How I Manage Twitter: Tools, Tips, and Method

06/02/2011 By Shawn Burns

Hi, my name is Shawn and I spend too much time on Twitter.

I follow a lot of people, I think (it was about 2700 when I woke up this morning), and I have a large following (roughly 6700). I’m not a celebrity, I don’t write books, I’m not a popular blogger, but enough people seem to find what I do on Twitter interesting or funny enough that they keep reading. I’m not talking to myself every day, and I appreciate that.

When I first started on Twitter I think I followed about 100 people, mostly bloggers whose blogs I read regularly. After that initial burst of following activity I stopped seeking people out to follow them, but I almost always followed someone back. I thought it was stupid that someone couldn’t send me a direct message (DM) if I wasn’t following them, and since back then I often replied to Tweets with a DM of my own (to avoid bumping my last tweet down the page if I wanted to leave it up for a while), I thought it was rude to send private messages to people who couldn’t reply privately. So I did a lot of following back. I kept that up pretty consistently, reading every single profile of every notice I got, and following them back if they weren’t an obvious bot or spammer, until I was following about 800 people, with 1000 or so followers. Then I just couldn’t do it anymore. It was a lot of work to click through to every single profile to follow someone back, and since my life was a little saturated with input I slowed right down. If someone’s profile jumped out at me as spectacular, I would click through and follow them. If someone engaged with me a lot on Twitter I’d click through and follow them (when I remembered to do so). But I was no longer formulaic or consistent about it.

My following/follower ratio went from roughly 1:1, to 2:1, to nearly 3:1, and I’m actually the kind of person who cares about not being taken for a jerk, so it was bothering me that this could be seen as anything like a deliberate brush off to people who weren’t cool enough to get a follow back from me. People have feelings, and feelings are hurt easily, especially if you’re looking for a reason. But there was no way I was going to click through to every single profile to follow people back, no matter how guilty I felt.

Many of my friends have lots of followers. Some of them follow a ton of people back, but many of them only follow a few friends back. And there is a little movement going on that says “Unless you’re a social media guru or a marketing professional, don’t follow everyone back. Keep your relationships manageable.” Following too many people spreads you too thin, and you might end up feeling like your interactions are less authentic. I understand that approach. It’s not for me, though.

I have tools at my disposal now that have allowed me to correct, a little, the disparity in my follow ratio while also not spreading myself too thin to still use Twitter the way I want to. Here are the tools I use:

1. Tweetdeck (desktop or Chrome browser application): I have Tweetdeck set up so that from left-to-right I see 5 columns at a time (4 if I’m using the browser application), without having to scroll over to the right, where I keep even more columns. The main-page columns are (1) Replies to me. (2) My nearest and dearest, people I want to read every word from. (3) EVERYBODY. (4) A second group of people I want to keep semi-regular track of. (5) Direct messages to me. This set up allows me to have the best of all worlds, since I track my friends tweets carefully while also occasionally dipping into the very quick stream that has everyone in it. It’s not unusual at all for something there to catch my eye and for me to reply, retweet, or otherwise act on it, especially late at night when most of my friends are asleep. By following more people, the potential for something good to cross my screen increases, and I don’t get bored seeing the same faces all the time. But in my two Favourite columns I’m only tracking about 150 people each. That’s a way more manageable number of people to follow with any kind of depth.

2. Twerpscan: This online utility saved me an incredible amount of time. It allows you to see all the people you follow in a list, and then to sort that list by number of followers, number following, number of tweets, last tweet date, and, most importantly for my purposes, ratio of following to followers. Here’s a practical fact: I don’t want to really follow every single account that follows me. Many of them are wastes of time, junk marketers or bots. I had to decide, when I was going to follow more people back, how I was going to make a cut that would capture the most good accounts while leaving the most spam accounts behind. The ratio sorting option helps with this, because this number tells you whether or not the people this account follows hold it in any regard. If you follow four times as many people as follow you, the herd is saying that you aren’t interesting. Now, you might actually be interesting, and in a perfect world I would look at every single Twitter profile and read a few tweets and judge, individually, whether or not you were saying something cool. Maybe you just like to follow a lot of people who never follow anyone back, so your ratio gets badly skewed. That’s not your fault; you shouldn’t be excluded just because of that. But I had to draw the line somewhere, and the place I drew it was at accounts that had a 1:1 ratio. If you were following roughly as many people as were following you back, according to Twerpscan’s rounding, then I followed your account back. I was already following many people with inverted ratios, because of direct interactions or because I really did read their tweet stream, but for the most part a badly inverted ratio tells me that the person isn’t using Twitter in a way will keep my attention. Again, it’s a shortcut, it’s not perfect, and if someone engages with me directly on Twitter then I’m more likely to follow them back, even if they are completely upside down in their ratio, herd-sourcing be damned. I used Twerpscan to catch up on follow-backs today, adding, shockingly, nearly 1000 accounts in a fairly short period of time.

3. Friend or Follow: Sometime I just want to feel bad about myself, so I check this site to see who has unfollowed me. Actually, I tend to use this site to tell me who I’m following who isn’t following me, and then I decide if I want to keep following them. This page, for me, is mostly celebrities. Celebrities rarely follow anyone, and I don’t mind. I follow some of them, mostly Whedon-alumni. But when I see someone else on this page I can click through to their profile and ask myself, “Self, were you following them because you wanted to keep up with them?” If the answer is no, then I unfollow. I also pout a little.

4. Twit Cleaner: This is a utility that runs a report on your followers and categorizes them based on how they tweet. It’s a great way to find dead accounts that you are following, or to identify spammy-type accounts that may have slipped through the cracks. It’s also the way I put together my Last Tweets posts every once in a while. Now that I’ve mass-followed a bunch of accounts I probably need to run a new report to see which of those accounts were dead. So hey! Another Last Tweets post is in the making!

So, there you have it. This is how I use Twitter, in a nuts-and-bolts kind of way.

Now, bring on the pervy direct messages.