If Twitter perplexes you, you’re probably not following the best people or you’re not sure what the heck to do on there. In my last post I explained how to find the best people to follow. Now it’s time to learn how to tweet.

Twitter is a social media platform. The same people skills that work well in real life will work well here too. Imagine you’re at a conference reception talking to a bunch of people. The guy next to you constantly talks about himself. He doesn’t try to engage in conversation with any of you. He doesn’t even reply when you ask him a question. What is up with him?

Despite how anti-social and weird that sounds, Twitter is full of people like him. They don’t get that Twitter is a conversational interactive platform and they approach it the same way they use traditional broadcast media. Even some PR agencies are guilty of this.

In a social space like Twitter, whether you’re an individual or a business, your tweets should be a mix of sharing resources and conversation with only a bit of promotion if you need it for professional or business reasons. Opinions about the ideal mix are all over the place. Here’s something to start with: 60% of your tweets share resources, 30% are conversational (responding and chatting) and 10% are promotional.

Does that seem like a lot of content to share? It might if you only use Twitter for personal reasons. Take some time to think about your reasons for using Twitter, the value you want to bring to others and the type of relationships and reputation you seek. Maybe your witty banter will be enough, but you might decide to supplement that with retweets and links to posts that you think others will find interesting too.

The secret to good sharing

How do you find those good retweets and posts? By following people who share good stuff and subscribing to good blogs. Always keep an eye out for good content to share. I keep a document going in Word called Tweets for Later and when I find something good, I jot down the link. I try to keep those tweets under 120 characters so it will be easy for others to retweet it without editing. Always use a URL shortening service, like bit.ly or ow.ly, to shorten any links you wish to include in your tweets.

If I see a tweet sharing what looks like a good blog post, but I don’t have time to read it, I’ll mark that tweet as a Favorite (Like) and get back to it when I do have time. Between these two methods, I usually have enough to share with others.

Twitter Time

How much time should you spend on Twitter? It’s best to have a regular dependable presence. If you only show up once every few weeks, no one will have a chance to get to know you. Twitter is made up of many communities. You’ll find that after a while you’ll feel like a part of many different ones. Commit to those communities and relationships by being there. I try to log on every weekday, usually for a bit of time in the morning and then again later in the day. When I have more free time, I may do more. And of course on some days, it’s a challenge to get on at all, but I try. On weekends, if I log on, I tend to tweet more about my personal interests. Experiment and find times that work for you, even if only for 10-15 minutes at a time.

I strongly suggest you find a way to limit your time – set a timer if you must. I often set my kitchen timer so I have to get out of my office and stretch my legs. It is very easy to get sucked in and find that an hour has elapsed and it’s far too easy to rationalize your time spent there – after all, you’re learning and nurturing relationships. Be mindful.

You also will have to decide how personal you want to get on Twitter. Some people keep things strictly professional and others, like me, allow our personality and interests to permeate our tweets. I find the latter approach to be more real and interesting and I prefer following people who do the same. If you do get personal, always imagine your mother is reading your tweets (mine does!) so you don’t embarrass anyone, including yourself. Even when you’re not at work, you still do represent your company in other people’s minds. All your tweets are indexed by Google and will live on Google search forever; keep that in mind.

Update: How to Manage Social Media with Hootsuite and Buffer explains how to use your time on social media more effectively.

A well respected tweep about town

Bringing your whole personality to Twitter will differentiate you from others. You become more than just a source of good content; you’re a real personality. If you tweet on behalf of a business, consider including your name and photo somewhere in the bio or background. People connect to people, not logos.

Set up listening tools that will alert you when people reply to you or mention you, so you can reply back or thank them. Due to Twitter wonkiness, some mentions slip through the cracks and don’t show up in Twitter applications. Instead of relying on Twitter, set up Google alerts on your username and any variations, for example, your username without the ‘@’ symbol and any common misspellings. If you tweet out links to your blog posts, create a bit.ly or ow.ly account to shorten and track mentions of those URLs.

Give the spotlight to others as often as you can. Share the good tweets of others by retweeting and giving credit to them. Thank others when they share your content. Be a good social media citizen by helping others when you can. Every now and then filter your All Friends column by “?” to see if you can answer questions. Connect tweeps who might be able to help each other or find each other interesting.

If you are a source of good content, and a good social media citizen, people will come to like and trust you and that can lead to deeper relationships. And, if you’re a business, those relationships can lead to referrals, leads and sales. That’s good social media karma.

In the next post, I’ll talk more about managing your Twitter use and time.

Twitter Basics series