Getting the most out of Twitter – finding your community

by Laurie Anstis on January 3, 2012

In my earlier post I set out some basics that I found useful to get myself started on Twitter. This post is all about finding people to follow, and finding your own community on Twitter. In my experience, Twitter works best when you find yourself amongst a group of people with similar interests. You may not agree with everyone, but you will at least be interested in what they have to say. Of course, it is likely that you will be interested in more than one thing, and it is when the different groups on Twitter start to overlap that things really start to get interesting.

Here’s how to find people to follow on Twitter – both people you know already and people you should get to know, because they are interested in the same things that you are interested in.

1. Twitter’s own tools

When you first sign up for Twitter, it will encourage you to log into your email account and upload your email address book, so that it can run a check to see if those email address match with any email addresses that have registered Twitter accounts.

I can’t find anything on Twitter’s website that says what it does with those email addresses once it has carried out the search, although it is worth bearing in mind that with that sort of thing once it has been uploaded it is likely to stay uploaded, and you will have given Twitter quite a lot of information about your contacts.

Whenever you log on to the Twitter website, you will see that it will recommend people for you to follow. At first, this is likely to be random collection of celebrities, but as time goes by this is more likely to become a useful selection of people for you.

Twitter also has the option of browsing users by interest, but I have never found this to be specific enough to be useful.

2. LinkedIn

If you are on LinkedIn, you can log into LinkedIn and will find an option there to check which of your LinkedIn contacts are on Twitter. This is also a useful way of finding which contacts of yours are already on Twitter.

[Update 21 March 2013 – I believe it is no longer possible to do this directly from LinkedIn, although Andy Headworth gives an alternative method here.]

3. Lists

As you use Twitter more, you will find that some users have created “lists”. These are their own selection of people who they follow, broken down into particular categories. These can be useful, as they will give you a ready-made list of individuals with particular interests. You can opt either to follow the list itself, or individuals within the list.

4. Networks

As time goes by, and you become used to seeing what people are tweeting about, you will find that the same names come up again and again. If the same Twitter username is mentioned regularly by people you follow, it is worthwhile checking them out to see if you should be following them too.

5. Search

Twitter has a search feature (http://search.twitter.com) which allows you to search for particular words or phrases. If you have a particular interest, you can search for words or phrases connected with that interest to see who might be talking about them. Using tools like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, you can even set up columns with standing searches, so that you can always see who is mentioning a particular topic.

This works best where you focus on very specific words or phrases. My home town is Reading, and searching for “Reading” is useless. I get result about what people are reading, rather than what is going on in Reading.

6. Hashtags

Hashtags are strange things. They are words with a “#” in front of them, and are pretty much unique to Twitter. No one controls or governs them, and they can be used in whatever way people choose. Sometimes they are used as an ironic commentary on a tweet, sometimes to denote a response to a particular internet meme or fad, or sometimes to denote a particular topic.

The one thing that hashtags do help with is they make it easier to do a specific search, particularly when someone is using them to denote a particular topic.

There is no way to get used to hashtags without actually using Twitter and seeing how they are used. You will soon pick up the etiquette, and probably also some useful hashtags that you can search against to find other people with the same interest. For instance, there is a hashtag that people use to denote things to do with Reading (#rdg). Searching for this will turn up far more useful results that searching on “Reading”.

7. Link shorteners

It won’t take you long to realise that people use Twitter to share internet links – to articles of interest, or other websites. You will probably start doing it yourself. If you are interested in elephant conservation, and you come across an article online about elephant conservation, you may well want to share a link to that article on Twitter.

If it is an article in a popular website, such as one of the national newspapers, there is a fair chance that other people will chose to share it as well, and if they are sharing that link they may be just as interested in elephant conservation as you are.

If you sign up for a link shortening service like bit.ly and use it to shorten your links, you can also see who else has used the link shortening service to share that article. It would be a good idea to check them out on Twitter as they may well have the same interest as you.

8. If you can’t find, found

It is still relatively early days for Twitter, and it may be that there is no established community of people who are interested in elephant conservation. If there isn’t, why don’t you try to start one?

If you start tweeting about elephant conservation, others who are interested can find you by using the methods I have described. Once there are a handful of people, you might suggest using a particular hashtag to denote the elephant tweets. You could compile a list of the elephant tweeters you know of, and before you know it there will be a community of elephant tweeters.

 

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