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May 11, 2009

10 Twitter Tips for Professionals

Bill Sweetman's Twitter Account After the unexpected popularity of my article 10 Facebook Tips for Professionals, I figured I would follow it up with some tips for the micro-blogging platform known as Twitter.

Although Twitter has been around since 2006, it's only recently started to generate interest from the public at large. One of the things I like the most about Twitter is that it is an open platform and the uses for it are limited only by people's imagination. Every day I discover new and creative ways that people are using Twitter, some good, some bad. As with any new medium, there are and will continue to be growing pains as we all figure out what the ground rules are and how best to use this new tool. I, for one, still consider myself to be in my 'kindergarten' years with Twitter, however I have learned a few tips and tricks along the way that I am happy to share with you:

I hereby present my list of 10 Twitter tips for business professionals who want to get the most out of Twitter without making too many newbie mistakes:

  1. Use your real and (length permitting) full name as your Twitter ID and Display Name - Don't start Twittering using some cutesy or cryptic alias; that just makes it hard for people to find you and figure out who you really are. If you can, avoid using an underscore in your Twitter ID: JaneSmith is way more professional than Jane_Smith and is also easier for people who are using mobile devices to type. And capitalize the first letter of your first and last name; it makes them easier to read.

  2. Make sure you upload a photo of yourself right away - If you don't include a photo of yourself as part of your Twitter account, you will limit the number of followers you will get. And use a real photo, not an illustration, avatar, or your company's logo. People want to have a relationship with you, not an illustration. Choose a recent colour or black and white headshot of yourself, and make sure the photo is tasteful. For best results, the image should be a JPEG sized about 128 by 128 pixels, but remember that it will be displayed in much smaller sizes on different Twitter clients, including small screens on mobile devices, so make sure it is legible even when tiny.

  3. Include a compelling and accurate description of yourself in your Twitter account - People will refer to this when deciding if they want to follow you. Make sure you include pertinent information such as the name of the company you work for, your job title, a brief description of what you do, and a link to your corporate Website or blog. Remember to keep search engines in mind and feature keywords that are relevant to your profession in your description. This will make it easier for new people to find you via Twitter search.

  4. Choose a professional looking Twitter profile design, or create your own - The Twitter account settings allow you to choose from a number of simple design templates for your profile. I recommend that you pick one that best (or at least better) aligns with your professional brand, or tinker with the colour schemes until you get something that works. If you really want to present a slick image, get a custom Twitter background design created for you. There are numerous free and affordable paid Twitter background design services. One of the ones I have used and can recommend is Twitbacks.

  5. Understand the important difference between a public reply and a Direct Message (DM) - When you reply to someone that you are following, using the "@BillSweetman" syntax, everyone following you and them can see your conversation, and a permanent public record is made of the exchange. A Direct Message, using the "D BillSweetman" syntax, is strictly between you and that one other recipient (although in order for this to work both recipient and sender have to be following one another). Confuse the two and you could end up in an embarrassing situation.

  6. Be judicious about Re-Tweeting - Twitter is about sharing, however if all you are doing is continually re-tweeting other people's posts instead of contributing your own original content, this will soon begin to grate on your followers. After all, if your followers really cared about what someone else was Twittering about, they'd follow them.

  7. Watch your P's and Q's - Twitter is a public forum, and your posts are archived forever. While it is always advisable to avoid getting into a war of words with someone, Twitter is the worst possible place to have a dustup since everyone has a ringside seat. Sadly, that hasn't stopped some folks from getting into some very nasty, and very public, Twitter fights. Try to avoid making the same mistake.

  8. Be careful about mixing business with pleasure - Consider creating two separate Twitter accounts, one for business use and one for personal use. If you tie your personal email address and a more 'casual' photo to your personal Twitter account, your friends and family will easily be able to figure out which is the right account to follow.

  9. Follow but don't expect to be followed - While you are free to follow anyone on Twitter that you so choose, don't expect them to follow you back. Not everyone wants to follow hundreds or thousands of people, and just because you followed them doesn't mean they are obliged to follow you, nor should you be upset if they don't.

  10. Don't try to "market" on Twitter; try to "share" instead - Just because Twitter allows you to post promotional messages 24/7 doesn't mean that anyone is interested in that kind of content. If you want to attract and keep followers, focus on contributing items of value. Let them know about something you just heard or discovered. Solicit feedback on a project or ask a question. Sing the praises of a product or person. Recommend other people they should follow. Or provide an update on what you are working on right now. Think sharing, not shouting.

Despite the feverish tone of the recent media hoopla around Twitter, I am very bullish about the future of Twitter. We've hardly scratched the surface of its potential. Twitter was originally dismissed by many as a quirky geek distraction (I admit to being one of those skeptics), but it is rapidly emerging as a flexible communication platform for both business and personal use. I hope my 10 Twitter tips will help you take better advantage of this new medium. And if you want to follow me on Twitter, my Twitter ID is BillSweetman. Good luck, and happy Tweeting!

Image Credit: James McDonald

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Great post, Bill! Thank you for posting this. I agree with all of your points. Uploading your picture is key to presenting a legitimate Twitter account. When creating a background, remember that some computers display webpages differently, so look at some others as benchmarks. As Twitter evolves and grows, more tips will become apparent, but these are a really solid start to creating a professional presence on Twitter.

I second Chris' comment about this being a great post. I beg to differ with you on point 8 though. It's the personal touch and the balance of personal and professional that makes us human and engaging online. People want to know they are connecting with real humans. However, unless your account is locked (private) don't post anything you're not comfortable sharing with the world (friend, clients, prospective employers, etc.)

@ Chris, that's a helpful suggestion. Thanks!

@ Eden, you have nailed the big challenge: finding the correct balance of personal and professional. I find this to be very tricky myself (whereas it seems to come naturally to others) and I struggle with how much personal stuff to Tweet about versus business. For some the solution may be two separate Twitter accounts, for others it will be the balancing act of one 'combo' account. Thanks for your comment.

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