Alex Poole

Pragmatic PHP, MySQL, Marketing & Technology

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Twitter - This Newbie’s (twoobie’s?) First Week “On the Tweet”

February 19th, 2009 by alex

I’ve been hearing about Twitter for some time. I knew many marketers - who are my potential customers for web development - used it. However When BBC Radio 1 DJ @CHRISDJMOYLES and thus my wife @karenlpoole started evangelising Twitter, I decided it was time to put off the inevitable no longer, and join.

Twitter allows you to post short (< 140 character) status messages, or “tweets.” Other “tweeters” can opt-in to “follow” you - to receive your messages in their “timeline” - a constantly growing list of tweets. Similarly, you can opt-in  - or out - of receiving tweets from anyone you wish.

Not wanting to be branded a twotal twonk from the outset, I did a little research first.

Certainly it was important to post an attractive, descriptive bio. In 140 characters or less this is easier said than done. As I envisaged twittering for business lead-generation reasons primarily, I opted for a rather dry précis of my résumé:

“PHP expert - 10 yrs experience - online marketing a speciality - complex integrations (ecom, autoresponders etc,) installations, customisation & SOS fixes”

I saw it was also important to have a custom background image. In terms of personalisation, twitter gives you the bio and the background image, and that’s it, so the latter is paramount. I found many places to grab or create an image:

http://www.twitbacks.com
http://www.twitterbacks.com
http://theclosetentrepreneur.com/create-a-twitter-background-using-powerpoint
http://www.twitip.com/custom-twitter-backgrounds/
http://www.mytweetspace.com/

I eventually chose a template from twitterbacks, wire-brushed my oh-so-rusty photoshop skills and followed the guidelines here:

http://www.croncast.com/blog/1320/Twitter-background-guidelines-template-size.php

The end result is just good enough I think, though designers will certainly titter. You can see it here:

http://www.alexpoole.name/php_stuff/twitterbg.php?user=alex_poole

(Actually, you can see anyone’s Twitter background there. I wrote that little app for people - like me - with a small screen.)

Armed with a bio and an image, I wrote my first tweet: “Making a twitter background instead of coding..”

I had a lot to learn…

At this point I saw Twitter less as an opportunity for genuine interpersonal interaction and more as a glorified RSS aggregator come shoutbox - so I could consume marketing Gurus’ wisdom in bite-sized chunks whilst pitching my technical consultancy services to them. Surprised I was then when a plethora of seemingly random people (tweeple) started almost immediately to follow me. Flattered, I looked through my growing list of followers, choosing to follow back the small few who appeared to be potential customers.

Of course now its obvious - people follow you because they find you interesting and/or they want you to follow them back. Unless you’re a celebrity or a “rockstar” - read Heather Vale’s (@HeatherVale) insightful article here:

http://heathervale.com/blog/2009/02/18/twitter-rockstar-or-twitter-groupie/ 

 - people will soon “unfollow” you when you don’t reciprocate.

On that note, a quick tip aside: If you think someone ought to be following you but they’re not (probably because they thought you were a waste-of-time originally,) unfollow them then 5 minutes later re-follow them. You’ll bubble back to the top of their list of followers. They may choose to re-read your profile and they may choose to follow you this time. Or not. Worked for me once or twice.

As the numbers rather quickly dwindled again I learnt that lesson and spread my following net wider. I also added 100 or so of the gurus whose information I wanted to consume. Amazingly, I thought, many immediately followed back. It turns out in most cases these are what I now term - off the back of Heather’s article - “Tweetdeck Rockstars”.

Tweetdeck ( http://www.tweetdeck.com ) is an application that allows you to manage a huge number of friends (”followees” if you will,) and followers, by splitting the Twitter timeline into groups - those you want to hear from and those you don’t, even though you technically “follow” them. Lesson: just because someone follows you doesn’t mean they hear you.

NB Twhirl ( http://www.twhirl.org ) offers similar capabilities to Tweetdeck. I haven’t tried it but @mashable’s comparison (Pete Cashmore)  may interest you:

http://mashable.com/2008/07/15/twhirl-tweetdeck-comparison/

All the while I was tweeting. Sometimes I wrote banal guff:

“alex_poole has just been trying to drive a BMW 530d up a very short hill in the snow. Gave up & rolled back down again very gently!”

When I refreshed the page I could see my follower numbers diminish in real time (talk about instant feedback!)

Other times I wrote things that I thought would be useful to others:

“Spent ages looking for a decent free Skype recorder. This ticks all the boxes: http://www.callgraph.in - might save someone the research”

That was clearly better. In this particular case when I woke up the next morning, @callgraph the owner of the company had followed me. We later had a chat about the features of his software.

Now might be a good time to mention the Twitter Search facility. http://search.twitter.com/advanced allows you to search on a range of criteria, (including your own name, or those of people or things that interest you - I guess this is what @callgraph did to find my tweet and it is, incidentally, an amazing “stalking” tool.)

Wonderfully, the advanced search also allows you to search for tweets made within a specific geographical area. As soon as I found this I discovered a handful of tweeters who live in my town, #Ely, many of whom share my interests. I probably would never have “met” these people otherwise. Stunning! Twitter search also enables the use of @hashtags - keywords prefixed with a #. You can create your own, on-the-fly. Examples of the seminal #fail are of course numerous. Whilst fans of the world’s greatest and funniest manic depressive - and most followed tweeter - @StephenFry who have attempted to engage him with their own wit may understand my attempt to coin the tag #slugbalancersyndrome, it really doesn’t appear to have caught on. Odd.

It was dawning on me that Twitter is set to change the way the human race communicates, no less. They might want to buy some more servers first though - especially if the rumours that they may charge for admission are true - read Jim Long’s article (@newmediajim) here:

http://vergenewmedia.com/2008/05/27/twitter-show-me-added-value-if-you-want-me-to-pay/

I began to understood too that Twitter was the ultimate vehicle for inbound marketing - where your prospects find you. @HubSpot are flying this flag. I decided to gently re-target my own bio:

“PHP expert - ex corporate CTO now freelance prog & tech consultant to marketers - gradually & ethically moving from daily to passive income. Dad to 2 boys”

That’s better.

But what does “inbound marketing” actually mean to a one-man-band web development consultant though? Simple enough. Provide value or shut up. Specifically, (cynical, moi?!) provide value to such an extent that it gets a Retweet.

Retweeted? This is where someone finds your tweet so valuable, controversial or entertaining that they choose to re-broadcast it to their own followers. Clearly the value of a Retweet (which is denoted by placing the characters “RT” in front of the original tweeter’s name - always cite the original source - example: “RT @alex_poole blah blah”,) is proportional to the number of followers the retweeter has. There’s science and art in both making and obtaining retweets:

Here’s the science by @DanZarella : http://mashable.com/2009/02/17/twitter-retweets/

Here’s the art by @louisedoherty : http://www.twitip.com/how-to-get-retweeted-the-formula/

Here’s the full manual: http://www.retweetist.com/howto

Not everyone likes a retweet though: http://www.retweeters-anonymous.org

RTs don’t come easy - your content has to be REALLY worth forwarding (and short - see @louisedoherty’s article,) but when you hit the spot, the instant fame and adulation is overwhelming. OK that’s a mild exaggeration, but I did get a few immediate new followers yesterday as a result of my first proper retweet ( thank you @RedHotCopy  :) )

If this all sounds obvious, perhaps it is. But note that so many companies get it plain wrong. The other day a recruitment consultant sent an email shot to ask people on their database to follow them on Twitter. I did so, and politely referred the owner (by email) to some useful resources, which he clearly ignored. A day later my timeline was suddenly chock full of jobs that I would never want, even if I were looking for a job. A lot of them. And they hadn’t bothered to follow back. Unfollow. (Remember - its always just one click away, for anyone!)

Those resources?

Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang)

 http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2007/09/04/web-strategy-what-the-web-strategist-should-know-about-twitter/

Wayne Smallman (@octane)

 http://businessontwitter.co.uk/twitter/2009/02/how-to-avoid-committing-twittercide-in-three-easy-steps/

There’s plenty more of course:

@brianoberkirch’s (NSFW) http://www.brianoberkirch.com/2007/08/29/advanced-twitter-dont-tweet-like-a-n00b/ (dated, but totally relevant - wish I’d read this first!)

@shannonpaul’s http://veryofficialblog.com/2008/08/17/dont-be-that-guy/ (I really have to fight myself not to be that guy at times, but then I am building a business!)

@chrisbrogan’s http://www.chrisbrogan.com/50-ideas-on-using-twitter-for-business/

and http://www.chrisbrogan.com/if-i-started-today/

@barefoot_exec’s “15,000+ Twitter Followers? How?” on (short!) video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IdMEnu376s

@markwarnke’s http://www.marcwarnke.com/blog/marcwarnke/top_10_things_new_people_twitter_should_know

The upsides of Twitter are numerous and huge. Trivial example: @davemalby tweets the tunes he’s listening to, and I like them. I’ve discussed, though not yet closed, numerous pieces of business. I’ve connected with many influencers.

The downsides are the same as anywhere else on the web to be honest - spammers, badly programmed bots, pyramid schemes and rude selfish blinkered fools all abound. Caveat Emptor as always.

There’s also a true Dark Side, if you choose to follow the sparsely-tweeting but hilarious @DarthVader (I do, and so do 39,505 other people as I write.)

To conclude this already over-lengthy post (its lovely not to be limited to 140 characters for once,) Twitter is massive, getting - probably exponentially - bigger, and it will enable you to expand your audience organically if done right, or look like a twotal tw*t if done wrong. Any disadvantages? Oh yes - its utterly addictive, and easily keeps you away from doing the things people are paying you for now! I hope my current client doesn’t read this frankly. @karenlpoole is going to buy me a Twitter Timer, and quite right too.

At the time of writing this, a little over 500 people are offering me a share of their attention. That in itself makes me feel humbled, uncomfortable, and lightheaded, but here’s the kicker:

 I’ve “met” more intelligent, thoughtful, controversial, opinionated, selfish, kind and intensely alive people in one week than I met in the previous 52.

So now you know a little more about Twitter, you might want to jump in and build your own personal brand. Just don’t try to do it all in one week!

I’m @alex_poole by the way :)

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