Twitter is a great tool for finding information, meeting new people, building social networks (both personal and professional), sharing your knowledge, website, expertise with others, and so much more. However, getting useful information out of Twitter can be surprisingly difficult, which may explain why 60% of new Twitter users quit within the first month.

As I wrote previously, I use Twitter for the wealth of information readily available. But sometimes finding and sifting through that information is daunting. The following is my personal setup and method for getting the most out of Twitter.

Finding people to follow

Often, the biggest stumbling block for new tweeters is finding people to follow. Twitter is a social network, but it doesn’t follow the social network norm of networking mostly with people you know well or have met in real life.™ I encourage all Twitter users to find and reach out to new people on a daily basis. To start finding new tweeple, try checking out wefollow.com and Twibes.com. Both sites have active directories where you can find large lists of people to follow.

However, don’t just focus on the celebs and top accounts. Some of the most interesting people I follow have less than 300 followers. Just because someone has a huge following doesn’t mean they have the best feed, or that you should automatically follow them.

Once you’re following a good number of people you can use sites like MrTweet.com and WhoFollowsWhom.com to find the more hidden users you might be missing. WhoFollowsWhom is particularly interesting, as it can expose the hidden inner networks of your favorite tweeple.

Other tweeple’s lists are also a great resource for finding new people to follow.

The power of the list

Now, you may notice that some people are following 10’s of thousands of people, and you’re probably thinking to yourself, “there is no way they are paying attention to what all those people are saying.” Well, you’re right, they aren’t. Even after a few hundred people your twitter feed can become quite an active waterfall of information. This is what makes lists so powerful!

Sort the people you’re following into 2-3 public or private lists, based on subject matter. For instance, I’m following a lot of IT, social media, WordPress and photography tweeple. I have many of them sorted into different lists. I regularly scan those lists for interesting information on those topics. When you do this you start to see trends emerge from the chatter. Ripples of information that pass across the Twitter ocean. (A bit poetic, don’t you think.)

I also keep a “favs” list, where I stick some of my favorite Twitter accounts. This is a common practice, but be aware that it’s all too easy to focus entirely on the few accounts in your “fav” list and ignore the rest. This is a bad idea. Not only are you not building your network, you’re ignoring a vast ocean of information. For this reason I am constantly adding to and pruning the “fav” list.

Numbers vs Engagement

There seems to be two prevalent theories, or methods, practiced by Twitter users. One is to get as many followers as possible. The other is to interact with a network of active tweeple. The reason you see accounts following 20,000+ people is because it’s an effortless way of building followers. There are a lot of Twitter users who auto-follow those following them. So, if you want to build a huge following you simply follow a few hundred random accounts a day. After a day unfollow anyone not following back. Rise, repeat.

I do not recommend this method – in fact I am strongly opposed to it! So why do people do it? The only reasons I can fathom are either ego or sales. Most people following 20,000+ accounts are selling something. They want as many followers as possible so they can push their links to a wide audience, hoping that 1-4% of their followers visit the link. I am always skeptical whenever I see an account of this nature.

I strongly recommend engagement over numbers, even if you have something to sell. By engaging with your followers and those who are following you, you will build a strong network of interested followers. Simply adding followers to your account en masse has nothing to gain. In contrast, the end result of an established and engaging network is trust – and that is an incredibly valuable asset.

Managing Your Followers

Possibly the greatest tool for managing followers is Refollow.com. This site allows you to quickly look at all of your followers and sort them based on followers, friends, how long since their last tweet, whether or not they’re following you, etc.

My favorite Refollow feature is the lock. By using the lock feature you can “lock” the people you follow or people following you and prevent yourself from accidentally unfollowing or blocking the wrong accounts. The lock won’t prevent you from unfollowing or blocking from within Twitter or any other tool – it works only from within Refollow.

Once I decide that I want to follow someone, or allow someone to follow me, I lock them. I check back frequently to see new people following me who aren’t locked. I then decide whether to follow or block them, then I lock the ones I follow or don’t block.

Why Block Followers?

I think it’s important to block spam and bot accounts. These accounts annoy me greatly, but more importantly, they provide nothing of value to the Twitter-sphere. Many think that it’s fine to allow these accounts to add to their follower count, but I don’t. I don’t want them re-tweeting my links or “borrowing” my tweets. I don’t want to be associated with spammers or botters in any way. There’s no love lost for these accounts. Trust me, allowing them to follow hurts more than it helps.

HootSuite

The most powerful tool in my Twitter arsenal is HootSuite. It allows me interact with multiple social media accounts – seeing streams of information from all of them. It also allows me to send the same messages to those multiple accounts, which is a major time saver. I can also schedule messages to be sent later.

The biggest benefit to HootSuite is that, with its tabbed setup, I can create any number of tabs, with any number of columns, for searches and lists. This is in addition to the standard view of my Twitter account, which includes the main stream, mentions, and direct messages.

Here’s my breakdown: I have my account tab, which has my standard Twitter account columns. I have a search tab with a column for each search term that I’m tracking (ie #socialmedia, #tech, #photography, computer AND help, etc.). I have a tab for my tech lists, one for social media lists, one for photography lists, and one for WordPress lists.

Each tab gives me insight into the trends and activities of the Tweeters in those areas of interest. And, as I said before, finding the patterns of thought and activity, the ripples of information, in a specific segment of Twitter users can be surprisingly fun, interesting, and rewarding.

Of course, I strongly recommend running HootSuite as a stand-alone ap.

Take Away

The key elements I hope you take away from this post are the following:

  1. Always be looking for new, interesting people to follow. Take time prune your network. Never let it become stagnant.
  2. Organize the people you’re following into lists so that you can find useful information from all of your followers, not just your favorites.
  3. Don’t worry about the size of your network. Instead, think of Captain Kirk: ENGAGE! (Oh, so nerdy)
  4. Use a tool like HootSuite to sift through the information from your followers, lists, and searches.

Doing these 4 things will help you get the most out of Twitter.