How I Use Twitter

A lot of people ask me how I make sense of the river of information flowing from Twitter. I currently follow over 8000 people, yet I can usually pick out the nuggets of information that matter.

I use it extensively to stay on top of the latest news and information, and to build out a network of people, but the constant flow of information can be overwhelming at times.  From my perspective, it becomes an extremely valuable tool if you put in a bit of effort to set it up properly, and then stick to your formula on an ongoing basis. I’m not saying this method is for everyone, but I’ve found it works for me.

Truth be told, I follow 8000 people but my home timeline is not at all usable.  For a long time, I had autofollow turned on, so there is a fair bit of noise in there.  I rarely even view that stream. The keys to make this usable for me is the combination of TweetDeck and Twitter Lists. Use these to organize your stream and it becomes digestible in bite sized chunks.

Twitter Client

tweetdeck-logoA Twitter client is a must. The main web interface is entirely based around your “following” stream, which I very quickly outgrew. I use TweetDeck, but there are many options out there. Hootsuite, Tweetbot, Twitterific and the like all do similar things, and worth checking out. They access the realtime stream of tweets and display them in easy to use columns.  The picture above is my Tweetdeck setup (blurred for privacy).

Twitter Lists

In 2009, Twitter added a feature called Lists.  It’s extremely useful, yet most people don’t even know that it exists.  It allows you to group together people you are following in interesting ways and it really helps to make sense of it all. In a sense, it lets you have many timelines, organized by topic, or interests.  Most of the Twitter clients listed above will let you add a list as one of your columns, and this combination is my secret sauce.

You can create a list through the web interface (Update April 2013 – you can now edit lists within Tweetdeck) and add people to it, then add a new column to Tweetdeck to display only those people.

Organizing Your Tweeps

You can set these up however you like, but what I do is figure out which people I really want updates from, and divide them into groups.  What I do is as I find people that I’d like to follow, I do a quick check of how often that person tends to tweet.  I put them into a list with other people of similar frequency.

I’ll have one list of the ‘noisy’ people, the ones that tweet a few times an hour.  The people that tweet a lot are great because they are most likely to engage in conversation, yet they won’t be offended if you missed something they said two hours ago.  You can dip in and out of this stream to see what is interesting at the moment.

I’ll have a different list of my close friends that tweet once a month.  They may not tweet often, but when they do, I want to be sure I don’t miss it.

Then I’ll divide those groups by topic.  I’ll have a list of newsfeeds, that tweet out links to articles that I might find interesting. I’ll put together a list of companies and organizations.  Most of these are announcements and releases. I have lists of Technology people, Music people, WordPress people, people I’ve worked with, and others.

Once I’ve got a good set of lists, I add them all to Tweetdeck. Again, this is what I do, so feel free to adjust. I work from the left to right. On the left are the noisy people and newsfeeds. As you move to the right, I have quieter and quieter lists.  Tweetdeck shows 8-10 tweets in a column on screen at a time (of course you can scroll down, but I optimize for seeing things at a glance).

My goal is on the noisy lists is that at any time, those 8-10 tweets show the last 20-30 minutes of activity. In other words, the tweet at the bottom of the screen should be half an hour ago.  I can dip in and out of those streams during the day and see what is happening.  Every once in a while, I’ll need to rebalance those lists to keep to this goal. I might move individuals into different lists, or split the list into two.

For the quieter lists, the column might show a couple of days. That’s good. I want to be sure I don’t miss any of those. I’ll sometimes add temporary “search” columns if there is a trending event or conference I want to follow. Most of these move quickly, and they’re good for getting a sampling of the discussion.

In this way, I always have Tweetdeck running in a tab, and I can check in throughout the day. I pick out the nuggets I want and ignore the rest. If any of these tips were useful, let me know in the comments, and if you have any suggestions on how I can optimize the process, I’m all ears!


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