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How I Do Twitter

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Since the last time I wrote about Twitter (four years ago), I've gained about 200,000 followers. I thought it might be time to do a series of posts on the subject. So for the next couple days, you'll be hearing about how to gain followers, how to manage Twitter content, what I've learned about how people really use Twitter, etc., with analytics (actual numbers) to back up some of the claims.

[ This paragraph is where one would insert standard disclaimers of the "your mileage may vary" variety. You can imagine what the disclaimers sound like. Listen to them. ]

You know how, when you go on Twitter, there's always this or that person tweeting "Today's stats: 5 new followers, 1 person unfollowed me, and I know who they are (etc.)"? My stats would be something like: "392 new followers, 72 persons unfollowed me, and 10 were undecided." It's a rare day that I don't get 200 to 300 new followers (or 50 unfollows). On a good day, I see 500+ new adds (a couple weeks ago, I had a 620-person day). About 20% of the 200,000+ tweeps who follow me have fewer people following them than I add during the course of the day.

I now have to be careful about what I tweet—not in a political-correctness sense (screw that!), but so the maximum number of people will understand what I'm saying.

It's no longer a question of whether I'll offend someone, but who I want to offend. With 200K people listening, anything you say is sure to offend someone, somewhere. This is actually tremendously liberating. I can basically say whatever I want and just accept the fact that whoever decides to drop off the list, I probably wanted to see go anyhow. The people who stick around (poor sick creatures!) are My Kinda People. The list becomes self-cleansing.

Nevertheless I have to be careful how I word things, because something like half my followers are outside the U.S and won't necessarily understand a Thanksgiving joke, say; while others are not native speakers of English. Believe it or not, I internationalize my tweets, to the extent I can (avoiding idiomatic phrases and jokes only known to Americans; sometimes converting units), simply so the maximum number of people can understand me unambiguously.

With 200K followers scattered across all time zones, I'm also cognizant of the fact that the overwhelming majority of people within my reach are listening later or earlier in the day than what's showing now on my watch. If I tweet at 4:00 in the morning, I know the real-time audience is EMEA and Asia-Pac plus a few West Coast late-nighters. (I don't know, but wish I did, what percentage of Twitter users follow their streams offline vs. real-time. I do know that only a small percentage of my followers are online at any given moment.) Bottom line, with users in all time zones, there's no "best time of day" for me to tweet.

I have to be conscious of things like, for example, the fact that while probably 15% of my followers are pro-Democrat, and 5% are pro-Republican, another 20% are Undecided (or don't care); but another 60% really don't care, because they live outside the U.S. to begin with. Not everyone cares about American politics.

If I gripe and moan (or joke) about a social issue, I have to ask: Will someone in Australia get this? Will someone in India know that "DMV" refers to the Department of Motor Vehicles? McDonalds is (almost) everywhere—but is there an Arby's, or a 7-Eleven, or an Albertson's supermarket, in what we, in America, call The Middle East?

Fortunately, some things are universal. When I tweet "Dear literary agent, I regret that I am unable to respond personally to your rejection note, which is not right for me at this time," people generally get it. Likewise, social media: fair game. You can say something like "I just added 'not killing myself' as a LinkedIn skill," and most Twitter people know what you're talking about. (Twitter folk tend to despise LinkedIn, BTW.)

So in tomorrow's post, I want to talk about how I got to 200,000 Followers (and how you can, too, should you happen to want to). The day after tomorrow, I'll dig deeper into analytics to look at things like: How many of my people have tweeted in the last minute? The last day? The last month? How many followers does my average follower have? Who are my top ten followers (in terms of their follower numbers)? What keywords do people tend to use most in their bios? And lots, lots more.

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