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 few years ago.
However, Twitter is not without its challenges. I have made just about every mistake you can make. But assuming you want to grow your influence and increase your follower count (and I realize not everyone does), here are eight mistakes to avoid:
- Using a difficult-to-remember username. 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. An old-style re-tweet (which many of us still use) 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-tweeting 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 right number. It depends on your goals and your audience’s expectations. If you only tweet a couple of times a day, it’s probably too little to get on most people’s radar. If you tweet too much, you become annoying, and many people will unfollow you. The main thing is to 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. But here I am referring to legitimate Twitter users who use their account to engage with their tribe. But many of them 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 twenty 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 products, etc.
- Starting a tweet with someone’s username. This is fine when you are replying to someone. However, many people don’t realize that this also limits the scope of who actually sees the message.
For example, if I tweet, “@GailHyatt and I are driving through the mountains of North Carolina” only the people who follow both us will see it. Twitter assumes it is irrelevant to anyone else. If you want all of your followers to see the tweet, you must refer to the user somewhere else in the tweet. For example, “I am driving through the mountains of North Carolina with @GailHyatt.”
- Posting when you are frustrated or angry. Tweeting is so easy 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 tweet these messages, you risk offending the person it was intended for and turning off a large percentage of your followers.
- 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 your brand image. At the very least, upload your photo. This humanizes you by putting a face with a name. I recommend you use one “avatar” photo all social media not just Twitter. 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 and beyond—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 can’t. There are just too many. But I do read all of them and try to respond as I am able.
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.