In 2008 Twitter’s tagline was still “What are you doing?” and all sane adults were scratching their heads wondering the proverbial, “Why would anyone want to know what you ate for breakfast?”
Ah. The good old days.
Now twitter killed RSS, overthrew Mubarak, and is overrun by marketers, pundits, celebrities, bots and auto-posts. Everyone’s attempting to build their brand, increase influence and followers and engagement, all code for duping the humans into buying whatever they’re selling. There are a million Twitter how-to articles for these types, how to gain followers, how to engage them, track them, target them, and otherwise treat them as commodities.
What about us humans? How should we use Twitter? We’re the guys/girls who don’t care to influence but don’t want to be invisible. We check the notification bar too often and lie about what it does to our self esteem.
This is a guide on how to find and talk to other humans on Twitter, human being those who are there to exchange ideas, share the little joys, vent, tell bad jokes. Be prepared to encounter some awkward moments, some rejection, some wanted and unwanted attention – all the delights of genuine human relationships.
The following is not a guide. You will not find the light by the end of it. It’s some tips from a by-most-measures unsuccessful Twitterer, who loves it anyway.
How to spot a human
Twitter’s tagline today is “follow your interests”. You follow blogs, get updates from your favorite bands and brands, find out about deals and events and whatnot. Great. But they’re not human and they aren’t going to talk to you. They’re the one-to-manies.
If you want to have human interaction go for the regular people.
They look like this: active users who tweet regularly, sometimes about themselves, sometimes about their job, or hobby, or some favorite topics. They share easily, retweet with comments explaining why this or that is worth a read, use hashtags they made up on the spot, and say OMFG seriously.
To be more exact: they follow and are followed by less than 1,000 people. That’s not an exact number obviously, but you want someone who isn’t inundated by their home feed and incoming @ messages.
Personally, my bar is even lower. I look for people with less than 500 followers because I know they’ll be less businesslike about it, and plus, they’ll be happy with the attention I give them, and won’t judge me for not having a twitter following.
Narrow this list of humans by your own criteria – they share an interest with you or have a cool blog or a cool job, you think you’d like to meet them in real life, or you like their profile picture.
When you start following someone, @ message them and tell them why. It’s like a pick up line but with the added advantage of being able to stalk them first so you have what to say.
“Hey @joesmith I read your post about Twitter IPO and it was spot on.”
“@janedoe I came across your blog and it’s really informative. Thanks!”
“@runnerjoe Congrats on your 10k time. I’m running my first 10k in three weeks #aaah #wishmeluck”
“This way in the future, when you want to communicate with them, they’ll have some context.”
Has it ever happened that you’re at a dinner table with friends, or family, and you’re like “pass the salt.” Nothing.
“Please pass the salt.” Still nothing.
“Hello, can you please pass the salt? Helloooo?”
Then some smartass will give you the advice you’ve heard a million times. Use someone’s name.
“Hey Mark, pass the salt.” And what do you know, he passes it immediately, without stopping his conversation or looking at you.
This is not some secret psychology, or a trick from How to Make Friends and Influence People. It’s common sense, and it works.
Transfer this to Twitter. If you have a question or want feedback on a post, or thoughts on a topic, ask someone. Ask a specific someone. Use the little @ symbol, it’s your friend. You can add the user’s name at the end of the tweet so that all your follower see the tweet. In Twitter culture, the recipient will see it less as a direct question, and more as an invitation to add their two cents.
Make sure it’s someone who’s likely to know or care about the topic. It doesn’t have to be a celebrity, CEO, or anyone practicing one-to-many Twitter. Just someone who knows more than you and is probably happy to share what they know.
And it’s Twitter. If they don’t answer you, there are no hard feelings. They didn’t see it, or they didn’t know, and there are a couple million other people for you to ask.
Follow people you disagree with. Follow people from other countries, other colors, other races and religions and political affiliations. This isn’t to make you better at Twitter, just better at life.
You don’t want to get stuck in the recommendation funnel. You follow young white programmers from Silicon Valle so Twitter suggests that you follow young male entrepreneurs and V.C.s, which you do, and then Twitter suggests young male programmers and startup founders.
If it feels racist to search out a Muslim woman or an African or a priest, get over it. Do a demographic search of the people you follow and see if it doesn’t need a little diversity.
This applies both to humans and one-to-manies. You might want to follow an Egyptian in Egypt because they talk about the political situation from a non-Western prospective, or follow an Egyptian because they share an interest, or have a cool blog etc.
This one’s obvious but needs to be said: talk to people. Take time when you go through your Twitter feed to respond. Almost anyone (human) who tweets wants a response to their tweets. They want feedback, or attention, or validation.
To make it easier to spot the humans I created a list called “People”. This is a list for people that I know in real life, or that I’ve interacted with on Twitter in a human way, and I want to keep up the relationship. It’s easy for regular people who don’t tweet super often to get lost on Twitter, drowned out by all the other updates.
I go to my People list and just scroll through. There are usually a lot of posts about wine and dogs and movie recommendations and random comments about life. It’s a lot like sitting around with friends and shooting the breeze.
If any of the tweets warrant a response – anything from congratulations, to looking up the answer to a question – then it gets one.
I won’t lie, there’s some navigating you’ll have to do here. Even though people are volunteering this information, you sometimes get the feeling they don’t realize people actually read it. It can be hard to know if you’re coming across as friendly, or nosy.
But then again, no one ever said relationships were easy.
Get on it tweeps. It’s time for the humans to reclaim Twitter.