When I am involved in a one-on-one discussion regarding twitter, one of the first questions I am asked is “How many followers do you have?” My answer of 23,000 generally spawns rapid fire questions of “Who the heck are you?”, “How did you get that many people following you?” and finally “How do you read all those tweets?” The first two questions are easy. I am a man much like any other who has actively used twitter since April of 2008 when a good friend introduced me to it. My twitter page can be seen at http://twitter.com/johnpruitt. There are tons of ways to get followers and even more blog posts to read on that specific topic. The last question always catches my attention as it is the most complex of the three for many people, but for myself it was the easiest. I’ve been using online communications since the 80’s. I’ve happily used bulletin boards, AOL Version 1.0, Usenet, forums and finally the social networks of today such as facebook, Yelp and LinkedIn. Along with this I had used a variety of instant messengers including IRC, ICQ, AIM, Yahoo, MSN, GoogleTalk and now of course twitter. This is the hardest question to answer in a two-minute conversation with a person though and rarely do people who ask that question come prepared for a lesson, so I just tell them it is not as hard as it sounds. I did want to write it all down though so perhaps the next time I am asked, I can direct people to this article. So this is my way of handling a larger account than average on twitter. I am quite certain the method would hold up to even 100,000 very well.
The first thing I did was to change from using the main twitter website to a client. I have tried a few and centered on TweetDeck. I have chosen this client application because for me, it runs flawlessly for multiple days when needed and works on the Mac, PC, iPhone and iPad. TweetDeck allows me to organize my followers into groups and shows them as columns on my screen. I have modified my TweetDeck from its standard startup configuration. I deleted the ‘all friends’ column, or as I call it ‘the noise column’ as the live stream of everyone I know is like listening to every CD I have simultaneously. I then organize several new columns of groups of my followers. I have a group comprised of people I have met through the social network / review site Yelp. These people live in my area, I already trust what they say about restaurants as I’ve witnessed proof and being that I’m in Silicon Valley, a lot of them love electronics and software just like I do, so I follow this column of about 40 to 60 people. I made a group up of all my co-workers and any family member of mine who is on twitter. This allows me to keep track of work and family if they choose to put information out to the web. I have a column dedicated to Silicon Valley people involved in technology, marketing and networking. This column lets me know what is going on in the industry and where the eyes of these people are focused on which may indicate where I should also be looking. I also have two columns dedicated to the legal community. My first legal column is for people who have over and over again said things I found of interest. The second legal column is for people who have said one thing that has been of interest to me. I put them in this runner-up column so that I can see if they catch my eye again. If so, I probably will promote them to my primary legal column. How people get into my secondary column is handled through reading tweets from people I don’t already follow. TweetDeck allows me to create columns for search phrases or groups of phrases that may indicate a tweet I would be interested in. For my last two columns I have the standard ones for anyone who sends me an @ message and also for direct messages.
Now that all the columns are set-up, I start my day. When I get into work in the morning, I have TweetDeck automatically started up. I leave it running in the background as long as my computer is on. From time to time throughout the day, I may jump to TweetDeck and scroll through the messages of each column. If I have any direct communications from people, I can respond to them quickly, and if I see any tweets from my columns that I want to chime in on, I can send them a message with an @ somewhere in it. Due to the way Twitter handles tweets, I rarely send a message starting with an @ because then only the people who are following both myself and the person I am directing the message to will see it. I make my statements for all to see so that perhaps someone else will share some other insights from the Twitterverse. I will retweet a few tweets that have caught my attention and I wouldn’t mind hearing more about their subjects. I may just send a tweet of information, a musing or even just a sharing of something I’ve seen that I think the world would be interested in. This keeps my account pulsing with information both inbound and outbound. This in itself takes little time and effort. I also augment my information out with automatic tweets when I upload pictures to my online account at flickr, write a restaurant review on Yelp or upload a video of my Hummingbird feeder on YouTube as seen here.
With a large following, my retweets and general information posted over a period of time have the ability to elicit responses from tweeple who are interested in some of the same things that I am. From this I find out more about people in my area and in my industry as well as gently getting the word out about who I am and what I do. These people that I meet in turn introduce me to more people and information as time goes by. I treat twitter as a party. I’m there to enjoy myself and meet new people. I’m polite about what I post and most definitely am not there to argue with anyone. My time on twitter is more about making friends, meeting people and learning. It is not solely about making a sale or furthering a cause. I have learned much from the twitterers I follow and I have met many of the local ones at the Silicon Valley Tweetups that occur on a regular basis. For all of this and more, with my management system in place, my twitter time commitment on a daily basis is only about 10 minutes. I have heard it said that it is sometimes not what you know, but rather who you know. With twitter, both sides of that axiom can be enhanced.