Fifty thousand. As of noon today, that is the number of tweets I’ve posted to Twitter over the last (nearly) five years. That’s an average of apprpoximately 900 tweets per month or close to 30 tweets per day. At 43 years old… I haven’t done anything else that I can think (not even brushing my teeth) more times than I have tweeted. And while my number of tweets per day has dropped off precipitously over the last year and a half, I still see Twitter as a valuable tool that I spend time with every day.
Whether or not you use Twitter, you are probably wondering why anyone would invest this much time on something that at first blush seems a bit frivolous. I remember when I first started asking myself and others the same thing. In fact, I’ve joked with head of business development at SlideShare (and long time Twitterer), Ross Mayfield, why he liked Twitter during one of my first podcasts back in 2007. At the time, Twitter was a little over a year old and only the “cool” kids were using it. Ross’s answer, “I use it as continual partial presence for people that I care about” struck me as surprisingly profound. Not long after, I was hooked.
It is only fitting that Ross Mayfield ended up being the first person I followed on Twitter. A few of my other early follows: Jim Storer, Adam Cohen, Bryan Person, Mukund Mohan, Bill Johnston, Doug Haslam, Chris Brogan, Scott Monty, Laura Fitton and Jeremiah Owyang ended up being close friends. I guess it’s not that surprising given the fact that I’ve probably talked to that group more than anyone over the last few years. While it’s hard to get a good sense of who someone really is in 140 characters or less (Twitter’s now famous limit on its character count), over the course of thousands of tweets, it becomes easier and easier. More importantly, it helps fill in the gaps in between meeting people in real life at conferences, social media breakfasts and SXSW appearances.
For a tool that has become so important to me personally and professionally, my early Twitter strategy wasn’t really a strategy at all. It boiled down to two basic elements:
- Try and be interesting
- Follow fellow bloggers and follow back anyone that followed me — this was a philosophy I borrowed from Jeremiah and tech maven, Robert Scoble.
Applying this approach over the first couple of years helped me grow my following slowly but surely, aided by a heavy dose of participating in thought leadership/content creation activities such as podcasting, speaking and blogging regularly. This was supplemented by a steady drum beat of my own tweets — some humorous, some serious and many focused on bringing to light the great work of other friends, thought leaders and marketers on Twitter.
When you do anything repeatedly over a duration of time, you can’t help but learn a few things. During my 56 months spent on Twitter, here are a few of the things that have worked that I should be applicable to others using Twitter:
- Balanced following: Early on, work hard to keep your following/follower ratio balanced. That means not going on a following spree and also being mindful to be open-minded when it comes to following others back. This helps new potential followers know that you are discerning but not overly so.
- Twitter lists: If you want to follow a large number of new people, try using Twitter lists. With lists, you can track other Twitter users’ updates without having to follow them. The only downside is that you can’t send direct messages to people you don’t follow (or follow you back) but to me, this isn’t a problem 90% of the time.
- Be interesting: As I said above, try and be interesting. This means mixing the types of tweets you send out as well as cadence (try not and flood your tweet stream with tweets too often and try not to go “dark” for long periods of time). The best way to mix tweets is to take a look at your past twenty tweets on Twitter.com. Would you follow you? Are you replying to those that are “@” messaging you? Do you curate good content that you find from news, blog, colleagues, clients and friends? Do you include an occasional picture or video update?
- Don’t get app crazy: While using other applications like Instagram, foursquare, Path, etc. to cross-post to your Twitter account, doing this too often can get annoying. One way to combat this is to consider adding color commentary to your updates for instance if you’re using foursquare to check into a Starbucks (my wife is great at this), let people know what you are getting to drink. Or share a picture of the pastries. Even better, let us know about the guy with the comb over and the eighties style jeans ordering the venti triple soy, extra skinny, two and a half pump no water pumpkin latte.
- Hashtags: Creating and following hashtags on Twitter are a great way to divorce people from content. For instance, during your favorite prime time show like #madmen, try following along to see what other fans are saying about the show. If you are at a conference, nearly all event producers are using hashtags to allow attendees to share highlights. Hint: if you can’t afford to attend conferences in person, following hashtags is a great way to derive some of the best content/presentations from the event.
Looking back over the last five years, it’s hard to limit some of the highlights to less than twenty. But even my dear mother (also on Twitter) might start to yawn after three (okay maybe three). Here are a few memorable moments that stand out:
- Live tweeting the 2007 Red Sox World Series with Shel Israel and several of the folks I mentioned above which in some ways helped codify the use of the #Redsox hashtag.
- Receiving a tweet back from Soundgarden lead singer, Chris Cornell.
- Taking time announce a job change, be introspective, fake retire and fund raise around my 10,000, 20,000 and 40,000 Twitter update milestones.
- Hiring a social media manager via Twitter.
- Raising $1,500 in 24 hours for Movember via 1,600+ RTs (big thanks to friends, Geoff Curtis and Jean-Yves Martineau, for partnering on this effort)
For me, 50,000 updates and nearly five years invested in Twitter has been a life changer. I’ve made thousands of new friends, landed numerous bizdev opportunities, helped provide thought leadership and visibility for now three different companies and finally, a way to truly internalize the serendipity of social media and why it has value well beyond its first appearance. What about you? How has Twitter changed your life or your business?