Monday, March 23, 2009

Flying Above The Clutter: Tips for Managing a Personal Twitter Timeline

I consider myself a Twitter power user. I’m not well-known, and I don’t update about every single thing I do; but I do pay attention, and update when there’s something for me to say. These tips are from my own experience, and probably aren't well-suited for companies trying to use Twitter as a customer relations tool.

Tip #1: Only follow people you find interesting

I follow only 72 people (at the time of writing). Most power users seem to follow hundreds, if not thousands, of people. I think this is a mistake –– the main use case of microblogging is to keep track of what your friends, family, co-workers, and other people you care about, are doing. Not everybody on your following list has to be interesting all the time, but they should on occasion tweet about something you care about. If you find somebody that seems interesting, add them to your following list, and see what happens.

Tip #2: Use an advanced Twitter client

The client I use is TweetDeck, an Adobe AIR-based client that works on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X. TweetDeck is a major memory hog, but it is very much worth it: it has the (currently) unique feature of allowing you to create and manage separate timelines for groups of people, searches, @replies and direct messages. It also has auto-completion for your friends list (for both @replies and direct messages), spell-checking, and integration with many different URL-shortening services (which is useful for writing tweets that fit in 140 characters).

Tip #3: Create concentric tiers around yourself

When using TweetDeck, I find it very useful to create timelines for people in tiers. I started out with just two tiers: one for close, personal friends; and another for everyone else. This system allows you to read everything your friends tweet, and allows you to skip over everybody else if you find yourself lacking the time or desire to read them. About a month ago, I moved up to a three-tier system, separating out the people from the main timeline that I was starting to really notice high-quality tweets from. I am even considering adding a fourth-tier. Use as many tiers as you have a need for, but always be sure to make more interesting tiers smaller than less interesting ones: in any given day, I get 30-40 tweets on Tier 1, 70-80 on Tier 2, and 130+ on Tier 3.

Tip #5: Don’t be afraid to promote and demote people from tier to tier

Since moving to the three-tier system, I have followed a couple people who I wasn’t sure would turn out to be very interesting, and so they started out on the lowest level. But, as time drew on, I found them to be almost constantly interesting, so I promoted them up further.  Likewise, some people on Tier 2 started being less interesting than they had been, and as a consequence moved them down to Tier 3.

Tip #6: Feel free to stop following people when you stop finding them interesting

Some people obviously think this is harsh step, to stop following somebody. Why? If I find myself completely glossing over all the updates from a certain person, it means somewhere in my sub-conscious, I’ve noticed a pattern where everything they tweet is boring to me. I will unfollow them instantly, without regard to their personal feelings. If somebody’s self-worth is directly tied to the number of followers they have on Twitter, they have much bigger problems than whether or not I think they are interesting.

Tip #7: Create searches for things you care about

Searching Twitter for topics you care about can be a great way to find some very interesting people. I currently have search windows for “#haiku OR #tanka” which I read almost religiously. Try to pick things that you really care about, and don’t limit yourself to just hash-tags, either: a lot of interesting people don’t seem to use hash-tags at all.

Too many people
to bail out your Tweet-boat.
Here is a bucket.