Social media has the potential to be a massive asset to your career.

I wrote about this recently, and decided to follow up with some practical how-to guides for people who are convinced, but not sure where to start. Let's just rip the band aid off quickly and start with the network people seem to find the most daunting: Twitter.

First, what Twitter is (and isn’t)

Twitter is different from other sites in that it allows you to ‘follow’ absolutely anyone. That means that unlike, say Facebook or LinkedIn, you have unlimited potential to interact with anyone on Twitter. And with 550 million users worldwide, the fastest growth in 2013 of all social media networks, and the biggest uptake among older users, Twitter is currently where Facebook was five years ago. Now’s a good time to get on board.

Twitter’s often called a ‘microblogging’ platform, as tweets are limited to 140 characters or less. The beauty of this is that (for the most part), people tend to put a bit of effort in to getting their point across succinctly, and often, very humorously:

Funny tweet

It’s also designed to be a public forum. You can set your account up to be private if you really want to, but that’s kind of missing the point. The idea of Twitter is that anyone can read what you have to say and join in the conversation – which is why the potential for building your networks and sharing information is so much greater than for other sites.

Start by writing a complete profile

When it comes to Twitter profiles, a bit of humour is all good – but the only people who can truly pull off cryptic, in-joke type profiles are those who are so famous, they’d have thousands of followers even if they they tweeted exclusively in Latin.

If you want people to be able to find and follow you, use the full 160 characters available in your profile section to describe yourself (using your real name and location) and include your professional and (if you want) personal interests.  Also be sure to use a photo -- people are far less likely to follow an account with no picture.

angela twitter profile

Next, get following

The great thing about Twitter is that you can follow absolutely anyone you’re interested in - from Dan CarterLorde or Richard Branson, to your boss or your grandma. To start filling up your Twitter stream with interesting stuff, feel free to follow absolutely anyone who interests you. Some will follow you back, and others won’t – but you needn’t worry about that unless you hit the 2000 mark at some point in the future, when Twitter requires you to have a certain ratio of followers to following.

Who to follow?

Twitter will give you the option when you first sign up to follow anyone in your email address book who has a Twitter account, so that's a good place to start. Then try searching for people with key words in their profile that fit with your professional and personal interests – Twitter will give you further suggestions as you build up your list of people you follow. Just about any corporate brand, celebrity, thought-leader, not-for-profit organisation and news site you can think of will be on Twitter, too.

Pro tip:

If you’re on Linked In, there’s an easy way to instantly build your professional networks on Twitter. First, export your LinkedIn contacts into an Excel spreadsheet.

Then, upload your Linked In contacts to your email address book.

Finally, go back into Twitter and click ‘Find People You Know’ under the ‘Who To Follow Box’ on your home page. Twitter will re-check your email contacts for anyone who’s on Twitter, and give you the option of following them. You can also tick the ‘Email me when someone from my address book joins Twitter’ box under Email Notifications in Twitter’s Settings menu, to be notified every time someone you know joins Twitter.

Tweet regularly

A Twitter feed is a stream that people just dip into when they’re online. Because of the number of accounts people follow, and the frequency people tweet (22 times a day, on average), the average tweet has a lifetime of about 18 minutes. So you need to be tweeting regularly (several times a day at least) if you want your tweets to be read.

What are you supposed to tweet?

First and foremost, look for opportunities to engage directly with people you’re following on Twitter. Join in conversations by replying to their tweets or retweeting them to your followers. Twitter’s a great forum for getting conversations started about current events, or issues in your profession or industry, or just your everyday experiences. You might also want to share content you’ve found online that you think your followers will find interesting or valuable.

Formatting your tweets

While you have 140 characters available to you, there's no rule that says you have to use them all. You should actually try whenever you can to use less, so that people can retweet your tweet and still have space to add their own comments.

If you’re sharing a link, you’ll need to shorten it so that it doesn’t use up all your characters. You can copy it into a link shortener like bitly, or if you’re using a scheduling tool like Buffer, it will automatically do it for you. 

How do @ tweets work?

To send a tweet to someone directly, you use their twitter handle (their username, which begins with @). If you reply to someone’s tweet, your tweet will automatically start with the person’s handle.

Twitter assumes that @ tweets are intended to be a direct conversation with another user, and so it treats those tweets as though they’re private. Only the person tweeting, the person being tweeted to, and those who follow both accounts will see the tweets in their streams. So you don’t need to worry about your replies cluttering up other people’s feeds – feel free to tweet with abandon.

Pro tip:

If you’re tweeting to someone and you do want it to show up in everyone’s feeds (say, if you’re congratulating someone publicly or otherwise deliberately drawing attention to someone), start your tweet with a full stop, or move the handle to the middle of the tweet.

What’s with the hashtag?

Essentially hashtags are just a way of grouping tweets by topics, which can then be searched on by other users. Twitter will let you know what topics are trending either among the people you follow (the default option), or in a selected location (the advanced option), on your home page.

Pro tip:

Tweets with 1-2 hashtags are around 20% more likely to be read and retweeted or replied to, than tweets with either no hashtags, or with 3 or more. So, if you want people to read and respond to your tweets, use well-chosen hashtags, but not too many.

Retweeting vs favouriting

If you read something you think your followers will be interested in, you might want to retweet it so it will appear in their streams. You can add your comments if you like. 

You can also favourite tweets. This is similar to the ‘like’ button on Facebook – it shows the person you enjoyed their tweet, but it doesn’t appear in your followers’ streams. It’s also a great way of bookmarking tweets you’d like to read later.

Mind your manners

Don’t do anything spammy, like sign up to services that automatically tweet your follower stats, or set up automatic direct messages - people tend to find this stuff really annoying. Also, while it’s fine to be yourself and have an opinion, be aware that Twitter is a public domain, and the potential for sabotaging your professional brand is very real. So keep your more radical views for drinks at the pub. Finally, just as you would in real life, make sure you respond to people every time they talk to you online.

Keep at it

Many people set up an account, tweet sporadically for a few weeks, and then trail off. But if you can put in a bit of effort getting to grips with Twitter, it’ll be worth it. And once you’re underway, it doesn’t have to be time consuming: Just 20 minutes a day on Twitter and Linked In combined is all it takes to see real dividends for your career.

So that’s it: everything I wished I’d known about Twitter when I started. Have I missed anything? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments below!

 

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