How to Twitter: Advice from a Tweeter with 44 Followers

Posted By on August 6, 2013

Silly cat photo

Writer Michael Shilling argues, with the full authority vested by all 44 of his cat-loving Twitter followers, that cat people want silly cat photos. Photo copyright 2013 Cynthia Hartwig

(Or, How I learned to Twitter when I stopped trying to innovate and fell in line with other cat lovers)

Google “how to Twitter,” and you’ll instantly get a thousand+ articles written by smart, experienced people on how to utilize Twitter to effectively build your business, personal profile, or philanthropic cause. These articles present findings on how to build Twitter followers, suitably and maturely engage your audience, and profitably participate in the still-nascent world of social media.

This is not one of those articles.

Instead, this is about what not to do on Twitter. This is about how to respect the rules that people who made Twitter and people that have thousands of followers obey and practice. This is about you learning from my mistakes / arrogance / need to reinvent the (T)wheel as it runs me over. So . . .

1. Don’t treat hashtags like a nuisance

They make your tweet less pretty, especially when they’re in the middle of a sentence, but hashtags are the best way to connect with tweeters you’d never otherwise meet who share your interests, which in my case is a devil’s triad of cats, Flann O’Brien, and Victorian wallpaper (you can see why I don’t have more followers). To mangle a tag line from an older, quainter technology, the more you hashtag, the more you reach out and touch someone. So hashtag on!

2. Don’t @reply to people with a high-five or a low look

I’ve done it enough times for all of us: @reply to a tweet with “No kidding!” or “You said it dude!” or “Wait, are you serious?” and be absolutely sure that the recipient will a) think that we’re brothers of another mother and b) Retweet my response and Favorite it and Follow me. No, that’s not gonna happen. So when you @reply, make sure you’re adding something to the conversation, otherwise there won’t be one. Remember, echo chambers are for amusement parks. And Facebook.

3. Don’t think that your wit has a scent

Just Tweeting stuff that you think is funny, whether your own original thoughts, a link or a photo, or in reply to @nother tweeter, isn’t going to gain your followers and a rep. You know why? Because there’s lots of professionally funny people on Twitter. You’re not Nick Kroll. You’re not Sarah Silverman. Hell, you’re not even Charlie Sheen. So, give it your witty-most, but consider choosing to Tweet less and be funnier. And hashtag the hell out of your humor.

4. Don’t follow people to be followed

If you think that following someone infers a silent contract for them to follow you, you’re wrong. And unfollowing them just because they didn’t follow you back is poor form (not that I’ve ever done that). Point is, you should only follow someone because what they have to say or report is interesting to you. Period. And on a related note, if you Favorite a tweet, don’t expect anything to come of it, except the gratitude of the Favoritee. Favorite them repeatedly and you may gain a new Follower, but that’s not what Favoriting is about.

5. Don’t treat Twitter like Facebook

Your Twitter audience is targeted, or should be targeted, to a few interests that you have – that way, you engage in a real and sustained way with a few communities – in my case, cats, literature no one reads, and pretty paper put up on walls a hundred and twenty years ago by people wearing too many clothes. So keep it narrow and build a rep. Remember, Twitter is about the people you don’t know. Facebook is about the people you already know – and never talk to.

6. Don’t forget that photos that you took are more valuable than links you found

Pictures from your life, with a little witty teaser thrown in on top, are likely to pique the interest of a stranger (or even a friend of a follower) much more than a link, which way more often than not is one they’ve already seen. This is all the more true if there’s a hashtag involved, because that’s how they probably found you. There are a lot of cat lovers out there – turns out they want to see pictures of my cats, not articles on how cute cats are.

7. Don’t mistake viral for bacterial

Social media is viral, and a virus – which in this case is your Twitter handle ¬– is less predictable than a bacteria. It takes time to get going, but once it does, it multiplies exponentially. Just ask anyone who’s ever dealt with Zombies. In other words, be patient, and your ‘Twefforts will be rewarded. Yes, I just completely mangled the difference between a virus and a bacterial reality. But as Martin Amis said, I may not know much about science, but I know what I like.

Maybe if I’d followed these rules at the start of my Tweeting life I’d have 544 followers instead of 44. Hopefully things will improve for me in the Twittersphere now that I do.

Good luck out there, and as Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “Stay Hungry!”