Twitter is a mysterious beast and much misunderstood, especially by non-Tweeters who roll their eyes and write it off as a waste of time. I don’t fully understand Twitter but I do love it, use it regularly and value it highly. You‘ll find me on Twitter most days @AnnabelCandy and I’ve even written about how to use Twitter as a motivational tool.

I’ve met many great people on Twitter too, including clients who’ve hired me for copy writing on the basis of my tweets (yes I’ve earned money because of Twitter) and bestselling authors like Peter Moore (@travdude), John Birmingham (@johnbirmingham) and Alexander McCall Smith(@McCallSmith). But best of all, dear reader, it’s possible that I met you there too.

Now I want to share a few Twitter tactics I’ve noted and see what you think. This isn’t the typical list of instructions with clear cut advice. You’re going to have to read this through, think about it, tweet a bit and decide what’s right for you. Yes, work, planning, strategizing and decision-making is involved but if you’re up to that please read on.

Twitter Tactics Disclaimer

This dissection of Twitter tactics going to make me any friends, and it might even lose me some Twitter followers, but I’m not here to make friends, and I’m not here to gain a huge Twitter following. I’m here to help you succeed and make sure you win business online and these ideas will help you do that.

Twitter Tactic 1

Follow every Tom, Dick and Harry who follows you.

This is the most common Twitter tactic, understandably popular with new Twitter users. Twitter tactic 1 is the default setting. It’s what you do on Twitter if you haven’t really thought about what you’re doing on Twitter and, let’s face it, that’s the case for most new Twitter users. It was certainly my tactic when I first signed up for Twitter in early 2009.

If you follow everyone on Twitter who follows you you’re in good company. Power tweeters like our mates Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan), Darren Rowse (@problogger) and Chris Guillebeau (@chrisguillebeau) seem to use this tactic. Those gents are popular for a reason, and not just on Twitter, and it seems as if what they’re doing is the right thing. After all, if someone follows you on Twitter it is only polite to follow them back.

Please note that these gorgeous gents did nothing to artificially inflate their Twitter followings by following people at random purely so they get followed back. Some people do that but I can’t see the point. Why would you want thousands of Twitter followers if none of them know who you are or pay attention to your tweets?

Twitter Tactics: a cautionary tale

I know one man (who wishes to remain anonymous) who is famous for being followed on Twitter. Rather a dismal claim to fame really. He’s followed by about 40,000 people and follows about 42,000 people. It’s an odd ratio which doesn’t show him in a good light. Being a curious type I’ve noticed that he has on average one comment on each of his blog posts. In fact, he is unable to maintain a blog and keeps taking it up and down. It’s quite unclear what his skills or offerings are apart from the fact that he has a lot of Twitter followers and he’s even used this to get people to pay him to tweet about them.

Sorry, but I just don’t get it. Unfortunately neither did a well known publishing house who recently published his first book. It’s about how to get lots of people to follow you on Twitter but it’s not selling well. I guess they commissioned it a few years back when Twitter was still newish and having tens of thousands of followers was brilliant. It’s really not these days. Unless you have tens of thousands of followers who actually love you and enjoy reading your thoughts like the power tweeters mentioned above.

This tactic is about reciprocation – I scratch your back if you scratch mine – a concept which I fully support in real life but not when it comes to following people on Twitter.

Excuses for not following this Twitter tactic

Some people who follow zillions of people on Twitter say that’s because they started with the follow everyone tactic, then got stuck with all those people because unfollowing them all would take too long. That’s not strictly true though. You could just unfollow them all then start again from scratch. Unless you’re too scared that they’ll all notice and unfollow you. Unlikely because most people have better things to do than track people who unfollow them on Twitter although some people fall into that category. But more about them later.

Twitter Tactic 2

Be picky and only follow people you genuinely find informative, entertaining or have an on-going relationship with.

Now some of our mates who do this, like Leo Babauta (@zen_habits), who’s currently sporting an attractive ratio of around 57 followed to 50,000 followers. Leo used to follow a lot more people but then one day he dropped us all like hot potatoes.

It was sad, there were tears (from me, not Leo who was most likely running laps round his house with glee) but I understood it. After all, why follow 40,000 people on Twitter? It’s impossible to read all their tweets so anyone sane who does sets up lists so that they can just read Tweets from a select few. I appreciate Leo’s honesty and his Twitter follow/follows ratio shows that he’s a true leader.

My first year on Twitter I followed everyone who followed me. Then I had an epiphany and started unfollowing people who I wasn’t really paying attention to anyway. I certainly don’t want to snub people who follow me or make them feel unwanted and unloved. I’m inherently curious plus I’m mad about blogging and web design so there’s nothing I’d like to discuss more than why you set up a blog, if it’s getting the results you hoped for and if not what we can do to change that. But unfortunately I find that most of my blogging readers don’t stick to that topic. And why should you?

Twitter’s a great way to let of steam, chat with old mates and network with new ones. But the trouble is when I check in with you on Twitter what I’m generally hoping to find are a few clues about who you are and what you do. But mostly that’s not what I find.

Twitter Tactics: another cautionary tale

I often notice people retweeting my links or posts. This is a good person I think, a true reader and admirer. They’re supporting me in a lovely way, let me return the favor by giving them a shout out. So I nip over to their tweet stream and find…. nothing of any interest…. so I hop onto their blog and find…no tweet button to allow me to quickly tweet about them… or sometimes a tweet button that sends their link but not shortened and with no mention of their tweet handle which means they may never know that I’m on their team promoting their stuff just as they do mine.

Please please please make it easy for people to tweet your links. I’m persistent but most people aren’t and will give up if it’s too hard.

Excuses for not following this Twitter tactic

I used to feel hurt if one of the big Twitter power people wasn’t following me so I worry that people may be hurt because I’m not following them. I confess, it can be annoying if you want to send someone a Direct Message (DM) but you don’t have to follow everyone just in case they ever want to DM you.

Be adult, be flexible – ask people to follow you briefly so you can DM them or, if you DM someone you’re not following, follow them so they can DM you too. You can always unfollow them again later if the relationship fizzles out.

Twitter Tactic 3

Use Twitter to follow blogs, blog syndicates and people. rong>

You’ll find you don’t need to follow as many individual people as you think you do because most people form blogging groups and all retweet each other’s stuff anyway.

It’s not a personal slur if I don’t follow you on Twitter. In fact, it could mean that I follow you already because I subscribe to your blog by email or by checking into your blog every now and then to see what you’ve been up to because I like it.

Twitter Tactic 4

This the most boring advice ever given on social media yet we get it rammed down our throats on a daily basis: be authentic.

I don’t see what the alternative is but I do think it’s a bit odd to follow 76,000 people on Twitter when there’s no way you can read all those tweets. Following thousands of people and setting up lists so I can quietly ignore 99% of my followers, while appearing to be interested doesn’t feel right to me. That’s why I’m following fewer people. It seems more honest.

Twitter Tactic 5

Be engaged and engaging.

One of the most engaged and engaging Twitterers I know is Kiki Robinson (@kikirobinson) She hates to network in real life but is extremely active on Twitter and very giving, forever introducing people to each other and alerting people about jobs, people or links that might interest them. Another Twitter star is Ricardo Bueno (@Ribeezie), a fine figure of a man who doesn’t just tell people to engage. He actually engages with them and proved it by responding to my recent request for Twitter tips thus:

“*Engage* with others, don’t just broadcast.”

Twitter Tactic 6

Provide real value.

I try to provide some real value on Twitter – it’s a micro-blogging service after all so I should be able to use it to tell stories, share tips, motivate, inspire, raise a smile, suggest further reading and connect in a useful way just like I do on my main blog.

I guess some people follow me on Twitter because they don’t subscribe to my blog by email, RSS or Facebook so for those people my tweets need to keep them up to date with what’s happening on my blog.

But avid fans will explore all ways of connecting with you so many people subscribe to my blog by email or RSS, are friends with me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. For those people my tweets need to add value to what’s happening on the blog.

Twitter Tactic 7

Focus on your topic.

Please. Even Paris Hilton does this, her topic being vapid, random facts about fashion, music and fame in case you’re not following her. I love people who stick to their topic no matter how obscure it is. Of course I understand you’re human too and you’re allowed to slip in the odd personal tweet about your cat/kids/facial hair but if you’re tweet stream turns into a mindless stream of consciousness, a detailed account of your every movement, or a constant regurgitation of other peoples’ quotes it will become tiresome and distracting and I might have to unfollow you. Sorry.

Twitter Tactic 8

Make your Tweets scannable.

If you’ve had anything to do with me before you’ll know that one of my pet peeves is making online copy scannable and you can do that on Twitter too. I adopted this tactic from the superb Dickinson Bros guide Success with Twitter. I recommend you buy it too. It’s excellent. Apart from the fact that there’s no affiliate program of course.

Here’s a sample tip. Use capital letters to preface your tweets so your Twitter followers can instantly gauge if it’s a tweet that will interest them or not. This simple tip will save your Twitter followers from reading every single tweet. To give you an example here’s a sample of some recent tweets – I’ve removed the links to help you stay focused:

EVENTS I FIRE UP your business in 2011 – planning w/shop with @catmatson
READING I Five ways you can use a Personal Concierge by @urbanassistant
WEB WRITING TIP I Short paragraphs – 3 or 4 sentences max – will make things more readable:)
THANK YOU I @websiteweekend For your fab guest post How to Waste Time Productively
NEW BLOG POST I Successful Blogging Book Reviews and More Hot News
BLOGGING TIPS I By @jeansarauer How to Dream Up Awesome Blog Posts

Twitter Tactic 9

Be the best Tweeter you can be.

It’s nothing personal but I recently unfollowed about 300 people on Twitter. Two complained. One said I wasn’t interested in following the conversation. We had a quick chat about it and agreed to disagree. The other asked what she’d done wrong. I followed her back again.

Guilt trips aside, I follow people on Twitter because I’m really into them but there are probably people I’ve missed. If you think I’ve missed you let me know and I’ll follow you too.

Some people set up fancy systems with TweetDeck but I just want to keep it simple and following only a few people is the tactic that works best for me.

It’s a learning curve and when you get on Twitter for the first time it’s all new and exciting. It’s understandable that you want to tweet about everything including what your dog’s having for tea. If I don’t follow you on Twitter it could be because you tweet too much, but if you want me to follow you I will.

I know some people who check me out on Twitter may not follow me because they know I won’t follow them back. Shame really. But then again, if they’re only following me because they want to be followed back then it’s a bit pointless anyway.

Twitter Tactics in Discussion: Let’s Talk More

I’d love to interact with you and help you out on Twitter or wherever you like to hang out. Please follow or tweet @AnnabelCandy if you’re into Twitter and don’t be shy about suggesting your own links if you’re especially proud of them and think me and my Twitter followers would like them. Tell me your successes, share your failures or ask questions. That’s what Twitter’s there for. It might be a mysterious beast but together we can tame it.

What are your Twitter tactics?

Is it social media suicide not to follow everyone who follows you on Twitter or does it feel right to you? I’ve been weighing it all up for a while and I’d love to hear your thoughts.