I am not going to get fired.
I am not going to be fired for “being on Facebook all day.” It is, somewhat, my job. And the only reason it seems to you that I am on Facebook all day is that I publish quite a bit to Facebook – not necessarily on it.
The same might be said for me on Twitter. It seems as though I am there often, but in reality I have a workflow. And it is that workflow that I want to share with you. Not because I believe it is any better than anyone else’s — but because most people don’t have a conscious strategy for how they use these tools. Unconscious use can be fleeting, but it can also be aimless and the very time-suck that employers worry about.
Oh — why even bother with Twitter?
Twitter is a great way to make yourself smarter about _________. Whatever _________ is to you, you can become smarter about __________. Fill it in for yourself:
- Real Estate
- Local News
- Trends in Food
- Trends in Travel
- Pro Wrestling
- College Football Recruiting
The fact that tens of millions of people use Twitter to make themselves smarter about the Kardashians does not make Twitter a stupid tool. (It makes those people stupid tools, but I digress.)
However, if you are just sitting back and using Twitter as a feed reader, you are missing the real value. Twitter isn’t about consumption, it is about cultivating the network that makes you smarter.
I will say that again: Cultivate the network that makes you smarter.
Take the time to follow links, comment, reply, and engage with the people you’d like to know more from. You might have more in common with them than you know. And once you build out more personal connections with them, they are more likely to share things with you directly, that you didn’t even know to ask about. That’s far better than just seeking those things that you already know exist.
So… here is my flow.
Filling the Spaces
Twitter is too busy to catch up with everyone. I still like the idea Chris Brogan articulated, that you build sources for a stream, and you occasionally dip a hand in to grab a drink. I don’t set aside time for Twitter, I just use it to fill some of the dead zones between cracks in the calendar.
Finish that conference call at 10:45, with another one at 11? Perfect time to scan email, and check some Tweets. And like I said, if you stick to a process, a flow, then you are in and out in a matter of moments, while still engaging in the behavior that sows what you want to reap.
Step 1: Notifications
It starts with having a decent way of being notified. I am not one of the popular gurus, and thanks to not being an active blogger anymore, I am not peppered with pitches in private messages. Occasionally, someone will Mention me on Twitter, calling something to my attention. And it’s nice to use the notification to respond in a timely fashion. Notifications allow you to be there when called, without being hyper-present, eyes glued to the columns.
If you are instead just jumping in as part of filling the spaces in time, then look for people who have reached out to you. If nothing is there, then move to Step 2.
Step 2: Look for Questions
Call up the main Twitter timeline. The people you follow. Now, look for a question mark. In most browsers, this is done with a CTRL-F, a ?, and hitting ENTER. If people you are following have asked questions this recently, and you have an opportunity to answer this quickly, then you have provided an immense value to the other. You build social capital, and it is just the nice thing to do. After that, move on to Step 3…
Step 3: Look for Links
A decent percentage of Tweets will have links embedded. In some cases, there is rich media that accompanies the link, and a little preview. Scan those links, and either open them in new tabs for later consumption, or save them to a service like Pocket, Evernote, OneNote, Instapaper…
(After you read those links, you’ll want to be in a position to share those yourself, and I will talk about that later…)
Step 4: Look for Conversations
There’s a good chance that some of the people you know will be talking with other people, some of whom you don’t know. Opening up some of those conversations can open you up to new and interesting people with whom you can engage.
Twitter used to make this easier, but wisely cut down on the noise. This means that you might have to take an extra step to find those new people, but it is worth it.
Step 5: Post and Go
If the preceding steps haven’t eaten my allotted time, I will post a quick update, ask a question of my own, or I might forego posting entirely and start reading one of those interesting links. Better yet — I might share one of the links I read earlier, with my own commentary or headline.
And that’s it. You repeat the loop the next time you have a couple of minutes free. I like to think about my flow as a list of priorities, which ensure I am engaging in the right balance:
- Answer those who have reached out to me
- Help those who might be in a momentary bind
- Seek interesting information
- Seek interesting people
- Share and move on
As Twitter has evolved in size and scale and scope and popularity, the essence of my workflow has remained unchanged for years. Some might say that I ought to have a much larger Following count, and that somehow this is proof that this system is a “failure.”
I never promised that this was going to make you a Twitter Guru, or that it would grow your following. If you want to grow your following, there are much better ways to do so. (I don’t follow people who follow me – I follow people I find interesting, and I follow those who engage with me.)
However, I can’t begin to tell you how my job has been made easier, my life has been made easier, and how my personal knowledge about particular topics of interest have been greatly enhanced because I cultivated a network that made me smarter – and I engaged with people who challenged me.
And that – despite the Hokey Pokey’s claims to the contrary – is what it’s all about.