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Twitter Update: Steps for Following

Back in February, four days after Valentine’s Day 2009 (not sure how I got away with that), I blogged on Twitter as a marketing revolution, not unto itself. That was a pretty bold statement, I guess–especially considering that I had used Twitter for a total of about two-and-a-half months when I wrote that post. (God, I’m such a poser.) Anyway, I still believe in the potency of Twitter as a marketing force. And, as time presses on here, I see the expansion of the use of Twitter. It’s everywhere now. More and more companies are using social media, and Twitter has become an essential component of the social media platform for business advertisers. Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook make up the Big Three of social media, as Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish once made up the Big Three of the Boston Celtics. (Gratuitous Celtics reference.) At this point, I shouldn’t have to provide an overview of Twitter, or to tell you that it is something of a cultural force, because it just is. Watch CNN or ESPN, and many other major networks, and watch the Twitter references and Twitter feed information fly. See what the major internet players, including Google, Facebook and LinkedIn are doing to incorporate, carefully, aspects of Twitter, and Twitter, into their own services. In any event, I’ve already made the importance argument, in my last post on this subject. And, if there is anything that I am not, I am not redundant. If there is anything that I am not, I am not redundant.

So, just what is my purpose here? Am I just wasting your time? Of course not. I would never do that. I’d like to think that, through our impersonal internet relationship, you have to come know me better than that. I just feel that, since I have been on Twitter for almost a year-and-a-half now, it’s high time that I write a post about Twitter strategies–after all, everybody else is doing it. (“On Twitter” sounds pretty stupid, on second thought. Is there something like a methadone clinic where I can go to get “off Twitter”?) Should you listen to me? Certainly. Here’s why:

Why I’m bona fide. I have 2,100+ Twitter followers. (10 of whom probably care.) I’ve made 2,600+ Twitter posts. (A number of which involve, at least tangential, reference to obscure country music.) I’ve been listed 50+ times. (No, I don’t really know what the hell that means either.)

Why I’m unique. I have a ton of German followers. I don’t know why either. I’m like the frickin’ David Hasselhoff of Twitter.

My Promise to You. I refuse to use stupid, fake Twitter words, like “tweep” and “twitterverse” and “twenius”, save for when I just did, in an attempt to mock those words, which may or may not have worked. Shun stupid Twitter words. Unshun. “Tweetup”. Reshun. For my punishment, I threw up in my mouth just now, a little bit.

With those qualifications in mind, let me come around to telling you about some of the strategies that I employ on Twitter, and those that will probably be useful to you, too, at least in some way. I think that Twitter is important for businesses to leverage. And, I say that along with saying this: I don’t particularly enjoy using Twitter at all. I still think it’s kind of stupid. But, my personal preferences take a backseat to my desire to market LOMAP effectively: and, we have done just that utilizing Twitter. How? I’m glad you asked, it’s not so hard after all:

-You need a picture and to describe yourself in the description section provided by Twitter. It is difficult on many similar sites, unless you want to troll for recommendations, to get to a completed profile. But, on Twitter, it’s easy. An incomplete profile on Twitter is an obvious blackmark. Replace the standardized “bird” image with your own photo. Use a professional photo. If you don’t have a professional photo, get one taken. It’ll pay for itself, because you’ll use it in places other than Twitter. Fill out the description section in a way that offers, as fully as possible, just what you do. Think of it as your first tweet. If you do not provide at least a picture/description, that combines to make it rather obvious to anyone looking that you didn’t even care enough about this endeavor to take the most basic step required of the program. From that point, the easy analysis is that you are either careless or lazy, and that your tweets will be reflective of those unfortunate technology-aided traits. Ironic, isn’t it?

-If you’re just starting out, follow some people in your field, in order to gain traction. This can be a pretty simplistic calculus, if you wish it to be. When I started out, I simply did Twitter searches for “law” and “lawyer” and followed some people who seemed to me to be reputable. Not everyone whom I followed followed me back; but, I got enough followers to feel like I had something of my own little tribe. People love to get followed. What’s the most common response to being followed? They follow you back. Easy. Hands down, in fact, the easiest way to get a decent amount of followers is to follow first. Return the goodwill, too. I follow everyone who follows me. Well . . . not everyone. If I can see a naked secondary sexual characteristic in your profile picture, or if your most recent post involves something about your webcam, I shall not follow you. Otherwise, I’m on board. Lots of people worry overmuch about who is following them and who they follow. It’s not that big a deal. Really. Twitter is all about information overload. It’s more about gross numbers (we mass communicatin’!) than it is about specific connections, as far as perception is concerned. If you want to run down my followers list for potentially suspect folks, be my guest. You’ll be the first.

-Retweet most vigorously. Twitter is all about pushing out content, don’t let anyone fool you. (I’m talking about, now, when Twitter is leveraged appropriately, for a business purposes. Too many people I talk to say things like, “Oh, Twitter–I don’t care what you had for lunch this afternoon”, which such comment is usually followed by a tremendous guffaw. But, that is just about the most simplistic view that can be taken, and ignores the most important view that can be taken: that Twitter can be, for the most part, just what you want it to be. Tweet about your lunch, and yes, no one will care. Tweet about your professional interests and accomplishment, and people will care quite a bit more.) People shoot out their content on Twitt
er (be that content a new blog post, a speaking engagement, a link to an informative article or an informed opinion) in the hopes that it will really reach as many of their followers as it can. Wouldn’t they love to expand their reach? You know they would. How do they accomplish that expansion of their reach? Through you and your followers, when you retweet their content. People love it when you retweet their stuff. They love to pop up in their own vainglorious mentions filter. They love that you’ve deemed their content worthy enough to extend to the reach of your own network. Retweeting is a two-click process. There’s no excuse for not doing it. And, it’s the reason why Twitter is reputation-building-for-dummies: You may have no idea of the subject you wish to broadcast on Twitter; but, someone else does. If you find enough trusted sources, to retweet regularly, you’ll look rather brilliant, as a shadow. Is there a danger to that? Sure. Better hope nobody asks you about any of this stuff . . . So, yeah, you should be knowledgable in your subject matter; but, you should retweet others even if you know what you’re talking about, because Twitter is about building this community of interest, or communities of interest, around yourself. Another danger is coming off looking like a spammer. Sure, it’s easy to retweet 100 times a day, if you want; but, resist the urge. And, including a smattering of your own observations and content makes you appear more human-like and less bot-like. Incidentally, when you are on the receiving end of a retweet, you should thank the retweeter in your public feed, rather than via direct message. They’ll be happy to see it, and they get another mention = more exposure.

-Twitter now also allows users to create “Lists”: user-defined groups of influential Twitterers within certain subject categories. This will be extremely helpful for when you are building your niche/brand/reputation, which “for when” is “all the time”. Once you’ve been listed, it is no longer just you saying that you know about this stuff–someone else is validating your position as a subject matter expert among other subject matter experts. Can you predict when you’ll be listed, and how? No. Let’s hope you’re not listed under a group like, “These People Suck Really Bad”. But, assuming that doesn’t happen, it’s pretty clear what you have to do to get listed: tweet in a subject matter field, engage other subject matter specialists in conversation via direct messages or @ replies and list other people. Listing is much like retweeting in this wise: If you do it for someone else, someone else is more likely to do it for you. Twitter could be an essentially selfish engine; but, its savvy users realize that it is most effective when used to push others’ content, in addition to your own. The only way you increase your reach beyond your follower limitations is by getting people to push your stuff as well as their own. You see how this might work ad infinitum, literally? So, is it entirely altruistic? No. But, nothing ever really is.

-Make Twitter your content pipeline. Every time you’ve got some new content, broadcast it through Twitter. It’s just another avenue for discovery, another way to stay top of mind. Your mantra: Every blog post goes to your Twitter feed, immediately after you publish it, so you don’t forget to do it. Every new speaking engagement gets promoted through Twitter. Every new initiative by your firm goes to Twitter. Twitter is a far more dynamic mechanism for marketing than the web alone is. When you post something to the internet, you’re hoping someone comes across it. Twitter explicitly points to that thing that you want found, and broadcasts that thing that you want found to specific communities of interest who are most likely to click through and more likely to become engaged with what you have done. If you run one of the celebrity get-away ranches, providing real West experiences for those mansion-bound, you’re not releasing a horse into a field, and hoping that the person you want to find it finds it . . . No, you’re going to give somebody a damn saddle, and you’re saying, suit up, on Dapple. Or, if you prefer, it’s less like forcing people to sift through a haystack for needles, and more like providing a needle to a community of desperate sewers. (The former analogy reminds me more, of course, of when the good folks of Exline, Iowa, suggested that, although I could not milk a cow, because machines do that now, I might try my hands at a goat. I’ve yet to milk something.) One of the better aspects of Twitter, as well, is that your posts appear in Google and Bing searches, such that, not only are you supplementing your original web post by a Twitter post, that new Twitter post is also searchable online.

-If you’ve been on the Twitter.com website, you know that it is very simple, rather clunky and has limited functionality. It’s very difficult, nigh impossible, to use Twitter effectively when your main point of access is the Twitter.com site. So, what you want to do is to utilize a program that will connect you to Twitter, and that will graft onto your user experience significant additional functionality. The two most popular Twitter extension programs are Tweetdeck (software download, built on Adobe Air) and HootSuite (website access/SaaS). There are differences between the two services, and I personally prefer HootSuite, given its additional functionality, stability and ease of use–but either program will do you better than the Twitter website does. Of the number of features available through Twitter extension programs, I have deemed two important enough to “list” (Get it, haha. Reshun.) below.

-Creating groups for sets of followers is indubitably one of the best thing that you can do to make Twitter work better for you. How many of the people who follow you are relevant enough to retweet on a regular basis? If you have a decent number of followers, that figure stands at, maybe, 10%. Maybe. But, those relevant persons are otherwise fed into the morass of posts that stem from all of your followers, all of the time. You’ll quickly stop wasting the time it takes to pan for those golden tweets among the sediment, and you’ll become frustrated, and are likely to drop tweeting before you’ve ever realized any benefit from it. The creation of groups allows you to segregate your most trusted advisors (and that is a good way to think of them), so that their tweets will now not only show up in your main stream (which is almost useless when you reach a certain number of followers), but will also appear in a filtered stream, that focuses down to categories. In my case, I have a “PMA” stream for folks who offer consistently excellent practice management advice, that I can forward along. At the point that I trust someone enough, I will often retweet their posting based on the subject they define alone, without even clicking out to a link and reading through the information. That is a tremendous time saver. Perhaps that’s foolish, and I am setting myself up for someone to make me look bad–but, that’s the beauty of Twitter: If, in the context of this discussion, you intend to make me look bad, you, generally, have to make yourself look bad first, by making an initial post. It would be something like a game of tag, played by really mean people. (A Note To My Trusted Advisors: I’ll now be more deeply wary of retweeting posts that say “Jared smells like burning baby food”, and the like.)

-But, there are a lot of these sorts of social media sites out there. How are you supposed to spend time updating Twitter (more on that later), Facebook, LinkedIn, Reflyer, Naymz, etc., etc.? Well, the Twitter extension platforms can provide you some relief there, as well, as you will be able, through the immediate Twitter extension service, to apply your Twitter posts across other platforms, maneuvering same through the invisible interneting cables to Facebook and LinkedIn status updates, by way of example. This can be a tremendous timesaver, too, and one that allows you, additionally, to fan out your content across platforms with the click of a button, so multiplying your coverage. This is not, however, something you should do automatically, or undertake without thinking it over. Consider that not every social media site works the same way that Twitter does. A string of @ replies, for example, and shortened words and text, looks odd on Facebook, where there is no character limit for status updates, and where people tend to use real language, and not Twitter language. (Although Facebook has added @ functionality for tagging other Facebook users, that does not necessarily translate from Twitter, because someone’s handle on Facebook is not necessarily the same as it is on Twitter–so the link is lost.) I don’t push out my Twitter posts to Facebook for this very reason. For the most part, as well, people can tell when you are moving content in this wise. They may assume, not unexpectedly, when they see you doing so, that you’re just not that invested in the particular medium they use to screen you, and that may turn them off–which can be particularly devastating if that is the only medium through which they follow you. This is a combination question for resolution, then, that touches upon your ideal for your professional presentation and your tolerance for risk.

-Keep in mind that you should consider Twitter not some outlying engine, but, rather, as an integrated part of your marketing platform, such that you should apply basic marketing principles to your use of Twitter. Twitter is another way to establish your niche, or specialty, and to promote your brand. And Twitter is a great device for promoting those things. The very design of Twitter practically begs for you to create a specialty, and to pimp it most hard. As with any branding exercise, you should be consistent in what content you produce, and in what you say. You should also be repetitive with your message, even more so on Twitter, if for no other reason than to breach the constant crush of information that provides Twitter its general appeal. The Twitter stream is onrushing, and you never know when you’ll get noticed for a particular thing. However, you can work to provide yourself with more opportunities to be noticed, by tweeting about the same subject/topic/content in a different way a few, or several, times throughout the day, or week, of release of that information. If you’ve crafted and published a new article or blog post, for example, and wish to increase the likelihood of its being seen, and accessed, tweet about it several times following your first tweet, using unique descriptors each time, that will help to draw people in. Again, however, there is a fine line here between spamming and promoting. If you have seven followers, for example, this may not be the time to practice a multiple tweets strategy. With more followers to try, you can test the waters: If your crowd (those top 10% of followers you really want to reach) does not seem to dig what you are doing, you can always disengage. The danger is in the missing of the forest, for the trees. Likewise, if the tea leaves you are reading indicate that Twitter is not working for you as a marketplace device, stop using it. You’ll only know this, however, if you take the time to analyze your return on investment, as derived from the program.

-The sort of engagement alluded to above: knowing something about your crowd, and acting on that information, should be a hallmark of your Twitter persona. Twitter is not entirely about just dumping content to the wide world (web), and waiting to see what happens. Take opportunities to talk to your follower via @ replies, when appropriate, and through direct messages. There is something of a personal connection via retweeting, but it is tenuous if not consistent. The strategy for cementing a relationship online is the same as it is for establishing a relationship offline: you have to invest in it. Perhaps surprisingly, there are a number of opportunities for dialogue on Twitter, including through users who ask direct questions of their followers from time to time, through Twitter interviews, through conference streams, sometimes using hashtags, and the like. I’ve gotten some good, sustained relationships out of Twitter; but, only when I have taken the time to invest in those potential relationships, did they become kinetic.

-When creating, or managing, your online persona (and a personality of that derived persona exists on Twitter), make sure to maintain the professional image that you cultivate within your offline, work life. (Or, if you’re like me, just be unprofessional in both contexts.) Your online persona, generally, should agree, in all pertinent respects, with your offline persona. It used to be, in some sense, that the internet allowed you to operate without a face, as it were. But, that is increasingly becoming less and less the case. Now, for example, it is probably best practice to include your picture with your online profile. And, when fully accessing a social media marketing platform, you are tied down and across so many websites and services, it’s impossible to hide. Bad judgments will yield consequences. And those bad judgments, if not consequences, will be memorialized forever on the perpetual web imprint that will seem as cave drawings to the next civilization that discovers electricity. So, be good. Be objective. Be fair. Don’t engage in flame wars–because you’ll get burned! (Are we at 4,000 words yet?)

-No, you’ll never get the time back from having read this blog post, as I will never get the time back from having drafted it. Time well spent? Let’s hope. One of the main complaints I hear from people respecting Twitter is this: But, Jared, I don’t have tiiiiiiiime to do it. Call the Wah-mbulance. Seriously. You have the time. You just don’t know it yet. As with almost anything, finding the time to access Twitter is a question of continence, in the traditional sense. Do you always have time for Twitter? I don’t know. Depends. Twitter as a time trap is code for lack of time management skills, is all. Can people become addicted to Twitter? Sure, people can get addicted to any old thing. But, if you find yourself spending too much time on Twitter, you have to wean yourself off its majority use. Twitter is useful as a tool, destructive as an obsession. How much time is too much time? There is no one answer; but, I bet that part of the question relates to how often and how well you are measuring your return on investment, as achieved through the system. I think there are probably several effective approaches to Twitter usage (as an overview microcosm, there are probably as many effective approaches to using Twitter as there are people that use Twitter), including: reviewing it from time to time as a sub-email account; establishing settled times throughout the day when you will check your group feeds and retweet and respond, logging in and logging out each time; aggregating web information throughout the day and schedulin
g tweets for broadcast, etc. Whatever method is successful for you is the successful method. Period. Oftentimes, however, “I don’t have time for Twitter” is code for “I don’t want to take the time to learn about Twitter”, because it’s not intuitive for everyone. That is certainly fine, if the chosen route. However, I bet you’d be doing it if it meant you could get more clients, and more money.

But, that begs the question: What sort of value can be derived from Twitter? My general answer is easy to guess after: I wouldn’t have spent almost 4,000 words (We’re not there . . . yet.) writing on this topic if I didn’t think Twitter was useful. I think it clearly is. From my standpoint, my consistent use of Twitter has meant that I have: established my expertise as a subject matter specialist on law practice management issues; driven traffic to our blog; created new relationships with vendors and colleagues, as well as further establishing and entrenching relationships with existing contacts; and, buttressed our web presence. Those accomplishments, in and of themselves, are valuable enough for me to continue to use Twitter. Have I ever gotten a client directly from Twitter? I can’t say that I have, or, at least, that I have and have known about it. I am, however, fairly certain that a combination of what I have done online has gotten us clients, and that an essential part of that grab-bag of “what I have done online” is at least partially represented through my use of Twitter. Am I fearful enough that removing Twitter from my web arsenal would detract enough from my marketing to generate a noticeable hit to our client intake? Yes. I don’t want to take the chance on finding out. Part of the power of Twitter is in its oozing out into the ether. How many people have picked a Twitter post of mine from Google and contacted me on that basis, and only indicated on intake that they found me on Google? How many people have asked me to speak for their organization after coming to see me speak at another program that they found through Twitter, and only indicated on intake that they saw me speak at an event prior? How many people have heard from someone else that I was a good source for practice management advice when that someone else learned about me on Twitter, when our client only indicated on intake that they heard about our program from a friend? There’s no exactly effective way to tag all of these relationships, as they depend so much on information submitted by others; but, I am pretty sure these nexi exist, and that is why I continue to tweet. And, sure, our sell is easy: free law practice management consulting . . . C’mon, who doesn’t want that? But, in a competitive, for fee environment, the effect of Twitter may be even more pronounced. If you can be somewhere active that your competitor is not, if you can be accessing and engaging communities of interest that your competitor is not, if you can present as a subject matter expert when your competitor does not, Is that enough to swing the pendulum from potential client to actual client? Are you comfortable never trying, or never trying hard enough, to find out? This is, once more, a question of risk tolerance. Are you comfortable letting a free and easy-to-use marketing opportunity like Twitter pass you by without ever really making a true attempt to fold it into your marketing program? If you’ve read this far, I would hope not.

Now, Go forth and tweet, like a bird released from its rusty cage, made of the bones of Web. 1.5.

Full Disclosure. There are three things I left out on purpose: (1) I want to convert from Tweetdeck to HootSuite. I just haven’t done it yet. I need some time to set up HootSuite, and haven’t found it yet. (2) I have fallen for April Fools’ Day jokes on Twitter for the last two years. But, this is consistent with my personal life, where I routinely fall for April Fools’ Day jokes. My Twitter percentage of falling for April Fools’ Day Jokes is relatively low, by comparison. (3) I haven’t created any of my own Lists on Twitter yet. I’m serious!: I’m a poser!

Postscript. My wife presets the car radio to Boston’s #1 Hit Music Station! Kiss 108, to my continuing chagrin. What a terrible radio station. They play Justin Bieber all the time. He’s insufferable. You may know him as the #1 trending topic on Twitter for something like the last 18 months straight. I call him Justin Beaver, because I don’t care to pronounce, or spell, his last name correctly. In attempting to solidify his tremendously impressive, burgeoning musical career, Justin has recently guested on a song called “Eenie Meenie Miney Moe Lover” by the immortal Sean Kingston. This is easily the worst song I have ever heard. All of this drivel seems to be combining to destroy my desire to continue to do a Liner Notes segment. Almost.

. . .

Liner Notes.

The easy reach here is songs about birds. . . . Twitter. . . . Tweeting. What say we reach easy?

Blackbird” and “And Your Bird Can Sing” by The Beatles

Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley and The Wailers

Bluebird” by Buffalo Springfield

Bluebird Revisited” by Stephen Stills

Mockingbird” by Carly Simon featuring James Taylor

Rockin’ Robin” by The Jackson 5

Free Bird” by Skynyrd, man

Geez. I tired myself out writing this damn thing.

Seacrest out.