(a) This is a fairly lengthy post; please read when you find the time;
(b) This post is primarily meant for communications professionals (particularly in the Indian PR industry) who would like to use Twitter as a professional networking tool;
(c) This post would make sense in entirety only to those who have already spent a few days on Twitter and are familiar with the basic workings of it.
When I set up this blog sometime back, I didn’t think I would have an opinion anyone could be remotely interested in, or say anything that one could actually learn from, and I certainly didn’t want to add to the cacophony that already existed out there.
But as Twitter gains more influence in the communications space, there would be many more like me entering this world, and I believe some of them could gain from my experiences and learning here. Since Twitter is what prompted me to get a WordPress account, I thought it is only appropriate I open my innings here, sharing an account of my tryst with Twitter. (For those who want me to cut to the chase and are not from the communications/PR/media industry, please skip the following three paragraphs.)
Social media has been an area of interest for long, but unfortunately in the 15 odd years I spent at agencies, including almost 8 years at IPAN (now, IPAN Hill & Knowlton), I neither had the opportunity to work with a client on a social media campaign – at least none I could truly call a social media campaign – nor the opportunity to observe and learn from a social media agency in action. However, I continued watching the social media space with much interest. I was among the first few to follow @palinn’s India PR Blog and I interacted with him extensively during his “Hobbit” days when not many knew his identity. Through India PR, I also got familiar with @rajeshlalwani’s work (didn’t interact with him until Twitter happened) and I had also heard of other early adapters, with Mr Srinivasan (PR Point) and @kiruba’s name popping up almost in every discussion on social media in India.
Given my interest in social media, when my dear friend and former senior colleague at IPAN @RakeshThukral, with whom I have also undertaken some work at Comma Consulting, informed me of a social media session he was planning to hold with an expert, I offered (read invited myself) to undertake the first session. I figured I might be able to de-gyan the session and share some practical knowledge based on case studies and what I had observed. With my own PR background, I knew that if I wanted to attend a similar session, I would prefer someone with PR/journalism background to talk to me. The session was highly interactive and I had some interesting discussions with @Elizabeth_Chen, @parvathiom and @19am81 among others. There was one executive who was so super excited by SecondLife he couldn’t wait to jump right in! We also learnt though a quick poll conducted that Rajiv Desai (if I had to pick one great mind in the industry, it would be him) was the most social-media aware in the group!
At the end of the session I realised even if I didn’t have the opportunity to work for a social media client, I could conduct my own experiment on Twitter. I had read about the fascinating world of Twitter but talking to a bunch of people about new media (even with the disclaimer that I knew nothing much and that the chat was essentially to get them started thinking on social media) without having a single noteworthy experience of my own, went against my own belief that those who don’t get their hands dirty have no right to tell others what to do. That’s how Twitter happened.
I selected Twitter for three primary reasons:
a) I wanted something purely for professional networking minus the inanities that “I” often found in facebook. Nothing against facebook, but I clearly couldn’t relate to it. I also believe facebook is perhaps better suited for personal networking and I realise it is an opinion which could be flawed. Finally, facebook is also for the friendlier and more socially-adept. Twitter, with its open-door policy made engagement easier.
b) Alright, there’s no roundabout way of putting it. I wanted to be known among those who mattered in this profession, without having to really “network”. I maintained a low profile all through my career and realised there is merit in being known.
c) I wanted to see if Twitter could be used to regain respect for the PR industry. Clearly, the profession today isn’t what it used to be 16 years back. Ironically enough, while agencies are doing better work, the image of the profession itself has seen a rapid decline over the years. The curve is definitely moving up a little now, but the fundamental problems still remain. More on what I feel about the industry and its problems in a comment here (sorry the comment is longer than the post. I just got carried away. The author must have wondered what the heck happened there!)
It has been an amazing journey, and here are some lessons learnt along the way (in no particular order):
1. Identity: I started tweeting as @surek since I figured this would allow me more characters to play with. Soon I realized, if one wanted to be recognised, there is no better way to do it than by using your own name. So it’s @surekhapillai now.
2. Timing: While I tweet a lot more early in the morning (I tweet while I do my morning dose of reading and browsing websites of interest), I realised that was not the best of times to get widely read and RT-ed. I often see what I tweet coming up much later in the day and being RT-ed several times over. This, however, hasn’t made me change my habit, but there could be a learning there.
3. RT-friendly tweets: If you don’t want people to make a hash of your tweets, when you are sharing something interesting that you believe may get a RT, do allow for the one RT-ing to accommodate your id and perhaps a word or two of his / her own. Keep it short.
4. Don’t flood: Avoid a barrage of tweets as I normally do. It is always advisable to space out your tweets for more people to read you. Chances are if they find you interesting, they might check out your last tweet, and miss few others. Finally, if you tweet too much, which I am guilty of doing, you end up monopolising others’ time, which is not desirable.
5. You are as good as your last tweet: Remember your last tweet shows up in a follow list. So when someone is browsing through the list, you ideally don’t want them to read “shooting peas from my nose”.
6. Twitter is easily addictive: The initial high you get from people connecting, engaging, responding and commenting can become an addiction, and you could find a stage where Twitter is controlling you and not the other way round. I have experienced it. Use discretion in the amount of time you want to spend here. Read this if you’re still not convinced.
7. Ego trips: Get ready for some big ego games. They are mostly amusing. Just sit back and enjoy.
8. Following: You don’t HAVE to follow everyone who follows you. A healthy followers ratio is one of the criteria for people to quickly decide if they should follow you. I prefer to follow only those that I want to professionally network with and can gain from. I also prefer to follow those who regularly tweet – either flag articles of interest or share opinions on relevant issues. To me, Twitter has been a professional networking tool and I prefer not to use it for idle chitchat. Similarly I don’t un-follow those (and I don’t mean the public figures) who don’t follow me. (Except once, just to prove a point to someone from the industry who followed me and un-followed after couple of days in a huff. If you’re reading this, let’s do it again sometime.)
9. Thick skin and small mouth help: During initial days, get ready to be snubbed, ignored, dismissed. I escaped much of this basically because I did not engage too much during the initial days and focused more on observing, listening and learning. This helps.
10. Who to follow: I was guilty of “stealing” some contacts from @palinn’s @IndiaPRBlog follower list when I first started here. I figured he was the only social media expert I had some degree of comfort with and I could rely on his judgement on the people to follow. I did not blindly follow all, visited some profiles, read their tweets and followed those I thought might be interesting. I nosed around a few others’ lists as well. From there, I built my own. While it is an extremely uncomfortable thing to do (to me it was and feel there should be an option where the contacts are protected and one could seek permission from the person before looking up their list. But I suppose this free-for-all model is one reason why Twitter is so successful), this is a good way to begin. Please start with my list if you’re from the communications industry. Let me also know if anyone interesting you know is missing in my list.
11. Contrarian views: These help stimulate good conversations. But do not disagree without a sound argument to back it up.
12. Intelligent provocation: I accidentally realised intelligent provocation often helps in eliciting a response from some of the “superstars” you would find on Twitter. @ShashiTharoor responded promptly to my question on why he was on Twitter and whether it was for instant gratification or real engagement. This question genuinely stemmed from my observation of him tweeting about everything he did without really engaging much with people. However, I have seen a shift in recent times. Similarly the first response from @chrisbrogan came when I found it amusing that he went on about his decision not to choose his name for the facebook vanity url (his name had been already taken). I asked people what was his point; he answered. We recently had an interesting exchange and he even ‘gifted’ me an RT! None of this happened because I set out with an agenda to provoke. But when you have a strong point to make which is not always favourable, you get noticed.
13. Questions to experts: These give them an opportunity to showcase their expertise; this also sometimes gets you noticed and helps you engage better. I have not tried flattery so far but I doubt it would take you far.
14. Twitter can be incestuous: You cannot survive in isolation on Twitter unless you are Buckingham Palace @BritishMonarchy with 0 followees and nil engagement. I have learnt that sometimes those who RT your tweets expect the ‘favour’ to be returned. You will suddenly see that someone who was so enthusiastic about tweets is no longer even looking in your direction. Though I don’t see why it should be even seen as a favour. You RT something you find interesting and want to share with others.
15. Comments: It helps to comment on blogs and stories alongside rather than just be a link pusher. This gives people insights into your mind and how you think. Some of my comments, for what they are worth, are here and here. It is even better if you comment on posts of those who engage with you on Twitter.
16. You take the lead: Do not expect people to engage with you just because you are following them. You need to talk to them a few times, ask them intelligent questions, get their attention. If they like you enough, they follow you. If you’re funny, use that to your advantage. Avoid cocky. However, sometimes with those with ‘attitude’, it helps to let them take the lead. They usually do if you tweet something relevant or interesting.
17. Pretence: I have realised you can make the most out of Twitter by being yourself. Do not pretend. Do not be someone you are not. Do not try to be an expert in every subject. Stick to your areas of interest; it helps in being part of communities. You cannot fake it for long.
18. Putting up a display picture helps: It is even better if it’s your own. Then people know they are talking to a real person and not some fake id. Include your blog/linkedin/website links in the profile page. When someone finds you interesting, chances are they would visit your profile page to know more about you.
19. Hashtag: When you are commenting on an event or big companies, it helps to hashtag. Chances are when someone who wants to search on what Twitter is talking about #infosys and find your tweet interesting, it becomes yet another way of connecting. I found a few people to connect with during #Cannes09.
20. The real you: While I prefer to stick to business on Twitter, I do like to get an idea of the personality behind the Twitterer. Personal tweets are not all that bad, provided they don’t dominate the timeline. Done in the right measure, it adds an extra dimension to the person, and makes her more human and interesting, and not just an inanimate id on the monitor. Discussions on common interests like movies and music, for instance, can get you more friends.
21. Be as coherent as possible in your tweets. Avd sms lang. if psbl.
22. Twitter clusters: There are always some closely knit groups and people that you would see you can never really get through to. Don’t fret. It’s a big ocean out there. If most are responding and some constantly ignoring you, it’s their problem not yours. Don’t waste your time on them.
23. Indian media: The journalists on Twitter are mostly nice, some with a dash of attitude. Twitter is a great equaliser. My strong recommendation is not to hound them with your pitches and press release/conference follow-ups till you know them well or your announcement is so important that they would not like to miss it. Engage with them and see if it works; don’t force yourself on them. I once said something to someone that could have been construed as being familiar, and was immediately snubbed.
24. Be prepared for inexplicable hostility: I have had instances where a few were extremely friendly in the beginning and subsequently turned hostile. It remains a mystery. Do let me know if you experience this.
25. Celebrities: I personally don’t follow any celebrities. Most of them are from the entertainment world and I don’t watch TV or movies. But some of them, from what I hear, are great to engage with. I hear @gulpanag and @mallikala are both very amiable. I follow @PritishNandy and find him absolutely delightful. One can see that he enjoys engaging with everybody.
26. Godfather: I don’t know if the concept of a godfather works on Twitter, but I guess it helps to have a popular Twitterer recommend your id for followfriday. I have had no such luck. The two times I was recommended, it was because they thought I was a Malayali, and I felt sorry they couldn’t undo the action after I told them I was actually a Tamilian with roots in Nagercoil near Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu. So if you’re a Bengali, try getting a recommendation from the @greatbong. Wait. He too is Buckingham Palace. 0 followees.
27. Friends and Brotherhood: There are some genuinely nice people on Twitter. You might feel a little secure with people like them around when you get started. If I had to nominate two from the list, it would be @thecomicproject and @startonomics.
28. More on RT: Do not blindly RT without reading the stories, checking the links. We are not journalists and we don’t have to pretend we are. By that, what I mean is we don’t have to be the first to break the news. Take your time, read, absorb and RT relevant stories with succinct comments/opinion. Also, always give credit to the source of the tweet.
29. DM: Just because someone is following you, do not start DM-ing without building familiarity first. Similarly, be prepared to receive DMs from those who don’t follow you. I usually respond – if I have to ― with a message followed by “I apologise I am unable to DM you.” I prefer this to “Oh thank you for DM-ing. I cannot DM back ‘cos you need to follow me first you see” unless the other person just doesn’t get it.
30. Numbers game: Finally, as much as you’re tempted to, do not fall for the numbers game. The number of followers is not money in your bank. As long as your purpose is not to make money out of Twitter (if it is, I am sorry you wasted your time reading this rather rambling post), learn to engage with people who are truly interested in you rather than wasting your energy getting the attention of those who don’t give a fork.
31. Politeness: Twitter is not the place to be extremely polite. It is OK not to respond to a response to your response with an OK. It eats into others timelines and you need to respect that. Sticking to the subject, given that communicating over the internet with a stranger can potentially cause misunderstandings; it is advisable to use smileys when you’re joking about something in response to something someone says! I don’t use it and I may have lost a couple of “friends” due to this.
32. Tweet-ups: A great way of connecting on Twitter is through tweet-ups, where you meet other twitterers. I have seen @prolificd and @b50 (his latest is the hilarious shrikhand tweet-up named #blista!) organising/attending many and have always thought it is a wonderful way of bonding.
33. Tweets don’t make a person: Do not make the mistake of judging a person based entirely on his / her tweets and followers’ list and numbers. I know of very interesting people falling flat on Twitter and zeroes becoming heroes on Twitter.
34. Twitter application: Using a desktop application such as Tweetdeck or Seesmic helps in organizing your tweets and seeing all the responses /mentions you get. Follow @Twitter_tips for some great tips.
35. Finito: Know when to end a conversation. Quit while you’re ahead. Or you will end up boring others no end, like what I am doing to you now.
This is my personal list of some recommendations on Twitter (on the basis of what I have observed), to help get you started. I am sure I have missed out many helpful tips and recommendations; you might learn more from others. See the list below:
o Social media and brand (International) – @chrisbrogan @guykawasaki @mashable @jowyang @thebrandbuilder @guardiantech @sreenet (each tweet is pure gold!) @Gauravonomics (Gaurav has recently moved to India to head 20:20Webtech)
o Social media (India) – @rajeshlalwani @vijayasankaran @SMMPRO @palinn (who unfortunately hasn’t been spending much time on Twitter)
o News (India) – @HeadlinesIndia @msntoday @HTTweets @TOITopStories @the_hindu
o News (International) – @BreakingNews @nytimes @WSJ @Economist
o PR (India) – @Text100India
o Writers – @aravindadiga, @samitbasu (check out his interesting #novelrace) , @soniafaleiro
o Media – @nramind (I never imagined that there would be a time when N Ram would personally select news articles for you to read every morning!), @PrabhuChawla @virsanghvi, @govindethiraj (he appears and disappears. But don’t miss him. Some great posts around #amic), @sidin, @SachinKalbag @kushanmitra @rohind
o Tech media – @nixxin, @rajivdingra, @pluggdin
o India blog – @blogadda
o Current affairs, International affairs – @nramind, @acorn, @muladhara @Retributions
o Some laughs (and great insights) – @b50, @tremendousnews, @tenalirama, @sidin, @rohind
o The page 3 of Twitter (barring those who have been already mentioned in some of the lists above) – @twilightfairy @gulpanag @kiruba @mallikala ..umm actually I don’t know many in this category.
o My other favourites – @vsengupta (Vivek Sengupta, who was also my boss at IPAN. The most well read individual I have known. One of the very few people I feel dumb in front of. ), @ashsingla (I wish Ashwani Singla would tweet more often!), @RakeshThukral, @manuscrypts, @beastoftraal, @indianomics @parvathiom, @vijayanands (a great resource on start-ups – am hoping to learn much from him), @NairArun @parthajha (a dear friend), @Patrix, @gkjohn, @TIME, @LIFE, @dina, @prolificd, @PritishNandy (he is absolutely great at engaging with people. I sometimes worry he will lose his celebrity status this way – which is a good thing!)
o Twitter tips – @Twitter_tips , @MrTwitter
o Finally, “Minister Twitter” – @ShashiTharoor
Please note: Do not try to earn anyone’s follow from the above list by telling them that I recommended them to you. Many don’t even know I exist. I am not even a speck in their universe.
Please leave your recommendations for people to follow in the comment section. And/or tell @surekhapillai whether this post was of any use. If you prefer email, I’m at surekhapillai(at)gmail(dot)com
Thank you for staying with this post and hope you enjoy your experiment with Twitter.
Update 1: Thank you, @argus48 (Sanjoy Narayan) for this mention in the HT Blog.
Update 2: Dear @chrisbrogan, the fact you mentioned this post in your newsletter says much more about you than me. Thank you.