Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Using Twitter effectively

To maximise the number of people that visit our site as a result of Twitter, we need to make sure we do a couple of things when using the "retweet" feature.

First, edit the standard text that you are provided with. More people will visit the site if it doesn't look like you've just retweeted an electronic form. I would suggest removing the "@Counterfire", and perhaps putting in your own description of the article's contents, rather than just the title.

Second - and critically, I really can't stress this enough for Twitter - make use of hashtags. These are a feature on Twitter that allow tweets (the posts you write) to be grouped by topic. They are very easy to use: you just write "#hashtag" at the end of your post, replacing 'hashtag' with a single-word topic. So, for example, people writing about the UK election have been adding '#ukelection' to the end of their post. '#dontdoitnick' was very popular for a while, as was '#iloveimmigrants' the other week. You can use more than one hashtag in a tweet, too, if you think something is relevant to more than one topic.

A complete tweet generated from the site, but using hashtags and with my own edits, might then look something like:

Lindsey German on Lib Dems sacrificing policies for government posts | Counterfire #ukelection #libdemfail #libtory

I've changed the description, and added three hashtags: #ukelection, #libdemfail, #libtory.

Twitter displays, at any given point in time, the most popular topics being tweeted about. If you log in, you'll find the list on the right-hand side of the screen - select 'UK' from the country option to just seen those that are popular in the UK. If you want huge numbers of people to see your tweet, it's as well to pick something from this list - #ukelection has been a good bet of lat, but there's usually something politics related on there.

Also, keep an eye on what hashtags the people you follow are using - if you see something coming up repeatedly, try and tag along with that.

It really is the use of hashtags that will make Twitter work for us. If we don't use them, we won't crack out of the circle of our existing followers - and I think there's an awful lot of crossover amongst us on that one.

One other thing about Twitter: academic research, and before that just casual observation, suggests that Twitter use is very different to other social networking sites, like Facebook. People tend to have more complete strangers in their network, and the number of conncetions people have with others follows a different kind of distribtution: instead of a few wildly popular people having thousands of friends, while the average is just c.50, the connections are more evenly distributed.

What this tells you, I think, is that Twitter has a different function to other sites - it acts like the glue between different social networking sites, and people take things off Twitter and use them elsewhere, rather than remaining within Twitter to use them. So people will find something on Twitter, and then email it to their friends outside of Twitter - I've do this myself - whereas on Facebook, people most share links between their friends on Facebook, posting stuff onto their profile.

That means, in turn, that the number of direct hits from Twitter may not be very high, but that it can act to amplify the effects of social networking elsewhere, with successful tweets driving more hits from Facebook, blogs, and from emails. If we can get its use right, we can start to drive up visits to Counterfire rapidly, with minimum effort.