The Only 10 Things You Will Ever Need to Know About Twitter

As I write this, I’m being harassed by legions of Randy Orton fans on Twitter. At least, it appears as if they’re a legion. It’s probably a few teenage girls and a whole bunch of Twitter accounts between them.

But here’s the interesting thing: The joke they’re upset about? I wrote it well over a year ago.

I noticed recently that more and more people are reacting to older and older tweets of mine. So I did some digging and found that my full Twitter archive dating back to January of 2008 is now available to download, which means it’s also been indexed by Twitter for search. (Thankfully, my two previous Twitter accounts, dating back to early 2007, have not.)

And since 2008, yes, I wrote jokes about how much I dislike WWE superstar Randy Orton. (Because seriously … what an asshole.) But. I also tweeted about getting married, going on a failed cross country breast cancer tour using “social media” to promote it, taking out the social media component of said breast cancer tour and doing it again the following year to great success, my ex-wife’s miscarriage, signing my first book deal with St. Martin’s, my divorce, Social Media Is Bullshit and its release, and my account being verified.

Oh, and then there was that whole thing where Twitter inflated my follower count by adding me to the original Suggested User List, my joy, at first, about all these new followers that soon turned to disappointment when I realized that they didn’t do the stuff countless social media marketers said they’d do, and then, relief, when I realized how many of those accounts today are inactive, bots, or just outright spam. I’d say about 99 percent of them fall into that category.

The reason why I’m telling you this is simple: I’ve learned a thing or two about Twitter. Short of an actual Twitter employee, I’m probably one of the most qualified people to talk about it. And good luck getting a Twitter employee to talk to you about anything on the record since they’re all signed to non-disclosure agreements. That means in a lot of respects, I’m all you got.

You see, I could easily have done a post today about how I recently sat next to a social media marketer who tried to use the tragedy at Sandy Hook to make their business look good (I’m not kidding), but there are a number of psychologists who have suggested that by constantly drawing attention to social media marketers like that, I’m simply creating more of them.

So if my stated mission is to put social media marketers out of business, and I’m creating more of them by going after them publicly, what am I supposed to do?

Give away their secrets.

By telling you everything they know, they can’t keep charging you for it.

That means you should pass this post on to everyone you know. Together, we can make these people obsolete.

And Those 10 Things Are …

1. (American) Journalists love Twitter: There are only three reasons to use Twitter for non-personal use. And let’s be clear: If you want to do what I do and write silly things or share interesting stuff on a personal level using Twitter? Go for it. Here, I’m talking very specifically about businesses and organizations who are often told to be on Twitter “because it doesn’t cost anything” or because it’s “an easy way to reach a lot of people.” As I explained in Social Media Is Bullshit, neither of these claims are true.

So for us, the first reason to use Twitter is to build a newswire for yourself and your audience, which is way more relevant now that Google Reader is going away. (I can’t take full credit for this suggestion. I got it from the New York Times’s Jennifer Preston.)

The second is for making an initial contact with a stranger before moving that conversation to email, and then moving that conversation offline. Twitter is the only platform that doesn’t have much friction when it comes to making introductions, so take advantage of that.

And finally, the third reason are American journalists. American journalists love Twitter. So if you’re looking to pitch them, yes, Twitter is the way to do it (in most cases) provided you’ve done the rest of what I’m about to suggest correctly.

2. Buy followers: This may seem counterintuitive, but it’s true that the more followers you have, even though they’re bullshit like mine, the more credible you appear. And appear is the keyword. Appearance is everything. So if you’re just starting out, go to a site like Fiverr and buy yourself a bunch of Twitter followers for dirt cheap. Just don’t expect them to do anything, and don’t get too many. A few thousand at most is all you need.

You might be wondering why I suggest this beyond “appearances.” I give a lot of talks to college students, and the thing I heard reported back to me most frequently is that employers are asking about their social media presences, especially when it comes to journalism, advertising, marketing, PR, and other communications jobs. And those people making the hiring decisions do ask about how many followers they have. The more the better.

Since social media is a totally rigged game, and the only way to win is if you’re a celebrity or have regular access to the mainstream media (or get covered by them), then you should rig the game for yourself.

This all creates a virtuous cycle too. The more followers you have at first, the more likely someone is to follow you and think you’re credible, which means the more likely they are to pass things on for you, which in turn means you could have more followers. The media also (stupidly) thinks the number of followers you have matters, so if a few thousand fake followers makes the difference between them covering you or not, do it and let them cover you, which in turn would actually bring you legit followers.

3. There is no number three. I just wanted to take a moment to talk about Klout because it’s almost entirely based on 1) How many people follow you versus how many people you follow. So, don’t go following a ton of people, and since Twitter lists are broken, only follow people you will actually pay attention to and no one else. 2) How many conversations you participate in (we’ll talk about that in #5 below) and 3) How many times you get retweeted. That one is a bit trickier because using a social media platform just buys you a ticket to play a rigged game you can’t usually win, but over time if you do the rest of this right and get a lot of media coverage, you’ll see the number of retweets rise because of that illusion of credibility which now reinforces your actual credibility.

4. Tweet three times a day with different headlines: You should test everything. There’s really no excuse not to, and unless you have a verified Twitter account like I do, you don’t have access to analytics unless you use something like Bit.ly, and even then it’s kind of limited. So, you’re supposed to tweet the same link three times a day to cover people in different timezones, and because people on Twitter don’t (usually) scroll through all the tweets on their timeline that were sent that day. They just look at what’s happening now, so re-sending the same things three times helps ensure people will see it, and changing the headline up allows you to see what your audience responds to without annoying the power users who are sitting on Twitter all day and see you tweet the same thing over and over. And, if you read Social Media Is Bullshit, you know to mostly ignore these people anyway.

5. For every one promotional tweet you make, create five that aren’t. A good rule of thumb when it comes to behavior across all these social platforms, especially Twitter, is that for every self-promotional thing you do, you should do three to five (I prefer five) things that have nothing to do with the thing you tweeted. This on Twitter exclusively falls into the conversations that Klout loves so much. So go through your timeline and talk to five different people by commenting on something they said.

(And here’s something I knocked in the book, but people tell me it’s effective for them: Search Twitter for topics related to you, or even what people are saying about you, and reply to that. You can count those replies as part of your five.)

6. Keep your tweets as short as possible: Forget 140 characters. You should use as few words and characters as possible for anything that you tweet. The more characters increases the likelihood that something you’re tweeting will not be shared (because people like to jump in and comment and modify things.) Twitter is actually a terrible platform for viral marketing for a lot of reasons that we may talk about in later posts, so anything you can do to increase the probability that what you’re posting will be shared? You should do that, no exceptions.

7. Vine is stupid. Stop it.

7A. There’s no proof Twitter drives ratings for television shows. Nielsen’s data has backed this up for years. Now, after Nielsen signed a partnership with Twitter, and I saw a Twitter account executive shaking down a television studio head at my hotel in Austin during SXSW, Nielsen has changed their tune. Don’t believe it. Less than 15 percent of Americans actually use Twitter, and fewer still make up the majority of the content that’s created and shared. Most, surprise surprise, comes from American journalists, media outlets, big brands, and comedians large and small.

Do not buy the Twitter hype. Simply use it for the three reasons I listed in #1 and nothing more.

8. If you’re not collecting the email addresses and other info on your followers, you’re doing it wrong. Every time someone new follows you, talk to them, and see if you can get their email address. And find out what else you can get on them (website, phone number, LinkedIn, Facebook). Then add it to a spreadsheet and add the email address to your mailing list after you’ve emailed them to ask their permission to do so. A lot of them will say no, but some will say yes. Email addresses and phone numbers are gold on the Internet: Twitter handles change, people deactivate their Facebook profiles, but those two rarely change.

9. Hashtags are good for short-term spikes but do nothing in the long term, so don’t bother. I know this will make me sound old, but I remember the Digg effect, and before it, the Slashdot and Fark effect. Riding Trending Topics and hashtags can (sometimes) produce similar results, but nothing long term, and nothing that you can build a viable strategy around. Don’t bother.

10. Everybody loves pictures and video. We’ll talk about this in another post, but people don’t want to think on the Web. So video and photos travel better than text. That doesn’t mean the Web is “moving toward” photos and videos because there’s an insinuation in there that says there’s no future for text, and that’s bullshit, but people online (and offline) prefer photos and videos because they recall the information better, it’s easier to provoke an emotional reaction out of them, and they can easily communicate to others about it. That means you should share a lot of photos and video (preferably YouTube videos for the latter). Again, it increases the probability that what you create will spread because of the lower cognitive load required to pass on photos and videos as opposed to text.

There are probably some details I can fill in here over subsequent posts, but this is it. These ten points. This is all you need to know about Twitter and how to get the most out of it if you’re going to use it for non-personal means. And remember: You don’t have to use any of these platforms. The social media marketers tell you to do that because they’re idiots, but in reality, you should only use the platforms your audience is using, and you will only know that by getting your customer data and analyzing it, which you should be doing, like … right now. So get to it.

 

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