A beginner’s guide to building a presence on Twitter

by Martin Reed on 5 February 2010 in Articles

build a community with Twitter

Twitter is the best online marketing tool of the last five years. Thanks to Twitter, you can engage in immediate conversations, receive immediate feedback and find new people who share your interests.

From a community building standpoint, you can use Twitter to find potential new members, make people aware of your community, build your reputation and introduce people to others.

Many businesses and websites don’t use Twitter correctly and wonder why their strategy fails. In this article, I want to help ensure you don’t make the same mistakes.

First, let’s bust a myth.

Twitter followers

Huge value seems to be placed on the number of Twitter followers you have. This is a flawed metric – just as the number of ‘members’ your online community has shouldn’t be used to measure its success, the number of followers you have on Twitter doesn’t mean you’re popular or that people are interested in what you have to say.

What really counts is the number of conversations you’re having. Are people listening to you? Are people responding to what you’re saying? I’d rather have 100 followers that I communicate with on a regular basis than 10,000 followers who are strangers.

It’s about value and relationships

You should be using Twitter as an additional way of providing value. You should be giving more than you are receiving. If you give, you’ll naturally receive. Don’t be scared of using Twitter as a way of building your new online community. Don’t be scared of using it as a way of promoting an existing one – Twitter isn’t competition to your community. Just play by the rules.

A beginner’s guide to using Twitter

Let’s say you’re planning a brand new online community and you’re doing it the right way – you know that you don’t build the website before you’ve built relationships. Remember – you need to build relationships first to see how passionate people are about your idea and whether it’s something they’ll talk about. No conversation, no community.

You want to use Twitter to find and engage potential members. Here’s how you do it.

Signing up to Twitter

- Choose a Twitter username

I think it’s fine to use the name of your website/brand here – as long as you follow my next point. Keep your Twitter username short, snappy and memorable.

- Use your real name

The name you enter in the ‘Name’ field appears in the emails people receive when you follow them. The quickest way to be labelled as a spammer or bot is for this not to be a real name. Why hide your real name, anyway? Hardly the best way to build trust. People can’t build relationships with those that hide their identities.

You’ve already used your brand name in your username – you don’t need to use it again.

- Link

If you have an existing website, put it in the ‘Web’ field. This isn’t essential, though. People won’t frown on you if you leave this blank. If you’re building a new online community, I’d recommend putting up a basic webpage outlining what you’re trying to build/accomplish and link to that page (you could even put up a form for people to join a mailing/waiting list).

- Fill out the bio

The first thing any potential new follower does when they arrive at your Twitter page is read your bio. If it’s blank, they’ll move on. If it’s boring, or full of sales copy, they’ll move on.

Talk in plain English. Be honest, be genuine. This all sounds like common sense, but it obviously isn’t. Believe me.

Using Twitter

- Don’t follow anyone – yet

Don’t start following people as soon as you sign up. You have nothing to offer yet. You won’t attract genuine followers if your Twitter feed is empty.

- Tweet!

Provide content. Don’t start posting links to your website. Don’t start selling. Talk about your niche and provide value. Let’s say you want to build a community for photographers. Suggest starting aperture settings for specific scenes. Talk about the importance of light; share your expertise. Give, give, give.

- Share and promote (others)

If you find a good resource, post a link to it and mention why you’re sharing it. People want to hear your opinion – they don’t just want to see links. If someone else on Twitter gave good advice, give it a ReTweet.

Make yourself known as a resource of good information.

- Engage

If someone gave good advice, thank them for it. Develop conversations with people by thanking them for the information they put out. Ask them questions. Get to know them. Relationship building should be done in just the same way you’d do it in your online community – the only difference is the medium (and shorter messages).

- Follow

By now, you’ll have a good Twitter history. New visitors to your page will see that you give out a lot of useful, relevant information. They will see that you engage in conversations, and promote others on Twitter via the ReTweet feature.

Now is the time to start following others. Use the search facility to find mentions of keywords, phrases or brand names. When you find individual Tweets that are relevant, check out that person’s Twitter feed. You can’t figure someone out from just one Tweet, but you’ll get a better idea of their personality if you read more of their stream.

Check out their bio, and any link they include in the ‘Web’ box. If you think this person would be interested in the information you’re sharing, follow them.

- Return follow

If you’re doing a really good job, you’ll be getting notifications of people following you before you even start following others. I’d always recommend taking a look at the Twitter pages of those that follow you – make sure they’re real, and not connected to something you’d rather not be associated with – before deciding whether to follow them back.

Don’t feel as though you absolutely have to return follow everyone that follows you – but know that people who follow you will appreciate being followed back.

- Be wary of direct messages

When you’re following someone on Twitter and they are following you back, you can both communicate with each other via the direct messaging system. Be wary of this, though – some people do not like being sent direct messages; especially when they don’t know you particularly well. Don’t be afraid to use this feature – just make sure you don’t overuse it.

Twitter is built around sharing – only keep things private when you have to.

There are no hard and fast rules for the best way to use Twitter. Just be social, provide value, be genuine and have fun. You’ll get out of Twitter what you put into Twitter. Enjoy!

PS – Here is my Twitter page!

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{ 56 comments }

Andrew February 7, 2010 at 8:29 pm

I agree with what you said that the number of followers does not really count but the number of interested followers. Interested followers would bring about more positive results for you and your business.

Tia Fisher February 8, 2010 at 5:59 am

Thanks for this lovely clear guide Martin: lots of realy good sense. Re the numbers of people you’re following – I htink a number too high actually counts against my interest in a profile. I figure if they are listening to so many, then they’re not really listening? On that note, I’d recommend Tweetdeck as a tool so that you can pick out groups of people who’s updates you really want to read.

I’ll pass your article on (though I’m aware of the irony of tweeting it to people who haven’t yet got going on Twitter, hmmmm!). Thanks again, Tia.

HI February 8, 2010 at 11:26 am

Good post. Twitter can be very powerful if used correctly. If you are just going to use it to send out links and nothing useful within your niche, you will find that people will ignore you and will start to unfollow you. Be patient and build reputation within your niche and when the timing is right, then recommend products and services.

Nicole Price February 8, 2010 at 11:34 am

These are fantastic ideas to ensure that anyone succeeds in using twitter. As long as one uses it for a purpose and not get bogged down in just constantly twittering, twitter is indeed a valuable tool.

Jason February 10, 2010 at 9:09 pm

Great tips I need to implement a few more of these tips into my Twitter campaign so I can build more followers, and traffic to the old website, and blog. Especially the selling part I think I go a little overboard with this, something I need to refrain from a little more . Nice Twitter tips, thanks!

Sharon February 11, 2010 at 4:50 am

Great article. I think your points about not following people too soon are so important – anyone you follow will just move on if you haven’t tweeted (and you’ll look like a spammer).

You did say this but I think it’s even more important than the paragraph you gave it: ask questions. Get feedback. Don’t be a know-it-all. This goes a long way towards proving you’re human. :)

Mr Woc February 13, 2010 at 11:20 am

Hi there

Ive had a go at twitter I havent quite mastered it yet, the main problem being is it takes a lot of time to forge relationships on there and I really find it hard to get the time to be on there !

Woc

M.-J. Taylor February 13, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Wonderful job demystifying Twitter for beginners. I am a long time SEO, and just really beginning to understand how to use social media to promote sites. I haven’t developed a huge number of Twitter followers, but I do have a large number of Facebook friends (nearly 2,500) and I love that I can push links through a tweet to my Facebook status. What a great way to drive traffic from loyal friends.

Adam February 13, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Great advice. I once looked in to using uSocial to get a jump start on followers but I’m glad I decided against it now. Like You said “I’d rather have 100 followers that I communicate with on a regular basis than 10,000 followers who are strangers.”

Edwin February 13, 2010 at 11:33 pm

Hi, this is a really good guide for those starting out in twitter. I made a very big mistake by mass following random stranger I don’t even know!

Quality > Quantity

Z9Falcon February 15, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Been using Twitter but I find it a little tough. If you start out with zero web presence and you have no followers, it’s extremely hard to start. This is where persistence comes in right? =)

Jay Courtland February 17, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Great article! So many use Twitter the wrong way. I like what you said about value and relationships, to me that’s the key!

Chris February 17, 2010 at 8:01 pm

Twitter is an amazing tool. But followers are not followers unless they’re attracted to what you’re tweeting about. If you go about building a presence on Twitter by following loads of people (i’ve done that!), then you’re not going to get far, all you end up doing is getting people who are not really interested in what you’re saying. The best Twtitterers organically attract followers with interesting tweets and provide great links to useful and interesting stuff. Word gets around.

Alan February 20, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Good post Martin, I’d really like to see twitter send something similar out to all new signups.

Rachel February 20, 2010 at 5:38 pm

I found that promoting others was the quickest way to increase my followers! I do need to work on contributing more content to my niche group – thanks for the reminder!

Pauline February 24, 2010 at 9:28 am

I was starting to think that I must be the only person left on the planet who didn’t have a twitter account. I did have a go ages ago but I just couldn’t get my head round it. Also I kept getting people I had never heard of wanting to be my friend and sending me a load of spam. So I gave up. But I do want to have another go as I know it can be useful in some ways if you use it properly. So thanks for this guide I am sure I will be referring back to it.

Chris Kennedy February 25, 2010 at 8:59 pm

I would have to disagree about the metric used. I believe the number of followers is important, and even if they are complete strangers.

Stefan February 28, 2010 at 5:09 pm

These are some great tips even for a experienced twitter user thanks.

Sean March 1, 2010 at 3:20 pm

DMs are the devil’s tool of Twitter!! The devil’s tool!!! *shakes hand wildly in the air*

Just messing, but they are usually pretty worthless. Out of every 20 I receive maybe one is from an actual person wanting to know something. .

Sophie March 4, 2010 at 1:01 am

Definitely engaging in your fellow tweeters is essential. They need to know you’re human!

Mike March 4, 2010 at 2:33 am

Just what I was looking for. Thanks for posting this guide. We just started up a twitter account last week and to be honest were a bit lost how to start and what to say. Obviously we didn’t want to blabber on about our business the whole time. So we’ve found you pointers very helpful and are looking to apply these twitter account now. Thanks again for the helpful advice.

Sam March 5, 2010 at 11:36 am

This is an excellent article. I’ve often considered using Twitter, well in fact I do use it but never known how to engage potential customers. It’s always been very lacking to me but having read through this post, I’ve realised there are a few things I need to brush up on. Thank you :)

Jay Courtland March 5, 2010 at 1:26 pm

All great points brought up in this article. One thing that will help in your niche to engage more people is to do a Twitter search on their search engine, mine for example is satellite tv, you’ll type in the keywords just like any search engine and see what’s going on in your niche. Try it out http://www.search.twitter.com

I hope this helps!

Gordon March 5, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Hi, This is good stuff. I’m a Baby Boomer who is interested in exploring twitter. I did see some statistics however that said people my age (50 +) haven’t taken to the world of twitter yet. (They are the ones that I’m interested in). Something like 3% of users. I’m going to give it a try and see if there is enough community of Boomers out there. Thanks for the advice, it helps.

Nicole Price March 8, 2010 at 9:23 am

Your exhaustive list and Jay Courtland’s addition make a great list of dos and don’ts for successful twittering. Thank you.

Ryan March 8, 2010 at 8:26 pm

I have been considering getting a twitter account for some time now, and this post gave me some good advice on how to make twitter work for me. Thanks for the advice.

Peter March 11, 2010 at 8:27 am

ive been quite interested in working out how i should go about maximizing my twitter account so that i and my followers can get the most out of it. Your article explains this perfectly.

Keep it up.

James Michaelson March 14, 2010 at 4:44 am

Great article. I think your points about not following people too soon are so important – anyone you follow will just move on if you haven’t tweeted.

James

YC March 15, 2010 at 1:21 am

I’ve been using Twitter for sometime and it’s definitely a lot of fun but you have to use it wisely. Great tips as always here Martin! Thank you.

Spencer Haley March 16, 2010 at 6:20 am

I have been using twitter since it came out, but only in the past few months have I had the pleasure of using twitter friend adder and now tweet adder marketing softwares. They totally automate the process of following, unfollowing, posting, and follow-backs.

Martin Reed - Community Manager March 16, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Spencer – You can’t automate relationship building. You’re just building numbers – which are (false) ego strokes.

Glyn March 18, 2010 at 10:53 am

Thank you soooooo much for this tutorial. I’m adding it to my favorites. I’m so new at all of this and with words like “tweet,” it’s tough to determine what’s meaningful and what’s not. I like your article because it tells me how to make the most of Twitter and how to avoid some potential pitfalls.

Thank you so much.

Ricky March 19, 2010 at 7:04 pm

I have three Twitter accounts: one personal, one for my podcast, and one for my business. It was fairly easy to build my podcast and personal accounts up to thousands of followers because, well, I already had thousands of followers online elsewhere. However, now that I’ve started a business-related account, I’ve found that mentioning my products all the time does not make for good Twittering nor does it get me followers. Mentioning good content that sometimes vaguely relates to my business does help. Twitter, at its root, is a social medium. If you’re not social and friendly, it will never work for you.

John March 21, 2010 at 8:49 pm

Starting a Twitter campaign is fairly easy, but one shouldnt fall into the trap that it is all about the # of followers you have…

Contrary to that belief, you can actually reach everyone on Twitter by using #tags and by posting good content just like writing for your community.

Matt March 23, 2010 at 5:13 pm

I read that Best Buy was requiring new recruits to have at least 300 Twitter followers to be considered for employment. I’m not sure what job that was for, but if they had read this article they would know that followers aren’t everything.

Aaron Wong March 24, 2010 at 3:43 am

Hey that’s a great post. I liked how you recommended not to follow people right away. You make a great point when you say that a person should wait until they have something to offer! You also touched on another great point. Relationships. These must be cultivated over time.

Jay March 27, 2010 at 3:09 am

Great tips for marketing on Twitter. If you follow the correct procedures as your post has layed out you can gain some nice traffic, and potential sales through Twitter very easily. Just like you said provide valuable content and if you build it they will come like in the movie field of dreams lol good analogy huh? I also like to comment on the most popular trends you can get a lot of followers just by doing that little trick. Great post!

Max Dotson March 27, 2010 at 6:17 am

Good post. I’ve become addicted to Twitter. I found it always best to make sure you only focus on following your other users within your niche. It makes for much better sales percentage.

Freeman March 29, 2010 at 3:44 pm

This is one of the best articles about twitter i’ve found on the internet until now and i’ve been searching for some time now. I must agree about the fact that the number of followers is irrelevant in comparison to the quality. doesn’t matter how many followers you have if none of them cares about what you have to say.

Mark March 30, 2010 at 7:42 pm

I’ve been using Twitter for about 2 years now, I love the concept of the website but I’m disappointed in the fact that they’ve let the site become overrun with affiliate marketing schemes and spam. From a user perspective, it put me off using the site to network with friends

ellen April 1, 2010 at 10:48 pm

I have to say Twitter is not so useful to promote my site. I have three accounts and post at least 3 tweets per day with about 500 followers. But only a few clicks for each tweet.

Pat April 11, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Great post and advice. We are a small business and starting to utilize Twitter more and more. I have been working hard to make sure our comments are both often and advantageous to our followers.

I do agree with avoiding the direct message; I feel like more are impersonal and only trying to sell.

Rick K. April 16, 2010 at 7:32 am

Twitter is only useful if you have a big follower base. Build your following base slowly. As time goes on, if you are chasing quantity, then you will be able to add more at a time, but initially I would suggest you stick to 50 for a start. The reason for this is that when you follow people, they will most likely follow you back. Many people don’t do this automatically, although some do, particularly in the internet marketing space.

Ryan April 16, 2010 at 11:40 am

I’m struggling on Twitter, I just can’t get any worth out of it at all. So thank you for your valuable article, I think I’ll give it another shot.

Michelle April 23, 2010 at 8:31 am

Thanks for all the great tips and links. I should have enough information on how to be an expert tweeter after going through it all.

I appreciate all your research.

Tracy April 23, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Thanks for these tips! I started a account for my business and I want those who follow it to be really interested in my product and site. Not just a bunch of people who are there padding my stats.

Brian April 25, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Very nice article.. I have recently started to use twitter and now I see benefits of it.. More people following you, more traffic for your tweets.. I thought at first that it won’t go that way but I see now it was wrong opinion, great! :)

Bianca April 27, 2010 at 7:18 pm

Great tips! Returning a follow is a great way to network.

Philip June 6, 2010 at 3:45 pm

I fell into the trap of trying to build a follower base, but see now it makes sense to build content (ie informative tweets & conversations) and that will untimately bring the higher quality relevant followers. It just requires a bit of patience!

Sally June 17, 2010 at 8:20 am

I have never been able to get the hang ot Twitter. I opened an account some time ago but got sick of peopel I had never heard of wanting to be my ‘friend’. I just stopped bothering with it.

WillL July 8, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Like many other people here, I didn’t really understand the potential of Twitter until recently. For a novice like me, your information is really helpful. Thanks for sharing!

Cori July 10, 2010 at 11:05 am

I hear lots of people say how Twitter is awesome to build a presence for your business, but as a beginner I didn’t really know what to do with it. Thanks for these great tips that will help me begin.

Lara July 11, 2010 at 9:47 am

Since I do not have Twitter yet, only Facebook and now I see all its flaws, I am trying to learn about Twitter. It seems easy to use it, but difficult if you want to achieve something more. Thanks for tips – very useful.

Amy September 3, 2010 at 8:17 am

Thanks for the write-up. It was really very helpful. I will go ahead correct most of my tweeting mistakes. Its surprising how you can make certain mistakes out of share ignorance.
I hope more people get to read this since there has been a lot of abuse of social networking lately.

Jym Tarrant September 8, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Great outline for getting started on Twitter.

You got it, Twitter is all about sharing value and building relationships. One of the best aspects of it seems to be the @mentions feature, which allows you to have public conversations. People see you interacting, and sometimes join in the conversations. If it’s all links and statements, sure you’re giving value, but people want to do business with someone they trust and can relate with, so hanging out a bit and creating dialogues is a really good idea!

Cheers,
Jym

Lyndsey October 11, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Great article, thanks.

I have a twitter account, check it most days but for some reasons its never really dawned on me this is a tool to use, rather than something to keep me amused when I’m having a boring 10 minutes.

Off to go and play some more, and see what I can do!

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