Questions? Feedback? powered by Olark live chat software

How I Made Twitter Infinitely More Useful

Twitter is a great tool. I’ve been using it since March of 2006 and it’s certainly here to stay as a communications tool for the foreseeable future.

twitter unfollow

photo credit: Joffley via photopin cc

When Twitter hit the big time some years ago there was no manual for how to use it or even any best practices as we were all just experimenting with what was a new form of networking.

I remember reading a great line someone wrote about the genesis of Twitter – “Twitter founders threw a bat and a ball on a field and Twitter users invented baseball.”

One practice that was very common then and still is to some degree was that of following lots of people, particularly those that followed you. In fact, this became a bit of a way to build a following – follow lots of people and they follow you back.

Of course as is no plainly clear today all this following made some Twitter functionality impossible to use. If you follow 20,000 people (19,472 that you don’t know) it’s impossible to use the main Twitter stream to keep up with and share content from trusted sources you follow.

Many people adapted by creating lists and groups in 3rd party tools for the people that “actually” wanted to follow.

Over the course of the last year or so I’ve seen a real shift in Twitter habits. Many people with very large followings stopped automatically following back and some took the more aggressive step of a “do over.”

I stopped auto following long ago but still found myself following a little over 29,000 folks.

In an effort to take Twitter back and render Twitter more useful I chose to take the time to edit my follows down to a number I could manage. I know this sounds almost “unsocial” but, as many others have found, it actually allows me to be much more social because I can now actively engage some of my most important relationships on Twitter.

If this idea interests you I’ll share how I accomplished this task.

I suppose you can manually unfollow a few hundred people a day if you like, but if you have anything more than a thousand or so, you might want to employ another process.

I chose to use a service called ManageFlitter. ManageFlitter actually offers a host of Twitter management features, but for my purpose, the unfollow tool was what I was after. (This is a great way to prune off fake or inactive follows even if you don’t want to pursue the do over option.)

ManageFlitter offers free services, but because I wanted to do a large number quickly so I opted for the paid account as it allowed me to unfollow up to 5,000 people per day. There actually is no mass follow or unfollow option for Twitter so in order to remain within the Twitter terms of service people still have to be manually unfollowed by clicking a button for each. Fortunately, ManageFlitter also has an option to pay someone else to do this task remotely – again, probably a good option – I think I spent $25 in total for this.

The trade off is that likely I will miss some things that are interesting, but I can more easily see the things that my carefully curated list is up to and it just makes Twitter so much more useful and clean. It’s kind of like that feeling you get when you tackle cleaning out the basement. There was all this clutter down there that I wasn’t using anymore and it made going down there at all less pleasant. Okay, maybe referring to people I followed as clutter is a bit harsh sounding, but what I really mean is my own clutter.

I thought long and hard about both doing this and writing about doing this, but I still think it’s the right approach. It doesn’t mean I won’t continue to add more people, but this time I’ll do it more fully understanding the role that Twitter plays in my marketing and outreach today.

Obviously, I welcome your thoughts and tips on making Twitter more useful day to day.

What Works With Twitter Today

Marketing Podcast with Dan Zarrella

BeakerTwitter has been with us for a while now – about a century in Internet years. While it has changed and grown and evolved into a staple of the media landscape, many marketers have grown to effectively tap Twitter in a handful of useful ways as well.

I know, blogging about Twitter? How 2007 of me. (Just for fun have a look back at an eBook I wrote on Twitter in 2009 – Twitter for Business – lots of services no longer exist but the content is still mostly relevant.)

Like most Internet tools and social networks things change and there are always new and better ways to use them meet your objectives. Now, mind you I didn’t say right and wrong ways because, frankly, there is no right or wrong way, only the way that serves your unique objectives.

For my view some Twitter best practices look like this.

Consider objectives

The first thing you must do in order to use Twitter effectively is to clearly state and understand why you’re using it at all. For me, it’s a tool to amplify my own content, filter and aggregate other people’s content and network for links and conversations. I always share content I’ve written, content and ideas I’m wrestling with and eight to ten pieces of content from others that I think is useful.

Share routinely

There are two primary reasons I share on Twitter. 1) – my hope is that people that follow me on Twitter appreciate that I find good marketing related content for them and save them the work of rooting it out themselves 2) – my other hope is that some of the people who’s content I share will at least consider whether my content is worth sharing. Networking in this manner is simply one form of the new link building. However, it’s still networking and will fail if the only goal is reciprocation. Think value and links will come.

List wisely

Go out today and put your customers, competitors, partners and media sources on Twitter lists so it’s easy to keep up on what they are doing, asking, sharing and requiring on Twitter.

Employ 3rd party tools

At the very least get a Hootsuite account so you can follow your lists easily. Also get a Buffer account to make sharing content buffered out through the day a snap. Use an RSS reader like ReederApp to make it easier to scan for sharable content. Head on over to Topsy and keep tabs on popular content others are sharing on Twitter.

For this week’s episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast I also sat down and chatted with Social Media Scientist Dan Zarrella about some of his most recent findings on the finer points of Twitter use.

Zarrella spends more time than anyone I know trying to get at what creates followers and engagement in social networks in a scientific way. His book The Science of Marketing delves into things like when and what to tweet.

He’s created an interesting little tool called ReTweetLab that lets you analyze any Twitter account and discover what works best, when and how to tweet and what calls to action generate the highest engagement.

Dan’s work across all networks is shared in his latest book – The Science of Marketing.

Riding the Collective 140 to Overnight Success

The other day someone once again swore to me that you couldn’t sell using Twitter – those 140 characters just aren’t enough to get your message across.

The fact is I’ve sold tens of thousands of dollars worth of books, courses, consulting and speaking via Twitter and he’s right, 140 characters aren’t enough.

Selling on Twitter

Image Fathzer via Flickr CC

The secret to selling on Twitter, and in any setting really, is the collective 140 or the sum total of useful content that you put out there every day. Please note the word useful in that last sentence. Unless some group of potential customers finds what you’re sharing useful, it qualifies as good noise and little else.

Marketers have been selling using 140 characters or less for years. Go back and dig up some old issues of magazines like Popular Mechanics and flip back to the classified ads and you’ll find some great examples of tiny little ads selling access to what somebody thought was useful information. Many of those ads ran for years, meaning somebody was making money.

Some people have wondered over the last few years how I’ve turned the Duct Tape Marketing brand into such a success in such a short time. (Note that success and time are both relative terms.)

Well, here’s how and, there’s no real magic, anyone can stumble to success in the same manner.

  • I have produced and sent 572 weekly newsletters
  • I have written 2,709 blog posts
  • I have written 3 books containing 213,549 words
  • I have produced 121 “how to” workbooks
  • I have written 11 eBooks
  • I have conducted 173 online seminars
  • I have presented 156 live workshops and speeches
  • I have recorded 315 podcast episodes (thanks Jared Dees for reminding me of this one)
  • I have crafted 11,491 tweets

And somewhere along the line someone found some of it useful.

So, yes, you too can be a 25-year overnight success by riding your collective 140 into the sunset.

How and Why I Use Buffer

One of the services I believe marketers should provide their followers and community members these days is that of filtering and aggregating good, relevant content.

Buffer AppI subscribe to over 100 blogs and I hear over and over again how much some of the folks that choose to follow me on Twitter and Facebook appreciate that I share what I think some of the best reads from each day.

I share other things in those platforms as well, but I generally find 8-10 blog posts daily that I think people will appreciate.

The problem is that when I scan through my RSS Reader, something I do before most of my readers have had breakfast, I don’t want to Tweet all 8-10 at one time because it kind of overwhelms a handful of people and leaves little for those that get on social networks at other times of the day.

To solve this problem I started using a free app called Buffer and not only am I hooked, I’ve seen its use by many other publishers skyrocket of late as well. (The free version only allows you to have 10 updates in the buffer and is limited to one user.)

Why I use it

The Buffer app is a tool that allows me to easily bookmark and schedule Tweets or Facebook updates from any browser or mobile device. This way I can effectively spread my Tweets out over the course of a day, whether I find something in my morning reading or as I surf around throughout the day.

The times that Buffer posts the updates are preset by me so I simply fill up the Buffer and it does the rest. You can hit the post now option to immediately post and you have total control over when it posts. I have a pretty good feel for the best times to post for my readership but you might want to use a tool like SocialBro to gather some research into the best times for you.

Buffer also produces statistics so you can see how many people clicked on links you shared, the estimated reach and the number of Retweets.

There are some other tools that can accomplish much of what Buffer does, for example TweetDeck allows scheduled Tweets, but Buffer just works much better with the way I work and makes it much easier for me to be more active in sharing.

How I use it

While there is an iPhone app for Buffer the way I choose to use it is a little different than some I suspect.

I do most of my feed reading using the Reeder app on my iPhone. (Note this is different than Google Reader) The reason I love this app is that it allows me tap into my Google Reader account and have all my feeds that I organize there. (You can install Buffer as an option in Google Reader too)

The real feature I love though is that it gives me a handful of options for sharing and handling the posts right from the within the app. I can bookmark and tag it to Delicious or Pinboard, add to Facebook or Twitter, paste to Evernote, copy the link or email the title and link.

To use this app with Buffer I use the fact that Buffer gives every account holder a unique email address that will post items to the their Buffer account. So, as I read my posts I simply hit the “mail link” function in Reeder and it sends the title and link to Buffer. Anything that I put in the subject of the email will be posted as the body of the Tweet.

Buffer then puts all my emailed updates in the queue based on the times I’ve picked and viola – nice bit of posting scheduled throughout the day. Buffer also allows me to connect my branded linked shortener that set up with bit.ly so my Buffered links are shown as ducttape.me – a nice bonus in the scheme of things.

Look around and you’ll see a number of blogs adding the Buffer button to their posts to make it even easier for people who use this tool to share.

You should also grab the Buffer extension for your browser of choice or drag the Buffer bookmarket to your toolbar so that you can add items to Buffer as you surf throughout the day. I use the extension for Firefox and it puts a little Buffer icon at the bottom of the page and gives my one click posting to Buffer.

3 Ways to Use Twitter to More Deeply Engage Influential Prospects

Amidst all the talk of Google+ and the new, new Facebook, Twitter has a lost a bit of its glow.

_DaniloRamos via Flickr

But, it’s still a very powerful and useful tool for marketers and in some cases the communications vehicle of choice for your best prospects and customers.

Today I want to talk about a couple of ways you can use your Twitter routine to more deeply engage customers and prospects.

If they are active Twitter users, then the following tips may help you gain insight about them and give you some ideas on how to create the kind of value for them that builds trust and opens doors.

Just to be clear, however, these are not meant to be used to manipulate or create a fake show of interest, these are just practical ways to get the most out of your Twitter use while also focusing on targeted users and creating good content for your followers.

Scan the favorites

Once you’ve identified prospects and customers on Twitter there is a tool that might help you learn a little more about what’s really important to them rather then just monitoring their entire stream. You should have customers and prospects in Twitter lists so you can easily monitor their activity in a tool like TweetDeck, but you’ll also want to scan their favorites.

This tip isn’t 100% foolproof, but many times people will mark favorite tweets because they represent the things they really like and care about. It might be their own tweets about their most important topics or those of their most influential friends – either way it can be great information.

You can find a list of favorites by adding the word favorites after a username – my friend Jason Falls is going to be in Kansas City this week to promote his new book, No Bullshit Social Media, so I’ll use him as an example. You’ll find Jason’s favorites here – http://twitter.com/JasonFalls/favorites

Retweet the best of the best

Another way to provide great content for your followers and also show up in the streams of those you want to get to know better is to Retweet their tweets. I know, duh, but here’s where I add a tip that makes this something more strategic. Don’t simply RT everything they write, it’s not very effective and won’t do a thing for your followers.

Go to Topsy and find the best Tweets from your customers and targeted prospects and RT those. Depending upon who you’re targeting, their best tweets are likely ones that have been RT’d by lots of other folks already.

You can find this on Topsy with the search query – from:twitterusername. So you could find my most popular tweets with this search – http://topsy.com/s?q=from:ducttape (You can also create email alerts for your searches.)

Filter targeted search

I’ve always touted the use of custom filtering and aggregating of content as a great way to add value to the world and, more specifically, customers and prospects. The idea here is that you set up all kinds of searches that automatically feed you information that could be useful to a prospect or even to your own education about a prospect’s world and then package that information in a way that’s useful to your prospect.

RSS technology is a great aid here so you can easily subscribe to or show your prospects how to subscribe to these custom searches. Unfortunately, Twitter decided to make it a little harder for just anyone to subscribe to searches via RSS. (Many services seem to be moving away from RSS in favor of their own custom APIs – so perhaps the Twitter Dev page is a place to start some advanced education.)

In the meantime, I’ve found a query that still produces an RSS feed for custom Twitter searches (no guarantees on how long this will work.) If you want to create an RSS feed, so you can subscribe to the updates via Google Reader for example, for the search phrase “small business marketing” you would create it like this – http://search.twitter.com/search.rss?q=”small business marketing”+filter:links – the key here is to add search.rss to the URL and then standard query stuff – ?q= – and then your search phrase. I also added +filter:links so that I would only get tweets that contained links to web pages.

Try this yourself and you’ll find that you can create RSS feeds for Twitter searches. Get creative and create some searches that you know will contain great content that your prospects would love and then start sharing bits with them. They’ll thank you for it.

The Social Media Party Is Over

I’ve been saying this all along, or at least for this long, and yesterday I tweeted that it was time to remove the words social media expert or strategist or fanatic from your Twitter profile and even the entire Twitter lexicon because the social media party is over. Now, as expected, there were several reactions. 1) thank you for saying that, 2) the party is just getting started, 3) shut up, you’re not the boss of me (I might be paraphrasing that one)

So, I thought I would clarify.

When social media was new and scary lots of folks became experts because, hey, people would pay them to demystify Twitter’s lack of a user guide. Somewhere along the way, Facebook pages became less cutting edge, blogs became mandatory for search and content, and people realized that social networking was strikingly similar to effective face-to-face networking.

Marketers learned that their customers enjoyed the convenience and fluidity of increased engagement and communication and that relationships could be built faster using online and offline tactics, so CRM systems baked social interaction right into the interface.

So finally it has dawned on increasing numbers that social media is no longer a separate practice, but is indeed an expected marketing behavior and, while there are definitely cases where creative tactical implementation can benefit from marketers that understand where the newer media land minds exist, the need for a social media expert to create a “LIke” campaign is probably over.

Marketing fundamentals have not changed, the tools available to both marketer and consumer have changed, but continuing to view an important set of tactics and tools as detached is actually detrimental to the long term marketing view.

We need more marketing experts, we need more effective marketing, we need to figure out how to build know, like and trust, and that comes from the careful implementation of a marketing strategy that contains the intentional fusion of online and offline, social behavior, selling, education, SEO, PR, content, and advertising – you know, marketing.

So yea the party is just getting started, it’s just that it has moved back to the marketing department.

The Future of Social Networks Is Vertical

VerticalEven as social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook grow, in order to remain relevant they will need to evolve. In my opinion that evolution will contain the formation of vertical marketplaces. Social networks for artists, attorneys and consultants already exist, but none of them have attracted the kind of adoption that Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter enjoy.

Think about it, how many real estate agents, designers and accountants are on Facebook already? The tough thing about building a social network is to get the kind of adoption and participation you need to make the network a viable place to hang out. The major networks already have that and can tap it by creating networks within the network. The time might be right for outside players to insert vertical pushes if the networks don’t partner with associations and other data providers poised to offer an impact in a vertical market. (Seems to me that most industry associations and interest groups should be considering this kind of approach.)

Next week LinkedIn is announcing a partnership with a real estate industry player that will push to create a real estate portal on LinkedIn that can provide agents and consumers with commercial and residential listings within LinkedIn. A healthy recruiter community already exists on LinkedIn so a jobs database would be pretty easy to create. This approach would reach beyond the typical “groups” implementation to something much richer in terms of content and specific opportunities for engagement. Twitter lists combined with a Google search for job title or industry in a bio is one way to craft a list of any profession on Twitter. That process alone might be a good place to start. Look for more on this from the networks as they continue to evolve for business use.

Image credit: quinn.anya

Will Location Checkins Change Social Networking?

This post isn’t so much a declaration as an observation.

With the success of location aware tools like Foursquare and Gowalla and the looming rush to grab this space by Twitter and Facebook, I wonder if there’s an evolution in the works.

twitter places

Here’s my observation. It’s easy to friend and follow perfect strangers on social networks. Some of these even develop into business contacts, partners and customers, but most go nowhere and some may even turn into minor annoyances. But, when Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and every minor player start baking location check-ins into the mix, will you be choosier about friending and following and giving your exact specific location to thousands of unknown folks?

My guess is that these services will need to develop layers of settings, but that’s yet to be seen. I know I think twice about accepting follow requests on Foursquare. Again, I’m as social as the next person, but not ready to let folks I don’t know have access to the hotel I’m staying at this week. It will be interesting to see how this space develops. Mature players like Twitter might actually have trouble adding this feature unless it’s selective.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this.