I created a Twitter account a couple of years ago but never got the hang of it. I didn’t understand how Twitter worked nor did I see its benefit for me. I used a LinkedIn feature to post my stuff automatically onto Twitter – but that was it. For 651 days I was no more than an “egghead” on Twitter with hardly any tweets and no more than 20 followers.

In early February, I decided to lean in, to contribute to social media in order to build my reputation as a professional. I felt that in my area (startups, innovation, investments) it was worth trying to expand my reach and to tap into new sources of information that can only be found in the Twitter community: real-time discussions, early detection of emerging trends and interaction with people beyond my existing network. Also, I wanted to increase my visibility to my target audience. Three active months later I can proudly report that I have turned myself into an active twitterer with a over a thousand followers.

So how did I get started with Twitter? Initially, I needed to understand the basic idea of Twitter: What do the messages of no more than 140 letters actually do? What is it all about? So I went back to my Twitter application and had a look at the timeline: Although I was not connected with many others, I still found some interesting articles and comments that inspired me. I identified two main challenges: Building an audience and sharing interesting content.

1. How to build an audience

No-one will hear your message if you don’t have followers. So building an audience is a crucial activity early on. However, your followers need to be relevant for your topics. In my case, I wanted to attract followers in the startup / venture capital arena in Switzerland (focus), Europe and the US.

Twitter activity is based on the accounts you follow and that follow you: You have a timeline like in Facebook and LinkedIn that is filled with messages from the people you follow. And only people following you will see your messages. So in order to discover interesting content you need to follow interesting accounts. And in order to be noticed by anybody you need followers.

Unlike on Facebook, LinkedIn and XING it is very common that you follow people that you don’t know in person. And people with a greater number of followers are generally seen to be more influential than accounts with a low number of followers because their messages are not seen by many people.

Here’s a few things that will help you create a follower base:

  • Write a meaningful bio: I decide who to follow based on the the way they describe themselves. Is this person interested in the same things? Where does she live & work? What might inspire him?
  • Follow people: When you follow somebody there is a high chance (10-25%) that they will follow you back if you have something in common and if you share interesting content. Initially, I followed around 20-30 new people every day to build my follower base. But beware: Once you hit 2,000 people you follow you can only follow new people after you have reached 1,800 followers yourself. Instead of following you can also like tweets of other people – this will also make quite a few people follow you.
  • Tweet with hashtags: Putting a hashtag # in front of word makes your tweet findable. People use content on specific topics through these keywords – so your content becomes part of a global conversation. For example, after tweeting about Internet of Things using #IoT I had new followers who are interested in this area, too. Right in the beginning, I also put out some tweets that would only contain hashtags of my areas of interest (e.g. “I am interested in: #IoT #cloud” etc) – that also worked well.

I’ve made it a habit to every morning check all my new followers of the previous day and to decide who I want to follow back. This way I can make sure I react in a timely fashion and keep the followers.

In May 2015, I had already over 1,300 followers…

2. What to talk about, and how?

Twitter only made sense for me after I had identified what I wanted to talk about, in my case venture capital, entrepreneurship, technology, startups. These are the topics I find interesting and are likely to engage my target group.

How to discover content:

  • My original posts mostly come from visiting events and meeting startups and technology companies. When I see an interesting technology I take pictures of it and write about it. My audience appears to love this! I also tweet about conferences and speeches.
  • Articles and blog posts: I post a lot of stuff that I read and find worth mentioning. Some of it is more in the news category, some of it is more deep analysis or good food for thought. Note: If I discover the content in Twitter it is good practice to retweet it instead of pretending that you discovered it yourself.
  • Company news: If Swisscom or partners are doing something interesting I will also share it, preferably with my own pictures or thoughts about it.

It helped me to follow a few rules of thumb to create an interesting stream:

  • Out of 10 tweets, do 5 retweets (= share other people’s tweets), do 3 purely professional tweets and 2 tweets with a more personal angle. This will give your stream a nice mix – and you show also that you appreciate and read other people’s content.
  • Regarding the language: I use mostly English, occasionally (1 out of 20) you’ll find a German tweet in my stream.
  • Hashtags: They do not only help to attract followers (see above) but also can be used to put a tweet in a context, e.g.: Following the title of a newspaper article you have the URL and then the topic it relates to.

I do around 0-5 posts a day. Regarding time of day: There are better times (e.g. morning) and worse times (e.g. night) for your tweets to be seen. You wouldn’t be reading your timeline at night, would you?

3. What lies ahead of me to become a #twitter pro?

Now that I have mastered to attract a good follower base and done 400 tweets there are still a few questions – who would like to give me some advice?

  • How do I manage to read interesting stuff on Twitter: In my timeline, there is too much in 24 hours of which too little is relevant for me. I am experimenting with lists now – any other thoughts?
  • Scheduling of posts: I might want to use a tool to put some posts on a specific time when I am not there (e.g. this blog post was published at 7 am)
  • Discovery of content: I have not yet designed a routine to discover interesting news content outside of Twitter other than the newspapers I read and my LinkedIn stream.
  • Analysis of tweets: I still am experimenting with what my audience likes most, e.g. what kind of content, buzzwords, catching tag lines have the highest response rate. Twitter’s own analytics can help a bit but are rather limited.
  • Interaction with others: So far, I have not mastered how to engage in discussion a lot. I’d be happy to learn more about this and potentially start discussions myself.

I read a lot, but I would like to only share one link that has a broader introduction into Twitter but also holds information for the advanced user of Twitter (German only).

So far, it has been an interesting three month – but it definitely is a lot of work. And there are no “holidays” from Twitter anymore, no time to take a break. Reach out if you would like to help me with my questions above or just follow me via @pennyschiffer.

This post was originally published on Swisscom´s blog We love ICT.