In October of 2008, Aaron, a client, told me I NEEDED to get with it and get on Twitter. Aaron (@SeattleBlank) is, like, 30 years old, and is a VP for a public relations firm, and someone I respect.
As a graphic designer, it's important for me to keep up with what's current. It's tantamount to social currency. So sheepishly, I opened an account.
It felt weird, though, all alone in what I'd describe as my "Twitter Room," and since I didn't really know what I was doing, I proceeded to post rather banal tweets about who I was meeting for dinner and where, or the projects I was working on, etc., as if anyone could care. There was no interaction or response by anyone. Was it any wonder that I was unimpressed with the whole thing? It seemed pointless and stupid. I did very little with Twitter for the first 4 months.
Whenever someone started following me, I couldn't understand why. They didn't know me. I thought, "why in the world would this perfect stranger want to follow me? Is he/she a stalker?"
I was paranoid and protected my tweets - and had only a couple dozen followers for several months. But it was intriguing to have people request to follow me and I began obsessing over how many followers I gained or lost. When I'd lose someone I sort of took it personally. It was like, why did they leave me?! Eventually I removed "protect my updates." What, exactly, was I protecting?
For many months I didn't realise it is almost a courtesy to follow back people who follow you (unless they are spammers or clearly have nothing that interests you). I wasn't doing that. Also, I didn't realise a person couldn't send me a direct message (DM) unless I followed them back. In fact, I was doing so many things the wrong way, but I didn't know it!
In January, 2009, I had 42 followers. I decided to reexamine Twitter to determine whether there was any real value, and to give it a serious try. This meant reading everything I could and learning about what people were interested in, and discovering the tools to manage it all. My tweets, until this point, had been boring and offered no value to my followers. How could I make myself more interesting? And what kinds of things did I want to share? After all, everything I tweeted would be a reflection of some facet of myself.
Taking cues from people like Peter Cashmore (@mashable), Guy Kawasaki (@guykawasaki), Seth Simonds (@sethsimonds), and others, I tweaked my tweets, learned about retweeting (RT) and (@) replies. I learned an embarrassing lesson about DMs from Seth Simonds. I'd sent him a direct message and he couldn't reply because I hadn't followed him back. So he posted an @ reply that explained why he couldn't respond to me, and added something like, "I am an aardvark," to point out how silly it was to send a DM without following back. Seeing that on the Twitter feed, I felt like an idiot! (Note: I later sent him a DM, telling him I hadn't understood the mechanics, and he couldn't have been nicer.)
Eventually I figured out my own game plan: be myself but don't focus on myself; post tidbits of information that I find interesting; tweet YouTube videos that make me laugh; share silly things or stuff about the iPhone (something I LOVE), or tweet breaking technology news and other items of interest.
I started paying attention to what was going on around me, being more thoughtful about the news I'd read, and when reviewing email links people would send, I'd wonder if they were "tweetworthy?" I started really working hard at finding things that delivered value, entertainment or information to my followers. Also, I learned it is considered an act of generosity to retweet (RT) - or re-post an item you've read elsewhere, making sure the original person is credited with an @ attribution. And one more important thing: thanking people with an @ reply when they RT something I've posted, or sending them a DM, is just plain good manners.
You can tell you're doing something right when your tweets are RTed. It's a great feeling and addictive because RTs are like little affirmations that say "you did well!" The next great feeling is to have someone #ff or #FollowFriday you. (BTW, the # is called a hashtag, and is a shortcut marker for people to search for a topic or trend.) On Fridays, Twitterers (AKA Tweeps, Tweeple, Twits, etc.) recommend people worth following. When you see your name with a #ff or #FollowFriday, it's quite a compliment because it means your tweets are interesting enough for your followers to recommend you to others.
When I changed my game plan, the number of my followers increased. Each day I would gain a follower or two, then 5 or 6, then 10 or 11, etc. So my measly count that hovered around 40 or 50, gradually grew to more than 700 over the course of several months. I know, that is a tiny volume when Barack Obama, Oprah and others have millions, but considering I'm just a graphic designer in Seattle, Washington, I'm honored to think people find me worth following. And because I thrive on positive feedback, I'll continue to work hard to make it worth their while.
Since this blog post was originally written, I've discovered it pays to do due diligence and vet followers before following back. A good friend, @Tech_Blend (Ahad Bokhari) wrote a blog post about follower/following ratios, which also influenced my actions. His blog post: