Friday, February 08, 2013

Cruising the Twitterverse

Twitter profile for LarryShort (click to enlarge)
My Twitter profile:
I've been wanting for awhile to write a blog to explain my love affair with Twitter. I'm not sure it will help anyone else, but at least it may explain some peculiar aspects of my own personality.

I was at a Stanford Publishing on the Web conference in the fall of 2006 (I think?) when I heard Silicon Valley venture capitalist and visionary Guy Kawasaki speak. I was leading a delegation of folks from World Vision and knew that Guy was a fan and friend. So I was delighted when happenstance threw us together, just he and I, out in the lobby between sessions.

I asked Guy what he thought the next big game-changing social media platform for communicators might be. Now, this was a dangerous question because my manager (at the time) had told me not to "waste my time" with social media. He thought it was a passing fad and said we had plenty to keep our hands full just working the bugs out of Web one-dot-zero!

Without hesitation, Guy answered my question: "Twitter!" I had heard a little bit about Twitter and had kind of dismissed it as a joke, but Guy (who got his start as a "chief evangelist" at a little company called Apple) is one of those few folks who really deserves the title of Web pioneer and social media guru, and so I paid attention as he explained why he thought Twitter had such potential. Then, later that same day I created my first Twitter account, on behalf of World Vision: @WorldVision.

A year or so later, after working to give this new bird some wings, I handed @WorldVision over to our international office. (I suppose I felt guilty because I had registered for our U.S. office, and by the time our international folks realized it should be theirs instead, that horse had already left the barn. Plus, I wasn't supposed to be working on social media, right?) But our international folks were certainly grateful to receive @WorldVision from my hand and they continued to shepherd its growth. (The stream now has well over a quarter of a million followers.) (UPDATED 2/19/2015 ... now exceeding 454,000 followers.)

A short time later I also started @WorldVisionUSA (the U.S. office' official corporate Twitter stream), as well as @WorldVisionNews (our journalist-facing stream), and then my own personal stream, @LarryShort. I've since handed @WorldVisionUSA off to our corporate social media team, and still manage the latter two myself.) These three streams now have more than 48,000 (314,000 as of 2/19/15), nearly 14,000 (17,300), and over 4,500 (nearly 10,000 now) followers, respectively. (To put this into perspective, the average Twitter user has approx. 120 followers.) I am grateful for my "early start" in Twitter ... even if I did have to do it on my personal time! (My former boss, by the way, is now vice president for social media with a growing tech company. I guess he must have changed his mind about social media being a fad.)

Why Twitter?

Having used it for eight years or so, what is it that I appreciate about Twitter? Part of it is my love of writing. As you can tell by reading my blogs, I am a pretty long-winded writer. Twitter's 140-character limit really forces you to be concise, which I find very helpful.

And the platform lends itself to the style of content I enjoy reading and providing. I read numerous publications on a daily basis, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Christian Post, MuckRack, PR Daily, and others, both for personal enrichment and as a part of my job. Twitter is perfect for sharing fascinating things I find, as well as commenting on them when appropriate.

I have discovered there are three ways to gain a Twitter following. 1) You can be famous. Justin Bieber currently holds the record for the most followers, with nearly 35 million. (More people follow Bieber than populate many of the world's countries!) (Now 60.6 million as of 2/19/2015. By the way, he's now been exceeded by Katy Perry, who has more than 65 million followers.) To Bieber's credit, he's also fairly engaged with his followers on Twitter. (I wonder what proportion of his followers are teenage girls?)

The problem with this method, of course, is that I'm not famous, and don't have very good prospects for becoming famous anytime soon.

2) You can be rich. Yes, you can actually buy Twitter followers. There are automated systems that promise to increase your follower account by various dubious methods. My understanding of these techniques, however, is that the quality of followers that you get for your money is not very good. That plus, I'm certainly NOT rich.

3) You can work hard at it ... both by providing great content, and by engaging with your followers, and by connecting with potential new followers. This is the method I have chosen, and I am going to share my secrets with you here and now. (For free!)

I'll warn you that work (by definition) takes time, energy and creativity. I probably spend at least an hour a day at building my Twitter presence. I sometimes question whether it's worth it ... I know that this too, shall pass ... but for now I feel like it's a good investment that has served my purposes well and connected me with a great new network of friends.

I've already talked about great content. I make it a practice to publish about 10 tweets a day; that's an average of about every hour and a half if you leave time for sleep. I think strategically about what I will tweet, gathering my thoughts, opinions, observations, etc. throughout the day and planning out my tweets. I try to learn from which tweets seem to engage my followers (via retweets, favorites, etc.) the most. In addition to tweeting out my own content (links to my blog posts, for example), I frequently tweet links to interesting articles I've read, or retweet others who post fascinating tweets. The topics I tweet on vary widely, but I only tweet what personally interests ME. I then seek followers I think will be likely to share my interests.

One down side about this is that I tend to be very newsy, and often tweet about disasters. (Yes, these interest me greatly. Remember, I work for a disaster relief organization.) As a result, some people have unfollowed me, claiming that I tend to be too serious or frightening. Oh well. I do interject some humor or whimsy occasionally!

I'd estimate that about half my new followers are generated purely by the content I tweet, or else they reach out to me for whatever reason, unsolicited. (I follow most but not all of these back.) And the other half come as a result of me following people I think might be interested in my stream. I probably follow about 50 new people per day, and maybe 5 or 10 of those follow me back within a few days. There are some people or organizations I follow, even though I know they'll probably never follow me back, just because I really want to keep up with them. But most others, if they don't follow me back within a week, I will dump them in an effort to keep my follower ratios stable. (I don't want to be following way more people than are following me; and I also don't like it when people are widely followed but don't follow back. So I really try to keep my followers number in balance with the number I am following.)

Here's My Secret for Growing My Stream ...

Twitter has sort of "gotten to know me" and frequently suggests people I should follow. (These suggestions come both in the form of daily emails, and also a dynamically generated list on my Twitter profile page.) Typically all I have to do is scan a person's profile summary to know quickly whether or not they would be a likely Twitter fit with me. For me personally, I am looking primarily for people who are committed to faith and realizing the impact of a vital relationship with God on their lives; but I will also follow people with similar interests in key areas like social media, acoustic music, or cycling. I've discovered there are certain key words or tags in their profiles which typically indicate people likely to be a good fit. I typically don't even have to read their tweets to figure this out.

Also, when you follow a person like this, Twitter will usually suggest two more people to follow, with very similar profiles. If both look excellent, I will take one and follow them in a separate browser window, cutting-and-pasting the URL. Then, follow the other in the same window. So now I have two browser windows open, and four new suggested people to follow. In a very short time, using this method, you can follow 70 or 80 new people.

Before I follow someone, I also look at their follower/followee ratio. A person with a lot of followers but who follows very few people is not a good candidate, in my book, as they are not likely to follow me back. So I don't waste my time following them. I also don't waste time following people whose content or profile photo looks questionable. (For instance, if I see a person use a profanity in their stream, or if their stream is spammy, or their profile photo is a bit racy, I bid adieu. I'm not judging them; it just means I don't think we are going to be a very good fit for one another, is all.)

By the way, I use two key tools to help me manage my Twitter presence. One is Hootsuite, which gives me a nice interface for seeing what's happening with my Twitter stream, at a glance. It does URL shortening, allows you to schedule tweets into the future, and also offers good analytics. The second tool I use is JustUnfollow, which (on the fly) will calculate key stats about who is and is not following you back. Once each day the "free" version allows me to find and remove up to 50 people I have followed recently, who have not followed me back. Point and click.

When people follow me or follow me back, I also acknowledge them by @including them in a tweet and thanking them. Some people use automated systems to do this. I put some energy into customizing each tweet. I get too many followers to send individual tweets, so I will batch them in groups, maybe two or three tweets a day ... but I do try to make these tweets very obviously human-written and not exactly the same. And I also try to spend some time each day cruising tweets written by my followers and interacting with whatever they are talking about. I know they appreciate it and I gain a lot of loyal followers this way, not to mention retweets and favorites.

Retweets are obviously a key measure of Twitter success. If a follower who him or herself has a lot of followers retweets something that I've tweeted, that means my content is getting an exponentially larger number of potential eyeballs. And the more people you follow, the more retweets and favorites you get.


One automated measure of Twitter success is a service called "Klout," which bills itself as a 0-100 metric score analyzing social media influence. Justin Bieber is at the top of the Klout food chain with a perfect Klout score of 100. (Update as of 2/19/2015: He's since slipped to a 92, and Katy Perry has a 94.) People just starting out typically have Klout scores of 10 or 20. When you register with Klout you connect your Twitter stream, Facebook page, LinkedIn page, Google+, and any other social media platforms you are active on. Those four big ones primarily contribute to your score, though. (Unfortunately, at this time, Klout does not really track blogs, even though they are a key social media influence factor, but they do track traffic on Twitter or Facebook related to your blogging, and I am hopeful they will expand into the blogosphere soon. Now that Google has an "authorship" metatagging protocol, I think it will soon be a simple matter for Klout to track anything that you write on the Web.)

I have watched my Klout score rise slowly over the past couple of years. I can remember when it was in the 30s, but right now am sitting at a score of 65. (Update as of 2/19/2015: Mine has slipped to a 61.) Klout is quite heavily weighted toward Facebook activity; the Facebook component of my Klout score used to be something like 90%. (I have about 850 Facebook friends.) But as my Twitter follower base has expanded, my Klout score has increased, and Twitter has increased as a share component of my Klout score. Today Twitter comprises 39% of my Klout score; Facebook 58%; Linked In 2%; and Google Plus 1%. And this roughly corresponds to the amount of energy I put into each platform, although I'd say Facebook and Twitter are fairly equal for me.

Many of my colleagues (who have suffered through a yearlong competition to see who could maintain the highest Klout score) have expressed skepticism that Klout's technology means anything in real world of social media influence. But to a certain extent, it's the only game in town, and I am fairly certain that it's slowly improving in its ability to measure social media engagement. So I think it's a useful metric for success.

Well, I hope you find these insights into the twisted Twitterverse helpful! Let me know your own thoughts and insights on the topic, puhleeeeze! (I need the interaction if I'm ever going to threaten Justin Bieber's Klout status!)

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