Let me make a confession here before moving on: I probably fell into that second category myself when I first learned about Twitter back in 2007. I saw its potential as a PR tool, but as an academic, I didn't see the need to tweet myself. I set up an account mainly because people were talking about it and I felt it was something I should discuss in my social media class. I basically registered my account so I could learn about Twitter.
So now you know - I never planned on tweeting myself! Having said that, I think I can understand my students' initial hesitation about joining the twitterverse. I've been there. So here's my advice for them (and anyone else sharing their feelings): Just set up an account, develop a network and listen in - no need to jump in with your own tweets right away! Staying away from tweeting for a while might even open your eyes to Twitter's potential as a powerful social search engine.
So how do you develop a good network?
- Start by identifying a few people in your field whose work you admire. Then look them up to see if they tweet. You may use Twitter's built-in search engine to locate people on Twitter (click on the 'Find People' link on the top right hand side of the page), or you can check their blog or other social networking site to look for their Twitter handle.
- Now you can piggy-back off their following/follower list! Go through both lists to see whether there are any people who share your interests or who tend to pass along valuable information. A quick look at their latest tweets usually is enough to make that call.
- When someone in your network sends out an RT (retweet), look up the person who sent the original tweet. Again, check their latest tweets to see if you could benefit from the type of info they tweet.
- Check out the #followfriday suggestions from the people in your network. Every Friday thousands of Twitter users all over the world participate in this event by suggesting people who are worth following.
- You can also check Twitter for suggested users although those suggestions won't be tailored to your specific needs. Twitter uses the analogy of your local book store's staff picks to explain its suggested users list.
- If you want to receive suggestions on who to follow based on your current network, give Mr. Tweet a try. Mr. Tweet looks through your relationships and tweets to identify the influencers and followers you should follow.
- An even easier way to discover new and interesting Twitter users is to consult a Twitter list. Twitter is in the process of rolling out its own list feature to the public, so you may want to check your favorite tweeter's lists once the feature goes live for everyone.
- In the meanwhile, check out the lists published on TweepML, another service that allows you "to manage and share groups of Twitter users." Use its "find a list" search tool to locate lists of Twitter users in your field (for instance, check out this list of educators on Twitter, or this list of PR pros).
If you implement all of the steps outlined above, you should end up with a pretty good-sized group of people to follow. Now all we need to do is a bit of network tweaking:
- Start by filtering your incoming tweets. That's the only way to keep on top of Twitter when you are following a large group of people. Get a Twitter desktop client such as Tweetdeck or Seesmic and divide the people you follow into groups. For instance, I have a group for PR educators, one for PR professionals, another one for non-English tweets, etc. By organizing them into categories, the tweets will be neatly displayed in columns which will make it much easier to scan your tweets for relevant information.
- "Test drive" your Twitter subscriptions for a month or two. Then re-evaluate. Are there accounts you are subscribing to that aren't providing much value to you? If so, hit the "unfollow" button! Think of your subscriptions as coming with a money back guarantee. If you don't like what you see, simply cancel at no cost to you.
- Don't forget to repeat steps 1-8 every now and then to add new voices to your Twitterstream.
Do this for a while and I'll almost guarantee you'll see the value of Twitter and will want to get involved yourself. You'll learn so much from the people you follow and come across so much great information you'll want to reciprocate by sharing your insights.