(Initial) Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali's blog has now moved to http://blog.mahabali.me

Deep and Surface Approaches to Twitter


I got a tweet today from David Mathew who is new to Twitter:

I actually only had 496 followers at the time, but maybe he was reading the 518 I am following?

I could have pointed him to loads of links online about how to increase your twitter following, but many of them take “surface” approaches, and I think I’ve learned somewhere along the way to take a “deep” approach. I’ll explain as I go along.

But here is how it happened to me. Much of this was not intentional, mind you (except the surface approaches part)

Be “human”
Surface approach: make sure you have a human picture there, don’t follow a million people or you will look like a spammer, and try to follow back relevant people when it makes sense so you don’t look like a snob (this is common twitter strategy)

Deep approach: make sure you don’t always have automated things tweeting for you (like iftt or your automatic wordpress plugin or whatever; use those sometimes, too, but not exclusively). Interact with people as a person. It sounds obvious, of course, but this means making social gestures like saying hi, etc. it also means using things like sending things to particular people using’@’ when you think they’ll find them useful, it means when you forward someone else’s article or blog post that you try to say “via @theperson” to acknowledge them. I have an earlier blog post about social media etiquette that might help.

Be useful Be interactive, be generous
Surface approach: (can’t think of one hehe)
Deep approach: retweet useful things to useful people using the right hashtag (retweeting achieves two purposes: lets someone know u appreciate what they tweeted, and also lets your followers benefit from what you found useful). Answer questions that people pose. I got a large boost to my twitter following when I started interacting with other PhD students on twitter and asking and answering questions, i cannot remember HOW This all started (probably through a Guardian Higher Ed or Times Higher Ed article or event. The “be generous” part I learned from a Hybrid Pedagogy article. I had never thought of it before. People who use twitter to just self-promote will have others bored pretty fast. People who use Twitter to give and take with others create community, by giving credit to others and helping promote them (and people often reciprocate).

Join communities (MOOCs, hashtags, twitter chats)
Surface approach: tweet everything to a popular hashtag (looks like spamming?)
Deep approach: tweet relevant things to the relevant hashtag. Follow that hashtag yourself (e.g. Using tweetdeck or hootsuite) to see what people do there. Retweet stuff from there, reply to people who tweet there. Same for a MOOC that has a hashtag. Using it well gets followers. Same for twitter chat events.

Basically, a deep approach is to think of your followers as people and twitter as a place to build community (not numbers of followers) – you want to follow and be followed by people with similar interests

Will add more if I remember them!

I invite others to add in the comments


Author: Maha Bali

Associate professor of practice, American University in Cairo

7 thoughts on “Deep and Surface Approaches to Twitter

  1. I think you’re spot on. Be human, show that you enjoy engaging with others, don’t spam feeds by retweeting lots of stuff all the time … don’t (often) use a bot

  2. Oh – and don’t tweet links to your old blog posts unless they are relevant in a new context/ don’t post hourly tweets for your new blog post.

  3. A really interesting post, Maha. I’m happy to have been educated by you!

    • Glad you found it helpful, David, and thanks for inspiring the post in the first place. Notice also the interesting comments by Tanya and Sarah (also very useful tips). I agree with both of them on the importance of focusing on the quality of who you’re interacting with on Twitter rather than the numbers. This whole “gamifying” thing is a good point, Tanya!

  4. Hi Maha, great tips – and definitely agree…I had a twitter account for years but didn’t ‘get it’ really until I started using it purposefully – using hashtags and mentioning specific people when tweeting stuff to kickstart interactions / conversations and so that people interested in the same things can ‘find’ you; big one is MOOCs and participating in twitter chats, getting involved with communities. Even when I don’t have time to scan the feed or a hashtag (often, these days…), I’m drawn back to interact or chat when someone mentions or pings me.

    The other big thing I’d add, is – don’t focus on the number of followers you have!! This is most likely to lead you down the ‘surface’ approach. It’s not about the numbers but the quality of followers (i.e. whether they’re relevant and relate to your interests or expand your thinking etc) and the interactions you have. All social media sites unfortunately display your followers, friends, connections etc upfront intentionally to get you to focus on this (I see this as a form of ‘gamifying’ social interaction) but really unless you stop fixating on numbers and start focusing on interactions, you’re probably not going to get that much value out of it. Once you start participating in events, and interacting with people you’ll naturally start to build followers – meaningful and relevant ones.

  5. Hey Maha – this just popped up into my twitter feed: Twitter tips

  6. Pingback: #et4online: Reflections on Day One | Reflecting Allowed

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