Clawing Out of Your Box: Using Twitter Effectively

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pmc bird ring by chocolate and steel - click image to view more

I got an email this week. “Is twitter really worth it?” she asked.

My answer? Twitter is worth it if you’re ready to claw your way out of your box, open your mind, and shake virtual hands.

Human beings gravitate to people who are like them. We associate with people who have similar interests, similar thought patterns, and similar worldviews. We like to be reminded of what interests us and we don’t like to be reminded about what is different. Generally.

Twitter – possibly like nothing else before it – allows you to forget all that. Make a change. Break free from your just-like-me box. And it doesn’t cause sweaty palms or heart palpitations. Generally.

Since I know you are one of those awesome people hungry for less of the same and more of the different, Twitter is a place you want to be. In my experience, people quit Twitter because they end up following a small circle of people with very similar interests. While it’s initially exciting to have a new platform with new resources for your perusal, ultimately, it’s exhausting.

If everything you have on Twitter you had before in one way or another, why stick around? In other words, there are far more efficient ways to stay in your box than by using Twitter. When you follow people on Twitter who are pretty similar to you, you tend to also be followed by others similar to you. That means your network is pretty closed. There is little opportunity to meet people who aren’t already part of your network or who have similar ideas to those already in your network.

So how do you claw yourself out of this Twitter box?

Follow ruthlessly.

Websites of all ilks are posting Twitter handles nowadays. You can follow the reporter who wrote that interesting piece on a cultural event in your neighborhood or the congresswoman who passed a piece of legislation you support. Every time you find yourself outside of your usual web browsing rounds, look for Twitter handles.

Social media is a tool for listening, not just talking. — Sonia Simone, Marketing for Smart People

Follow those who create content of interest to you but who aren’t in your immediate ‘net circle.

Use lists.

Once you’ve been following ruthlessly for a bit, your Twitter stream will be overwhelming. You’ll feel like you’re missing stuff. You are.

Instead of just looking for your friends names as they scroll down the page, look for interesting tweets. Then systematically add the Twitter user to an appropriate list: journalists, business thinkers, philosophers, gurus, geeks, literary agents, hip chicks. Your lists will become little invitations to yourself to learn new things and meet new people. You might even facilitate those users getting to know each other. Or you can use the service to turn your lists into resources for others.

Take advantage of direct messages and @replies.

Once you’ve used Twitter to find people outside your usual internet circles and utilized lists to expose yourself to what they have to say, make sure you make things personal. Use @replies and direct messages to create a conversation with people you wouldn’t have imagined “talking” to before the age of social media.

Answer questions, offer your opinion, provide help. Twitter is pretty useless if you don’t actually socialize on

If this is where the sweaty palms & heart palpitations of analog socializing return, I understand. Allow yourself to recognize it and then move on past the fear. You are thrilled when new people talk to you whether on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog. Don’t assume that it ever gets old. It doesn’t.

Once you take your Twitter time to a more personal level, you might find opportunities for creative collaboration landing in your lap. Or you might get a chance to contribute to someone else’s project. Or that idea you’ve been mulling over in the shower might find a life of it’s own once you tweet about it and solicit feedback.

Just for fun, use the search box.

Justine Smith, of Create Hype, suggests using the search box to find conversations on topics you care about outside of your normal circle of tweeple.

Using the search bar is a fantastic way to meet and laugh with new people who are not in your social circle.

Just last week I was watching The Bachelor and kept thinking “does anyone else notice how much this girl talks with her hands?” So I went on Twitter, popped in a few keywords and bam! I was laughing my butt off with several other
Tweeters who noticed it too.

Twitter is fun! So find people who make the experience fun for you.

Twitter’s bigger picture

In the end, what people tout as a social media fad or the ultimate business promotion machine is only as revolutionary a platform as you choose to make it. If you choose to only use it for business, socialize with your current friends, reinforce your current opinions, it won’t be much good to you.

Today it’s Twitter. Tomorrow, it will be something new. And shortly after that, there will be another new gadget. The important thing is that as technology evolves and our relationships with it become more intimate, we use new networks to learn more about ourselves, those around us, and the world we live in. If we continue to reinforce the conventions we’ve grown accustom to, we have wasted a great opportunity.

The power of Twitter comes in it’s ability to empower you to claw out of your own box.

Still, you are the one who has to choose to use it for that purpose. You can waste hours staring mindlessly in front of the endless stream of links & witty hashtags, clicking on things that you already know about or sharing a laugh with a friend you could have easily picked up the phone to talk to. Or you can try something different, talk to someone new, and create a connection that hold infinite possibilities.


60 thoughts on “Clawing Out of Your Box: Using Twitter Effectively

  1. I found YOU on Twitter! I was really anti-Twitter in the beginning, thought it was useless. But, like any other tool, it depends on how you use it and what you choose to get out of it. I use it much like you describe here and I have found a world of goodness and beautiful people. I’ve found tons of resources too. I find it to be very effective. I’m not much into Facebook, it has a different feel and purpose to me, but I really have embraced the exchange of ideas on Twitter. Thanks for a great post.

  2. Social media outlets are like box stores to me. I give myself permission to accept or reject the merchandise based on my comfort with that merchants products and service. Sometime I shop Target, sometimes I peruse Neiman Marcus. In the end, I have an awareness of them all and the freedom to choose from so many choices.

    Twitter is another flavor in the expanding world of Social Media that brings us all together. How fortunate for us to be able to have such a vast selection of quality “goods” coming from lands near and far. Thanks for illuminating the opportunity!

  3. Another great post, Tara! I haven’t consciously thought about expanding beyond my usual network, but it make so much sense, especially in the context of listening (which is actually usually my way of operating in real life – much more a listener than a talker).

  4. You got this one right–I am in a box with the top taped and stapled shut! I will need a manicure tonight from the clawing that is going to begin immediately! Thanks.

  5. Twitter, just like any tool, is all about the amount of time and effort you put into it. I’ll admit, I could be using lists more effectively myself, but I do try to reach outside and connect with people I might normally otherwise.

  6. Helpful post! I must admit, I find myself in a box on Twitter. I must approach it differently, and connect with others. And I didn’t even know about lists! Thanks!

  7. Thank yo so much! This is something I need to work on. I don’t like being pushed out of my comfort zone but if I don’t make myself, I’ll never grow.

  8. I love all of this. I have been reading and brainstorming on ideas of how to take my twittering to the next level and you have provided some great points here.

    I especially love the idea of following those outside of your circle. I have done this a small bit, but plan to do it more. I want to find people who aren’t in my general circle, but still have something to offer that will be of benefit to me.

    Thanks, Tara!

  9. Perhaps I need a tutor- I dipped my toe in the Twitter waters, and found that it’s kind of like being in an aviary with a lot of twittering birds: all tweeting and none listening.
    Do people actually listen and respond?

  10. I also found you via twitter I think via @photobird ! What I love about twitter is unlike facebook you get to ‘meet’ people you don’t know. I’m also much more connected to my home city whats going on etc and joined groups IRL because I found out about them on twitter.

    Andy yes they do respond but not necessarily if you are just ‘broadcasting’ you need to strike up conversations respond to other people and always always check your @ replies as someone may have responded in a different time zone to you.

  11. Yes, it is very hard to not be so “inbred” on twitter. My goal is to broaden my scope and make twitter more productive. I don’t know how to use list either and need to take the time to figure it out. Thanks for the post!

  12. Twitter was just an endless stream of facebook status updates at first to me-I posted new articles and RT’ed without the slightest clue that I was totally missing the point. Once I started using Twitter to really connect my whole outlook changed and simply amazing things have begun happening.
    Things that cause heart palpitations & sweaty hands in the best possible way.

    I have started a series of posts on OMHG showcasing my Twitter followers and writing about how it has completely shifted my outlook on many things-connecting with new followers & making new connections was great but recently MY using Twitter has been helping my readers make connections too-and some really beautiful things are being created from that.

    Like I posted earlier today Twitter is like going to work everyday with people you LIKE and admire-the fact that you can reach out & get their feedback on what you are working on & then be able to have it come back around when they come and ask for your feedback is just the best type of engagement there is.

  13. Great observations and advice, Tara! One of my favorite things about Twitter is building relationships with people who are different from me, and having access to their perspective. I follow people from different regions of the world, people who are 20 years younger or older than me, and people who have different religious beliefs. All of those relationships open my eyes and help make others less “other.”

    For people who are thinking of trying out Twitter for the first time, I just have two bits of advice to add to Tara’s great suggestions:
    – Follow lots of different people, but don’t follow too many all at once. Following a dozen or so new people each week helps you get to know them gradually and feel less overwhelmed.
    – Think about your bio—too little detail will make you seem generic, but too much detail will just push you further into that box Tara’s helping us get out of! It’s a tricky line to walk, but the best bios communicate both specifics and openness.

  14. Great post, Tara!

    I find that Facebook is great for interacting with people you already know, twitter is for listening in on people you don’t know yet. Many people I admire are on twitter and it’s pretty cool to see what they are thinking day to day.

    I love following seemingly random people, as another commenter posted. Following all sorts of people gives you insight on other perspectives and gets you out of your box.

  15. Thank you for this article! Twitter is my least favorite social media, but now I have a new perspective. I love the idea of breaking out of my box on that platform – should be easy and fun.

  16. Great post! This is so true. My blog will not be up until the end of the month, so I joined twitter to stay in touch with people I had met at a blogger conference. It has become so much more. Even though I am not actively blogging, I feel like I can still get my thoughts out there.

    I do have a question. Do you follow everyone who follows you? Thoughts on pros and cons?

    Lori May Interiors

  17. I’ve been on the verge of joining Twitter for some time and just not quite making the leap. For me, this post has been a wonderful overview of a really great way to approach the whole thing. And I especially appreciate the quote from Sonia: “Social media is a tool for listening, not just talking”.

  18. I think you are absolutely right about the box thing. I do mostly look for people who share my values and interests. After all they are the ones I am hoping to buy my products. (Natural Dolls and Doll clothing). If I approach people who don’t care about that sort of thing it won’t help my little business. Maybe I need to change my thinking and get out of the box…

    Thanks for an interesting article to ponder.

  19. I’ve been using twitter to tweet about topics unrelated to my own business. Mostly about articles i find about promoting ones business like seo, article writing, e-commerce etc. I get random people who follow me and it kind of freaks me out. I would think, “Am i supposed to follow them back? Why are they following me” I’ve been scared to interact and just been lurking. I’m going to try to join more conversations and see what happens. Here i go. …. GULP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  20. Here’s what I find confusing about twitter and maybe I won’t once I understand better, but isn’t it more of a social network to be used with cell phones and texting, I don’t have a cell and don’t want to be chained to a computer all day, so it’s all still a little foggy for me

  21. Good article but, again, nobody actually explains exactly HOW to use twitter. What is an @ handle? When I go onto Twitter, I don’t even understand the language being used. I am sure it is a great tool and much fun but trying to figure it out is very time consuming.

  22. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I just signed up for Tweeter, and have been tiptoeing around, trying to figure things out…a little afraid to try. It’s a little like Freshman Orientation at college–everyone is talking at once, and I’m worried no one will like me! :) Thanks for the kick in the pants about stepping out and staying with it!

  23. I’m still trying to figure out this whole Twitter-ness myself. It seems interesting but I’m with the others whom have commented about trying to understand the symbols and codes that actually make your tweets … ya know… relevant.

  24. Hmmm,…
    Search out people you have nothing in common with? You mean you want me to actually expand my horizons? Make friends with someone that may think differently than me?! That is out of the box action! OK – I’ll try it… By the way, I totally agree with your advice on using Twitter’s search box. I have always done that, since I first started there, and I can tell you without a doubt: it is the fastest way to meet someone interested in the same topics, hobbies, TV shows, films and music that you are. Definitely.

  25. I’m still learning my way around Twitter after joining a couple weeks ago. It’s been trial and error for me to find the right people to follow, and like Susan noted above, I went from not understanding the point to suddenly wondering how I hadn’t gotten my shop on there sooner! I’m enjoying making small connections with people who have similar interests (for me, food and design, along with fellow Etsy sellers). These are really great tips – I’ll have to test out the Search and List features a little more. Thanks for the post – it encourages me to keep working on it!

  26. Still trying to figure out the best way to use Twitter, just started a few weeks ago… I do find “searching” to be fun, though sifting through all of the short advertisements to find postings with some actual girth can be a bit tragic… lol

  27. Great post! I need to use lists. I don’t have a smart phone, so I have to sit down at the computer to tweet. Sometimes when I do, I feel like such an outsider. But then something happened. A conversation about cookies I was making sparked a response. Now I have relationships with people. And the retweeting has definitely helped! It only takes one person so retweet something to their followers and my measly 350 followers has grown to 6,000!

  28. great article!

    I’ve been on twitter for a short while and admit to being completely clueless about how to really work for me. They way you lay everything out, it all just seems so obvious.


  29. I’ve never been on Twitter and you’ve now made it more likely I never will. Do people really comment on things such as whether a tv character talks with her hands? It doesn’t really matter whether the person who made the comment is like me/ in my circle or not. It just doesn’t matter.

  30. I guess I’ll give it another try. Maybe I wasn’t patient enough. I spent about a month tweeting regularly and making sure I wasn’t just tweeting merchandise or promoting. I retweeted a number of people and left several comments and didn’t get any replies or get retweeted ever. It was very discouraging.

    Just wondering for those who have been successful on Twitter, how long did it take to get the ball rolling, and how much time did you have to invest?

  31. I was anti-Twitter for a long time,but part of my new thinking for 2011 is to just jump in and try new things, and now I’m really enjoying it.

    I’ve discovered some fabulously creative people on Twitter and the fun thing is that I know there are loads more out there still waiting for me to discover.
    I was so excited when I first got included on a list,I shall be making a list of my own tonight. Thank you!

  32. I am still trying to learn more about Twitter. I’ve been using it, but obviously not to its full potential. Thank you for this informative article!

    Oh and I’m on Twitter under the name: rockismetalwork.

    Peace, Rocki

  33. I have to admit, I used to hate Twitter and thought it was useless. But this was bc I did not understand how to use it or the way it works. Now, even though I am new, I love it. Everything in this articles is so true and eye opening for those who don’t like twitter or those who just started using it. This was great help for me. Thank you!

  34. Wow.. you have opened my eyes. I realize I am one of those people in my own little box and need to start clawing my way out of it. Until now I thought I was using Twitter to its advantage. After your article, I now know that I haven’t been using Twitter accurately at all. So, the claws are coming out.

    Thank you so much for the eye opener

  35. Tara,
    Thanks for this sage and calming advice. I’ve been dutifully tweeting for awhile now, but have been feeling like I’m overstaying my welcome at a cocktail party full of other service providers who are alot like me. Yawn. It also leads to comparison, a useless and disheartening exercise.

    I’m inspired to get out of this cocktail party and into others that are full of strangers talking about new and different things.

  36. I had a shop on Etsy but have up after a lot of work and no sales. I reopened yesterday and I realise that I need to be more social media savvy. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. Today I will open a twitter account!

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