9 Ways To Build A Twitter Community With Substance

Ah, Twitter. I keep seeing all these people saying “Yay! 1,000 followers!”. And then I get sad, because I think they’re really missing the point. Connecting with people is great, but don’t you want to connect with people who will enrich your experience overall?

Everyone uses Twitter differently and I get that. But I know what’s worked for me. Much of it hasn’t been deliberate or engineered, it’s just what makes natural sense to me. But in case there’s a tip or two in here, I agreed to post about my thoughts on building community on Twitter. Here’s my take.

1. Start With Twitter Search.

Go to search.twitter.com and type in a word or phrase that represents something you’re interested in. Try something like “I’m reading” to home in on people sharing the books they’re reading. Or how about “foodie” to find other culinarily-minded folks? Be creative. Try a bunch of different words. Then follow people who are talking about subjects and areas of interest for you.

Oh, and emphasis on talking; if they’re just dropping links and rarely carry on conversation with anyone, you aren’t going to get much out of the interaction and you’ll end up disappointed.

Go ahead and follow some of the usual suspects if you like, or find “recommended” follows from Twitter, but I’m much more of a fan of finding the like minds than the notable ones. They’re harder to find, but can really be the lifeblood of a great community. Many of my favorite Twitter friends aren’t on the big radar screens (and I hope they never are, lest I have to stand in line to talk to them!).

2. Tweet, even if no one’s watching

When people visit your profile page to decide whether or not to connect with you, what you have there gives them some dimension and perspective, even if only a few people are officially “following” you. Oh, and don’t forget to put up an avatar (of your face please, not a logo, my .02) and fill in the bio stuff. People notice, and it makes you instantly feel and seem like a real human who’s on Twitter to get to know people. That’ll attract like minds to give you a chance.

3. Look at other people’s lists.

Once you find a handful of people that you enjoy following, check out their lists. See who they follow. Look on their profile page and see who they’re replying to. Follow a few more people that look interesting, conversational, and engaged. You don’t want to mass follow hundreds – Twitter will suspect you’re a spam artist – but get started with 20 or 30 and get chatting. Already have a solid following? You need step 4.

4. Jump into conversations that look interesting.

The way Twitter gets good: you have to talk with people. The way to talk with people is to start interacting with them. If there’s an interesting or fun discussion going on, jump in! @ reply someone that you’ve never chatted with before and offer a contribution or a funny. Sometimes you’ll get ignored; that’s part of the deal, I’m afraid. But often times, folks on Twitter are very open, conversational, and eager to meet new people. This is public discourse, not a private chatroom. Consider yourself welcome.

There are tons of Twitter chats that happen regularly; find one in an area that interests you and jump in. They’re fast moving, but you’ll undoubtedly meet people and make some connections.

By the way, I’d hope it goes without saying, but “jumping in” doesn’t mean “hey I saw you tweeting about lawnmowers and I wanted you to see my new website! Check it out!”. That’s just irritating. If you don’t recognize that or see why people would find that annoying, your problem is more complicated than Twitter.

5. Lose your obsession over who’s following and who isnt.

A long while back, I talked about the fallacy of tools like Qwitter (those that tell you who stopped following you). There are some different perspectives in the comments, but overall I don’t recommend you waste too much time and energy over that part. It’s just a follow. A click. Not some demonstration of your worth as a human being. Twitter also does a good job of automatically and misguidedly unfollowing people when they clean out spam and such, which means some unfollows are totally unintentional.

I never, ever notice or pay attention to who unfollows me. I focus on participating in the community that wants to be there. If someone valuable goes away, I’ll notice and track them back down.

As for how many followers you have, remember these things. Twitter has a massive abandon rate, which means that many people will follow you and never return, never say a word, never see a thing you post. Twitter is also thick with spammers and auto-follow bots, so a good chunk of any of our follower counts are made up of complete garbage.

The numbers are inflated. They’re inaccurate. And while reach can be important depending on your goals for participation on Twitter, relevant reach is what matters, and that is only ever built with time and concerted participation.

6. Think farming.

Jay Baer wrote a good post about how social media is like farming. Twitter is very similar. The problem is that too few people have the patience to be a farmer. Cultivating the seeds of relationships and trust takes time. And you can’t shortcut it; if you don’t sow the seeds at the beginning of the year and tend to them properly, you’ll have nothing to harvest at the end of the season.

And there’s no last-minute shortcut that will fix that. You can’t just throw $99 at it and buy a field of crops to harvest, much less one that will support a crop the following year. Try to treat Twitter followers like bargains on a WalMart shelf, and that’s exactly the quality of the network you’ll end up with.

7. Don’t namedrop.

You don’t need to fish the pools of the “popular” to get people to notice you. Calling out celebrities or the Twitterati to bait them into some kind of conversation or to look at your blog isn’t going to do you much good. Bragging about the recognizable people you know or talk to or just had coffee with can easily come off as very (very) thinly veiled self-importance. Be gracious. Be humble. Be real and genuine. Focus on making real connections with real people, no matter who they are.

It’s easy to tell the difference between someone who really has their head in the game, and someone who’s just trying to get people to notice them. Really. We can tell.

8. Share stuff.

Some of my favorite follows on Twitter are people who mix up conversational updates and back-and-forth with others with links to great stuff. Sometimes it’s a thought provoking blog post. Other times it’s an article, or a video, or something just to make me laugh.

Twitter is like this micro library of stuff wandering around for the finding. Share the stuff you find (in moderation). Being a resource to others is a great way to find common ground to talk about, kick around ideas, or open up new dialogue.

9. Have some personality.

The reason things like chat have always been so popular is because you can talk with real, live people over a computer. How cool is that! No crazy phone bills, you can talk to several people at once, and it’s fun to pick out the individual personalities, find the people who like the things you do, talk away about everything from work to life to the movie you just saw and hated.

Twitter is just the new version of chat. We didn’t want people in our AOL chat rooms selling us their “Make Money Online” course, either. With exception I’m sure, we don’t love them in our Twitter stream. We just want to talk and get to know one another. Open doors. Find affinities. It’s really pretty simple at its core, but man do we try to make it way too complicated.

In Conclusion…

I get asked all the time how I “got all my followers”. I didn’t set out to amass a pile of people, but I set out to build a diverse, active network. In that sense, my secrets are these:

  • I did all the stuff above. Some I realized I was doing later.
  • I’ve never in my life asked for a follow unless I wanted to DM someone and couldn’t. I’ve NEVER begged for followers to reach some kind of “milestone”. It doesn’t matter.
  • I converse a lot, and I make it a point to be as responsive as I can. Look at my Twitter page, and you’ll see that the vast majority of my posts are replies to other people.
  • I share my own posts about twice a day if I think they’re worth it. I share bunches of stuff from other people that I find interesting, informative, funny. But I’m not a link feed, either.
  • I’ve been doing this for over two and a half years, nearly every day. I’m present. I participate.
  • I try to be conversational, responsive, engaged, and polite. The same way I’d want people to be with me.
  • I started with zero followers, too.

That’s just my method. It seems so simple and obvious to me, but maybe it’s not.

Remember: Twitter is just the medium. These same principles apply across many things, online and off. It all – always - comes down to your honest intent to build a network of people to talk to, to learn from, to share with. ALL of this depends on your desire to use Twitter that way, and not just to amass a collection of people that you can pimp your junk to. Twitter can be a gateway to a much more dimensional relationship with people, or it can just be a means to a rather disappointing end.

Whether you have the patience, time, and desire to invest in it is really up to you.

Does that help? What would you add? What’s worked for you, and where are you still struggling? Let me know how I can help some more in the comments.

  • Yreuven

    great article. just started a twitter recently and always looking for good information from someone who did it successfuly. @RonReuven

  • Anonymous

    Amber,
    Could you do a post on blocking someone on Twitter? I’ve never understood if you unfollow someone and they follow you, do you still see their posts since they’re following you? If so, blocking seems to be the best way to just remove someone from my feed that really isn’t providing quality tweets and discussion. Any clarification on following-unfollowing and blocking would be greatly appreciated!

    @timotis

    • Anonymous

      Hi Tim,

      When you block someone, they can’t see your posts and you won’t see theirs.
      They also can’t follow you again unless you unblock them. It’s total
      blackout.

      If you simply unfollow someone, you won’t see their posts. But if they’re
      following *you – *even if you aren’t following them back – they can see
      yours.

      I save blocking for the spammers and the really horrible trolls (abusive,
      etc). The rest I just unfollow and ignore. If they want to follow me that’s
      fine, but I save the blocking as a really heavy duty hit for the people I
      don’t even want to associate with ever again, without question.

      Make sense? For someone that’s “just not providing quality tweets”, an
      unfollow and forget should do the trick.

  • Anonymous

    Great post and one of the best I’ve seen on how to actually use Twitter. You’re absolutely right when you say Twitter is just the medium, it’s up to you how you act on it.

  • Anonymous

    Great post and one of the best I’ve seen on how to actually use Twitter. You’re absolutely right when you say Twitter is just the medium, it’s up to you how you act on it.

  • http://twitter.com/mandyeh120 Mandy Yeh

    Thank you for this post! I heard about your blog through my social media class and found this post to be very helpful! I was inactive on Twitter for about 2 years but recently started tweeting again as a class tool.

    When I first opened a Twitter account, users tweeted about what they were doing 24/7 and treated tweets more as a Facebook statuses (ie. I had a ham sandwich for lunch). But then there was a transformation where Twitter became more of a source of news and information.

    Just from following friends and organizations through Twitter I definitely feel like there’s a standard code for how to tweet, and I am still learning those codes. Your tips really make sense and I think they will change how I perceive the tweeting experience!

  • http://twitter.com/mandyeh120 Mandy Yeh

    Thank you for this post! I heard about your blog through my social media class and found this post to be very helpful! I was inactive on Twitter for about 2 years but recently started tweeting again as a class tool.

    When I first opened a Twitter account, users tweeted about what they were doing 24/7 and treated tweets more as a Facebook statuses (ie. I had a ham sandwich for lunch). But then there was a transformation where Twitter became more of a source of news and information.

    Just from following friends and organizations through Twitter I definitely feel like there’s a standard code for how to tweet, and I am still learning those codes. Your tips really make sense and I think they will change how I perceive the tweeting experience!

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  • http://twitter.com/deonnekahler Deonne Kahler

    Fantastic post. This all makes intuitive sense to me and I’m trying to implement it, but still, it’s a struggle to get going. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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  • Anonymous

    Thanks for sharing great points! I would like to share with my community! Thank you!

  • http://www.oneandonlyinteractive.com/ David Lawyer

    Informative Amber. Just when you think you got it licked, you get thrown for a loop. Definitely a couple items out of here that I can definitely apply immediately to help boost my involvement in Twitter. Thanks.

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  • http://www.luttrellcommunications.com Karen Luttrell

    Hi Amber. Thanks for this article. It’s one of the best I’ve read on how to use Twitter. I especially appreciate your points about not obsessing over the number of followers. This is something I know intellectually, but I think it’s just human nature to worry about number of followers and people who are unfollowing since we are social creatures by nature. So your article is not only a good introduction for new Twitter users, but also a good reminder for people already working hard to build meaningful connections through social media platforms. I’ll share this article with small business and NPO marketing clients as well as taking the lessons to heart myself.

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  • http://twitter.com/cypherinfo G. Calamita

    The point here is tha you have to “be” with twitter everyday!!

  • http://socialmediaintegrations.com/ Kevin Clarke

    If you are starting a business, or you are already in business, It is essential that you have a Twitter presence. This will add value to you and others in many ways.

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  • Anna

    Great post, thanks! I like reading articles, where author shares own experience and not just collects info from other sources. I have one more thing to add about jumping into conversations. I use a third part service RoundTeam – Twitter application, which helps to engage followers into conversations and more. Here is an article about this use case: http://roundteam.co/blog/build-communities/

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  • Reena

    Hey Amber,
    Thanks again for an informative and helpful post.