In Part 1 I introduced blogging and starting your own blog. Blog posts are a great way to let everyone know about your interests and share your knowledge with the world. However blogs on their own are rarely very successful because are very unlikely to appear on the top page of any search engines before you have a good number of engaged viewers.
But how can you get a lot of engaged viewers if they can’t find your site in the first place? This seems like a catch-22, but there is a simple way out of it. Instead of hoping your audience discovers you, discover your audience.
Introduction to Twitter Microblogging
Microblogging provides a quick and easy way to find and engage with thousands of other talented IT professionals around the world.
Unlike choosing your main blogging platform, it is easy see which microblogging platform to use: Twitter.
With 645 million active twitter users many, if not most, valuable IT contacts have a twitter account today.
Although using twitter is a form of blogging, it is very different to writing a blog. Twitter is a game of constraints: character limits and follow limits.
You have a maximum of 15 characters for your twitter handle
A maximum of 20 characters for your real name.
A maximum of 140 characters per tweet.
Time spent on twitter will improve your ability to write more with less. You will see many superfluous words in your tweets that are preventing you from finishing what you have to say. Removing these can help. Sometimes it is better to end the tweet (1/2) so that it’s clear your message will finish in the next tweet which ends (2/2). Other times Twitter just isn’t the most appropriate medium and it’s better to write your message elsewhere and just include the URL in the tweet.
Q. How do you quote this and meaningfully comment on it in 140 characters?
A. Don’t be so ridiculous!
Also unlike a blog, any tweets you make that are no longer current are quite difficult for readers to find.
However Twitter is a great place to hear programming news first. Before I joined twitter, and would learn news from the code project newsletter. Sometime I would tell my friend about it, but he would always say “yeah I heard about that yesterday”. This is because he was a twitter user and you tend to hear the news first on twitter before it breaks out into the wider audience.
Choosing your twitter handle
In most cases it makes most sense to just use your real name. Unless you’re about to become a bride, your real name is not likely to change and it will be easy for people to identify you by your twitter handle.
I decided against doing that because my surname is long and many people find it difficult to spell. So I started thinking of a nickname that would let other users know that I was interested in coding without limiting myself to any particular language. I actually got the idea of my nickname from Cory’s first course.
Some examples of good nicknames are
Also there are for example many uses with handles starting with @SQL. This makes it pretty clear what their interest or professional involves. But if you are thinking of doing this make sure this is the image you want to project for the long term. Don’t pick it just because it something you’re currently interested in if your interests might change.
If the nickname you like is easier to remember than your real name then it’s worth considering it.
Add your photo and a pretty background
When you first sign up you’re just an egg. Don’t be an egg! Upload your photo and background.
For your photo, the common advice is to use a simple headshot of yourself smiling. This is the most professional way to promote yourself and the option that I use.
An alternative option is to use a drawing of yourself such as the one Kent Beck uses above. This is an example of where simple greyscale imagery can be more eye catching than coloured imagery. There are also many examples on twitter where users prefer to use a cartoon avatar of themselves. This may attract more followers than the simple headshot option but in any case you do not want to upload anything that looks unprofessional and you do want a photo that followers can easily identify you from.
The best exception to the headshot rule of thumb is if you want your account to represent a particular technology or service rather than advertise yourself as an individual. Here is a good example of a twitter account with no names or photographs:
Another very important element of your profile is the description. Many users write smart ass comments here. These don’t give other users any reason to follow. The description is your message to other users on why they should follow you. So think about what’s in it for them. What sort of things are you interested in talking about on twitter? What are your interests? Give us much information as you can within the space allowed. Also make sure you include your blog link here!
You should update your description as and when your interests change.
The combination of a popular twitter handle and interesting pictures is sometimes all that is needed in order to attract huge numbers of twitter users. For example this person hasn’t even sent a single tweet:
Most twitter uses will never get as many as 66 thousand followers regardless of how much time they spend on twitter. But an important point is not to worry too much about how many followers you have or whether the number has gone up or down on any given day. As long as the overall trend is an increasing number of followers it shows that you are doing something right.
Benefits of Twitter
The benefit of Twitter is just as much about what you can learn from others as it is about gaining followers. If you can make a dozen valuable contacts that you share useful information with, that is better than having tens of thousands of followers who don’t know who you are and only followed you because they were bored.
Besides finding people who potentially might be interested in your blog, there are a number of other advantages, including:
- It allows you to discover a number of other smart people who are doing interesting things. As well as offering something for them, they often might have something to offer you.
- Typically your followers aren’t people you know, but in some cases people introduced via Twitter can really hit it off together and become good friends or business partners
- Fairly often, there’s a tweet going around that gives you a good chuckle
Once you’re signed up on twitter
Get your follower count off to a decent start by following lots and lots of other developers. Don’t be shy! Almost every twitter users want lots of followers, and some of them will follow you back straight away. You can find and connect with lots of new interesting and smart developers by looking through other developers follow lists. You can follow up to two thousand people before Twitter will stop you following more.
Once you hit two thousand, you need to get up to about 1,600 followers before Twitter before lets you follow more. For advice about how to do that see Stacy Zapar’s and Steve Buttry’s blog. It can be frustrating if you find a great person has followed you but you aren’t able to follow them back and after a while they unfollow you. So my advice is to follow a few hundred people initially and then gradually follow more people as you find more interesting people.
Follow based on the service, not on the person
When you see a person has a huge following, it’s easy to assume that they must be an expert at using Twitter. While that’s sometimes true, it’s often not the case. It may be that they’ve bought a lot of fake Twitter followers, or that they are a minor celebrity in their own country, or a number of other reasons.
You should follow and unfollow users based on the service they are providing you, not on who they are or what they have done. For example, Rob Conery is an excellent author and is featured on this site’s Teachers page. His professional productions range from good to outstanding, which suggests that he should be a great person to follow. Because of this, it took me more than a year to realize that the correct thing to do is unfollow him. At the time of writing he has 17.7k followers and is following 81 others. Chances of being followed back are very low, so the only reason to follow is if there is a constructive and valuable enough service provided. I will leave that to you to assess – the point is not at all about knocking anybody, merely to stress that if anybody isn’t providing you with a useful service anymore, your time is better spent elsewhere.
For further information on productivity and limiting your time on Twitter see Four Aspiring Outlier Mistakes To Avoid
Drawbacks of Twitter
- It can easily start taking up too much of your time
- The line between good use of your time and waste of your time isn’t always very clear
- Most people’s tweets are not interesting
- Many tweets are about unimportant minor details in people’s lives
- Just as people can easily follow you, they can also easily unfollow you
- When people unfollow you, you won’t know the reason why
- Sometimes one or two users can be mean. This may be just a bad joke to intended that way. You need to have the maturity to deal with that without getting upset.
A person’s follower counts can give you an indication of how likely they are to follow you back. When I first started out I thought that the best people were the ones with very high counts. These are typically the users who are suggested for you to follow. However the people most likely to follow you back are the users that don’t have very many followers yet. Also, the fewer the number of people they are following, the less competition your tweets will have for their attention. For someone who is following thousands of people, they won’t have time to read most of the tweets in their stream. If someone is only following about 100 people, then it’s possible for them to read the tweets of everyone they are following.
One thing you can do to build early rapport with your followers is to send them a direct message thanking them for following you.
I am sure I am not the only person who is much less inclined to unfollow someone who has sent me a kind message than someone else who hasn’t taken the time to do so. Even if you post some tweets that some of your followers dislike, they are more likely to cut you some slack if you have shown kindness towards them.
Don’t be discouraged if someone doesn’t follow you back. The most common reason is that they are busy and haven’t had time to notice that you’ve followed them or see your profile. If they are a very important contact then consider asking them an interesting question and seeing if you get a reply. Again don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a reply. There are so many users and so much activity going on on twitter that there is always plenty more to learn from others.
Joe doesn’t own a blog and isn’t known as an author. He has been using twitter for 4 years and in that time accumulated over 57 thousand followers. If you use twitter chances are he has already been recommended to you as someone you should follow.
How has he done it?
Joe has a simple proven formula:
- Build up a lot of connections in all areas of software engineering by following 31k Twitter accounts
- Select the best news articles and tweet about them
- Include a URL for further information in almost every tweet
- Credit the original sources using their twitter handle at the end of each tweet
- Send out about 20 tweets per day
- No messing around with sarcasm, crass humour etc. Just stick to the news
This is a successful formula to attracting regular readers.
However if you have your own blog to promote, you will need a slightly more complex approach because you will also want to do enough networking to get your followers to retweet for you.
Twitter is a bit like a pinball game. A good beginner tactic is to keep moving the flippers, but as you get more experienced you learn more about the importance of good timing, angle and impact. Occasionally you will hit a winning streak as one of your tweets gets retweeted many times over. Getting retweeted by anyone is good but what is most valuable is getting retweeted by someone with a huge number of followers.
Many twitter users attract good numbers of followers simply by writing lots of lots of quick tweets. In the developer community however, this tactic is less successful. Many developers can quickly become irritated by poor quality tweets and unfollow you.
There is an inescapable fact that is there is a lot of noise on Twitter. Most of the tweets won’t interest you, and as you follow more users the signal to noise ratio will get even lower as you receive more and more inane retweets of users who you don’t and never want to follow.
Most users dislike this and try to reduce the noise by unfollowing irritating users.
However, what just about everybody respects is being humble. I cannot stress this enough.
If you haven’t already seen it, read why it is so important never to call someone’s baby ugly.
Also if you have a Pluralsight subscription, watch the “Soft Skills” and “Wrap Up” sections of John Sonmez’s “Preparing For a Job Interview” course.
And my final parting advice to you is along with this whole process, one of the most important things is just to be nice to everyone that you meet and to be humble. I can’t overemphasize how important this is. I know that I’d rather work with someone and hire someone who’s nice and humble and has a mediocre set of skills than someone who is arrogant and acts like a jerk and you just don’t want to be around in general. – John Sonmez
The phrase I like to use is “It’s better to hire a second class developer than a first class jerk”
So although there are a few twitter accounts that do well by being rude (e.g. @2p2trollcat, @RudeComedian) those are not aimed at developers but rather comedians aimed at general public users with a similar sense of humour.
As I mentioned in Part 1, I would strongly recommend watching the Get Involved! course which is available for free. This is the course that encouraged me to give twitter and blogging a go. It has connected me to almost 2 thousand developers around the world, and they have taught me so much in just a few short months.
The Hanselman Effect
And this shows the power of a single tweet. It kicked off a number of retweets and resulted in the page views jumping from just a few views up to more than 4 thousand hits in one day. This is analogous to getting dealt a royal flush in poker – it’s thrilling when you see it for the very first time, but also over quite quickly, and what it’s what you do next that determines how much you profit from it.
If you find that one of your blog posts is going viral, act quickly to keep the momentum going by promptly responding to comments on your blog and also getting involved in other discussions going on about the topic on social media. Don’t let your temporary popularity become just a flash in the pan. Use the experience to learn more about what your viewers like and dislike and make your next post even better.
Thank you for reading Part 2 of this series. In Part 3, I’ll show you some free ways to promote your blog posts.