Twitter time-savers: Tweet success in just 20 minutes a day

“How much time should I spend on Twitter?” is a question I get asked repeatedly. And last week one person upped the game by asking, “But what if I only have 20 minutes a day?”

OK, I accept the challenge!  Here are my thoughts on being an effective Twitter-er in only 20 minutes a day. I’ve divided this into two categories — 20 minutes a day for beginners and then experienced folks.

The 20-minute challenge for beginners

In a world focused on “engagement” and “conversation” I’m going to give some unconventional advice — Forget about it for a few weeks. If you’re a beginner and can only spend 20 minutes a day on Twitter, concentrate on building a relevant tribe of followers. Two reasons for this:

  • You’ll become disheartened trying to engage with people if there is nobody interesting to engage with and
  • Twitter is simply boring if you’re only following 12 people and you’ll probably quit. Critical mass means following at least 150 active tweeters.

So in the first two months, tweet at least once a day so people see that you’re active, but spend half of your time finding and following interesting people.  Don’t worry if they follow back or not. That will come in time.

In this related post on building influence through Twitter, I’ve listed some easy ways to identify and follow interesting people who are relevant to your business and interests. And if you’re just starting out and need some advice on what to tweet about, here is some help on that topic.

Now for the other half of your time, spend it reading, and occasionally responding to, tweets from your new friends.  This will give you the chance to see what kind of tweets you like, which is instructive when you start tweeting more heavily yourself.  If you’re unfamiliar with the quirky language of Twitter, do a search for one of the many tutorials that are out there. Most people quit in the first two weeks, so hang in there and get help if you need it!

The 20-minute challenge for pros

Let’s face it, if you’re really immersed in Twitter, the challenge is probably how to not spend ALL your time on this addictive little channel!  Once you have surrounded yourself with an interesting tribe, it’s easy to “go down the rabbit hole” and follow link after interesting link.

Now that you have built up a critical mass of followers, it’s time to take advantage of this amazing resource and engage and build meaningful connections.  Here are a few time-saving corner-cutters:

1) Get in the habit of sharing. You’re constantly reading on the Internet any way, right?  It’s so easy to share an article, post or video these days by clicking on that little Twitter “share” icon.  Don’t worry what it’s about. If it’s interesting to you, it will probably be interesting to your Twitter friends, too.  Just be yourself and let your Twitter audience find YOU!

2) If you’re only spending 20 minutes a day, do it at different times of the day so you have the chance to interact with a broader range of people.

3) By now you’re using some kind of an organizing tool like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, right?  It’s an excellent way to improve your efficiency by helping you focus on those who are actively connecting with you.

4) One of the most time-efficient Twitter strategies is to look for opportunities to re-tweet posts. This has two important benefits. First, you’re providing interesting and meaningful content to your followers with little time investment on your part. Second it is a way to connect with somebody and compliment them with a tweet.  And don’t just re-tweet the same people all the time.  When you can, glance through the whole Twitterstream and look for opportunities to connect to new folks.

5) Another great time-saver is using a Twitter app for a smart phone. Use those idle minutes waiting to pick up the kids at school!

Can you keep up with everything going on? No way. Not even if you spent 10 hours a day!  Being effective in 20 minutes a day means knowing how to use these time-saving tips and then having the discipline to prioritize. Here’s what works for me:

  • My first priority is to see who has mentioned me in tweets.  I don’t take that for granted. People are reaching out to me and trying to connect, so I want to engage with them, even if it is a simple “thank you.”
  • Next, I look at direct messages and quickly sift through the spam to make sure I don’t miss something important from a friend.
  • I have my TweetDeck set up with columns with marketing thought leaders, people who are active on my blog, local friends, and other topics.  I scan through each column to see what some of my favorite people are saying and look for opportunities to engage and re-tweet.
  • I’m constantly reading throughout the day and clicking the “tweet button” to share interesting articles. One problem I have is that I tend to share in chunks, so I will be inactive for most of the day and then send a flurry of tweets because I’m in reading mode. That may be annoying to some followers. Of course it is possible to schedule tweets to even things out through various services including HootSuite but that takes a little more time and the idea of “scheduling” tweets seems fake to me. A personal choice.
  • Don’t forget to show you’re human. If you’re in a queue some place, write a quick tweet to let people know what’s going on in your day.

Those are a few of my ideas for saving time and still being an effective citizen of the Twitterverse. What’s working for you? How do you spend your time most efficiently on Twitter?

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  • @Mark,
    Just curious really. Are you using Tweedeck in single column? The default landscape view? On a laptop or desktop ?

    I was really interested to read how you organise TweetDeck because practically speaking I can never get on with it on my (15″) MacBook. It takes up so much screen so I end up with Tweetie.

    I like the 20 minute limit but for me that’s not really possible. I try and dip in when I can but like you said, I use my smart phone a lot of the time when otherwise I would be gazing out the subway window, etc.

    Some great tips for newbies here too.

  • Mark

    @Jon — Usually use Landscape view on a desktop, which comfortably accommodates six columns.

    I would say on days of intense customer effort I probably spend 15-20 minutes a day on Twitter. I prefer to spend 30-40 minutes to have at least some interaction. And like you, when I have transit time, I am constantly entertained by the Twitterstream! Also, I find Twitter is something can do while watching sports on TV. Better than most commercials : )

  • I use Hootsuite in a very similar way to how you use Tweetdeck, Mark. I have a column set up for mentions so I can converse with people who have been kind enough to talk to/about me, another column set up for people I admire and through leaders, one set up for the regular stream and then one set up for a daily topic of my choosing so I can meet new people and get different viewpoints on things.

    I have found if I’m not careful I fall into a rut of only talking to the same people every day (which is all well and good) but once I started the daily random topic of interest column, I found myself meeting a lot of new people and learning a lot more.

    Twitter has been great for me to build stronger relationships with people I have never met in person (yourself included) and I try to treat it like a gigantic cocktail party I’ve been invited to: I want to talk to everyone that I know/like there, but I also want to take the opportunity to meet a few new people each time I visit.

  • Mark

    @Joey — You mention some great best practices here. I also make a point of reaching out to new people as much as time allows. You simply never know where these connections will lead!

    Also, cementing relationships offline is important. Hopefully we’ll meet soon and we’ve already started to talk about it, haven’t we? Thanks for your great comments today!

  • As always Mark, very helpful… Thanks!

  • Polly Wade

    Excellent advice. I’m at the point where I need to start using either Tweetdeck or Hootsuite. @Joey … your comments are particularly helpful. Thanks!

  • Mark

    My friend @DannyBrown had an excellent post last week about HootSuite really stepping up their game with new functionality. Might be something to look at. I’m looking at a switch myself. Bascially, if Danny says it, i do it!

  • Check out Tweetie. If you have multiple accounts this is a God-send. Simple organized and nice UI.

    If you have multiple personalities – call your Doctor. Funnily enough I went to the Dr the other day he said I on fact have multiple personalities.

    We do not agree with him.

  • Mark

    @Mose — Probably the funniest part of your response was “check out tweetie.” Can you imagine us using that in a sentence 20 years ago? : )

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  • Mark, it doesn’t really matter what interface is used (tweetdeck, seesmic, hootsuite etc) but the way you are using it is absolutely necessary to make sense of a twitter stream.
    The only thing I’d like to add to this is about your comment about retweeting. It is very powerful but be absolutely sure to read the acticle before you retweet it. Many just retweet based on the post not the detail. If possible, you should also add some comment to it so your followers know you understand the value and why they should read it as well.

  • @Mark – Oh, if only I could restrict my twitter binges to 20 minutes. Great advice as always. I’m a newly hatched fan of Hootsuite who actually adores the scheduling feature. I don’t use it much personally, but it’s a boon when it comes to managing some of my clients’ accounts because I can schedule tweets like quotes, etc & then focus my Real Person efforts on outreach and conversation.

    I organize my many (many!) lists in different panels in Hootsuite and it makes cruising the stream MUCH easier. I also have one list called “Probation” (perhaps Purgatory would be more accurate) where I stash new folks until I can decide whether we’re actually a good fit for an ongoing relationship.(You, my dear, were never on probation.)

    @Steve Dodd – YES! Always read before RT’ing & if you’ve got characters available, add a little something-something. Couldn’t agree more.

  • How do you personally avoid getting overflown when the external world (news and interesting things other people are doing) starts taking over what you get to contribute? Me, I just shut down my Tweetdeck when I feel that my brain is getting violated (no matter how interesting those other people are). I am curious how you tackle it. Thank you!

  • Mark

    @Steve — Right on. Thanks for adding that bit of wisdom to the discussion.

    @Jamie — Love these ideas! And I am so happy to see you in the comment section again!

  • Mark

    @Lena — This is a big problem indeed! There are so many interesting things happening on Twitter is easy for me to get involved in a series of links, look up and realize that an hour has flown by!

    Back in my corporate days I would turn my phone off for periods of time so i could concentrate and get work done. Then, I would handle all my return calls at one time. I think that’s the way to handle Twitter and email too. Just turn it off for a period of time and then come back to it when your work is done! It works for me anyway.

    I have surrounded myself with so many amazing and interesting people, it is easy to engage all day!

    Thanks for taking the time to comment today!

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  • Yep Mark the lexicon has changed. Twenty years ago however I was in Grade 8.

  • Thanks for the article @Mark. I’m one of the few people who understand SM in our office, especially Twitter. So many people come to me with a dazed and confused look on how to get started. This helps me give them a launching point.

  • Great advice, Mark. I will definitely have to share it with all the folks who tell me “social media takes too much time.” 🙂

    At your service,

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  • This makes perfect sense, but on the tweet scheduling, what if your schedule is always out of whack? No harm in scheduling your tweets for the day, then when you find time, search and rt others, right? Sounds very efficient to me. And your actual online time is dedicated to others rather than trying to balance ‘me’ time and ‘them’ time.

  • Mark, I’ve following this advice after reading your book, “The Tao of Twitter.”  It works: I’m gaining more followers, and organizing those I follow into relevant lists frees up time as well.

  • Great post, Mark.  Really clear, as always.  Like that you organized it into “beginner” and “pro.”  Wish I’d had this info when I was starting out.  

    Like that you talk about the idea of retweeting lots of people. It’s definitely a tendency to retweet the same people, and spreading RTs around is better for sure.

    My take on scheduling tweets is different from yours.  I do it so a bunch of my tweets don’t go up at once.  I’m on Twitter for bursts at a time during the day.  That’s when I curate, and I could, without the scheduling feature, send out a bunch of tweets at once, but I don’t want to dominate the stream – I generally don’t like when I see 5 tweets in a row from someone, so I don’t want to do it myself.  That’s my humble opinion 🙂

    I’m going to check out The Tao of Twitter. Great title!


  • Anonymous

    Does that dot (.) thing in front of a name work to get your message broadcast to that person’s followers or is that an urban legend?

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