Be a Twitter List Champion in Just Ten Minutes – Part 1

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on November 02, 2010 in: Tips in 10, Twitter Tips & Tools

In the early days, Twitter was fun because there were a few hundred and then a few thousand people and they all interacted even though many had never met in person. It was like a collection of early adopters who were exploring and defining Twitter.

Then Twitter grew. And grew. And grew. It burst into mainstream awareness in 2008 and bazillions of people, their businesses, and their pets all got Twitter accounts.

I’m not complaining. I was in Twitter a little earlier than most and I loved seeing how this fun engagement tool grew in popularity at a breakneck speed. But there’s no gain without some pain and the pain that Twitter users often feel is the signal-to-noise ratio. They may follow a bunch of people but those people tweet stuff that just isn’t worth listening to. The good stuff (the signal) is sometimes outweighed by the bad stuff (the noise).

There are ways that you can deal with that. TweetDeck and HootSuite, for example, give you the ability to add columns and sort the people you’re following in various ways.

To help with the signal-to-noise ratio, Twitter unveiled a useful part of its interface called Twitter Lists. Twitter Lists give you the power to fix the signal-to-noise challenge but they do more. In this article of Tips In Ten, and in the one that follows, I’m going to show you what to do with your Twitter Lists to put this powerful and under-appreciated part of Twitter to work for you.

Here are a couple of facts about lists you need to know before we go any further:

  • Lists can be public or private. I like having a mix of both; sometimes I use the private ones for sorting and market research and the public ones are a little more useful for positioning.
  • You can only have 20 lists. Decide wisely! However, I suspect that this number may eventually lift once Twitter plateaus a little.

Why have Twitter lists for people you’re following?

This is the simplest and most obvious use of Twitter lists. There are a few of reasons to list the people you’re following:

  • If you happen to be using the Twitter interface (instead of TweetDeck, Hootsuite, or another tool) to pay attention to the people you’re following, you don’t have just look at the overwhelmingly large Twitter stream and try to sort the nonsense from the good tweets. Instead, you can click a list and view the tweets just in that list, eliminating everything else from your attention.
  • Building on the idea above, you can do industry-specific research or see what’s going on among a particular group of people by viewing a list instead of your entire stream. For example, if you want to go out to the theatre to watch a movie, but you’re not sure what to watch, go to your Twitter list of movie critics (assuming you’ve created such a list) and see what they are talking about. Or, if you’re wondering if it’s going to rain and you have a list of 10 local meteorologists you can quickly see their tweets without sorting through all tweets or clicking across all 10 of their profiles.
  • By creating several public lists of Twitter users who are relevant to your business, you are doing a form of marketing (by showing others what you think about, what markets you serve, and who you like to pay attention to).

So, Twitter Lists of people you are following are primarily a sorting mechanism so you can separate the signal from the noise, and they serve some time-saving and positioning value as well.

But that’s not the only functionality you can enjoy with Twitter lists…

Why have Twitter lists for people who are following you

Twitter lists can include people who are following you. There are a couple of reasons why this might be important to you:

  • Market research. Businesses don’t always know who their target market is or what they want to know. By sorting your listeners into lists and seeing who is listening, you can better decide what to tweet about. Let’s say that you’re a cobbler and you tweet about men’s shoes. But, after sorting your followers into various lists, you discover that most of your followers are women who want to talk about sandals, you will probably want to shift your tweeting.
  • Marketing. As with the people you are following, a Twitter list tells other people who happen to be viewing your Twitter profile that specific groups are paying attention to you. If you find yourself on a bunch of lists called “boring” then take the hint and start tweeting interesting things!
  • Twitter lists also give you way to listen to your listeners. If you don’t happen to follow people back, you can still pay attention to them by going through your lists from time to time and seeing what they tweet.

And that last point leads nicely into my next subtopic…

You don’t need to be following someone (or have them following you) to have them on a list

This was an element of Twitter Lists that surprised me. Basically, you can add people to your lists whether or not you’re following them and their tweets will show up in a list-specific tweet stream.

So, why might this be important to you? I have a few reasons:

  • Let’s say that you secretly love celebrity gossip but you don’t follow any celebrities because you recognize that having them in your following list doesn’t mesh with your brand. You can create a private list of celebrities and add all of your favorites to it. Then, with one click, you can see what they are talking about without having their tweets in your stream.
  • Twitter limits the number of people you can follow (although they don’t publish what the limit is but it’s basically a number that is near to your number of followers). However, you can “circumvent” this by adding people to your lists even if you aren’t following them. Their tweets will still show up in your lists (just not on your main tweet stream).
  • Research: If you are a coach, consultant, or freelancer, you might periodically take on a job that requires you to do industry-specific research. You want to temporarily listen to a number of key people in an industry but you don’t want to add them to the list of people you’re following because this is short-term research for a client. So a private list with a number of people added to the list allows you to do that.

Before you make a list

Making a list is really easy and it doesn’t take very long. But before I tell you how to do it (in the next issue), I’m going to give you a recommendation to do as homework first:

Before you create lists, think about what lists you want to create. Likely, you’ll want to create lists that are related to market segments you serve, and if you tweet for business you’ll probably want to create lists for friends, family, vendors, and clients. That way, you keep them all separate and can pay attention to one or another as necessary.

Here are some Twitter List ideas for you:

  • Client lists: Consider a public list of current and previous clients and a private list of prospective clients.
  • Industry lists: or markets or segments or demographics or however you divide up your target market.
  • Geographic or municipal lists: for example, if you live in St. Louis, you might stay informed of what’s up in the city with a list of local tweeters.
  • Sports or lifestyle lists: If you follow basketball or kayaking, a list based around that activity will keep you up to date.
  • •News: I like the idea of keeping CNN, MSNBC, and the rest all in one list. I’m not a news hound, but when I want the news, I want to get it from several sources at once.
  • Stocks: If you like to invest, keep your tweet stream clear of the latest hot tips until you’re ready to think about it.
  • Family and/or friends: This might be one list or two.
  • Noise: I will occasionally put people on a private “noise” list if I think that they are simply spamming all day long. Then, from time to time, I will go in and review the noise list to see if they do have relevant things to say. If they do, I’ll sort them to somewhere else. If they don’t, I’ll unfollow them.

Here’s your “homework” for the week: Take ten minutes this week to do the following:

1.    Brainstorm some potential lists that you can make, using the above list or your own ideas.
2.    Decide whether you want it to be public or private (but don’t worry, you can switch back and forth once it’s created.
3.    Check out some of the lists that you’re on (by going to your Twitter profile and then looking at the “lists” link beside the number of “Following” and “Followers”).

In the next article, I’m going to show you go to create a list and make Twitter Lists really useful for you.

Heather Recommends:

I love working with coaches, freelancers, and entrepreneurs to help them become more successful. If you'd like to improve your business, find out how I can help.

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