Tips for Twitter quitters

Written by Ian Portsmouth

It’s one thing to be on Twitter. It’s another thing to do it. According to a recent analysis of 19 million Twitter accounts by Campbell, Calif.-based network security company Barracuda Networks Inc., 73% of Twitter registrants have posted fewer than 10 messages, and a third have never “tweeted” at all.

This hype-busting stat shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has tried the popular microblogging service. Building a critical mass of “followers” who subscribe to your Twitter “feed” takes more time and effort than most people imagine. (After two years of intermittent Twittering, I have amassed 600 followers — compared with Ashton Kutcher’s 4.7 million.) Perhaps a bigger deterrent is Twitter’s glossary of text commands, which reminds anyone over 40 of the agonizing era before Windows and Mac blessed us with point-and-click computing.

But for those who learn the basics of Twitter, it can be a powerful medium for generating personal or corporate brand awareness and credibility. Here are some simple strategies for those who get the jitters over Twitter. In the past couple of months, they’ve helped me increase my following by about 25%, while dramatically reducing the pain of trying to becomea big Twitter star.

Use a third-party client: Twitter began life as a mobile application allowing people to publish text messages through the SMS function on their cellphones (thus the 140-character limit on tweets), with an accompanying website. However, neither has a fraction of the features or flexibility of the numerous third-party applications that make Twittering a breeze. For instance, I use TweetDeck, a free download that allows me to display multiple incoming feeds (e.g., my basic newsfeed, private messages and one for tweets mentioning “entrepreneur”) and to post a message to several accounts at once. It’s rich with other one- and two-click controls for such common tasks as posting photos and condensing URLs for inclusion in tweets. Mobile clients exist, too; I use UberTwitter on my BlackBerry.

Help yourself go viral: When someone republishes your tweet, you’ve been “retweeted.” It’s the ultimate endorsement of your content and a magnet for potential followers. But re­tweets will contain your message plus your Twitter handle, which can push the retweet over the 140-character limit and force your follower to edit or abandon it. So, add three hypothetical characters to the number of characters in your Twitter name (to account for the text commands attached to your name, e.g., RT @Ian_Portsmouth), then subtract that sum from 140; this is the longest your tweets should be.

Follow freely: Following others can help you attract followers in return. When someone sees that you’ve subscribed to his feed, he is more likely to follow you — if only because he now knows you exist. While following hundreds if not thousands of Twitterers can swamp your basic newsfeed, a good Twitter client can help separate the wheat from the chaff.

But be warned: many Twitterers practise “reciprocal following,” whereby they return the favour of being followed — and they expect you to do the same. “Some say it’s a courtesy or obligation, but I disagree,” says Scott Stratten, founder of Oakville, Ont.-based online marketing agency UnMarketing and a big-league Twitterer with more than 50,000 followers. “It diminishes the value of following.” However, Stratten says, he has seen many brands take flak for eschewing the practice. It hasn’t done Kutcher (Twitter handle: aplusk) any harm; he follows just 341 people.

Give due credit: Although re­tweeting automatically identifies the original author, you must manually attribute revised content and borrowed links to their source — as Twitter etiquette dictates. In such cases, include the handle of the original author, like this: “Demi Moore wants her kids to be entrepreneurs when they get out of college (via @aplusk).” It will show up in the original author’s newsfeed and be seen by anyone searching for posts about that person — exposing you and your honourable ways to more potential followers.

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