Egyptian blogger from Cairo.
Revolutionary Socialist.
Partner & Creative Director at ThePlanet.

Understanding the Twitter Cycle

The divide between those in the twitter planet and the outside world is constantly growing. Some twitterers could go as far as arguing that unless you’ve been active for extended periods of time, you are almost clueless as to the capabilities of the Web 2.0 revolution, and the power that it gives you. After the traditional Twitter introduction to those who remain oblivious, we reach the more advanced topic to the simple web application: How to take full advantage of Twitter.

Twitter is extremely powerful

Twitter is extremely powerful

There exists a minority who use Twitter to send constant updates to family and friends, but let’s not kid ourselves, their numbers don’t exactly compare to those of big armies. The majority of the Twitterers are trying to achieve the highest number of followers, and thus be able to send out links that could drive traffic to certain destinations. Whether you are a designer, journalist, merchant or even a celebrity, Twitter opens unprecedented channels of communication, and facilitates interaction with an ironic 140-character limit per tweet. As the internet has taught us over the years, you can never expect people to give you their attention if you are not offering them anything worthwhile. And that applies quite accurately to Twitter.

Many believe that they can open a Twitter account, within a few days have hundreds of followers, then make a tweet linking to their blog, and they’re set for life. Unfortunately, the reality is far from that. Before anyone can trust you, you have to prove yourself to them. This basically means having quality, noticeable tweets on a regular basis. With time people will label you as a credible source, and therefore might opt to follow your links. The beauty of this phenomenon lies in the fact that you have to constantly give to the community, before anyone’s ready to return the favor. That in turn prevents selfish contributors from gaining more than what they deserve, and rightly rewards those exerting efforts to helping the community – perfect.

Steps to becoming a successful twitterer

  1. Initial phase: Sign up for the account, and plan out who are the type of people you are going to be following, and more importantly, who you’d want to follow you. For example, as an IT professional, you’d want to build relations with big IT geeks from around the globe, and hopefully find means for collaboration or connections. As a musician, you’d want to connect to other musicians, but you also want regular users to visit your MySpace page frequently, join your Facebook fan page, and eventually buy your music and tell everyone about it.
  2. Chose who to follow: After you’ve come up with a plan, follow those whose tweets will interest you (regardless of the field – doesn’t matter at this point), as well as those you hope would follow you back. It is important to only follow a small number, because many people would neglect to follow an unproven twitterer, and therefore it is better to build a strong Twitter portfolio so that when you follow someone, they give you the chance to shine by returning the favor. I recommend starting with about 50 users (friends and family included)
  3. Start tweeting: This is the tricky part. It is absolutely crucial that you constantly tweet, however, if you go overboard, you’ll lose followers. Therefore, you have to keep providing interesting content so that people take note of you. If your tweets are meaningless (which is relative, but you should be aware of what the crowd you’re after seeks), then it turns into a headache. If you’re making 20 to 30 tweets a day, all with interesting thoughts, comments, ReTweets and links, then you will have become a provider and not a burden. However, you should avoid sending out links that are for your own sake, otherwise it could be seen as undeserved publicity, and that could scare away some followers. You should pay close attention to the language that you use, and the subjects that you discuss. If you are strictly targeting marketing professionals, you should keep your political opinions to a minimum. If you are a journalist covering politics and socio-economic issues, few will want to hear about your breakfast and showers, and some might write you off as unprofessional if you’re using foul language and making immature tweets.
  4. Add followers: There are two schools of thought
    1. Mass followers: those are the people that follow up to 5,000 people so that the huge majority of them follow in return. It is an easy way to get people to follow you, but I’d personally deem it unclassy. You shouldn’t follow people whose tweets are of no interest to you. And when you gain thousands, the huge majority couldn’t care less about what you have to say, because you’re not a valuable follower. Therefore, it becomes a mutual acquaintance, and can never become intimate.
    2. Picky followers: those who carefully choose who they’re following, and usually keep the number to below 300. That helps build your Twitter portfolio as it becomes a bit of a complement to those who you’ve chosen to follow, and builds much more intimate communication levels with fellow twitterers. You are unlikely to reach high numbers in a short period of time, but those who follow you are much more loyal to your tweets, and thus you are far more likely to drive useful traffic to your website/blog/service, whatever its nature. In both bases, it’s generally good practice to follow a bunch, and then weeks later, use a service such as Buzzom to see who are not following you, and mass unfollow them.
  5. Incorporate PR: Only now would be a convenient time to attempt to attract visitors. By that point, you will have been active for a significant period of time (at least 3-6 months), you will have built connections with peers, and you will be regarded as a credible source. It is important to note that you will be able to grab people’s attention to the subject area your working for, but whether or not your actual content is successful is a completely different story that is beyond this guide.
  6. Maintain momentum: By this point, you’ll be an expert in utilizing Twitter, and you’ll see the light that very few have been lucky enough to experience. However, it is important to avoid becoming complacent. We are living in a demanding Web 2.0 environment, and that requires constant work and dedication. Just like the people have given you a credible voice, they have the power to take it away from you. Just like everything the internet has produced, Twitter is essentially power to the people.

Therefore, converting Twitter to a successful PR tool requires six months of constant activity and depends on what you bring to the table. However, the beauty of the open-source community is in the fact that whatever you do, you can always contribute, and there will always be a crowd eager to learn from you, and ready to exchange knowledge with you. Twitter is but a plateau where the people take the stage, and act out the play. An example of a true product of the beautiful Internet.

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October 7, 2009

I’m more of the ‘picky’ follower, primarily because I want to limit the stream of tweets I read, too. There’s no point in receiving updates from 5000 people – those I really like will be lose within the mass of ‘I’m hungry’ and “X-men rocks!” tweets.

Tarek Shalaby

October 7, 2009

Hehe. Exactly.

Thanks to Twitter clients such as TweetDeck and Seesmic, it’s manageable to follow hundreds of people at the same time by grouping them and displaying their tweets in different columns. But at the end of the day, when you reach the thousands, you’ve essentially lost touch with the people whose tweets really interest you.

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