10 ways I think Twitter can be worth your time
So, in answer to Steve Nutt's question yesterday in the comments of my "kick you in the shins" rant (see below), and because I'm feeling mildly guilty about being so negative all the time (not really, but I think I'm supposed to say things like that to make me slightly more endearing), and I'm high on the page views caused by making a list of 10 things yesterday, here is a list of 10 ways I think you can use Twitter to make your life slightly better. Remember that I'm an editor, and would be lying impoverished on the streets if I was forced to make money by actually selling things, and that I'm frankly surprised every Thursday when another check is directly deposited in my bank account, so I'm not going to give you advice on growing your little business into the next Wal-Mart. That's caveat one. Also, I think those of you who want to just do, do, do to Twitter, and then have awesome things happen as an effect, just don't quite get Twitter. You have to approach it almost like a living organism (your cat, say - dogs are too loyal to be like Twitter) and sort of keep it around as company, gaining some benefit from feeding it from time to time and seeing what happens. So... 1. Worry first about whom you're following. This is really Twitter's sweet spot. Go search around for the people and organizations you'd like to keep track of. Many people do this via rss feeds (actually, it's not many people, it's a few people, otherwise Twitter wouldn't be very popular - rss feeds accomplish 90 percent of what's valuable about Twitter, in my opinion, but people just didn't all agree to use an rss reader and so we're stuck with Twitter), but if you follow people like your favorite trade-site writer (ahem, @sam_pfeifle, ahem), you can keep up with what's going on in the industry without having to go look for it. It comes to you. Personally, I like to follow a lot of physical security people (you can check out my followers on Twitter, just as you can check out anyone else's followers), but I also sometimes follow my favorite sports writers, or authors or bands I like. Then I unfollow them when they get annoying. Try someone out for a while, and if they're not showing you information you want, get rid of them. No one will be offended. Do you use Google alerts? Twitter is like Google alerts, only if Google alerts got drunk sometimes. 2. If you're at all interesting, some of those people will follow you back. But don't be worried if you're not all that interesting to CNN. They're not going to follow you back, because they don't give a crap about you. They're a content generator and that's what they want to do, push content out. And they want you to lap it up. That's their job. The people who will want to follow you are the people who think the content that you generate is interesting and worthwhile. How do you get more followers? See #3. 3. Generate interesting content. If you feed your cat garbage, your cat will die and not be very interesting (unless you like dead cats - I know there are some of you out there). If you feed your cat good, healthy stuff, your cat will stick around for a while and be interesting and maybe sit on your lap sometimes. It will also still puke on your favorite armchair, and Twitter's kind of like that, too, but you don't give up on your cat just because he pukes on your chair sometimes, right? These people who find your content interesting will follow you and then, from time to time, do what you ask them to do (again, much like your cat will sometimes do things you want it to do, like come inside). 4. Help people. This is generating interesting content, redux, but it helps define what's interesting content. Give people a link to something they didn't know existed, and will make them happy. If you're in the security industry, like me, this might be linking to a study they haven't seen that will help them make a good decision about their businesses (I often do this by linking back to my site, because it's our business to create page views, but if you don't make money with page views, just link to the site wherever it is - people will be pleased you pointed them in the right direction). Or point them to a good discussion of the best way to do wireless IP video. Or where to find a POTS-going-away solution. Or whatever. Think like your "followers": What do they give a crap about? Are you at an event that not many people are at, but at which interesting things are happening? Post some highlights that people will be interested in (maybe even use one of those hashtag thingees so people will be able to collect all the information from that event, like, oh, say, #TechSec - when you click on the hashtag you get every post by anyone in the world that used that hashtag). They'll be appreciative. Have you noticed that when you help people, they think highly of you and want to help you back? (Yeah, me neither, but I hear it works. I'm thinking about trying it.) 5. Study the depravity of humanity. Really, you should do this, just so you get a reality check every once in a while. See those trending topics on the right side of your Twitter "home" page? Click on the weird looking ones like #thingsyoudon'tsay. Be ready to be floored by the stuff that people post on the Internet next to pictures of themselves. Watch out, though, this can occupy huge amounts of your time if you don't watch out. It's like watching 500 train wrecks in a row. But, really, this is good for you. It gets you out of your little world and gets you thinking about what people are really like. 6. Okay, more seriously, search for terms you care about. I think it's really funny to search "alarm." Yes, you get a bunch of people bitching about their alarm clock waking them up (see yesterday's rant, I guess, about why I want to kick those people), but you'll also see a lot of comments about people's home and fire alarms. And you see their pain points on display (false alarms - people HATE false alarms - just a reminder), and that can help you understand your customer better, should you be an alarm company. It's like an instant poll of public opinion. 7. Yes, every once in a while, tell people about something you're doing for which you would like them to give you money in exchange. Remember my caveat about never having sold anything, but I do have a band that uses Facebook in similar fashion and it sometimes works. If you have something that you think people genuinely want, and you think your collection of followers contains those types of people who would want it, you can feel safe in saying, "hey, I've got awesomeness for sale, relatively cheap, come check it out here: http://bit.ly.awesome." This will not drive millions of sales, but it could be part of your little marketing plan to increase sales by a few ticks this year. 8. Surf other people's followers, maybe even your competition's. Who are other people talking to? How does your message compare to the message being put out by your competition? Can you make those followers your followers by following them and then having them follow you in return? (Hint: You can then unfollow them later and they won't be able to tell... Not that I would do that.) 9. Surf the people other people are following. Is there a source of information out there that could be valuable to you? Who are you like, and whose interests match yours? Maybe you could learn something from the same people they're learning from. Being open to learning is very important, in general, but also very important in whether you're going to get something out of Twitter or not. If you don't feel you have anything to learn from anyone else, social media is WAY not for you. Just stop right now and go play more golf or something. 10. Do something on on Twitter that no one else has done before. I don't know what this is, obviously, but remember that Twitter is completely still the Wild, Wild West, and much of the Twitter "rules" were created by users, like those hash-tags. No one at Twitter said, "hey, if you want to collect posts, use a little hash-y sign and then put an abbreviation, and then people can search for every post like yours." No, people just started doing that and it worked, and now it's like Twitter law. How can you do something that's going to be come Twitter law (or, maybe a Twitter ordinance or something for your little municipality of Twitter followers)? Creativity is rewarded on Twitter. Try it out. But don't be surprised when people dislike it and then write a mean blog post about how they want to kick you in the shins.