Category Archives: Twitter management

What does Twitter have up its sleeve?

Twitter has announced and then put off a lot of things over the last year or so.

But after new CEO Dick Costolo made hiring and infrastructure stability top priorities at Twitter after taking the reins, a lot has changed. Twitter has been hiring like crazy—28 people on March 28 alone (6.5% of their total workforce)—and Twitter’s infrastructure is now in a new data center, after a series of problems delayed making the switch.

What past promises does Twitter intend to follow through on?

At the top of many user’s most-wished for features is a way to grab inactive accounts. Twitter announced a system to release inactive Twitter accounts over a year ago, but hasn’t changed their inactive usernames policy page since—they haven’t “set a time frame” yet. Another item Twitter has put on hold is a Verified Accounts system. After it officially launched in mid-2009, Twitter officially put it on hold. Later they changed the language on the verified account help page to read: “Twitter’s public beta version of account verification is no longer available.” But they still verify accounts if you have connections at Twitter.

Three items Twitter at one time planned that I would like to see reinstated are:

  1. Adding extra characters to tweets
  2. Built-in retweets with comments on Twitter.com
  3. Storing tweets in noSQL, allowing searching of older tweets

Twitter’s plan to let you add extra characters to tweets was called “Twitter Annotations” announced in mid-2010 and put on hold not long afterwards. This was to have been a hidden field that would potentially contain all kinds of information. Twitter also hinted that Twitter annotations would be the method they would use to implement a retweet with comment option on Twitter.com. However, recently Biz Stone said he felt retweets that allowed comments were an important future initiative at Twitter.

Twitter’s plan to store tweets in noSQL would have potentially allowed much deeper searching of tweets, instead of the 6 days or so at search.twitter.com, or 3200 tweets via the API. However, this initiative was described as cancelled rather than delayed.

Surprise announcement coming?

Twitter undoubtedly learned to stop announcing things they would only have to put off (though they recently implemented and then cancelled the QuickBar) but certainly has continued to make plans for improving Twitter. But with a new infrastructure and tons of new hires, Twitter can bring some old plans out of mothballs. Combine that with the recent announcement of the return of co-founder Jack Dorsey to guide product development at Twitter, and I think we’re going to hear about some very interesting changes to Twitter in the next few months.

How We Manage The TweetSmarter Twitter Account

Our account has, since the first months we started it, been one of the most-retweeted in the world. You may also be interested in some data about how we get followers.

What we do

We answer tons of questions every week, and we find interesting and educational articles about Twitter to share. We also get to know people, and occasionally bring different people together when we can see making an introduction would be helpful. Sometimes we search for users who have certain kinds of questions and engage with them. Because we have nothing to sell, we don’t do searches related to our “brand” or anything else like that.

How popular are tweets from @TweetSmarter?

It varies. They get between 220,000 and 550,000 clicks per month, according to bit.ly. In early 2011, it’s been more regularly around 340,000/month. We appear on  Edelman’s “Top 20 Most Influential Worldwide” list more often than not. When TweetLevel first came out in 2009, we debuted at #3 and have maintain a Klout score most commonly between 84 and 86.

How we find and schedule tweets

  1. We find articles mostly through (1) Specialized search engines, feeds, alerts, special searches (2) Submissions from select Twitter users (3) Tweets that are getting a lot of RTs (4) A few other methods
  2. We write a tweet about each article found.
  3. We save the tweet to be scheduled.
  4. We schedule the  next 6-12 hours of tweets.

Finding things to tweet

This is of course our “secret sauce” and even after three years we still find good new sources every month or so. One major misperception is that we find our tweets by looking at other people’s tweets, then remove their names instead of giving them credit—that is NOT the case. This happens because people see that most of our tweets are not retweeted from someone else’s tweet and think we are removing the credit. It’s an understandable misperception.

Actually, there is no way we can find many good new articles to tweet just by retweeting other people. We do find a few, but the vast majority of our tweets are found via internet searches and specialized aggregators of new articles on Twitter, mostly NOT by looking at other people’s tweets. Tweets don’t tell you how new the article being linked to is; most searches do. If we could see which tweets contained only links to things posted in the last 24 hours, we would retweet other folks a lot more. So, we don’t remove credit; we just don’t do a lot of retweets of other users. When we do find something from a tweet, we give credit in the form of a …/via @username1 @username2 etc. at the end of the tweet. Here’s some of the custom searches and tools we use to find tweets:

Choosing what to tweet

We like to check the last 24 hours of results in custom Google searches such as this one for Twitter tips, as well as feeds like this one of popular social media stories. We usually also take a peek at what the hottest stories in the Twittersphere are. We have a number of custom feeds I’ve created that we sort and view through Google as well, as well as some custom searches on specialty search engines and aggregators, and some similar searches for “social media” instead of just “Twitter.” Finally, we’ll look at custom aggregators such as the Smart Blog on Social Media to see what they are turning up.

We started with attempts like using Yahoo! Pipes to filter popular tech blogs for articles on Twitter and reviewing them in Google reader. We’ve adjusted our system for a couple of years now and where we used to review as many as 2,000 items each day, now we rarely look at more than 750 or so a day. And believe me, we speed read the headlines! But when we read the posts themselves, we read carefully to find out what they’re really about. It’s surprising how often the content doesn’t really match the headline.

So: What makes something worth tweeting?

First, we watch what people are retweeting of ours and what kinds of questions we are getting. Several times a week when we am searching for information to answer a user question we’ll find something worth tweeting to everyone. We’ve gone through several phases over the years. Here’s a few of the different kinds of things that have been popular in different phases:

  1. Notices about Twitter problems and  Twitter rules
  2. Interesting uses of Twitter for socializing and Twitter news
  3. The basics of how to use Twitter, with an emphasis on Twitter apps
  4. Using Twitter for learning and education
  5. Advanced Twitter topics such as unusual uses
  6. Back to the basics of how to use Twitter again (more new people joining)
  7. More information on how to use Twitter for business

Currently we’re in a phase where a wide variety of topics for mostly semi-experienced users is dominating.

Rewriting Tweets

We send out around 15,000 tweets a year, and we rewrite a good number of them each day, so we’ve written many thousands of tweets by this time. Dave does about 95% of the actual tweet writing. We have a pretty good feel for what kind of tweet will get clicks, what will get RTs, and what will get comments. We try mostly to write tweets that get clicks, because we’re trying to find and direct people to good content, but sometimes there is an obvious way to adjust the wording for RTs, and so sometimes we’ll choose that kind of writing.

Scheduling Tweets

When it comes time to schedule tweets, we’ll usually already have placed the most important tweets in the upcoming time slots that are the most read by our followers. We have a wide number of peak times each day across many time zones, and we try to get the most important tweets in front of the largest number of people. However, this often means they get less retweets, because by delaying important tweets instead of tweeting them right away, often many of our followers will have seen them already.

However we’d rather get less retweets than clump a bunch of tweets together—that “clogs up” people’s feeds with our tweets, which we don’t want to do. We tweet an average of about once every 30 minutes, so it’s important that tweets are spaced out or they will overwhelm newer users who don’t follow that many people. The scheduling interface I like to use is HootSuite. There we have two side-by-side columns showing upcoming tweets and most recently sent tweets. It’s kind of fun to watch scheduled tweets move up on the right, then over and down on the left after they are tweeted:

Watching to see what is popular

As part of scheduling, we will sometime repeat very popular or important tweets. To see what the current RT trends are on our tweets, we move over to Chirrps on the Profile > Popularity > By Date tab:

We keep an eye on the last 12 hours of tweets to see if anything is getting an unusually large number of RTs. If so, we may tweet it one (and only one) more time, or search for related articles if it’s a hot topic that people are updating with new information over time. About once a month or less, we’ll tweet one key tweet three times instead of two times.

What’s the future?

Since we’re trying to fill a gap in what Twitter is able to do for its users, we’ll follow their lead. I think Twitter’s future will depend first on how users use it and how well Twitter supports them in what they want to do. So it depends on things Twitter introduces. Users have always driven Twitter. Users created @messages, Retweets, #Hashtags and much more.

I would love to see Twitter get out ahead and pay more attention to what users are doing and figuring out how to support that. But they’ve rightly put their main emphasis on hiring enough people and building the infrastructure properly. 2011 should be a really interesting year as Twitter will finally have the right people and infrastructure to fully support their community.

Hopefully 2011 will be the “year of community” and Twitter will really engage people on a wider basis to help support all the interesting ways we all find to make Twitter do wonderful things.

How to find your Outlook contacts on Twitter

When you’re logged into Twitter’s web interface, you can find your friends on Twitter by their email address from https://twitter.com/invitations/find_on_contacts…but only if you have saved their email information in Gmail, Yahoo, AOL or LinkedIn. Twitter doesn’t offer an option to upload and search your Outlook contacts. However, you can easily upload your Outlook contacts to a place Twitter can check them to find your friends.

Four steps and you’re done

Here’s what you do. Don’t worry—it’s actually pretty simple, just four steps:

  1. Click here to get a free gmail account to put your contacts into for Twitter to scan. This is really fast and easy, so don’t be put off by it. Just use any nonsense name, but remember the username and password you create! (You can also use an existing gmail account, if you want to merge your Outlook contacts into it.)
  2. Click here to download and install Google’s free new tool to export/upload your contacts into Gmail. Also much easier than you might expect. It also offers to upload your calendar and email, but deselect those options—they will fail anyway unless you are using and are familiar with an existing Google Apps account (which are different than Gmail accounts).
  3. Run the tool to put your contacts into your new Gmail account. Now make sure you’re logged into Twitter.com and click here to go to Twitter’s find friends from contacts page.
  4. Put in your new Gmail email address ([email protected]) and password into the boxes and click “Find Friends.” You’re done!

A big reason we started this blog was to be able to provide more detailed answers to the Twitter questions we get. @Amy Willis was the most recent person to ask us this question: