barred Hootsuite owl by nebirdsplus

This article was originally published in the Association Executives of North Carolina’s Success By Association magazine, February 2016 issue.


Social media is a great way to connect with others, find and share resources, and build a community. But how do you find time to manage it? At a recent AENC Technology Roundtable, I told my fellow attendees about two time-saving social media tools I couldn’t live without: Hootsuite and Buffer. They both have free and pay versions: I use the free version of Hootsuite and the $10/month version of Buffer.

Like you, I have limited time to spend on social media, unless I’m procrastinating, but my social media ROI is worth the effort. Since many of the people in my association network live outside North Carolina, I only have the chance to be with them “in real life” at the few conferences I attend each year. Social media helps me maintain a presence in and provide value to my association community.

Hootsuite, your content dashboard

I use Hootsuite to read and interact on Twitter, although it does much more than that. Hootsuite helps me make sense of Twitter, and that’s important when you follow more than 3,000 Twitter accounts like I do (don’t ask!). The Hootsuite website is a customizable dashboard. At the top of the dashboard is a box where you compose and schedule tweets (or other social media updates).

The dashboard is organized by tabs. Under each tab, you can display up to ten columns. The first tab is the default Home tab, the page that’s always displayed when you go to Hootsuite. My Home tab is set up to show columns for:

  • Home – tweets from all the people I follow, i.e., what you normally see on your Twitter home page
  • Mentions – tweets with @deirdrereid in it
  • My Tweets
  • Messages (private inbox)
  • Messages (private outbox)

I also have a column on my Home tab for one of my Twitter lists (Friends) and one of my saved searches (deirdrereid – my website domain, so I can see when someone tweets a link to one of my blog posts). You can also create a column for Scheduled if you use Hootsuite to schedule tweets.

My Hootsuite tabs are organized by topic, for example, Associations, Content Marketing, Writing, Brain Food, Clients, and Locals. Under each of those tabs, I go deeper with columns for Twitter lists and searches related to each topic. Instead of wading through hundreds or thousands of tweets every day, I skim my Hootsuite columns (my lists and searches) to see the tweets that interest me most.

I’ve created dozens of Twitter lists organized by topic. Lists can be public (viewable by others) or private. Most of mine are private. When I follow someone on Twitter, I add them, if appropriate, to one of my lists.

For example, under the Associations tab, I created columns for my Twitter list of association staff, my Twitter list of association vendors, a saved search for #assnchat (the association community hashtag), a search for #aenc, and searches for upcoming association conferences.

Your association could create lists of members, prospects, industry media sites and blogs, technology vendors (helpful for keeping up with technology and industry thought leadership), association management sites and blogs, industry hashtags (perhaps #eventprofs or #profdev), or conference hashtags.

When I have 20 minutes to spend on Twitter, I might focus on a few columns to see what I can find to read, for example, one of my content marketing columns, the #assnchat column, and my Friends column.

In addition to Twitter, Hootsuite also supports Facebook (profile, page, and group), Google+ (page), and LinkedIn (profile, group, and company). In the Hootsuite App Directory, you can find other social networks to add to your dashboard, like Instagram, YouTube, and Flickr.

Buffer, your content publisher

Both Buffer and Hootsuite can be used to schedule and publish tweets and Facebook and LinkedIn updates, but I prefer Buffer.

Buffer allows you to create a publishing schedule for each day of the week for each of your social networks. You can choose your own times or use the times suggested by Buffer’s algorithm.

Buffer supports Twitter, Facebook (profile, page, group), LinkedIn (profile, page), Google+ (page), and Pinterest. The free version of Buffer limits the number of messages you can schedule, so I use the $10/month version—their Awesome Plan. The Awesome Plan allows you to connect ten social profiles, schedule up to 100 posts at a time, and give access to two people for each social account. You also get analytics for the messages you’ve published in the last 30 days.

You can schedule messages on the Buffer website or you can use the Buffer extension icon for Chrome and Safari browsers. When I’m reading something I want to share, I click my Buffer extension icon. A Buffer editing box pops up, pre-populated with a suggested tweet and shortened URL. I select which of my social accounts I want it to publish to, and edit the tweet, if I wish, for those accounts. For Twitter, I can abbreviate the text and add a hashtag. For LinkedIn, I can add more text and remove any Twitter abbreviations and hashtags. If you want to revise or reorder any of your scheduled messages, you can do that on the Buffer website.

Both Buffer and Hootsuite have apps for your phone and iPad so you can check and schedule social media updates when you’re away from your desk. I can’t imagine using social media without these two tools. They help me use my time effectively, find good reads, and share my finds with others.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer for technology firms serving the association market. The association community remains her professional home after spending ten years at national and state associations overseeing membership, vendor programs, marketing, publications, chapter relations and more. 

Still trying to figure out Twitter? I don’t blame you, they don’t make it easy. Check out my Twitter basics series:

 (Creative Commons licensed photo by nebirdsplus)

When I talk to people about Twitter, some of them have tried it out and just don’t see the appeal. After digging deeper I find out the problem is related to two issues – they don’t know how to find good people to follow and they don’t know how to engage. I’ll discuss how to engage in my next post. If you’re not following the right people, it’s like being at a party surrounded by uninteresting, and possibly obnoxious, conversations. Spare me.

Whom do you want to follow?

Think about what you hope to gain from Twitter and that will help you figure out what types of people to follow.

  • Those who are in your industry or profession so you can chat, learn from each other and/or share resources with each other? Perhaps even become Twitter friends with them? Or maybe in-real-life friends?
  • Those attending the same conference or event as you?
  • Those who have the same interests or hobbies as you? Those who send out good information about those interests or hobbies?
  • Those who live in your community?
  • Prospective or current customers/members?
  • News and information sources?
  • Interesting people – celebrities, athletes, authors, thought leaders, etc.?
  • Family, friends, acquaintances and/or colleagues?

On Facebook, and even LinkedIn, you usually know the people you friend or add to your network. Twitter is different; you don’t need to know people to follow them. Complete strangers follow me all the time on Twitter, it’s perfectly acceptable. And remember, you don’t need to follow them back. Check out their profile (bio, location and website) and review their tweets. If they can provide value to you (interesting information, conversation or laughs), go ahead and follow them; you can always unfollow them if you change your mind.

Find those you know.

<Twitter and LinkedIn instructions, functions and features change frequently. These instructions may not match how these sites work today but you’ll get a sense of how to find people.>

Click on Find People at the top of your homepage. You can use Find on Twitter to do a search for names of people you know, but this can be tedious. A quicker way is to click on Find Friends and upload your email contacts to find matches.

If you want to see if your LinkedIn connections are on Twitter, first export your LinkedIn connections by going to Contacts > My Connections > Export Connections at the bottom of the page. Import the .CSV file into your email account (Gmail or Yahoo – create an account if you don’t have one). Upload those email addresses to Twitter using the Find Friends tool.

Find those you don’t know.

Twitter provides some suggestions for people to follow by interests in Find People > Browse Interests, but these are generally people with huge followings who may not be very conversational. However, they could be worth following for the information and/or insight they share. You can also click on Suggestions for You to see the people whom Twitter thinks you might like. You’re more likely to find good people this way.

Twitter Lists are very handy for finding people to follow. I’ve only created a few but many people have created several categorized by topic. If you know people from your industry or profession who are on Twitter, check their profile to see if they have any lists you can check out for follow recommendations

Once you start following a few people, notice whom they are retweeting and check out their profile. I’ve found many interesting people to follow this way.

Do the authors of the blogs you read have a Twitter account displayed on their blog? Look for a widget in their sidebar, header, footer or About/Contact page showing either their tweets or the blue Twitter icon or bird. Whom do they follow?

Hashtags are added to tweets to mark them as related to a conference (like #asae10), a Twitter chat (#blogchat) or a topic (#ncbeer). Use the Twitter search function to see the recent hashtagged tweets from a conference or chat. Check out the profiles of those using the hashtag to see if they are good follows.

Twitter does have an advanced search function where you can filter searches by keyword and location to find people. Unfortunately their search function only goes back a few days at most. You’re better off using Google by typing in ‘ <your keyword(s)>’.

One of the oldest hashtags on Twitter is #followfriday or #ff. People use it to recommend other tweeps to follow. Those who do it well will include a reason for following but this isn’t always the case.

There are many Twitter directories where you can find people who match your search terms. A few of the most popular are:

Follow or not?

Remember, it’s okay to follow strangers; it’s not considered stalking. Here are some things to consider when making the follow decision.

  • Review their profile’s bio, location and website. Is there anything useful there? Have they uploaded a photo? The completeness of their profile gives a clue as to their experience with Twitter.
  • Are you following for information, conversation or a mixture of both? Review a page or two of their tweets. Do they talk to people? Or do they merely broadcast and have no engagement with others?
  • If they only broadcast but their links and information have value for you, they might be worth following.
  • Do they RT others and share good information? Or are their RTs only references to themselves? If all they share are self-promotional tweets and RTs, they aren’t worth following.
  • When’s the last time they tweeted? Some folks take a class about social media, start an account, tweet a bit and then disappear forever.

Before you start following too many people, think about what they’ll see when they check out your profile. Give them enough information to make a fair follow decision. Make sure your profile is complete. Have enough tweets on your page to make sure you look equally as interesting and valuable to them. In my next post I’ll show how you can be engaging and successful on Twitter, but until then you want to have a page worth of tweets that are a mix of sharing and conversation, with the emphasis on sharing:

  • Share links to good blog posts. Include a brief description and give credit to the author using their twitter username, for example @deirdrereid, if they have one. Use or to shorten your link.
  • Find someone to talk to – a friend, colleague or stranger – and either remark on something they tweeted, ask them a question (something they can answer in a 140-character tweet) or answer a question they ask.

If you’re already an experienced Twitter user, how do you find people to follow?

Twitter Basics series