Five indispensable lessons for Twitter success

It’s hard to believe but my three year Twitter anniversary is approaching so I’ve been reflecting on this channel and what it has meant to me.

I know this may sound bold but it’s undeniable that Twitter has changed my life.  I’ve learned so much and discovered wonderful people who have become great friends, collaborators and business partners.

So in a celebratory toast to this incredible little tool, here are five indispensable lessons for success on Twitter:

1) Numbers matter … sort of.  It’s not politically correct to tout the number of followers you have, but the fact of the matter is you need to have at least a critical mass of followers for Twitter to be fun and meaningful.  In my classes, I emphasize the need to be systematic and mindful about who you follow. If you don’t surround yourself with people who care about you and enlighten you, you’re probably wasting your time.  If you’re just starting out, work on finding at least 200 interesting people to follow. Why 200? Less than that, Twitter is boring and you’ll quit. We don’t want that! Don’t worry about how many followers people have, don’t worry about their Klout score … just find interesting people you want to befriend and engage with them.

2) Content is power.  Think about this. For the first time in history, you can gain a measure of influence completely based on the content you create and personally share. You don’t have to be a star athlete, a powerful politician, or a beautiful movie star to create a niche of power and success.  Take a hard look at some of the Twitterati. Most of them are pretty humble and modest people. Twitter and the social web allows anybody to carve out a niche of fame if you concentrate on providing exceedingly interesting and helpful content.

3) Bury the sale.  I generally don’t buy into a lot of the hype-myths on the social web (i.e. “it’s all about the conversation” … gag me) but the one that really does ring true is “don’t sell.”  People are sick of being advertised to, sold to, marketed to. Social media is about building relationships, not expecting people to buy your cars or real estate based on your tweets.

4) Re-frame the experience.  Is Twitter for everybody?  Here’s a rule of thumb that seems to work. If you and your business can benefit from live networking meetings, you can probably benefit from Twitter.  Twitter is personal networking on steroids, connecting you to important contacts you never would have had a chance to meet otherwise. And, it allows you to connect with them every day if you like. Think about Twitter as an opportunity for business networking and I think you will have more success.

5) Show up, don’t show off.  To experience business success on Twitter, you can’t be a stalker. You have to take responsibility for your own success by showing up consistently. Just like in real life, you might have to engage with people 4-5 times before you get on their radar screen. Twitter is not a passive sport. You need make an effort to connect, engage, create value for people in your tribe.

But wait!  There’s more!  Just because you’ve been so kind and read this far in my post, I’m providing a bonus idea especially for Twitter newcomers.

Once you get above 200 folks, the “noise” from your stream can be overwhelming. Separate your followers by creating Twitter lists. For example, you might have lists for local friends, customers, thought leaders, and business prospects. These lists can follow you around on your smartphone, iPad and computer, so you can always be in touch, even on the go. Try a free platform like Tweetdeck, Seesemic, or HootSuite for more useful ways to view and manage lists.

So what is YOUR favorite indispensable Twitter lesson?

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  • For what it is worth, my advice to novices would be this.

    Despite the fact that you’ll very soon discover who the real big shots and gurus in the Twitterverse are, don’t be intimidated. While you’re building your follower/friend count, approach everybody at the same level. If you have an opinion, say it. If you don’t know something, ask. Tweeple, by and large, are an amazingly helpful and friendly crowd. At least I have never felt any of my questions would have been considered “stupid”.

    Finally, go back to Mark’s article and read #4 again: “Twitter is personal networking on steroids, connecting you to important contacts you never would have had a chance to meet otherwise.” Amen.

  • Not an answer to your questions, but one small thought on this part: “For the first time in history, you can gain a measure of influence
    completely based on the content you create and personally share.”

    How long will this be the case?

    Compare Twitter in SXWS 2007 and 2009 (at least based on what I’ve read, I did not personally attend either): at first it was possible to keep track of almost everything that was going on, but as Twitter’s popularity skyrocketed in the next years, it became impossible to keep track of everything. The standard solution: try to keep an eye on people you know.

    Now, let’s generalize this to all of Twitter and bring it to 2011. The amount of noise is increasing, and it’s not possible to keep track of it all. However, there is a new solution at hand that has already been implemented in various clients: filter the results by Klout score. In many blogs, when I see a screenshot of Twitter, those little Klout logos and scores accompany each tweet. A little bit of Googling will show you some first-hand accounts of influential bloggers who mention filtering out the tweets from users with Klout below 25 or even 50 from their streams.

    The same applies to Google+: it features built-in filtering with Circles, although with circles you can manually “promote” anyone to your follow list, whereas with Klout score filtering you can’t.

    In time, this may result in a glass ceiling that prevents content from low-ranked users from breaking through.

    I’m not sure if such a time will come, but if it does, it would be interesting to see an established contributor try to start from scratch and see how much work it is to rise up the rungs. A future project for you for year 2013? 🙂

  • Great advice, Kimmo!

  • Actually, I am thinking a lot about this very topic.  Very interesting obeservation Ville. Certainly a danger.

    What I meant by the influence thing is, look at a guy like me.  I’m an ordinary guy. But by publishing content on the blog and to some extent Twitter, YT, FB, etc. I have carved out a small niche of influence that was unavailable to me just a few years ago!  But you certainly bring up an impending constraint, and it could be a real concern. Thanks!

  • Mark, 

    I love this article because the ideas in it really resonate with how I built my following on twitter. It almost makes me think I need to have you and Scott Stratten on a podcast together to talk about this :). 

    Numbers : I think you make a great point about critical mass. You’re right that if you’re not following a certain number of people than it won’t be interesting. I love that you brought up following people that enlighten and interest you. I made the mistake of using a mass follow tool based on something some girl told me at a networking event. I’ve never talked to her on twitter or in real life since then. Strange huh? One thing I always do when people I’ve never heard of mention me username is look at their profile to see what their story is. I love finding people with great stories. I always like to say “make friends not followers”

    Content: I remember something you said that really stuck with me. You said that social media amplifies our competitive advantage and I even quoted you when I spoke at Blogworld. The fact that we can create content, influence people, and share ideas is one of the greatest things that social media has done for us. What I love is that the gap between creativity and technology has finally been bridged. 

    Showing Up: When I first started I thought it was ridiculous to be on Twitter. I didn’t get it. But when I started to talk to the same person 4,5, and 6 times something really interesting happen. Those people turned into friends. I make it to a point to show up a few times a day. 

    Great stuff. 

  • Great post. Finding the right balance between quantity and quality is something we all must learn. I’ve struggled with that one like many others and have learned the right mix can pay off big time. sed on

  • Mark:
    As usual a helpful and insightful post. I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog and the comments as well. I was particularly struck by the notion that anyone can become influential in social media. Kind of like what we used to call “the American Dream” where hard work and perseverance led to success in real life. Much harder to do that now, but it still happens on occasion. Its nice to think that, at least for a while (if Ville is correct only for a while) hard work, patience, persistence and native ability (content) are all you need to be successful on twitter. No social media degrees. [Glad I don’t need a PhD in Twitterology] 

    The Klout score thing confuses me. I have been tweeting for just under three months now. I started to look at Klout about one month ago. My score seems to be gradually and steadily going up, so I might reach 50 in a couple of days. Seems to me I haven’t really done much except of course to follow your advice (using Tao of Twitter as my bible), sharing what I care about, responding to others that interest me, and offering help when I am able and someone needs it. This has all been very rewarding, but I do sometimes wonder whether or not I will always have the time to keep up with everything, and find it certainly takes more than the 20 minutes a day you suggested. Oh well, practice makes perfect as the old saying goes, and I am having enough fun that I am willing to keep practicing until I get more efficient and settle into a rhythm that make sense for me. 

  • Love this, great advice!

    My advice is to say thank you.  When my tweeps retweet (RT) my blog posts, I always say thank you.  It is just as it is IRL, someone does nice for you, you thank them.  

  • All good stuff Srini.  I still love the exploration of learning about the new people who are following me. One of the most fun parts of social media.  A constant source of new friends!

  • Thanks Jeff. Based on your comment, you might enjoy this post:  Finding the balance between personal and professional on Twitter

  • Always a joy to hear of your progress Alice. So happy you are finding the experience rewarding and fun!

    I think this idea that anyone can have influence is a powerful notion and i plan to write a lot more about it. I am the poster child for this concept. The opportunities that have accrued to me through content alone have been amazing. I’m just a schmuck and yet I routinely have people tell me that I have touched their lives. What an opportunity. What a gift.

    Honestly, don;t worry about the Klout score.  See … you are following the advice in the book and your score is going uop as predicted.  It may go up and down with your activity level, but the stay focused on what is important. You’re learning, having fun, and creating new business benefits. Thanks for the great comment!

  • This is certainly good advice but it had a backlash on me too. I used to thank every single person who tweeted a blog post. As the numbers grew, the “thank you” tweets became annoying to people so I had to discontinue being polite!

  • Sure, I could see that, but my 330 followers make this still manageable for me; I’m still a ways away from 27,000! Maybe it is good advice for those starting out.

  • Although I follow about 800 people I focus on my varsity list, which contains the 100 who have proven to tweet links to the best resources. As a retired educator, I choose the best that would be of interest to educators and parents and sort them into the following categories. Social media in education, leadership, learning theory and practices, interesting tweets without links, and a grab bag category of humor/music/cool stuff. I post these “Net Nuggets” most days at This post will be in the social media category. I also do book summaries that make it easy to internalize key concepts. Keep up the good work and thanks for this post.
    Douglas W. Green, EdD

  • Some helpful ideas. Thanks for sharing. Still developing my twitter organization. Have made lists but not using them as much as I should. Trying to keep up and not miss an “important” tweet that my followers might really enjoy is taking up way too much time. I will stop working off my timeline and concentrate on my equivalent of your “varsity” list. This should save time and make me more helpful to my followers. Thanks.

  • Congrats on your Twitter success. As you said it’s about the numbers, but not about the numbers. The first post of yours I came across was about the attention to detail you put into your followers. That made me reevaluate what I was doing, and I saw the benefits right away. It is your accessibility and great content that puts you on top of others.

  • Enjoy reading your blogs Mark, and learning lots as I read…  Thanks for this one – really useful.

  • Agree.  I think it did help.

  • Thanks for the helpful pointers Douglas!

  • I’m not on top of anybody or anything but I appreciate the comment.   I’m just winging it and learning every day like you Alvin!   The social web is humbling. We’re all students.

  • Nice post with good tips! I always emphasize to newcomers the importance of writing a good, accurate and descriptive Twitter bio. It’s the quickest way for people to know what you’re about and if they want to look at your stream and/or follow you.

    Thanks for sharing your tips! 🙂

    –Jenn at

  • Hi Mark,

    Great top five tips for people on Twitter, I personally enjoyed number 4. 

    My big Twitter tip is that once you’re feeling good about using Twitter, get of of the actual Twitter website. Using something like HootSuite, or TweetDeck allows the user to gain a greater depth of knowledge – quicker. These things were built to show you loads of information.

    I only recommend this however to people have been using Twitter for at minimum a couple of days, or hours (depending on how quick they are to learn) as it can become overwhelming (information overload). 

    In addition, the other Twitter tip I often refer to is the “should I follow” rule. Many will tell you that you should follow everyone that follows you. I disagree, as although I may add value to your experience, you might not do the same for me. However, do due diligence and check out the people who follow you – as these people are often likeminded.

    Great post – and you forgot one big tip – Buy The Tao of Twitter, as one of the best resources out there, I often suggest this to people first 😉 (and no people, he’s not paying me to say this)


  • I completely agree with all of your points, Mark.  I think as a Twitter newbie it’s ok to sit back and listen to start with. Follow things that interest you and watch what and how people are communicating on the platform. Don’t pressure yourself to find something to say just for the sake of saying something. It will likely be something boring about lunch. When the time is right, you’ll know it and then it’s time to tweet away! Twitter has been a remarkable life changer for me also. I got into it right after moving to a new state and it has helped me meet so many wonderful people IRL.

  • Share everything good and stop worrying about how much of your own stuff you’ve shared. Be more like a DJ at a party and less like the acoustic guitarist playing originals in the corner. 

    Sure, there’s time for original content, but you’ve got to get a good vibe going first.

  • Awesome Barb. Great comment! And thanks for your nice tweet today.

  • It gets noisy indeed. I haven’t made a full use of the lists feature. I definitely need to do that.

    Oh…and happy anniversary! 🙂

  • Great advice and thanks for the recommendation on the book Josh!

  • Yes, you will definitely get more people to follow back if you have a bio!  Thanks.

  • I haven’t come across 200 people I’d want to follow. But, then again, I haven’t spent a whole lot of time looking for those people. Ah, I broke your first lesson. 

    And you’re right. 

    It’s becoming slightly boring, so it may be time to expand now that I’m more comfortable. It probably helps that I have so many interests that it borders the absurd (or doesn’t help–it can be overwhelming at times). 

    Number 2, as I’m finding out, has a number of caveats. Actually, this one has been troubling me lately and is the reason I’ve been relatively quiet the last week or two. (As a general rule, I’m rarely content with where I am or what I’m doing–I always want something more). 

    Naturally, I’m going to take some time to consider both of these lessons.

  • Great points Mark. The most important arre don’t overpromote yourself, your blog or anything else you might be tempted to. Nothing puts people off more, especially in a chat than of you keep popping in for self-promotion.
    Social media is engagement. And, just like IRL, you have to gain trust first. People have to buy you before they’ll buy your stuff.

  • Only way to go once the number of followers increases.

  • Adding a few more followers might also increase probability of new business connections and benefits?

  • Absolutely. Great point Martina!

  • All great points Mark. The numbers are the trickiest part. I had a mass follow/follow back strategy for a week or two when I first started, then I I’m definitely on a slower path, but I think one that will be more rewarding i the end.

    I loved this idea btw: “If you and your business can benefit from live networking meetings, you can probably benefit from Twitter.” Only one caveat to add, “unless you are in an old school industry where almost no one is on Twitter.”

    And I will say, if Twitter did not have lists, I would have abandoned it in the first month. Lists are the only way to go!

    Good stuff. Congrats on the approaching 3 year anniversary.

  • sirpa_aggarwal

    Thanks for a very nice article! I’ve been an active user of Twitter only about three months now, and have already connected with some really cool people out there. I can only imagine what it will be like after three years!

  • That is a good caveat Adam. Indeed. Thanks for providing that clarity.

  • Glad to hear it is working for you!

  • Not much to add on this one Mark, I’m still learning my “favorite indispensable Twitter lesson” ; )

  • Thank you Mark.  I really enjoyed this post as it made me think of a twitter conversation I had the other day. One of my twitter connections reached out in response to one of my tweets. He stated that cold calling was getting him a far better response rate than his time spent on twitter. My first question was – do you actually like cold calling?  He said, lets talk! I didn’t even need to review his posts.  I knew the answer, that he was definitely breaking your indespensable lessons #2 and #3, possibly others.  I have since forwarded him this post.

    I can understand exactly where he was coming from.  I’ve made those mistakes…and many more before finally having the ah-ha moment that it’s about engagement, and not typical outbound marketing.  Even today, after writing about why I love twitter even if I never get a sale again, it’s still hard to resist the “scream my message” temptation with the hope that someone is listening.

  • Speaking from the dark side, I’m following about 50 folks on Twitter and it is hardly boring nor a reason to quit. Everyone must learn (through trial and error, as I have) the best way to read tweets and send tweets. Relationships are formed over time.

  • Anonymous

    I love that you mentioned ‘Show up, don’t show off’ as many folks are quite inconsistent in engaging with their peers.  As for me, I’m starting to get addicted in these Twitter chats where you get to spend an hour of real-time chat with like minds.  I’m really fascinated with this influential social media group at Twitter whose feeds read like your typical RSS…and yet, you get to see a lot of people following that group, even if they haven’t made a single public reply to anyone. Anyway, I think conversation really matters, which is the driving force in making me create a tool that cuts down the time I spend in posting and scheduling updates… so I can use that time to talk and listen to my peers online instead.  Besides, that’s the whole point of social media, as in, to get ‘social’ and build those relationships you value most.  Cheers!

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  • I think you’re being too modest!  : )

  • I love this wisdom Adam and thanks for passing this post along to your friend.  If he’s new and struggling with Twitter he might enjoy The Tao of Twitter book. The special focus of the book is on the mindset you explain here.  Your comment is a real gift. Thank you!

  • I think this is a good example of how Twitter can be used in many ways for many purposes. I think the risk in your strategy is that many people may be frustrated that you don’t follow them back. In a small way, it sends a message that you are passing judgment on them. It also excludes these people from the possibility of future connections that lead to business benefits (which is my goal, but may not be yours).  Since you can accomplish the same goal of filtering your stream through lists, I personally don’t see a benefit of creating an environment of excusivity on Twitter but would value your insights on the benefits you realize from that approach. 

  • This is an extremely interesting point Aaron.  It is true that some people, like Guy Kawasaki, have built massive followings by being a human RSS feed. I asked him why he did it this way, and he sent me a link to a chart that showed his Twitter followers going up, up, up.

    It seems counter-intuitive, but I am convinced that sharing content alone can also be a source of influence. It seems to cut at the heart of the spirit of the social web but I also can;t deny that for some people, it works.  There is some influence that accrues to some people simply by tweeting a lot of links.

    It opens up a whole new topic – the over-importance people place on “badges” like the number of tweets or twitter followers. We simply use that as a shortcut to demonstrate somebody’s credibitity which is dangerous because it can be so easily gamed.

  • Some people like giving their business cards to everyone they meet. Others prefer selective distribution to people who are aligned with their business goals. The first category will create a database of the cards they received with dates of first contact, etc. The second category will toss any card received that doesn’t align.

    People network in different ways. Twitter is becoming less and less a networking tool and more and more an identity tool (see what Jeff Hurt writes about this: and nobody should judge anybody else on how one chooses to use any tool.

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  • Anonymous

    Haha… I really don’t like giving out names, but it seems that you’ve read my mind.  Interesting how he came up with something like that.  Perhaps, he’s already famous so people flock to him like moths to a flame?  I kept asking myself the same thing on the true spirit of the social web… and are we really getting social… or are we just feeding our egos until it balloon to this social media bubble waiting for the right pin to prick it?  I love your insights on these badges and I agree with you totally on the ‘gamed’ part.

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