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I decided to post this after a couple of friends whom I invited to join me on Twitter a few months ago asked me a question that opened my eyes a bit. About 4 months after they had started their Twitter account, one was still hovering at about the 10 follower count while the other hung at about 40. The question posed to me was:

“I want to get to 200 this weekend, how do I do that?”

“Whooa,” I thought. Red flags lit up in my head, so I asked, “Do you want to do this as a taker or as a giver?”

After a bit of back and forth explanations, it was agreed that a higher follower count was desired for the purpose of having more opportunities to interact, but that quality of interactions was also important. (Good answer.)

The eye opening part for me was that, while folks may readily find help getting started on Twitter, less clear is what to do with it once you’re on. This, I’m convinced is a culture thing.

No, I don’t mean culture in the sense of racial diversity or nationality. Rather, I mean it the sense of community norms and values. The stuff that makes up the interplay when a willing individual interacts with members of a community and is willing to shift her/his lens about traditional ideas of marketing, dialog and how respect is earned in a community.

So, after having gotten them started on Twitter, I found myself suggesting the following things for them to consider as they continued the journey. If you’re new to Twitter yourself, please read on. Or if you know of someone who is new, feel free forward this post along to them as well.

“The Rest of The Story.”
Twitter-related sites you should bookmark. Start with those below. The rest you’ll figure out as you continue to engage the community.

Advanced Twitter search.
Twellow.com.
Tweetlater.
Tweetdeck.
Also, it’s helpful to know that there are many third-party Twitter apps that make Twitter more interesting, efficient and effective. As time permits, you should peruse the Twitterpacks wiki for a list of links to many third-party Twitter tools and applications.

Best Practices for Twitter Newbies.

As you find your way to exploring tools and applications to make your Twitter interactions more efficient and effective, consider some of them in context of the list below.

Use Advanced Twitter search (above) to target / find the people whose profile has certain keywords that may be of interest to you for network connection purposes. For example, Virtual Assistants interested in connecting with other Virtual Assistants might use that title as a keyword search. Similarly, VAs who may want to expose the value of their contributions to, say, real estate agents, would find a keyword search using “real estate” or “realtor” as a way to generate a more focused list of people to follow.
Alternatively, you should also take a look at Twellow.com.

Twellow has established categories for Twitter people (“tweeps”). Initially, Twellow adds new tweeps using its best guess of which category to associate a tweep with. Then, as tweeps stumble upon Twellow and find their profiles, they can choose to refine their own category associations. (Hint: After you’ve made a few connections and have been on Twitter a week or so, it’s worth visiting Twellow to “claim” your profile and refine the category(ies) you want to associate with… which also doubles as those categories in which you’d like other people to find you in.

Tweet at least 8x per day. Why eight? I don’t know. Maybe because that’s the number of eight 8 oz. glasses of water they tell us to drink in a day? I don’t know, dude. It’s more than 1 (which makes you dang near invisible) but not too much so as to encroach on your time if you fancy yourself one of those “busy people.” My take? Eight is a minimum, and the sky’s the limit. If you just can’t shake that high-brow “I’m a busy professional” thang, then check out Tweetlater to schedule some interesting tweets to go out at different times throughout the day.

Make your tweets informative. Contrary to what some purists might lead others to believe, it’s okay to tweet about the fact that you just spilled coffee on your new shirt. Or that you’re having green eggs and ham for breakfast with Sam. These are the stuff that gives color to life. But, just remember to try and mix in some tweets that would also be informative to the community, such as: interesting articles you’ve read online, interesting quotes, informative blog posts, new applications and tools, and so on.
Contrary to what your mom may have told you, it isn’t all about you.

o “Retweet” interesting posts made by others. Retweet is simply the process of repeating, to your network, the information that you see someone else has tweeted about. And doing so in a way that typically gives attribution to the original tweeter. Most third-party Twitter clients, like Tweetdeck (hint: highly recommended, btw) actually have a little “Retweet” button that makes this convenient. But, if you’re sticking with the Twitter web page for a while (twitter.com/yourname), you’ll have to do this by typing “RT:” and then copying the text of the tweet from the tweep you’d like to re-tweet to your contacts. (Didja get all that?)

o Tweet short URLs to interesting articles, blogs, videos, etc. that you find online. (Get to know URL shrinkers like TinyURL (http://tinyurl.com) to shorten your URLs in order to maximize your use of the 140 character limit.)

o Tweet your blog posts. But be judicious with this. Again, don’t make it all about you. But, assuming your blog posts have informative content that would benefit others, then absolutely that’s fair gam. Write it and then post a tweet about it.
Learn what the differences are between the “@” command and the “d” command. One is a “public” reply to another tweep. The other is a private reply. Examples:

o @melaclaro blah blah blah… (Sends “blah blah blah” as a reply to melaclaro. The reply is viewable by others in your network.)

o d melaclaro blah blah blah… (Sends “blah blah blah” to melaclaro as a “direct” message. (i.e., privately). Notice the format here for direct messages. There isn’t an “@” before the twitter name and there’s a space between the “d” and the tiwttername.)
Expect about 75% to 85% of the people you follow to follow you back. So, follow, follow, follow. But…

o Tip: Keep an eye on your following/follower ratio. A ratio like 1500 following with 100 followers communicates the message that you’re in it for the numbers–you’re bordering “taker” territory. With an out of wack ratio, you risk losing the more subtle, yet more coveted “respect points”.

o Lesson: In the beginning, go in small bursts. Regulate the follows you initiate to about 10-20 tweeps per day. Many of the people you follow will follow you back. Then, as your following/follower ratio comes back in line (i.e., approaches 1:1), then go ahead and follow another 10-20 folks. Helpful tip: Again, try to target the people you follow using Twellow.com or Advanced Twitter Search. In that way, you’re building a network that has more meaning and relevance for you.

o Lesson 2: As people follow you, it’s customary to follow them in return. Caveat: This assumes they themselves don’t have a sucky ratio or whose history of tweets don’t indicate a “taker”. (Do you see the circle of life in play here?)

o Lesson 3: When someone follows you, it’s cool to send them an “@” reply thanking them for having done so. Something as simple as “@melaclaro Thx for following. Back atcha. Looking forward to ur tweets. Merry Christmas!” is usually sufficient.
And speaking of Merry Christmas, it’s on that note that I’ll leave you to have one with your family. I hope this helps you or someone you know who may be new to Twitter. If you found this helpful, please subscribe or forward the article along.