Continuing our series of posts aimed at helping professional triathletes understand and use social media more effectively, Mike Cliffe-Jones focuses on the world’s largest micro blogging platform, Twitter.

What is Twitter?

Twitter calls itself a “micro blogging” platform. It’s somewhere you can post statuses of up to 140 characters in length, and attach images or links.

There are over 500 million Twitter users currently active, and almost every well-known brand is represented on the platform.

Sports people are very active on Twitter and use it more than any other social media website.

Here are some useful Twitter terms:

Twitter is the name of the platform you reach on the URL
Tweeter / Twitterer / Tweep is a person who uses Twitter
Tweet is a 140 character or less sentence from a Tweeter
Followers are people who have clicked to follow you, and who therefore will see your tweets
Friends are people you have followed and you will see their tweets
@replies are public tweets aimed at you (but everyone can see them) and responding to you
Direct messages (DM’s) are private messages that only you can see
Hashtags (#) are sometimes used to identify a topic so people can search easily for it
Retweet (RT) is when you pass on to your followers somebody else’s tweet

Have you ever used CB radio? Twitter is a little like that, in that you could be having a conversation with one specific person, but all your followers will see your side of the conversation and all theirs will see their side! In the same way as with CB – you can be talking to one person, but many others can “hear” what you are saying.

You need to be aware that unless you’re using direct messaging, everybody can see what you’re typing. Even if they miss it when you type it, it will be there. Let me give you an example: You tweet to a friend something like “Person A is an idiot” Now you might assume that as Person A doesn’t follow you, she won’t see the tweet. But, if Person A has a search set up on her own name, she will see it!

So remember whatever you put into the public stream can be viewed by anyone!

Twitter is what you want it to be, but if you’re going to be a Twitter success, as with any form of social media, you need to “give” to people. You’ll find there are people who simply plug their latest posts or constantly try to get you to their sales pages, but you’ll also find those people gradually lose their following and any interactivity with them. Ignoring the many celebrities on Twitter, the ones who have an engaged and large following are people who are interesting, or helpful or funny.

What should I use it for?

You can tweet about anything you want! The clue is in the question asked in Twitter every time you look at it “What are you doing?” Now common sense tells us that a great deal of what you do is not that interesting.

Think of Twitter as a cocktail party – and chat in the same way. So what would you talk about at a party? Stuff like:

  • What you’re working on
  • Family stories
  • Referencing things you’ve read or seen on TV
  • Your training or next planned event

Use Twitter in this way, but mix it up a little. If your tweet references other people’s work all the time, or great deals you’ve spotted, people will simply get bored! Have a look at the Tweets coming from successful users and you’ll find they are a mixture of many things.

Above all, GIVE with Twitter. Just like the cocktail party, if you are entertaining and interesting, people will follow you and keep doing so.

Twitter is a powerful way to send traffic to your own website, so each time you update it with news, send a tweet out and paste the link with it.

How should I use it?

Start by writing a short (less than 160 character) information paragraph about yourself and putting it in as your bio. This is important, because people will be making a judgement based on this paragraph as to whether to follow you or not! Take your time here, and you’ll find you’ll keep coming back to this in the future to refine it.

Put in your location and language, but don’t “protect” your updates. That would require you to give permission to each new person following you – it doesn’t work very well at all!

Add a “picture” and here you should upload a photo of yourself. I would strongly advise you to use a genuine photo of yourself. The temptation is to use a logo, or a nice picture of a beach or something. It’s very difficult to have a conversation with a logo! Make it a head shot and quite close up.

Sending a tweet is very simple. Just type whatever you want to say into the box and press update or hit return. If you were to put a URL in the box, Twitter will automatically shorten it for you, to leave enough space for your Tweets. You’ll also note that there’s a countdown to show you how many characters you have left.

Twitter offers a search facility. This will take you to a real time Twitter search. Try it! Put in any term you like and you’ll see all the Tweets in the public stream (not just your followers) using that term. If you see interesting people talking about that subject go ahead and follow them. Twitter search is a key component. If you want to connect with other triathletes search for the word “Triathlon” or if you want to see who is talking about your next event, just search for it. By setting up a search in that box, you can see every Tweet using the words you specify as they happen. Then you can follow each person who uses the term. When you do that, they are likely to look at your bio page to see who you are. Chances are, if you share common interests, they are going to follow you back.

THIS IS A FUNDAMENTAL PART OF BUILDING YOUR TWITTER PRESENCE – Using Search to find people with similar interests and following them.

Hashtags # are used in Twitter as a way of identifying trends, or linking a load of Tweets on one subject together.

Let me give you an example. When Michael Jackson died, most people tweeting on the subject used the hashtag #MJ It meant anyone interested could do a search on #MJ and read every tweet about it.

One that is used every week is #followfriday and this is an opportunity for you and other users to recommend people they follow who you should follow as well!
There are lots of tools you can use on Twitter, but the two I recommend are Hootsuite and Buffer app. Both are free – Hootsuite essentially gives you a clearer and cleaner interface to display your feed, and Buffer allows you to schedule posts easily – I do most of my Tweeting first thing in the morning, but Buffer spreads what I’ve said during the day. If people respond, I catch their replies via my phone. Because Twitter is open source, there are hundreds upon hundreds of tools available. Here are some of the things they do:

  • Automatically follow or unfollow people
  • Allow you to create a custom screen background for your profile
  • Create Twitter groups and manage your tweets
  • Automatically tweet messages at pre programmed intervals
  • Check how active followers are
  • “Score” your tweets and “reach” across Twitter

Just search on various terms and you’ll find out about these tools, and there are more being added every day! On the final page, you can find links to some of the tools I have tried or used, with a brief explanation of each.

I would advise caution with many of them. The more automated your Twitter account becomes, the less authentic your Twitter presence becomes. You can automate Tweets, following people, almost anything, but the people who do that just come across as false, just like they would at a cocktail party.
My advice? Keep it real!

What are my next steps?

  1. Write a compelling bio that will attract people to follow you and add a great picture of yourself and a link to your website.
  2. Run a search each day on topics that interest you (not just triathlon!) and follow those people.
  3. Follow all the brands you work with, and any you’d like to work with.
  4. Engage with other people and brands by answering or commenting on their tweets, and re tweeting their interesting stuff.
  5. Post images regularly and remember your aim is to send people to your own website from time to time.
  6. Be interesting, helpful or funny!

This post was written by Mike Cliffe-Jones, find out more on his profile page

Mike Cliffe-Jones runs Camel Media Group in Lanzarote – a web publishing company with several titles, including Tri Lanzarote