Papa's Perspective

Getting the Most out of Twitter

Twitter has revolutionized social networking. If you're not optimizing it, you're missing out.

Twitter has become a fantastic conduit for learning and sharing information, especially for developers. I learn a ton about current emerging development technology, patterns, events, and news through Twitter. Sure, there is a lot of noise but there are simple ways to filter the noise out and hone in on the value. Through Twitter, I've solved technical problems, been alerted to relevant and important technical developments, and met some incredible friends and colleagues.

Now, I admit I'm a social guy in the first place. But the key to Twitter is that it's widened my social circle and my reach to people I would not have normally engaged with. People are much more apt to engage in a conversation with 140 characters than they are through a random email or comment on their blog. So how can you take advantage of Twitter without consuming your day? Here are five simple ways you can reap the rewards:

Profile

Your profile is critical to letting people know who you are. They've never met you before, and human nature is to be much more open and engaging if we know whom we're engaging. If you expect people to engage with you, show them who you are.  Set your profile up with a link to your blog or some other information about you, and if possible choose a twitter name close to your name. It's easy to relate @John_Papa to me (or even guess that it's me). First impressions mean everything. Your chance on Twitter is your avatar, name and bio. Use them.

Following

The best way to gain followers and meet new people is to follow others. Try some people out; if you don't gain value, unfollow them later. I follow hundreds of people and use lists to create filters if I need quick hits. But normally I look at the complete stream, and often learn something unexpected.

Stick Around

If you want to gain followers and get value from Twitter, then you need to stick around and provide a consistent presence. Stop by once a day, take a look at what's going on, and reply to a conversation. If you disappear for weeks at a time, it's less likely you'll gain a following and more likely you'll miss out on some great conversations and/or news.

Contribute

Tell people what you're up to. Did you solve a development problem today? Did you run into something you just couldn't resolve? Twitter is great at engaging with others to share your struggles and victories. You'll be surprised at how many people respond when you start contributing to the stream. Share a link to a useful post, a breaking news article, or some cool code snippet you created that excites you. Odds are that someone else will find it interesting, too.

Engaging

Twitter is a two-way street. Retweeting and replying to people is the best way to get value from it. I've had some awesome technical debates on Twitter with people and learned a lot in the process. Put yourself out there and respectfully give your opinion. Do you agree with someone's tweet and have something to add to it? Chime in! Do you disagree with a tweet? Chime in! The key is to engage. You can disagree; just remember to be respectful. There is another person at the other end of the conversation. If your goal is to engage, give those who do a reason to respond.

The saying "You get what you give" is very true with Twitter. I've met new friends, engaged with people I never would have been exposed to otherwise, and learned a lot. I get much more out of the 20 minutes a day I spend on Twitter and find more interesting links to read from it than I ever did from my RSS feeds. It's a great way to keep up without a huge time investment.

About the Author

John Papa is a Microsoft Regional Director and former Microsoft technical evangelist. Author of 100-plus articles and 10 books, he specializes in professional application development with Windows, HTML5, JavaScript, CSS, Silverlight, Windows Presentation Foundation, C#, .NET and SQL Server. Check out his online training with Pluralsight; find him at johnpapa.net and on Twitter at twitter.com/john_papa.

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