How to Start Using Twitter and Building Your Presence (Non-Toolish Remix 1.0)

by Scott - 3 Comments

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Getting started on twitter can be daunting. What does RT mean? Who do I follow? Is there etiquette on here? Why did @sexylexy46 who follows 45,000 people and is followed by 5 just follow me? I wondered all these things when I started out and did a lot of stupid things in the process of trying to build a digital presence. I have a lot of friends trying to “break in” to the startup scene, so I figured I wrote a post on my learnings to help them avoid some mistakes I made.

How to start using twitter

This is my unofficial guide of how to get started and build a digital presence on twitter – something that’s really useful for people looking to break into the startup scene. I’ll cover some do’s and don’ts that will probably piss a few people off, but hey, this is my blog.

Set the Table

  • Pick a short handle that is easy to remember and descriptive of you. I.E. Last name
  • Fully fill out your profile so people have some context when they visit your profile
  • Start off by following your coworkers and friends

Game Time

If I started on twitter today, I’d approach building an online presence in the following order:

1. Follow industry thought leaders with a heavy concentration in your geographic area.

I’d aim to follow somewhere around 40 thought leaders, in addition to your friends and co-workers. It’s best to model yourself off those who are well respected and have a image to uphold which is why observing these type of people is ideal. I think it’s helpful to focus heavily  people in your area because they’re more likely talk about things that you’re familiar with.  You can find people to follow by

At the onset, find contentment as a fly on the wall. Your goal is to understand how the ecosystem works. Spend a week observing the type of content shared, what a back and forth dialogues look like, how people use hashtags etc. If you encounter some verbiage that seems unique to twitter like RT or DM ask a friend or colleague what that means instead of assuming people suck at spelling.

2. Begin Participating With People You Know (in the offline world)

After spending a week looking at the pool, it’s time to put your foot in the water. Whenever you do something that seems intimidating, it’s always best to begin in situations where the risk is limited. Afraid of cold-calling? Start off by calling someone who’s paid to talk to you instead of trying to get Howard Schultz on the phone. The same goes for interacting twitter.


Participating on twitter is like participating in any conversation: you should strive to participate when you can inject value into a conversation or the ecosystem as a whole. If you were standing in a circle of friends talking about the Yankees game would you tell everyone you just ate a baloney sandwich? Seriously, no one eats baloney.

A Few Ways to add value to people you know:

  • Answer someone’s  question
  • Give someone props on an accomplishment
  • Share thoughtful commentary
  • Provide a relevant or interesting link

Personally, I think spending a few weeks limiting interactions to people you know is a good idea. This stage of the game is about getting comfortable, not twitter world domination.

Things I originally did when I started on twitter that I’m not a huge fan of now:

Retweeting Compliments About Yourself:

When someone compliments you in real life, do you go and tell everyone about it or say thank you? Hmm…why do people behave differently online? Cool people typically don’t need to tell people how cool they are. Doing to get a follower or two looks toolish and is short-sighted.

I think an addendum attached to the complement is a huge improvement.

Thanks Scott RT @Scottbrit Insert compliment here.

However purely retweeting someone complimenting you just doesn’t seem all that becoming to me.

Tweeting About Something You Did With People So They Tweet Back At You:

If I genuinely enjoyed hanging out with someone and feel like telling them, I usually send them a text or email. I don’t really see why this needs to be a public declaration.

“Really enjoyed breakfast with @heyretweetme, @pleasetweetback, @iwantfollowers #anythingforfollowers”

I used to do this so that the people I tweeted at would tweet back at me and I might get more followers. If the reason you’re publicly declaring activities with people is different than that, kudos to you. If I’m honest, it wasn’t always for me. I acknowledge that public compliments can be a very effective tactic for building rapport, but I still think many of these are desperate cries for retweets -> followers.

3. Graduate to Engaging with People You Want to Know

Thoughtfully engaging people online can be a great entree to building a relationship. I’ve had many great relationships start out by the consistent interchange of value on twitter. Eventually these moved to offline relationships which is ideal.

The same principle exists when it comes to engaging people that you haven’t met: look to enter the conversation when you can provide unique value. Review the examples provided above if you want a more concrete explanation of what that looks like.

Note* true value doesn’t mean being a hollow cheerleader. I constantly see people try to cultivate relationships with A Players by just throwing a Great Post! in front of a retweet. You’ll never stand out from the crowd by doing this. If someone really wrote a great post send them a very thoughtful email outlining how it helped you learn and what you plan to do with that knowledge. That stands out.

Closing Thoughts on Building Your Presence

The best way to build a presence is by creating assets that make you an attractive person to know. Build a great company. Produce compelling content. Host an awesome event. Do something that makes you worth following. Sorry folks, no magic bullet here.

Some people get a lot of followers by spending all day tweeting. This is a suboptimal approach. It’s better to spend your time creating something of real value that naturally inspires a following. In fact, I think less of quote on quote rockstar entrepreneurs and thought leaders when they’re tweeting constantly. It signals a lack of focus to me. May seem a bit harsh, but it’s the truth.

Spend time building it and they will come.

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