7 ways to get the most out of Twitter

Understanding the power of those 140-character bursts is crucial. Sincerity and generosity are important parts of the equation.

As a public relations professional—especially today, when journalists, bloggers and other influencers are short on time and looking for story ideas or resources—you have to be active on Twitter.

Through the connections I’ve made on Twitter, I have found new clients, new work, opportunities for travel, speaking gigs and interviews, and I have built relationships with people who are a vital part of my life today.

I joined Twitter on Dec. 18, 2007. Later, I read ” Twitter Revolution” by Deborah Micek and Warren Whitlock, one of the early books explaining not only how to use Twitter, but describing the power and potential it offered for business and communication. I was transfixed and fell head first down the “Twitter rabbit hole.”

After diving in, I learned to follow these seven simple, but essential, Twitter rules:

1. Be genuine

From the beginning I have been @allenmireles on Twitter. I have used Twitter as channel to curate and share information on the use of social media and digital tools in business, marketing and public relations.

I’ve also tweeted about my love of gardening, my pets and family, and camping by the ocean. I’ve asked foolish questions, traded quips and jokes and have tweeted in both English and Spanish; I have made it clear that although I do use tools to automate certain aspects of my tweeting, I am a real person.

Tip: Be wary of over-sharing, and understand that what you tweet and retweet becomes part of your online persona. Be aware of the reputation you are building for yourself. Also, be sensitive to the volume of tweeting you do and how your followers respond.

Early on, one of my local followers chastised me for being too talkative on Twitter. “I was clogging up her Twitter feed,” she said. Not long after that exchange we both attended a PRSA event and were introduced. We both burst out laughing when we met face to face and talked about my high-volume Twitter activity. It was a good lesson.

2. Get to know people

Twitter works really well as a low-key way to meet and get to know people. Reading what others are tweeting about gives you valuable insight about what matters to them. Sharing the links they share (retweeting) and commenting when you find the information of value can start conversations, which can help build relationships.

Tip: Getting to know people and what they find important is exceptionally important in public relations. Pay attention to what a journalist, blogger or influencer is sharing, commenting on and writing about before you reach out to pitch. Retweeting their links and tweets and commenting in response to something they have shared is a good way to show up on someone’s radar and begin to build that relationship.

3. Connect beyond Twitter

Don’t stop there. If the person is someone who you’d like to know better, or who has been helpful to you some way, take it a step further. Pick up the phone and call them.

I remember reading a blog post written by Jason Falls. He advocated that people move beyond the confines of the social networks and use the phone. So I did exactly that. I picked up the phone and called him and told him I had enjoyed the post, was following his advice and appreciated the work he was doing on social media at the time.

The next time he came to visit the Detroit Social Media Club, I hopped in the car and drove up to see his presentation and meet him in person. Over time, we became friends, and he ended up hiring me to help promote his first social media conference, which he brought to northwest Ohio.

Tip: Picking up the phone is one way to connect beyond Twitter. Meeting via Skype or Google Plus is another way to keep the connection going. Making contact if you’re attending a conference or doing business nearby is another idea. I make it a point to meet with my Twitter friends face to face whenever possible.

4. Be generous

One of the best uses of Twitter is to be helpful. Offer yourself as a resource. We all have expertise in different areas, and being seen as resource can open doors for all sorts of opportunities.

I remember, to my surprise, being contacted by a reporter from USA Today when he was doing a story on Mother’s Day. He’d found me on Twitter and was interested in my opinions on how social media might affect the celebration of Mother’s Day that year.

I continue to be invited to appear on television and radio news and talk shows to discuss different aspects of social media and its impact on our lives. I’ve been hired for speaking and consulting gigs by people I met on Twitter because I’m willing to be helpful and provide background information.

Tip: Using your own name is helpful if your goal is to build your professional online persona. Sharing information that has value to your followers is a great way to position yourself as someone who is open to helping others understand the behind-the-scenes information on your topic of expertise.

5. Use Twitter lists

Twitter lists allow you to stay abreast of information that matters to you. You can create lists of Twitter users and follow their updates easily. For PR pros that can mean creating or following lists of journalists you interact with on your client or organization’s behalf. Your Twitter lists can be public, so anyone can follow them, or kept private for your personal use.

Tip: Pay attention to the lists you are added to. I had some funny missteps early on when I found myself added to a list titled, “People Who I Have Seen Naked” curated by a Twitter friend I had never met.

The situation was easily resolved. I reached out to the friend in direct mail, explained that I use Twitter for business and asked to be removed from his list. Fortunately, he was only trying to be funny when creating the list and quickly removed me. To this day, we still laugh about it.

It serves as a reminder to monitor the lists you’re added to as part of your ongoing personal reputation management efforts.

6. Use #FAIL hashtags sparingly

As Twitter has matured, many of us have learned to use it as a tool to put a spotlight on organizations, businesses and practices we find unjust, incompetent or unfair. The #FAIL hashtag on Twitter can serve to highlight a company’s poor customer service or misdeeds and can work exceptionally well as a tool to generate public attention.

Used judiciously, this can be effective. I have had positive results in tweeting criticism of major brands such as Delta, Best Buy and Hertz and was invited to join the inaugural Dell Customer Advisory Panel.

Tip: File this tip under “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Be careful not to overuse the #FAIL hashtag and be seen as someone who does nothing but complain about brands on Twitter. That kind of negativity can come back to haunt you.

7. Don’t obsess about Klout

By now you’ve probably heard about Klout, one of the better-known online personal influence measurement tools. Many PR pros use Klout and other such tools to quickly and easily identify people who are influential online.

Most of us, whether or not we are aware of it, have been awarded a score on Klout, which reflects certain aspects of our online engagement in social media. Klout has inspired both praise and criticism and continues to evolve in response to the changing digital landscape. Knowing your Klout score isn’t a bad idea, as many organizations factor that number into their assessments.

Obsessing over it is a bad idea. Your Klout score varies from day to day, depending on your level of online activity. Mine fluctuates, depending on how busy I am with client work or how active I am on social media.

Tip: Use Klout as one tool to identify influencers but not as the only tool. It has real limitations in what it is able to measure accurately. More and more we find that the people who are deemed influential in a community may not necessarily show up as “influencers” using Klout’s algorithms.

Allen Mireles is a strategist with an affinity for technology who lives/works at the intersection of social media and traditional marketing/public relations. A version of this article first appeared the Vocus blog.

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