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Tweet or Die: Getting Started on Twitter

Posted on Monday, July 27th, 2009 by Print This Post Print This Post

Categories - Featured, Social Media

Since there have been a billion (give or take a few hundred million) other articles written about Twitter that provide general tips for businesses, individuals, household pets, and Oprah, I thought it would be more useful to provide some specific, tactical advice. I have been on Twitter for a little over a year as @lafoodie (I was on Twitter before Oprah!), and I have helped a number of clients get started and find their Twitter legs. These experiences have taught me about what will and will not fly.


So instead of defining Twitter or talking about the goofy lingo (just because is starts with “tw” doesn’t mean it’s going to make any sense), I’ll outline a basic guide that can help you get started today. You already know you should be on Twitter right? So what are you waiting for?


  • The background image can contain essential contact information like the business name, web address, Facebook page URL, etc.
  • Profiles should have a summarized bio that clearly states the purpose of the profile.
  • The URL that you provide should be a relevant link for the target audience.
  • A physical location should also be listed if you are a brick and mortar business.
  • Be sure to include a good profile image as this is one of the first things that many people look at when they are deciding who to follow.

A good profile will have

  • A custom background that suits the brand.
  • An informative bio.
  • Updates that show interaction with followers.
  • Frequent updates (at least 10 per day).
  • A brand-appropriate background
  • A followers to following ratio of 1:1 or higher.
  • A casual, conversational voice.
  • Examples of good profiles:
    • http://twitter.com/starbucks
    • http://twitter.com/dunkindonuts
    • http://twitter.com/twelpforce

A bad profile will often have

  • A Background that is broken (specifically, the dimensions are not big enough for large monitors) or visually distracting.
  • A Bio that says nothing insightful, or worse that is irrelevant.
  • No URL listed.
  • No profile picture.
  • No clearly stated topic.
  • A following to follower ratio of 10:1 or more.

Look for five minutes and you will find plenty of bad bios. I am not mean enough to pick on anybody specifically.

Bios, in particular, are very important. A good bio succinctly states the purpose of the profile and gives an idea of what types of updates the follower will be receiving. Don’t forget that once a person follows you, all of your updates show up in that person’s timeline. So before a follower makes the commitment, they are going to want to have a good picture of what they’ll be seeing in the near future. Bad bios are ones that state no relevant purpose or any indication of what this person might contribute. Worse yet is when there is also no website listed. Anything here is OK as long as it provides more information. Links to profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, or “about” pages are all acceptable options. I cringe every time I see a bio that says something like, “Just a guy trying to figure it all out” or “Wandering through this crazy world and attempting to make sense of it all.” And believe me, there are tons of those.

What to tweet

Twitter updates should include a varied mix of content supporting the central goal of your social media campaign. Let’s say, for example, that your campaign aims to increase positive brand mentions (a common goal). Never forget to involve your followers, and above all, try to be interesting. Updates can include:

  • Company news, blog posts, and press releases.  Self promotion is OK as long as it is limited and of interest to your audience. Better yet, try to present it in a way that creates conversation. For example, let’s say you are a blogger for The Search Agents and you want to announce a new blog post about Twitter. You might say, New post on Twitter tips and dos and don’ts for businesses. What’s the best profile you’ve ever seen? http://www.bit.ly/awesomepost
  • Re-tweets of positive sentiment updates. Attentive monitoring using a Twitter search or a tool like TweetDeck or Twhirl can help find these positive brand mentions. Go ahead and let other people pimp your brand for you.
  • Important niche news that benefits the sentiment of the brand. Since you are likely following the latest news in your industry anyway, feel free to post stories that your followers might find interesting – especially if it relates directly or indirectly to services or products that you provide.

Things to avoid

  • Protected Updates. One of the great things about Twitter is that you can share information with the world or at least anyone who will listen, so set your updates free! Protecting updates defeats the open nature of social media in general.
  • Tweeting about boredom and other banal activities. Nobody cares unless it is relevant to an existing dialogue.  The most common example of this kind of bad tweet is,  “I’m at LAX waiting for my plane.”
  • Arguments or flame wars. This is a lose-lose situation. Remember that your followers gave you permission to display updates on their Twitter stream. They can just as easily remove you.

Factors to consider when deciding who to follow

  • Topic relevancy. If they are in your niche (professionally or otherwise), great. If not, what relevant information will they be able to provide to the conversation?
  • Number of followers.
  • Frequency of updates.
  • Are they are following you already?
  • What does their personal URL look like?

Who not to follow. Be selective and consider skipping the profile if

  • No profile picture.
  • Protected updates.
  • Less than 100 followers.
  • Less than 100 updates.
  • Ratio of following to followers is > than 10:1.
  • Default background.
  • Generic background.
  • Missing bio.
  • Missing location.
  • Typos in name, bio, or location.


  • Retweeting (RT): If you see a post that you would like to share with others, be sure to use this formula: RT@(User Profile name) followed by the message. This cites the sources of your information. It is in poor taste to take credit for what others shared with you and not give back. RT allows others to view the original commenter’s profile.
  • Avoid discussing politics unless that is your niche.
  • Don’t include links to your website with every post. People want to be engaged, not be sold to at all times. If your posts add value then the selling opportunities should come easily and natually.
  • It is considered polite to follow any new follower as long as the user is relevant to your online conversation.
  • You can include conversational replies using the @ function, but be sure to include supporting information when necessary for the benefit of other followers. Don’t assume that others have any idea what the exiting conversation is about.
  • Any response that does not fit the above criteria should use the direct message function (DM).

Rules are made to be broken, so feel free to ignore as much of this advice as you want once you start to feel comfortable in your new Twitter shoes. Above all, never forget that the coolest part of social media, and what sets it apart from traditional media, is that it’s a two-way conversation. Nurture the back-and-forth that is native to Twitter. People are already talking about you; it’s time to join the conversation.

About Drew Hubbard

Drew has over 8 years experience in the Internet space, including hands-on web development, technical support, online marketing and all aspects of SEO, SEM, social media, email marketing, lead generation and affiliate marketing programs. Originally from Kansas City, Missouri and a graduate of The University of Missouri, Drew moved to Los Angeles in 2003 to continue a marketing career in film and television. He soon transitioned exclusively to online marketing and in the spring of 2008 joined The Search Agency where he manages innovative promotions and social media programs. Most recently, Drew has spoken about video optimization at SMX West and ad:tech.

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10 Responses to “Tweet or Die: Getting Started on Twitter”

  1. Ryan Rosario says:

    Great article. There are a couple of things I’m interested to get your feedback about.

    Avoiding following people with ratios at or above 10:1 seems conservative. It seems the Twitter community considers a ratio as “low” as 3:1 or 4:1 and higher to be considered a spammer. There has been speculation that Twitter caps the number of people you can follow to be 1.2*(number of followers), with 2000 as the minimum upper bound.

    Just curious: you suggest at least 10 tweets per day. On my personal account, I definitely exceed this number. But, for an account that focuses on promoting a website (directly or indirectly), 10 seems too many, unless they are mostly RTs or replies. Although I have not used Twitter a lot for promotion, it seems like the goal should be simply to at least remind your followers daily that you exist, and at most provide updates that are of interest to them.

    I have found that there are other aspects of the timeline and profile that can be useful to humans, but that are not as easily extractable using the Twitter API yet: date of the latest tweet, percent of friends that are mutual (friend and follower), % of tweets that contain URLs/replies/RTs are some.

    Some of these things are part of my ongoing Twitter research projects. 😉

  2. Drew Hubbard says:

    Thanks, Ryan. The guidelines provided here are very general. Obviously, the rules, ratios, and numbers are going to change based on the type of Twittering you’re doing. A good rule of any social networking community is to learn the “rules” of your niche. As much as any set of rules, learning the “local customs” will go a long way toward becoming an accepted and eventually vital voice in the community.

  3. Hey Drew,

    Gr8 post! with good detailed examples and benefits. I liked the idea of learning the “rules” of your niche:)


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