How To Use Twitter Packs — And Twitter — Successfully

Twitter can be pretty intimidating. To people just starting out following few people, and with few followers of Flocking with those with similar interests on Twitter can help you get startedtheir own, it can seem like their words are disappearing into the ether.

After a few days of broadcasting into silence, those people drift away having never realized the immense potential of this tool.

I recently wrote about how to find people to follow on Twitter. Chris Brogan has gone one better.

The idea? Twitter Packs.

If someone were joining Twitter today, who should they follow?

The idea behind Twitter Packs is simple – create lists of people with shared interests, geography, etc, so that new users can find a few good people to follow and help them get up to speed on Twitter. Chris decided to use a wiki to let the community contribute to the lists.

Great idea in my book.

Problems

However, there are a few problems with the result. They largely result from the tool that is being used – the wiki.

Why? Because people on these lists may, over time, gain a lot of followers.  As a result, a lot of people want to be on those lists – just like Jeremiah Owyang‘s follow-fest a while back. In fact, the demand for the site has been so high that it was pretty hard to get access to edit the wiki for large parts of today.

Simply put, there’s a lot of chaff in amongst the wheat.

Another potential flaw – the possibility that these ‘packs’ lead to Twitter cliques and undermine the openness that is responsible for much of Twitter’s success. The potential is especially large with some of the race/sexual orientation/religion groups. However, that’s not the intention and I would hope there are equal benefits for people who may look for connections and support within those groups.

So, yes, there are flaws. Chris openly acknowledges the problems with Twitter Packs.

Still, it’s fundamentally a good idea. The question is:

How can you use Twitter Packs successfully?

I recommend four principles, which you can also apply to Twitter in general:

Open up

The sheer number of people who want to get involved requires Twitter Packs to split into narrowly-defined groups. Remember, though: they’re not intended to narrow your perspective.

If you live in Toronto (hello!) don’t just follow Torontonians. If you’re a marketer, consider following people in other professions. If you’re a runner, you’ll likely have things in common with cyclists too.

Be open with other people. Be careful, as you should always be online, but don’t define your own horizons as narrowly as these groups.

Recommendations as a guide, not as a rule book

Start with the lists and work from there. Don’t stop at the end of the list. Look at who those people are following. Who do you find interesting? Who says things that are relevant to you? Consider whether you want to follow them too.

Use your judgement

There’s a lot of “me too!” in the Twitter Packs. Don’t follow people blindly. Read what they say. Check out their blogs. Get a sense of who they are before you follow them.

Define “useful” as it applies to you. Don’t clutter your airwaves with people that have nothing useful to say.

Take Your Time

Ease in to your new-found community. Don’t rush in.

As you follow more and more people on Twitter, the way you use the tool will need to change. For example, you won’t be able to follow every message any more – you’ll have to be more selective. That’s a difficult enough transition without leaping head-first into it.

Furthermore, people will look at your follow/follower ration when they decide whether to follow you back (i.e. whether to listen to you) or not. Why? To avoid following the spammers who are starting to appear on Twitter. If you add a tonne of people at once it will skew your numbers, reduce the likelihood of people following you and lower the chance of you having a productive, positive experience.

Conclusion

So there you have it. Four tips for getting the most out of Twitter Packs:

  1. Open up
  2. Use recommendations as a guide, not a rule book
  3. Use your judgement
  4. Take your time

Experienced Twitterers – what tips would you offer for newcomers looking to use these lists?

(Photo credits: zzzed)

  • Great ideas, Dave. Your recommendations are definitely ones to be helpful.

  • Thanks for the discussion on this, Dave. Starting in Twitter is either underwhelming or intimidating (or both). I admire the group for trying to help others “get it”. This discussion helps, too.

    Cheers,
    Connie

  • As you know, Dave, I’m very new at all this, and so I really appreciate Chris’ TwitterPacks wiki. I found some new folk to follow, and by checking out who they followed, I found a few more. I don’t look at it as a negative project at all, rather as a way in for newbies like me 🙂

  • I’m actually glad to see something positive about Twitter Packs! I just commented over at Chris Brogan’s place that I vehemently disagree with the Twitter Pack naysayers, and question the motivation behind some of the disagreement. As a somewhat new Twitter user, I wish that such a thing had existed six weeks ago when I first signed on. I spent weeks asking people for SF Bay Area folks to follow, and yesterday, I finally had a list.

    I think the wisest suggest you make is “guideline, not rulebook.” I’m discerning enough to go through the list of suggested pack people one by one to determine if their content is worth reading. What’s the difference between a Twitter Pack and leveraging, say, the interest or regional search on sites like Facebook and MySpace? I don’t think it’s that different.

    So once again, my thanks to Chris on behalf of all of the somewhat newbies for taking the time to develop the concept. And thanks to you for realizing the flaws, but also doing your part to try to make Twitter Packs useful to the community at large.

  • Hi folks,

    Chris & Connie – thanks for checking in!

    Amy & Jennifer – glad you find Twitter Packs helpful.

    I think people need to remember that Chris created this to help newcomers to Twitter, not experienced users. The experienced people seem to be the ones complaining; I haven’t come across any new users knocking the idea yet (although I’m willing to stand corrected on that).

    Still interested to find out: what approaches worked for you when you all started?

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  • Nicely done, Dave. Very informative. Logical, but nice to see it in print.

    Patience is a good thing in social media.

  • Six months ago I was twitter dizzy and just focused on getting my blog, videos, etc… where I wanted them, then I listened again as someone in my mastermind talked about how they were able to really use twitter to reach people they could resonate with and be of service to in a valuable way.

    What helped me was two things, tweetdeck, while it is not perfect I visually got it once I saw it in that application-two in several of my mastermind groups we put together a forum we all of us members could easily follow each other if we wanted to be being able to find all the twitter addresses in ONE place on our shared site.

    Now how simple was that? it made all the difference in the world for me to “get it” and in playing in tweet land for a bit I started to build “real” relationships and found myself in ten days with four strategic partnerships that felt good and will increase all of our incomes in 2009 by leveraging our relationships as well as serving our clients better.

    Woot! ( common expression in twitter of cool!)

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