There is never enough time in the day to keep up with the constant barrage of social media. Take Twitter, for example. Almost daily I have clients and colleagues ask me “Isn’t Twitter really a waste of time?” and “I hear Twitter is losing users faster than they’re gaining them, so why should I join?” The rest of us who are on Twitter — even those of us who have been using it for years — are still figuring out how to best fit Twitter into our overall communications toolkit.
So how do you keep from “wasting” time on Twitter? Here’s my advice on how to spend no more than 15 minutes a day on your Twitter account but still reap the rewards, particularly for your work. This is not a good tactic for everyone, but if you or someone you know is very resistant to Twitter and simply needs a manageable plan for tweeting, you can try this at work or home.
First, determine how you’ll most likely access Twitter and interact with others. If you’re old school (like me) and want a large, straightforward interface, use Twitter.com. If you don’t mind downloading, installing and configuring applications on your computer, go for a tool like Tweetdeck or Seesmic Desktop. If you’re always on the go and love typing on your mobile device, try something like Tweetie for the iPhone (s aapl) or TwitterBerry for the BlackBerry (s rimm).
Now here’s how to spend your time efficiently and effectively on Twitter:
5 Minutes: Listen, Retweet
Start by “listening” on Twitter to get a sense of what people you’re following are talking about. Scroll down a page or two’s worth of tweets and skim until you see the ones that grab you. Then retweet them by copying their tweet being careful to give them credit. The tweet could be a compelling quote, a useful tip, or a link to a relevant blog post or article.
There are two “accepted” forms of retweeting, and they both seem to be used almost equally. You can put RT in front of the tweet you’ve copied and cite the originator of the tweet like this:
“RT @kellyecrane Great idea: PR consultants, let’s use the #soloprpro hashtag to share information! http://bit.ly/3wkIZu”
or you can credit them at the end of the tweet like this:
“PR consultants, let’s use the #soloprpro hashtag to share information! http://bit.ly/3wkIZu (via @kellyecrane)”
Personally, I much prefer the RT in front because of too many situations where people misread a retweet as a tweet from a person and confusion ensues. For example, one woman retweeted another who said her daughter was in the hospital and was suddenly barraged with messages ranging from “our prayers are with you” to “I didn’t know you had a daughter.”
Retweeting is a way of not only passing along valuable information but also giving kudos to the person tweeting — both great ways of building your following and strengthening Twitter relationships.
5 Minutes: Listen, Respond
Next, listen to see who is speaking about something of interest to you or something you can respond to authoritatively. You should also check who has mentioned you or addressed you in their tweets in your client or by searching for @yourtwittername.
If you find someone tweeting something to you directly, a response is usually expected so reply to them either publicly using @ and their Twitter name, or privately using a direct message (or DM) if you are “friends” with them (meaning you follow them and they follow you back). If you don’t personally know the Twitterer, but you are following them and want to respond to something they’ve said, you can still @ them. While it is perfectly acceptable to @ strangers, be thoughtful about how you address or respond to someone you don’t know.
Here’s an example of a tweet and a response.
[email protected] Most of the Seattle neighborhoods have a Twitter account for the neighborhood blog (e.g., @wallyhood for wallyhood.org)”
[email protected] Oh, totally cool. Seattle is so on it! @wallyhood for wallyhood.org? Thanks for the tip.”
5 Minutes: Promote, with Care
Let’s face it — many of us are using Twitter to promote who we are, what we’re doing, and even what we’re selling. There is nothing wrong with promotion on Twitter, but do it with context — think about how the information fits into your Twitter persona.
If you’re known as an SEO expert, you can promote your blog posts about search engine optimization. If you’re a finance expert, tweet regular personal finance tips with a link to articles you’ve written. If you’re a marketing expert, go ahead and tweet a link to your helpful marketing podcast each week. If your retail store is having a sale, that could be tweet-worthy to your followers.
Keep in mind that often the most effective self-promotion can happen when you promote others. As you promote your own articles, blog posts, products, etc., don’t hesitate to mention others that you’ve found worthy of promoting. By sharing the spotlight, you generate good will while still demonstrating your expertise.
After 15 minutes, walk away from the computer or shut down your Twitter application. Keeping your Twitter time under control doesn’t only mean having a plan. You have to exercise some self-discipline as well.
How do you keep your Twitter usage under control?