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How to attract followers on Twitter and build a useful network

Friday, June 26, 2009 14:18 - by

Twitter’s power only becomes apparent to new users once they get some followers and find worthwhile people to follow.

Unfortunately, many people don’t know how to attract followers or build a community on Twitter. Without a good community of people that you are following and that are following you back, Twitter offers little value. But Twitter is a fantastic tool for journalists, content creators and just about anyone really, and that’s why if you take a little time to first build your own little community on Twitter, you’ll find much better results in the long run.

Twitter is a phenomenal powerful reporting tool. We have a tutorial that will help you learn how to use Twitter as a reporting tool.

Thankfully, it’s not hard to build a community on Twitter that will offer you real value. Always keep in mind that Twitter is not about you. It’s about being social. It’s about the community.

Here is a little guide to getting people to follow you:

  1. Make your account complete before anything else — Don’t have a profile photo? Don’t list a real name? Don’t have any profile information? Then you’re not ready to attract followers. Have a profile photo, use your real name, link to your personal site/blog/company, write a thoughtful profile and pick a background that works for you. This must be done first if you want to be taken seriously on Twitter.
  2. Join the community — If you’re using Twitter for work (or to talk about your favorite hobby or personal branding purposes or whatever), there is a specific community that you want to connect with (or should want to connect with). If you’re a education reporter in Baltimore, you want to connect with educators, school administrators, parents and students in the Baltimore area. These are the first people you should target to follow and engage with.
  3. Find followers — Wait, isn’t this post about attracting followers, not following other people? Following relevant people is a good way to attract followers. Sites like WeFollow (a Twitter user directory) can help you find followers to get started and doing a few Google searches will help yield quality people to follow as well. If a colleague recommended joining Twitter, go through their friends list and follow relevant people on it. Once you start following people (and you enjoy their tweets), start looking through those users’ friends lists to find additional people to follow. The #followfriday hashtag isn’t a bad place to look for people to follow either. If someone you really enjoy following recommends someone, then that person is probably worth following too. Also, is a good place to search for topics and find people to follow based on those topics. Here is a tutorial on getting the most out of
  4. Don’t follow people blindly — Finding value on Twitter is all about building a quality community. If you indiscriminately follow people, your Twitter stream may be all but worthless to you. Back to our example, if you want to find value in the Baltimore education community, you should primarily follow people in that community.
  5. Offer value — Perhaps even before you join the community and start following people, you need to begin offering value. It doesn’t matter if you have zero followers, because if you start following people before you offer value, they won’t follow back. If you want to enter the Baltimore education community, start tweeting links relevant to that community, ask questions and offer some of your thoughts on education in the Baltimore area. That way when people come across your page, they’ll know what you’re about and will be much more inclined to follow you.
  6. Start discussions — Once you’ve joined a community, started following relevant people and started offering value, it’s time to start conversations. Twitter is a social media site. You need to be social. One of the best ways to be social on Twitter is to start discussions. Ask questions and respond to @replies.
  7. Be social — Starting discussions is part of being social, but it takes more than that. Monitor your Twitter stream and engage people when they say something interesting or link to something worthwhile. The @reply is your friend. Don’t be afraid to have back and forth exchanges on Twitter. It enriches everyone’s experience. And retweeting (RT) is fine as long as your retweeting something of value (especially to your followers). Better yet, add your own take to that RT. But be judicious with RTs, because too many RTs — especially those of dubious quality — will not please your followers.
  8. Don’t just be about yourself — One of the biggest traps people fall into (especially those coming from traditional, one-way media) is that they make their Twitter account all about themselves. These people just link to their existing content (such as newspaper stories they’ve just written). Others just talk about themselves. People who are all about themselves rarely, if ever, interact with other people on Twitter and don’t understand that social media is all about being social. Unless you are Oprah or someone similar, you need to interact. Otherwise, you’ll never have a chance of building a worthwhile network on Twitter. Is you’re not prepared to give something to the community on Twitter, you will not find success on Twitter. It’s that simple.

If you find this post of value, you might find my Twitter account, @jiconoclast, of value too.

Monday Dose of social media: Twitter = traffic

Monday, June 15, 2009 11:34 - by

For TechCrunch, Twitter = traffic (a statistical breakdown) — Twitter has been a big traffic driver for BeatBlogging.Org and for many other blogs and Web sites.

TechCrunch receives almost 10 percent of its traffic from Twitter. At the end of the day, we can debate whether or not Twitter makes for better journalism (it does) or for better user engagement (it does), but there is no arguing about whether or not Twitter can drive serious traffic. The answer is unequivocally yes.

Many people report using Twitter to replace RSS, and Twitter is quickly becoming a great place to discover news. All this points to the fact that smart content producers and news organizations should be on Twitter, actively engaging users. That engagement will directly lead to traffic.

How social media is radically changing the newsroom — This post is a great little rundown of not only how social media is changing newsrooms, but also some of the issues to consider, like ethics.

I think it’s good advice to keep in mind that even if you consider something your personal account, people will still link it to your company if your a public figure in any way. Journalists are often pseudo-public figures, and should keep that in mind when positing to social networks:

Journalists should keep in mind that they are representing their news organization when they use social networking tools — even if it’s their personal account.

“You’re essentially standing up in a public place and shouting something out,” according to McBride. She says that the same values of journalism that say ‘don’t put political signs in your front yard’ are the same that say ‘when you’re on Twitter, you’re representing your company.’

5 ways a community manager can help your media outlet — Community managers are quickly becoming a necessary position for any news organization that wants to take user engagement and social media seriously.

Community managers should lead newsroom engagement with the community. They should also help content producers at news organizations get on social networks and harness them properly. A community manager should also be easy accessibly for when users have questions and concerns.

It makes sense for every modern news organization (of enough size) to have a community manager. But it’s everybody’s job to engage our communities now. This is the best line of this blog post:

Shouldn’t every journalist help to manage the community?

Yes, we’re all in the community management business now.

Top 5 Twitter related trends to watch — The biggest Twitter-related trend to watch for is real-time search. ushered in a new area of real-time searching, and Twitter has become a great tool to see what people are talking about, watching, experiencing, etc in real time.

Google is really a search engine for what has happened, often days, months and years ago. It’s a poor tool for finding out what is happening now. Google and other search engine companies are starting to realize the power of real-time search and time-based searching, and we should start seeing more search products in the coming years that focus on real-time search.

For now, Twitter is fantastic tool for content producers. It’s a great way to discover news and see people talking about what is happening in their world.

The people formerly known as sources — The ability for our audiences to get information directly from the source and not us is only going to increase in the future. Journalists will have to learn how to function in this new world, where sources like the police department can directly and easily connect to the community using social media. Social media has forever changed the role of established gate keepers like newspapers.

Here is a great video from The Coast Guard discussing how social media has changed how they connect with people and how it allows them to get their message and information out without needing traditional gatekeepers:

Thursday Dose of social media: Web metrics are in ‘crisis’ according to media exec

Thursday, May 7, 2009 17:45 - by

Digital media exec: metrics are ‘in crisis’ — The only real way to sell advertisers on the value of a medium is with good metrics. Advertisers haven’t bitten too hard with digital media yet, and news that media execs consider Web metrics to be in a state of crisis is not good:

A major source of the crisis, said Kint, is the proliferation of newer research sources that, while aiming to improve metrics, have only made things more confusing. For example, he mentioned the increasingly common practice buyers and sellers blending together panel-based figures from companies like Nielsen and comScore with data from analytics companies like Compete and Google, which can lead to inaccurate comparisons and conclusions. “It gets pretty crazy,” he said.

Another problem that stems from the Web’s inherent trackability, according to Christy Tanner, editor in chief and vp, marketing, TV Guide, is that too many publishers get fixated on driving up the measures that advertisers care about, such as page-views—without considering their site’s user experience. “If everything you do is based on [driving] advertiser metrics, you’re gonna lose your users,” she said.

It’s so true. If you only care about making money, you’ll probably do a poor job at it. If you care about making a great user experience, however, you’ll probably end up making money because happy consumers equals money.

Twitter Search to dive deeper, rank results — Twitter will soon begin searching not only the text in each tweet, but will also begin indexing the content of links in tweets. In addition, Twitter search will be getting several other features that could make it a legit competitor to Google (especially for real-time results):

This will make Twitter Search a much more complete index of what’s happening in real time on the Web and make it an even more credible competitor to Google Search for people looking for very timely content.

Twitter Search will also get a “reputation” ranking system soon, Jayaram told me. When you do a search on a “trending” topic–a topic that is so big it gets its own link in the sidebar–Twitter will take into account the reputation of the person who wrote each tweet and rank the search results in part based on that.

Ning opens up more to developers — Ning has been a popular tool of journalists and news organizations, and it just got a more useful by allowing for more customization. These new features are long overdue, but they should help make Ning a better option for content creators.

Ning also has a new feature called Ning Apps:

There are a couple of things that make Ning Apps different from the social platforms found on the likes of Facebook or MySpace. While the earlier, limited array of apps offered on Ning was strictly for members to embed on their profiles, the formal Ning Apps product is geared toward the creators and administrators of Ning social networks. They can add an application–from a cash donation widget for a nonprofit network, to a ticket sales app for a band’s fan page, to a live video stream of what-have-you–and it’ll mesh right into the social network.

“A Ning network creator selects one of these apps, that functions basically like a full-fledged feature on the social network, and by choosing to install an app the app has a presence on the front page of the social network,” Jason Rosenthal, Ning’s senior vice president of business operations, told CNET News. “It gets a dedicated tab within a social network, and perhaps most interestingly, by default the app is installed on every (member’s) profile page of that social network.”

Daily Dose of social media: Enterprises still driving Yugos with IE 6

Friday, May 1, 2009 14:13 - by

What browser wars? The enterprise still loves IE 6 — “This news may come as a shocker to the tech-savvy folks in the house, but 60 percent of companies use Internet Explorer 6 as their default browser, according to Forrester Research. Meanwhile, your IT department spends a decent amount of time erecting barriers to prevent browser upgrades. Bottom line: companies need a browser policy, or they will risk productivity losses.”

When I worked at Stars and Stripes, most computers still had IE 6 on them. Why? I can’t say (and Stripes was the norm, not the exception).

IE 6 is extremely insecure (and Stripes had official DoD computers), it’s very slow at rendering pages, it doesn’t support modern features like tabs, etc, etc. IE 6 makes workers less productive, and it comprises security. I could not be an efficient editor of BeatBlogging.Org (possibly not even editor) if I ran IE 6. No way.

I need a modern browser that supports current Web apps. The kinds of innovative Web apps that make employees more productive.

Even if enterprises lag behind in browser upgrades, leading consumer-facing Web sites take advantage of browser capabilities that enhance rendering speed, better support rich Internet applications (RIAs), and offer new privacy and security capabilities. From an information worker perspective, these benefits are only part of the picture.

Features like tabs, add-ons, quick copying, improved search and navigation, and better post-crash recovery provide tangible productivity benefits for most information workers. Address bars that double as search save time, and available add-ons feature a wide range of functionality such as better remembering of passwords and saving pages to view later without creating permanent bookmarks.

Twitter’s integrated search now live for all usersWe reported on this awhile ago, but it’s finally live for all users (MsBeat was livid when she wasn’t one of the lucky users who got to test drive the new site early).

The new Twitter user interface is a big improvement over the old one because Twitter finally integrated with The new integration is a huge bonus for journalists, and the ability to save searches is big too. just got a lot better.

How Facebook Serves Up Its 15 Billion Photos — Just a little food for thought:

The latest numbers the company has shared with us include 15 billion photos uploaded in total, an average of 220 million new pictures posted each week, and at its busiest, 550,000 images being loaded each second.

People really, really like photos. Somehow news organizations lost sight of this.

Daily Dose of social media: Lessons learned from Binghamton, NY

Monday, April 6, 2009 17:02 - by

What coverage of Binghamton, NY, shooting teaches about new media — Gina Chen has an excellent analysis of journalism lessons learned from the Binghamton, NY shooting. Here are the core points:

  • Reader/viewer interest in the story was intense and fleeting
  • Information changed and developed over time
  • Regular folks took on the role of dissmenating the story
  • Story was told on multiple platforms

Take note of these points (and click over to see her give examples of each one). Understanding these points will help news organizations produce better content on the Web. The last two points are especially important. We can harness users natural inclination to disseminate information, and if people are sharing information on a myriad of platforms, so should news organizations.

Tweetfind applies Google magic to Twitter searchTweetfind combines Twitter search with a Google Page Rank-like algorithm. is great for returning the most recent tweets on a given search, but it has no way of weighting the quality of the results, ala Google.

Tweetfind is seeking to solve that and give users results based on relevancy. Here are the criteria that its algorithm considers:

  • followers
  • following
  • of tweets
  • of RT he/she receives
  • of replies
  • of distinct users who reply
  • of distinct users who retweet
  • of RT he/she makes
  • of links the user shares

The site is still early, but the concept holds a lot of promise. As Twitter grows so will the need for a service like this. Now, the algorithm will probably have to be tweaked over time, but I like the concept. I’m going to give this site a try over the next week and report back. I envision this as a supplement to, not as a replacement.

Five reasons URL shorteners are useful — URL shortening sites like TinyURL are a must for users of social networking sites. Can you imagine Twitter without the ability to shorten long links down? But there are other advantages to URL shorteners beyond just merely shortening the length of a link. Here are a few others the article discusses:

  • They can track and compile data
  • They can be transformed into social media services
  • They promote sharing in particular offers analytics. Content producers and companies are always trying to track ROI. Without analytics, it’s very difficult to track ROI on the Web. is the best way currently for organizations to track links they share on Twitter.

Save Twitter searches to help with research and reporting

Thursday, April 2, 2009 13:24 - by


Twitter now allows users to save searches via its Web interface.

Twitter’s integration of (formerly Summize) into its Web interface is nearly complete. With this integration comes more features, flexibility and power. It has made the Web interface of Twitter a much more usable tool for content producers.

For journalists and people who frequently search for certain terms, this new feature can make life a lot easier and make for a great research tool. I have some topics saved so that I can monitor what people are saying about the practices of beatblogging and link journalism, for instance. TweetDeck and some other Twitter applications have already allowed users to save searches, but the saved search has some advantages.

The most obvious is that you can save searches on and view them from any Web browser. Maybe one day saved searches will become part of the Twitter API and be portable across any application. Also, I find it very easy to go between numerous saved searches in the Web interface, whereas it can be a bit clunky using TweetDeck with a lot of saved searches.

Saving searches can also make writing a post easier. If I’m writing a post about crowdsourcing, for instance, I can go create custom searches for “crowd sourcing” and crowdsourcing and monitor them for a few hours.

One of the most power parts of the new search functionality on Twitter is that it supports the same advanced operators as If you aren’t familiar with everything that can do (and it really takes Twitter to a new level for journalists and content producers), check out our screencast on the


Screencast: Advanced Twitter tips & tricks –

Thursday, March 12, 2009 14:33 - by

Note: These screencasts can be toggled into fullscreen mode for easier viewing.

Today’s screencast focuses on advanced uses of This screencast is an excellent way to show your colleagues the power of Twitter and why they should be on it. Simply put, Twitter allows reporters to do their jobs easier and better.

These advanced search techniques are what allow Twitter to truly shine as a reporting tool. The ability to search by location, date, author name, etc is huge

If you’re new to Twitter, I recommend checking out our first screencast on Twitter, “How to use Twitter for reporting.” We have a Twitter 101 screencast coming soon.

Our previous screencasts can be found here.

About BeatBlogging.Org was a grant-funded journalism project that studied how journalists used social media and other Web tools to improve beat reporting. It ran for about two years, ending in the fall of 2009.

New content is occasionally produced here by the this project's former editor Patrick Thornton. The site is still up and will remain so because many journalists and professors still use and link to the content. offers a fascinating glimpse into the former stages of journalism and social media. Today it's expected that journalists and journalism organization use social media, but just a few years ago that wasn't the case.