5 Top Twitter Tips

Twitter isn't a terrible maze to navigate, though it can seem that way to social media newcomers. All kinds of people are continuing to join, so this guide is for helping newcomers get started, though you may learn something new if you've been using it for a while. This is the last in 3 guides, but the first 2 are right here on my blog. The first, 5 Top Twitter Tips for Newcomers, is all about the basics of how to use Twitter. The second, 4 Hints for Broadening Your Twitter View, took things a little further. Now, let's round things off with some more advanced practises.


Human face on social media

Human face on social media

You're a Name, Not a Number

If you're going to use Twitter, then you really need to establish your profile, if you haven't already done so. Would you be interested in a faceless presence? Click on your account name and then 'Edit Profile'. From here, we can easily adjust everything about your profile.

First up is the header photo. Think of this as a background image, something that speaks broadly about who you are or what you offer. One of my skills is website design, so my background image is of a netbook (a small laptop) next to a notebook in which a website design is being drafted. This quickly and clearly identifies what I do and what I'm about. Bear in mind that you can't just grab any photo online and use it because of rights issues. So if you go looking for images online, make sure that the one you pick is free to use for commercial purposes. The last thing you need is to establish a brand, only for someone to come knocking about key images once you've established that brand. This image also needs to be 1500 x 500 for this background image. Twitter will auto-resize, but the closer you can get to that, the better.

Next up is the profile photo. This could be a photo of you, or a logo. Mine uses the Rocket Polish logo as it's a clear design. This is something you need to bear in mind because the logo needs to be 400 x 400. Some designs can look great at full size, but become fuzzy messes when reduced to 400 x 400, so you might need to keep an eye on this.

Next, you can change your name, though you might want to be careful about this. People who already have a huge following can get away with it, but if you're just getting started, doing so might cause confusion.

Below that you have a chance to enter your profile. This is 160 characters worth of space to describe yourself, your brand, or your company on Twitter, so you've got to be snappy here: Twitter doesn't do verbose! You need something that accurately describes what you do whilst still being in keeping with the spirit of it. Giving your Twitter profile a quirky vibe might not fly if your business doesn't have the same vibe. Below that you can identify where you're based, which is well worth doing as it could help attract local business.

Finally, there's the opportunity to link to your website. Remember to fill this in! How are people going to find what you do otherwise? What we need to do as independent/self-employed people is create and take opportunities like this for others to find what we do, so make sure you take this one.

You can adjust the theme colour, but other than that, hit save and congratulations, you've just completed your profile!


Social media is an art

Social media is an art

Art in the Blood

Social media in general and Tweeting in particular can be a bit of an art. You're constantly trying to feel out how to tweet and how to behave in an environment that's constantly changing. That said, there are some constants worth bearing in mind.

As I said in 5 Top Twitter Tips for Newcomers, you need to stay classy by staying out of fights, you need to be human by not sounding like a corporate robot, and you need to share information because people love that. Actually composing tweets though is a bit of an art. I know by now you probably don't think you need to be reminded that you only have 140 characters per tweet, but stop for a moment and approach it afresh. This limitation means that you have so little word space to play with that you need to develop a real capability to edit what you're saying. Pretend you're an editor demanding of an unwilling writer that they say as much as possible in as short a space as possible. There are some simple things you can do:

  • cut out enhancing words like 'very' and 'really' as these usually add little
  • use the shortest, simplest words as they save characters and are easy to understand
  • use words that can replace multiple words

Keeping things simple like this really matches the overall feel of Twitter as well. It's a place where short and punchy trumps long and verbose. Also, 140 characters is the maximum, so if you can say what you mean in even fewer characters, then it'll be even more digestible.

You also need to keep tweeting. 2 or 3 times a day is pretty good as it's a manageable number to do in a day, but you need to keep it up! This is an environment where disappearing for a couple of days can harm your discoverability. Friends might text or call you to ask what's up, but social media won't. It'll spin on without you and forget about you in a hurry. If you need to be somewhere, then use Hootsuite or a similar tool to schedule tweets in advance. Just make sure you don't disappear!


Follow on social media

Follow on social media

The Usual Suspects

In the top right of the Twitter homepage is the search bar and this is something that you can use to great effect. If you're searching for knowledge to share, then a great place to start is by checking out what innovative people in your field are talking about. If you already know their name, then enter it in the search bar, and you should be able to find them. If not, try typing in your profession and see what emerges. I've just tried that with 'book editor' and 'brick layer', and in both cases found things going on from London to the US. Give it a try!

You can also see what's going on courtesy of hashtags. These help you find topics or more specific areas of interest, and not just what's trending either. I've just tried #editor and #bricklayer and found everything from discussion to job opportunities. Take a look and see what you can find.

Another option is your favourite search engine of course. I routinely use it to find things to learn and to share. Throughout it all I'm reminded of one thing: the more I learn, the more I realise I have to learn.

Remember that when you use links, @s, and hashtags, they'll appear in a different colour in your tweet. Having more than 2 or 3 of these can wind up making your tweet look like a mess. It also looks like you're desperately trying to grab attention like a needy teenager. Online audiences are looking for curators, people who can extract the signal from the noise, not people who just add to the noise.


The Data you Requested is Now Available

In your time online you've probably heard the word 'analytics' and wondered what on Earth it really meant. It really means the analysis of relevant data. Twitter comes with its own analytics baked in, so you don't have to go hunting for it. Let's take a look at that now by clicking on the account you set-up earlier, it's next to the search bar, and then on 'Analytics'.

Don't panic! Yes, it does look like a confusing mess at first, but there's no need to worry. We're not going to go into everything here, just the headline tools that'll enable you to stay on top of how your tweets are doing in terms of raw numbers.

First up is the 28 day summary. This keeps track of the last 28 days, covering tweets, tweet impressions, profile visits, mentions, and followers. This is easier to understand than it might sound:

  • tweets - the number of tweets (posts) you've made on Twitter
  • tweet impressions - the number of times Twitter users saw your tweets
  • profile visits - the number of times Twitter users looked at your profile
  • mentions - the number of times Twitter users put your username (eg @RocketPolishUK) in a tweet
  • followers - how many Twitter followers you've gained or lost

Below this 28 day period is a month by month tracking, with a comparison to the previous month. This is all high level tracking, enabling you to see how people are responding to you on Twitter in general. It's good for giving you an overall view of how things are going, but doesn't tell you how well individual tweets do or how far they spread. What's the point of doing so?  If you've got lots of impressions for a month and want to check which tweets earned those impressions so you can understand what draws people, then you need to check the numbers on a tweet by tweet basis.

At the top of the page is a menu. Right now you're on the analytics home page. Click on 'Tweets' and a new page will give us what we're looking for. Now you can see that every single tweet has 3 numbers next to it under impressions, engagements, and engagement rate. We already know what impressions are, but the other 2 are:

  • engagements - the number of times Twitter users clicked on some part of that tweet
  • engagement rate - the percentage of Twitter users who saw the tweet and clicked on some part of it

You can now see which tweets draw the most impressions or engagements and think about why they did so. One reason might be that you've tweeted using a popular hashtag. If you consistently see higher impressions from using that hashtag, then you've got an answer. That doesn't mean you should include that hashtag in every tweet though. If it's not relevant to what you're tweeting, then using it will annoy people, which could hamstring you long term. Despite being moment to moment in nature, building a following on social media is the very epitome of a long game. You might also have mentioned a popular user, one with their own followers who might then take a look at you. This is partly why being positive is a good idea: followers of other users aren't likely to appreciate people being negative about the person or organisation they're following. Keep your tweets to other users relevant or you might start being considered a spammer, or a stalker!

Gaining these insights enable you to see where there's some interest that you might be able to get involved in. Try exploring the topic(s) of successful tweets a little further to see if the interest is maintained, especially if it's relevant to your work, business, or project. Don't get hung-up on the analytics though. They'll fluctuate, sometimes wildly, and chasing impressions and mentions too hard could trip you up, triggering you to make some silly mistake that'll harm you in the long term. So don't worry about passing dips or passing peaks because it's impossible to form a pattern from a sample size of one. This is where the month by month view comes in handy.

Don't spend too much time on the analytics either. When I met David Anderson of Kobo at the London Book Fair 2014, he confirmed that one of the things you have to do when you have a lot of data is create a framework to keep things manageable. My process, which is still evolving and hopefully always will be, is to take a simple look one morning each week to check how things are going on Twitter and Pinterest. I simply make a mental note of how things are in general, and how individual tweets and pins (things that you post on Pinterest) are doing. Then, at the end of the month, I compare these analytics to the previous month. I spend longer on this monthly assessment and make notes. This enables me to:

  • confirm that I'm going forwards not backwards
  • to reassess what I can do to maintain or improve momentum
  • assess productive topics or hashtags
  • identify audience interests (something Pinterest does better than Twitter)

I keep this time limited though and try not to spend more than 30 minutes even on this more detailed assessment. If it's so useful, why do I limit my time?


Keep the blinkers off on social media

Keep the blinkers off on social media

Blinkers Off

Just using social media can be a time-sink, and its analytics even worse. Remember, this is part of what you're doing to support your business, your products, or your project, and it must remain support. You've got so much else to do that you need to stay on top of. Take the social media blinkers off and keep your eyes wide!

Schedule some time to spend on social media each day and keep it to small chunks. As you learned in 5 Top Twitter Tips for Newcomers, you can use Hootsuite and other services to schedule tweets, enabling you to write all your tweets in one chunk and spread them out throughout the day. 

Even with the analytics, using Twitter is something of an art. Over time you'll develop a sense of what's working and what isn't. Don't stand still with social media though, as fluctuations from user interests, and technological changes to social media and search engines will keep things moving. Swim with the tide!

How are you staying on top of Twitter? What are your golden rules? You can let me know in the comments.