, it suggests those from your list of followers who you should follow back.

MrTweet homepage

For each of these people, it provides various statistics, including:

  • the number of followers they have,
  • the chances of them replying to you,
  • how often they update.

This is a great way to extend your network of contacts and increase the chances that your tweets will be retweeted. It’s also a great way to meet new people!

7. Integrate Whenever Possible Link

If you intend to use Twitter for anything other than personal use, it needs to be incorporated in the rest of your Web strategy. That means it needs to link to your other online activity, including your website and other social networks. There is no shortage of tools to help you do this, from the basic Twitter widget to a tool for sending your tweets to Facebook.

twitterfeed homepage

One tool that caught my attention is called TwitterFeed. It posts content from an RSS feed to Twitter, which is a convenient way to update your followers on new posts. However, use any tool that automatically posts to Twitter with caution. It can easily become annoying if used too much. Also, it lacks the friendliness of a personal post.

8. Don’t Over-Think It Link

Of course, the problem with all these tools, statistics and analysis is that they can suck the spontaneity and personality from your tweets. While some of those late-night drunken tweets are best left behind, you want to avoid making your tweets too sterile.

Let me explain. I am naturally a fairly good public speaker. However, once I attended a public speaking workshop. The instructors taught me about all of the techniques that make for an exceptional speaker. However, instead of improving my skills, they made me so amazingly self-conscious that I was paralyzed. I started over-analyzing what I was doing.

Twitter message from Boagworld: mmm... caburys cream egg and redbull. Nice post lunch snack

The danger is the same with Twitter. Sure, Twitter can be used as a marketing tool, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be fun too. Don’t let articles like this suck the joy out of tweeting!


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Paul Boag is the author of Digital Adaptation and a leader in digital strategy with over 20 years experience. Through consultancy, speaking, writing, training and mentoring he passionately promotes digital best practice.

  1. 1

    I don’t know of a single non-nerd acquaintance of mine that uses Twitter. Enough said. Even some of the nerds have stopped using it.

    Facebook is useful for keeping up with friends and contacts you have had throughout your life, and you get to share photos, videos, and more about yourself. On Twitter you… Say short things, and follow what other short things other people say?

    Twitter is basically Facebook status updates on crack. Wow, color me (and most regular people with a life) unimpressed. I barely care about what my contacts put in their Facebook status update, why in the world would I care for keeping track of them updating that status multiple times a day?

    With Facebook, you can find an easy balance between keeping track of your contacts online and living a real life. With Twitter, I find that not to be the case.

    Not to mention the fact that 0% of our clients have ever mentioned Twitter, but many of them have shown interest in interfacing with Facebook for business purposes, such as PR value. No, that’s not because Twitter is super-awesome and they just don’t know it yet, it’s because Twitter is lame.

    There. I said it. Twitter is lame.

  2. 2

    Never really seen the advantages to Twitter, what makes it so different from other social networking sites, like Facebook?

  3. 3

    Some really good tips, thanks. its opened my eyes a little to some of the mistakes I’ve made using twitter.

  4. 4

    I agree with Eddy. It just seems like another site to take up my time when I could be doing other useful things. Like rearranging my sock drawer. But just my opinion. If someone could explain to me what I may gain out of it, I may just change my mind.

  5. 5

    “If someone could explain to me what I may gain out of it, I may just change my mind”


  6. 6

    Haven’t tryed twitter yet (I know, I should have…) but will try to follow some of these great advices when I do!
    I really like n.8 (Don’t Over-Think It). Isn’t that the truth…

  7. 7

    Twitter requires less commitment than Facebook. Someone might be hesitant to sign up for Facebook because there is so much there, Twitter is just Tweets.

    I agree with most of these, but I disagree with corporate accounts being bad. Who cares if they’re not personal? They serve a different purpose than a personal account, and that purpose is 100% legit, useful, and good.

  8. 8

    The CNN account isn’t an actual CNN feed – it’s just a guy, unaffiliated.

  9. 9

    “If someone could explain to me what I may gain out of it, I may just change my mind”

    Knowledge and alot of freebies from your fellow twitters. I follow alot of designers and developers and I’ve learned twice as much as reading just normal articles. And when it comes to knowledge, depending on who you follow, could become very valuable for your field. Grow your twitter followers and watch your contact link up grow and grow! :) thats only the tip of the ice berg to why you should sign up ;)

  10. 10

    #9 – spell “successful” right

  11. 11

    WOW! This came at the right time. I just signed up for Twitter and was just wondering how to soicalise with similar like minded Tweets.

  12. 12

    Great article and overview. Point eight is my favourite – a lot of “how to do twitter” posts I read are overly serious, but this strikes just the right note.

  13. 13

    I think Anthony said it very well. If you have a large group of fellow designers / developers following you, or you following them, you can learn quite a bit from them. Even more importantly, if you have any questions you need answered, about coding, or where to find free stuff, tweet it and you have instantly asked every designer you know said question. I find it very useful some times….

    Although I don’t really care what so and so had to eat 3 hours ago either… take the good and the bad?

  14. 14

    Meh. Tweetdeck. Sure it does a lot of good things and it’s still in beta, but in over 2 years I would have expected a better desktop client to emerge. There are so many little things about tweetdeck that drive one nuts. For what it is, it’s very resource intensive… the textsize and font can’t be changed, profiles are too wide to close without resizing, the refresh button disappears unless it’s maximized, notifications pop up on the wrong screen on a dual monitor setup.. just little things. It needs some serious competition and some tightening up.

    Granted, I still use it :-)

  15. 15

    Why should I be successful in using twitter? And what meand successful in this context?

  16. 16

    Hey Paul, nice post! We agree, those are all great tools for Twitter. Have you tested ? It’s integrated a few of those apps, into one easy to use interface (manage multiple accounts, track stats, rss feed, and more). We’d love to get your feedback!

  17. 17

    I appreciate the tips and services you shared in this article. I was ready to be pissy when I read the first paragraph, as there is little that bothers me more than being told how one should use this or that. I agree that it’s no fun to have faceless corporations on there, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a fantastic marketing tool. I think having the right balance is the trick.

    But I see that’s where you were going with it… and your last line cooled my jets. :-) Thanks!

  18. 18

    @George raises several good points.

    However, I do NOT agree that Twitter is lame. It has been, and remains a wonderful source of new contacts in the “geek” business. If that is all it ever amounts to, which is unlikely, I certainly cannot certify it as “lame.”

    I also like the “equalizing” factor that Twitter brings. There are several industry names that I have met on Twitter. While I probably would have never met them otherwise, it has been nice to have short conversations with some of the names that have written several of my favorite books.

  19. 19

    I just don’t see the usefulness of twitter, mostly because I don’t believe I would have any followers. I mean, who would follow me? It is amazing how popular twitter has become. If only I could make a website application so popular…

  20. 20

    How can you be successful at something that is a big waste of time. That’s like being successful at MySpacing or FaceBooking. That bull is the reason why our economy is failing. People in this country have such low IQs that they take pride in such self gratification techniques as posting messages to the world about what they’re doing. I’m afraid the retards have found the internet my intelligent friends out there.

  21. 21

    Nice post,. some very good points!

  22. 22

    I monitor my incoming tweets very closely. I expect a high degree of quality from them, and if that quality is not there (too frequent, poor content, etc.) then I stop following them. That’s it. I follow several good designers, design blogs, and design related sites (um, BTW, I’m a Web designer), including SM. If the content were not there, I wouldn’t be there in the first place. I have a high quality filter on where I go for resources and continued information, so when I see that a given resource is tweeting, I try them out.

    Additionally, FaceBook is blocked at my job, and although I have a decent FaceBook app for my phone (Palm Treo 750p), it isn’t that great, and I can get my tweets directly as text messages. And, I can turn them on and off at will, on my phone. That is a lot of power. I have the ability to stay informed whenever I want to be, and control my incoming flow of information. Besides that, I don’t have to wait to get back to a computer if I decide I want to respond to an interesting tweet.

    All in all, I think this is a great tool, it just depends on how you use it.


  23. 23

    if i had a quarter for every person IRL that i know that has said tried it and it is pointless.

  24. 24

    i don’t like all these instant news tools like twitter or whatever – it allways disturbs me getting in my projects

  25. 25

    “Twitter is the new big thing.”

    Are you serious? welcome to two years ago.

  26. 26

    I can’t believe it. Why everybody thinks that twitter is a great tool ? Well is very popular but for me is not working……

  27. 27

    I can’t stand it when people use Twitter literally as, “What are you doing right now?” Stuff like, “eating a bagel” is boring and noisy. The more literally you take it, it ends up being, “I am updating my status on Twitter.” Ugh.

    A good rule of thumb should be, “What’s your most interesting thought or thing that happened since your last tweet?”

  28. 28

    how do you measure success when tweeting on twitter? seriously.

  29. 29

    Great article, Paul! Nice to see you here at Smashing Magazine!

  30. 30

    A) Great read.
    B) I’m cracking up that this is a Paul Boag article, and just yesterday I was listening to that “Hands to Boag” web design parody song you had on Boagworld ages and ages ago.


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