Level Up Twitter

Many have mastered the basic “figuring out there is a thing called Twitter, signing up, fumbling through some tweets and making some connections” thing. If so, here are some tips to carry you past the beginning of your Twitter story:

Learning To Work In An Environment In Flux

Twitter is not static. Twitter HQ makes great sweeping changes to the service, the user interface and the API all the time. When they aren’t making great sweeping changes, they are making small, annoying changes, or just generally buckling under the weight of so many people talking about Charlie Sheen, the unrest in the Middle East, the latest major weather event, #breakingnews, or Donald Trump’s Bad Hair. Regardless, the sooner you learn that Twitter can be wonky, sometimes is down, and isn’t meant to be worked like a 9-5 cubicle job on a one way track to nowhere, the happier you will be there.

Just Because They Connect With You Doesn’t Mean You Can Sell To Them

Twitter is a la carte. Not only do you not HAVE to follow people back, or even follow your mom if you don’t want to, a follow from someone new doesn’t mean “please auto DM me a suspicious short link to your latest self help video”. Auto DMs are evil. You’d think that would be in Twitter 101 and not Level Up Twitter, but you’d be surprised how many people still do this. Stop it.

We Hate The Word ‘Curating’ As Applied To Twitter, But Learn To Work Your Lists Anyway

Twitter introduced a new feature that is quite handy: the List. The list was a user generated idea that first began on clients like Seesmic and Tweetdeck as groups. It was such a good idea, Twitter “borrowed” it. Use lists well. They keep your Twitter noise levels manageable as you grow, and help you do a variety of things, from not losing people you care about in the static to tracking competitors and staying in touch with your industry.

You get 20 lists. Each list gets to have 500 unlimited Twitter users in it. Use them wisely – you’ll be surprised how fast you use them up once you get in the habit.

People use lists in so many ways – I use public lists on @leslie in a very personal way, to sort incoming information or share people I think are valuable, and private lists for clients and such, but here is how a company might use them:

• Private Lists: To do competitive intel on the competition or on former employees, to keep an eye on future hires and see their work in action without tipping them that they are in the running, to keep an eye on current employees (yes, that one is a little evil), to sort out your real life family and friends so you don’t lose them in the business noise, to research and track future clients, or keep a list of current clients for monitoring.

• Public Lists: To track people and companies based on industry, to sort by usefulness, to keep track of news on certain topics or regions, research on areas for business expansion or vacations, tracking the housing market, tracking the stock market, getting in touch with VCs (venture capitalists), learning new information from thought leaders in an industry, tracking events, learning about new music or film, learning about food and wine or whiskey, becoming an expert in your favorite hobby topic, connecting with non profits, helping others connect, job searching, job sharing and more.

It’s not enough just to have a list. You need to use it. Schedule your list interactions so you can manage your time, but interact with at least some of your lists every day, whether you read them or engage or just take notes. Start using your lists to shorten your sales funnel and broaden your competitive reach. Use them to make connections outside of your sphere of influence.

Maximizing the Retweet, the Old School Way

Before Twitter got fancy and grabbed yet another user generated idea, the retweet, and turned it into a button that made it look like someone else was talking on your account to your followers, there was the old-style retweet. This allowed you to shorten a user’s tweet (careful to  keep the context the same as their original, of course), credit their handle with a RT in front (e.g. [@username I agree! RT @leslie “old style RTs are so much more effective”]), and insert a short comment in front of the RT (which let your followers know why the heck you were sharing it in the first place). [Update: Twitter has brought back the “comment with RT” feature as of 2015]

This is still the best way to RT someone, as it gives the RT context to your followers.  You can still use this in several ways: the old fashioned “copy/paste/edit/post” method, or by using a button function called “quote” in several Twitter clients such as CoTweet, Seesmic, and others.  The use of shortened URL programs like Bit.ly takes care of the issue of metrics, since Twitter selfishly only tracks their own RT button on Twitter.com’s new Retweets tab for users.

How The Heck Do I Know It’s Working?

Have you been on Twitter for longer than 6 months? Have you engaged in a genuine two-way discourse with a good mix of news, talking, sharing and promotion for the entire time, on a consistent basis, and not been using it just as a “Me! Me! Me!” megaphone to shout at people about your latest special or deal? Have you seen your followers grow in number, organically (sometimes this can be slower, but it is infinitely more valuable than follower-getting programs and cheating)? If the answer to all of those questions is yes, then the answer to “Have you seen your sales or sales leads (or bookings, etc – whatever your cash measurement is) increase?” should be yes also.

That’s the simplistic way to tell, without analytics. However, you should have Twitter analytics in place by now! With the hundreds of applications, web sites and start ups that want to rate influence and other mumbo jumbo there is no excuse not to be using something to track how you are doing, in some way, other than hoping for sales with no real way to measure.

Some free ways to track Twitter effectiveness:

Hashtags: The little gibberish words and phrases you see go by on Twitter that look like this: #smbnh are called hashtags. Another user driven invention that Twitter appropriated, those little tags can be clicked on, and take you to a page of all tweets using the hashtag. You can then use tools like Twapper Keeper to keep a running diary of hashtag use for each one.

You make your own hashtags as you need them. I recommend choosing something short, easy to remember and that no one else is using. You can quickly use the search bar in Twitter to plug in your chosen hashtag and see if it pops up as being used elsewhere – if so, pick another hashtag instead of corrupting someone else’s tracking. Tell people what the official hashtag is for your event or marketing campaign! This will prevent them generating a hashtag of their own and having an issue of confusion.

Put the hashtag on your slides, web site, blog posts, uploaded pictures, uploaded videos and print collateral – this will enable you track your event or project’s impact around the web, not just on Twitter, via search engine and web site analytics.

Google Analytics: This tool goes on your website (please tell me you have a web site, and don’t just use Facebook). It’s free, it’s customizable, it’s comprehensive. There are paid tools out there that make this a bit easier, but if you don’t have the funds, or just want to experiment, start here. Use hashtags, keyword searches, group, campaigns, landing pages and other tools to make analytics work for you. If you have a social media consultant or staffer, a good one will insist on this or another tool of your choosing to measure the impact of your social presence. A great one will be giving you solid measurements, analytics and reports ongoing throughout your project(s). Analytics help you track success, and more importantly, help you shift away from tactics that are not working to spend more time (after all, time is money) on things that are.

URL Shorteners like Bit.ly, HootSuite and others offer statistics on URL traction, including click throughs and shares, and are a simple and free way to see if what you are sharing is making the rounds.

The worst way to track success is follower count.  So many people game the system out of impatience or a desire to look better than they are that it renders this metric moot.  As general rule, where unequal follower count (following more people than follow back by a great margin) was once a simple way to find a spammer, now it is often simply someone who erroneously clicked the suggested follows link when signing up for Twitter, or got excited and followed too many too fast, just as often as it is a spammer. Now you have to look at their tweets and decide on your own if they bring value to you (or if, conversely, your tweets would reflect you bringing value to others).

Free Metrics that don’t matter as much as people would like them to include Klout, Twinfluence, Twitter Grader and others.  Mostly, these encourage people to tweet at high volume instead of high quality, and penalize you for taking a break from engaging.  I’d rather go for quality, and would rather see you do the same. However, some shortsighted people and companies give Klout and other scores weight, so try to keep yours at 40 or 50 or over if you can do it without alienating your audience.

Paid Twitter Tools for Metrics and Engagement

One of the best things you can do for your brand on Twitter is stop using Twitter.com as an interface to talk to your followers – use  tool instead.  In spite of several recent overhauls, it is simply not an effective way to engage, monitor or listen as yet, though I know the folks at Twitter are working hard on that.

There are many tools for Twitter that you can buy. In the spirit of buying local, two NH companies: JitterJam (engagement dashboard, distributed teams, brand statistics, social measurement, more profiles than just Twitter) and CustomScoop (brand tracking and measurement, no engagement feature) offer a paid solution to the issue of metrics. Not local to NH, but effective: HootSuite, CoTweet, Tap11, PeopleBrowsr and others also offer paid versions for in depth tracking.  All of the tools mentioned here have varying price points, from $9 per month to $1500 and sometimes more.  They all also offer free trials and/or free versions with less features that may work well for you. Of the ones listed, I could do an entire post just on the pros and cons (or you can come to one of my classes or workshops for an even more in depth dive into twitter than I’m offering in this excessively long post).

You Need To Live In Search on Twitter

Live in search. By using search and lists on Twitter more often than any other tool, your return on time invested in the service will triple if not quadruple. Twitter Search is not the only search to live in now, and that’s a good thing since it is frequently “under construction” and currently doesn’t go back in time very far.

By spending more time listening than you would think you need to, you will gather information you didn’t even know was out there for the taking, and be leagues ahead of other in your field.  Learn to use the save search functions in your favorite Twitter client (some listed above, though we can’t count out Seesmic or TweetDeck, the granddaddies of them all) – have searches that you check daily, update them regularly.  Use Google Search and boolean operators in search terms with instant search turned on to get up to the minute tweets about your favorite keywords and topics.  You would be surprised what people and companies put out there into the public sphere. Knowledge you can then take and use to your advantage.

Increase the value of who you follow

Last but not least – you control your Twitter environment.  Follow people who are good at what you need, have useful things to say, are fun to engage with, or who are in parallel industries. Learn from them. They are out there sharing their knowledge every day, in hopes that this Twitter place and the online profiles that touch upon it will be better and more useful for everyone.  Some (but definitely not all) of my personal favorites:

Jeremiah Owyang (Analysis)

Stowe Boyd (Future Thinking)

Jessie Newburn (Generational Theory)

Ethan Zuckerman (Global Impacts)

John Herman (Media Literacy)

Alex Howard (Government 2.0)

Andy Carvin (Politics and News)

Tara Hunt (Women in Business)

Chris Penn (Measurement, World of Warcraft as a business metaphor, Finances, Idea Curation, Email Marketing)

KD Paine (Measurement)


Note: The awesome Hasthag Ninja graphic in this post is from a cool shirt by Josh Fisher of Secret Supr-Hero Gear and links to the web site, where you can purchase it and several other cool shirts. Happy shopping! (not an affiliate link)


  1. […] better to begin with than one of the authors of “Twitter for Dummies?” Leslie Poston of Magnitude Media has made a name for herself not just with the book but simply […]

  2. Apex Pacific August 15, 2011

    Interest to read about level up twitter.
    I’d like to read your book .

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