Tuesday, July 26, 2011

TUES TIP: Managing Your Twitter Community #amwriting

This is the 4th and possibly final installment of my accidental Twitter Series. You can read the first 3 installments if you'd like, but that's not necessary to your understanding of today's discussion on how to manage this Twitter Community you've been working so hard to build to massive size.

If you follow everyone who follows you, your twitterstream can become so full and busy, you can't even read it anymore. My own signal to noise ratio passed into the useless range around the 50 follower mark. One solution (as discussed in earlier posts) is to only follow back those whose tweets actually interest you. The problem is, even if you only want to follow 5% of those who follow you, the relative number keeps increasing the more followers you get. Now that I've got over a hundred, it's starting to get unweildy.

Stopping the Flow at the Source

Now I'm getting much pickier about who I'll follow back. I take the extra minute or two to scroll back through a new follower's tweets for say, the last week (or month) and determine if more than 50% of what they're saying is something I really want to hear about on a regular basis. If it is, I follow them back. (Don't forget your twetiquette--thank everyone who follows you, whether you follow them back or not!)

Filtering the Flow on Arrival

Another solution is to use filters on your twitterstream. There are multiple ways to filter your followers' tweets (e.g., by keyword, by linkiness, by who they are and how you know them), but most of these will require you to get and use a specific Twitter app. What? you ask, I use a web browser to access twitter. Do I really need a whole separate application? Well, no, not just to read the tweets as they come flying in at you but to really manage your account, yeah, probably.

There's an app for that!

Let's take a side trip to talk about apps. If you already have your twitter app situation in hand, just scroll down to the next heading.

I can probably tell you a bit about most platforms. I have three of them. I have an Android smartphone (using the official Twitter app) and an iPad (using both the official Twitter app and the HootSuite app for Twitter--I tried and hated TweetDeck for iPad)

Personally, I like the official Twitter app but unfortunately, it doesn't behave particularly well (i.e., not stable) on either the Android or iPad platforms. That's why I installed the HootSuite on my iPad. I haven't yet tried out the iPhone version of Echofon on my iPad, but most iPhone apps work just fine on the iPad. I'll have to give it a whirl...eventually.

More often, I'll just go to my Win7 machine to get onto Twitter and use the Echofon add-on to my Firefox web browser. I absolutely love it!

To read tweets, I just left-click the Echofon icon and the window pops up (see screen shot at left) overlaying on top of whatever web page I'm on. If I want to  RT something I see, I just right-click and Echofon lets me choose to "Retweet" or "Retweet with comment..." as in a Modified Tweet (or MT). I can do my little multi-tasking and then go back to whatever I was doing. I can't imagine doing Twitter any other way!

The Echofon add-on also tells me whenever someone I follow tweets. It pops up a small overlay window on top of the bottom of my browser bar (or over the clock in the bottom-right corner of my screen). In  the screen capture at the right, I was editing this post (inserting the preceding screen capture) when a tweet from Marlee Matlin came in. Click to enlarge the image and see where the messages show up.

This is the single-best feature about Echofon IMO. It means I can keep track of my twitterstream even when I'm doing things offline. For instance, while I'm using MS Word to do some actual writing, it'll show me tweets without my having to go sort through them all. This is similar to the way Gmail pops up a window whenever I get a new message on whichever of my eight Gmail accounts I happen to be logged into at the moment.

None of this tells you how to filter, but it does tell you what apps and tools I'm using. You might like to use different tools. There are literally hundreds more out there for each and every platform. You have to try them out yourself and choose the one you like and can use. They don't all have the same features so don't think they all do the same thing. Try the ones that sound interesting to you.

Back to Business....

Now back to the filter discussion. Using an application like TweetDeck (or Seesmic Desktop, Destroy Twitter, and PeopleBrowsr), you can put the people you’re following into groups, so you can effectively slow down your Twitter stream, making it easier to follow specific tweets and discussions. You pick and choose who goes into what group and you can put one person into more than one group, then you choose which group's tweets to view and voila, you now have a focused, manageable subset of your overall twitterstream.

Another option mentioned by my go-to guys at Mashable is to setup a service or third-party web site to monitor your groups--or channels of users. Mashable has several links and screen shots on their filter discussion page, so I urge you to click through and check it out if you're curious but not quite envisioning this discussion.

Filtering by Content

Besides using a standalone app to filter your twitterstream by keywords or by groups of users, you can examine your entire twitterstream and determine who's cluttering up your stream with content you don't actually want to read. Maybe these are people who slipped through when you first got onto Twitter and did a follow-frenzy, slurping up dozens of followers without really thinking through the content sludge you'd have to wade through on a daily basis.

My absolute favorite tool for doing this is Tweetcloud because you don't have to install anything. You just use your web browser to go to the site, select to search by user, fill in your own username (grin) and authorize the site to access your twitterstream. Once it finishes logging in, it displays a cloud of keywords making the topics you discuss most often in large fonts, and the topics you rarely tweet about in a tiny font. You can check any user in your twitterstream now that you're logged in. Just type their username into the search-by-user box. It's very enlightening, isn't it?

I actually modified the screen capture there b/c I'd had an ongoing convo with one user, about 5 or 6 back and forths in @mentions, so that user's name was quite large compared to the rest of my tweets and I didn't want to put them under the spotlight. If you don't know whose username to put into the Tweetcloud search--in other words, you're not sure who's making all the noise but it sure seems noisy generally--just use an app to see whose tweets you follow and especially, who does not follow you back.

Mashable reviewed several other tools in 2009 (amazing how things have changed and yet remained the same!) for viewing your followers' content. One that I find more useful than nearly anything else is the Friend or Follow web-based service. I like it because (a) it's free and (b) it's easy and intuitive to use. I don't have to "remember" how it works when I use it infrequently.

As with Tweetcloud, you just log into your twitter account from the Friend or Follow web site and it sucks in and displays the data for you. (see the screen capture of my Fans--people who follow me but whom I don't follow back. Some of them I'd intended to follow back, too, so this was enlightening in a positive way!)

There are 3 tabs at the top of the screen to switch between seeing who you follow that does not follow you back (follow), who follows you that you don't follow back (fans) and who is mutually followed (friends). It shows you the avatars of the people in question and give you the net totals for each type of connection. You can sort by name, by age of their last tweet, by a few other things.

This tool will help you "houseclean" out those people who may have asked you to follow them in an exchange but then UNfollowed you the next day. This happens a lot but Twitter's site doesn't give you any way to check this sort of thing so new users rarely, if ever, even know it's going on.

Houseclean Regularly to Avoid the Spiders

And by Spiders,  I do actually mean those bots that crawl the web looking for connections between people, places and things. If you don't disconnect the noisy leeches (people who asked you to follow them but who don't follow you back and who tweet about topics you don't actually care to read), you'll end up being viewed as connected to them by the search engines because your tweets are public and your twitterstream is connected to everyone in your follow list. The search engines do actually crawl through your twitterstream as well (this is how "Trending on Twitter" is determined, you know!) Worse, you'll end up helping these leeches look more relevant and valid because you're in their Twinfluence. I don't like using those "grading influence" tools but I like it even less to think I'm raising some leech's grade.

Make a habit of going through your twitter followers and checking the content of your twitterstream at least once a month. If you follow huge numbers of people or have a particularly chatty group of tweeps in your stream, use the tools discussed here more than once a month to be sure you keep it all under control. If your twitterstream doesn't help you join conversations and connect with people, if it just adds noise to your life, then it's not working for you. You're working for it.

Lists vs. Groups

Last topic for this week is lists. This is a feature built into the Twitter site. You can use this directly from the web site or through nearly every app out there that lets you add/remove followers. Lists are a way to associate groups of people by whatever means your brain uses to associate them for you and then view only those tweeps' tweets.

Let's look at one example of my own filtering by lists. I have a list I used to call "wwwacies" for all the people I met or connected with as a result of our both being on the World Wide Web Artists' Consortium (WWWAC) email discussion list in the 90s. This list of tweeps has expanded a bit and I've just renamed that list to "webbie-tech" so I can include people I did not meet via the WWWAC list but who are in that category of producer, developer, designer and tech type.

I suppose Mashable is a good example of a tweep I follow that should be listed on my "webbie-tech" list. To add Mashable (which I follow with another 2.4 million users but Pete has not determined to add me to the meager 2,271 he follows back *yikes*) to my "webbie-tech" list I simply go to their profile and (assuming I've already clicked to follow them) pull down the person icon button that lets me access options for that tweep and select "Add to list."

If you don't have any lists yet, what will happen is another popup will appear with a single link in it saying "Create a list." Click that to make your first list. Since I have several lists already, I'm going to see mine popup and tick the box to add Mashable's Pete Cashmore to my webbie-tech list. Click the "x" to close the popup and then it's time to view your twitterstream, filtered by one of your lists!

Go to your Home screen (click the Home link at the top of the Twitter web site) and choose the Lists tab. The first group of links is to your lists, then there's a link to create a new list and that's followed by links to lists you follow (I only follow one list, Demi Moore's "end-slavery" list. I really need to follow more of my follower's lists!)

Click on a list to filter your twitterview. I'm going to choose "webbie-tech" so we can see how Mashable's getting filtered using this list. Hey, what d'ya know? Mashable dominates my twitterstream for webbie-tech related tweets. At least at 5 or 6 am on a weekday *haha*

Let's see what happens to my twitterstream if I choose to view it filtered by Demi Moore (@mrskutcher)'s "end-slavery" list.

Wow, not a Mashable tweet in sight! Yeah, that's the point. I'm viewing my tweets by topic. It makes it much easier to read things that are relevant and weed out the noise. The problem, of course, as mentioned above are all those people you're following that are adding noise without much value-added. It's useful to filter by lists, but it's also important to do regular housecleaning or you're just carrying the noise along with you wherever you go and in the famous words of Buckaroo Bonzai, there you are!

What's next?

There's one more installment I'd like to do on this series: a discussion of how to type meaningful messages in 140 characters. I'm not sure I'm entirely qualified, given I blather beyond 140 words and often into 1400 words per post here, but I'd like to give it a shot. I've noticed, in the last 4-6 weeks of my twitter usage, certain habits I've fallen into that seem to be working exceedingly well for me and I'd like to share the wealth. Plus, it's one of the hardest things for a NOVELIST to get on board with. Telling a whole story in just 140 characters sounds like a headline, not a story, so you guessed it, I'm going to try my hand at a journalistic discussion. Hah. This ought to be interesting. See you next Tuesday!

Don't forget to stop in on Friday for the very last Freebie Friday roundup of the Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale Bonanza.

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