Twitter is a great tool for extending your influence. You can engage your “tribe” in real time, offering leadership and assistance in a way that would have been impossible just a couple of years ago.
However, Twittering has not been without its challenges. I think I have made just about every mistake you can make. Assuming you want to grow your influence and increase your follower count (and I realize that not everyone does), here are eight mistakes to avoid:
- Using a difficult-to-remember username. In my opinion, your username should be as close to your real name—or your brand name—as possible. This facilitates engagement. If people can’t remember your username or have to look it up, most won’t bother. As a result, you’ll be left out of the conversation. In addition, a real name communicates authenticity and accessibility. Don’t hide behind a made-up name that is only meaningful to you. If you want to change your username to something better, you can do this in the Twitter settings panel without setting up a new account or losing your existing followers.
- Posting more than about 120 characters. If you want to be “re-tweeted,” thus extending your influence, you need to keep your messages shorter than the legal limit of 140 characters. A re-tweet, by definition, will carry the abbreviation “RT” plus your username. In my case, that would be “RT @MichaelHyatt” plus a space—seventeen characters total. If you subtract that from 140 you get 123. That means my messages cannot be longer than 123 characters without requiring people to edit my messages before re-tweet them. If you want to get re-tweeted, make it easy for your followers.
- Tweeting too little—or too much. Admittedly, this is a judgment call. Like the Story of the Three Bears, somewhere between too little and too much is “just right.” Personally, I shoot for 12–14 posts a day. (It takes less time than you may think.) I am not suggesting that this is the ideal goal. It depends on your goals and your audience’s expectations. However, if you are only Twittering a couple of times a day or less, it is too little to get on my radar. If you are Twittering too much, you become annoying, and I will eventually unfollow you. I am simply suggesting that you develop a strategy and be intentional about the number of messages you post.
- Asking for more than you give. Obviously, spammers and most direct marketers fall into this category. They mistakenly see Twittering as just another form of “interruption marketing.” However, here I am referring to legitimate Twitter users who use their account to converse. But they also post too many messages promoting their company, products, or services. You must think of the Twitter community as a “social bank account.” You can make withdrawals, but only if you deposit more than you take out. I shoot for a 20-to-1 ratio. In other words, I want to post 20 or so helpful resources or bits of information for every post in which I ask for help solving a problem, supporting a cause, or touting one of my company’s products, etc.
- Using the reply function when you should use a direct message. In my opinion, 90% of replies (where you address a person you follow publicly) should be direct messages (where you address a person you follow and who follows you privately). This is not because the information is confidential. Obviously, those messages should be private or—just to be safe—communicated via another medium. The problem is that it is too difficult to follow the conversation when replies are used. Your tweets become intelligible to anyone who can’t remember the entire conversation. They are just more noise. For example, if I reply with “@SteveJobs You totally rock. I love that idea,” no one knows what I am talking about unless they can recall Steve’s message to me. It just adds more clutter to my followers’ data stream. The key question to ask is this: is my reply relevant to anyone other than the person I am replying to?
- Posting when you are frustrated or angry. Twittering is so immediate, that it is easy to post something in a moment of frustration that you later regret. I have done it numerous times. The problem with all written communication—especially Twitter—is that it is difficult to communicate context or nuance in your messages. Negative emotions are better expressed in person if they must be expressed at all. If you Twitter these messages, you risk offending the person it was intended for and turning off a large percentage of your followers. Is this really the “brand impression” you want to create?
- Not creating a good profile page. Your profile page is the first thing that potential followers check. It should look intentional and be consistent with the brand image you are trying to convey. At the very least, upload your photo. This humanizes you by putting a face with a name. However, make sure the photo is consistent with your brand. In fact, I recommend that you come up with one “avatar” photo and use it with all social media. This delivers a consistent brand message. In addition, take the time to fill out the “bio” field. People want to know something about the people they follow. I even link to a custom About page on my blog that acknowledges that the reader got there via Twitter and goes into more depth for those who are interested.
- Failing to engage in the conversation. Twitter is not intended to be a monologue. In fact, the entire premise behind Web 2.0—of which Twitter is just one technology—is that people want to engage in a dialog. This makes it more demanding than other forms of media. In other words, unless you are a celebrity, you can’t just broadcast your message and walk away. But this is also what makes it more powerful. When you engage with your customers and constituents, you have the opportunity to learn from them and influence them. Admittedly, I don’t respond to every reply (i.e., Twitter “mention”), but I do respond to every direct message, unless it is clear that it is spam.
Hopefully, this list will enable you to avoid some of the common Twitter mistakes. If you are going to make mistakes, at least you can make different mistakes.