Twitter Is What You Make It: Who You Should Follow, and Why
I've watched with interest in the months since I joined Twitter as one news organization after another, and one celebrity after another, has gotten Twitter wrong.
I've seen it characterized as "tweeting one's oatmeal" more often than I've seen it credited for bringing anything serious or substantive to the table.
The one common denominator I've noticed most often in these caricatures of Twitter?
The people involved have missed the ingredient which most influences a person's experience with Twitter:
They haven't established a good foundation of other accounts to follow.
This is critical to the overall experience on Twitter. I cannot stress this enough.
Whether someone is a *journalist or not, I strongly recommend that the first accounts people follow on Twitter are feeds that will give them news and information, both from print and broadcast media, international sources and local ones. That is the best foundation for any new Twitter account.
Celebrities newly arriving at Twitter are especially prone to getting this wrong.
Take, for example, @oprah. I don't mean to pick on Oprah Winfrey, but the talk-show host and media tycoon is a classic example of what celebrities do wrong when they join Twitter.
Oprah follows 17 people.
She is followed by roughly 2.5 million people, and she follows 17. And most of the people she follows are yes, you guessed it, celebrities. She might as well be subscribing to cable television and only getting commercials.
Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) is somewhat better. The person who redefined the medium and became an icon of it, the person who successfully challenged CNN to a race to be the first with a million followers, now has 3.7 million of them.
And follows 220 people.
The lovely @mrskutcher, Demi Moore, the other half of the famous tweeting celebrity duo, is newer to Twitter than her husband. I recall her first night on Twitter and her first few tepid tweets, dipping her toe into the water, a slightly more experienced husband encouraging her. She now has over 2 million followers.
And follows 109 people.
What is it celebrities who only follow only a few accounts, mostly each other, are missing? They're missing the meat and potatoes of Twitter. They're sending out tweets, but they're not getting a good incoming signal of information, news and stimulating exchange with others from around the globe.
The same is true for anyone coming on to Twitter hoping to experience its full potential, and following only a handful of people, or no one at all.
With that in mind, I'd recommend starting with accounts like these:
Print and broadcast media:
@nytimes - The New York Times
@CNN - Cable News Network
@guardian - The Guardian
@BBC - British Broadcasting Corporation
@timesonline - The Times
@washingtonpost - The Washington Post
@LATimes - The Los Angeles Times
@SunTimes - The Chicago Sun-Times
@chicagotribune - The Chicago Tribune
@globeandmail - The Globe and Mail (Canada)
@IrishTimes - The Irish Times (Ireland)
@The Age - The Age (Australia)
@WSJ - The Wall Street Journal
@financialtimes - The Financial Times
@BW - Business Week Magazine
@TIME - TIME Magazine
@Slate - Slate Magazine
@SalonMedia - Salon Magazine
@NewYorker - The New Yorker Magazine
(You'll also find individual journalists tweeting from these organizations, and can also add those as you choose later. I recommend that people add local news sources to the accounts they follow, tailored to their own needs, again, both print and broadcast media.)
@dipnote - US State Department
@NTARC - National Terror Alert - Department of Homeland Security
@whitehouse - The White House
@DowningStreet - 10 Downing Street
@UKParliament - British Parliament
@NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration
@UNIC - United Nations
Journalists, and people in media:
@palafo - Patrick LaForge, editor at The New York Times
@NiemanLab - The Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard
@LATimestot - Andrew Malcolm at LA Times Top of the Ticket
@stevebruskCNN - Steve Brusk, Senior Political Producer at CNN
@tonymarcanoNPR - Tony Marcano, Senior Editor, NPR Weekend Edition
@JohnAByrne - Editor-in-Chief, Business Week Magazine
@shirleybrady - Community Editor, Business Week Magazine
@ColonelTribune - the face of the Colonel at the Chicago Tribune
@dan360man - Daniel B. Honigman, formerly @ColonelTribune
@jdickerson - John Dickerson, Slate Magazine
@nytimeskristof - Nicholas Kristof, columnist, The New York Times
@jayrosen_nyu - Jay Rosen, journalism teacher at NYU, mindcaster extraordinaire, pontificator on the New Journalism
@kitson - Josh Weinberger, writer and editor
@paulcarr - writer, former blogger for The Telegraph
(Not all of the above will interact with followers on Twitter, but many of them quite generously do.)
For a peek behind the scenes at the White House, and following all things POTUS, follow those closest to the source:
@newmediajim - Jim Long, cameraman, frequently in the middle of interesting and important shoots for NBC, including POTUS
@jaketapper - Jake Tapper, ABC Senior White House Correspondent
@markknoller - Mark Knoller, CBS White House Correspondent
@edhenrycnn - Ed Henry, CNN Senior White House Correspondent
Artists and wordsmiths:
@lizadonnelly, cartoonist, The New Yorker
@chumworth, freelance comedy writer for David Letterman and other late night hosts, cartoonist
@ElspethMurray - Scottish poetess
@KatAragon - professional celebrity makeup artist for CNN
Interesting people in public life:
@QueenRania - Rania Al Abdullah, Queen of Jordan
Politicians, pundits, and people who live politics:
@clairecmc - Senator Claire McCaskill
@SenJohnMcCain - Senator John McCain
@mccainblogette - Meghan McCain, blogger
@KarlRove - Karl Rove, political strategist and advisor
@LeslieSanchez - author, cable news commentator, political strategist
(I recommend, regardless of your politics, that you follow people from both sides of the aisle to get a sense of the political landscape.)
People everyone on Twitter should know about, whether you follow them or not:
@GuyKawasaki - The Man on Twitter, center of all things
@ijustine - the ultimate lifecaster, opposite of @jayrosen_nyu
Social media types and tech geeks, if that is your thing:
@mashable - Peter Cashmore's Mashable blog for news and information on all things Twitter and Social Media, and top stories worldwide
@MrTweet - blog and recommendations of fellow tweeters
@KrisColvin - Kristi Colvin, user experience designer, social media maven
@AlohaArleen - Arleen Anderson, reigning social media queen from Hawaii
@Scobleizer - Robert Scoble, blogger and tech evangelist
@timmoore - Tim Moore, blogger and social media expert
@tommytrc - Thomas Clifford, popular tech geek
@chrispirillo - Chris Pirillo, blogger and tech expert
If you're going to follow celebrities (highly optional), these are some of the big ones on Twitter:
@aplusk - actor Ashton Kutcher, the first to get a million followers
@mrskutcher - actress Demi Moore, newer to Twitter, Ashton's better half
@THE_REAL_SHAQ - athlete Shaquille O'Neill
@stephenfry - British actor, followed by just about everyone on the planet
@lancearmstrong - cyclist Lance Armstrong
@wossy - comedian Jonathan Ross
@wilw - actor Wil Wheaton
@TheEllenShow - talk show host and comedienne Ellen DeGeneres
@kingsthings - talk show host Larry King
(Some celebrities, but not all, will actually interact with their followers. @kathyireland is an excellent example of this, and there are others. A good rule of thumb is to look to see how many accounts they are following, and check to see if they are regularly interacting.)
Adding the extras.
I recommend that once you establish a foundation of basic news and information feeds, adding the accounts you want from those categories, you build on that by finding Twitter accounts that relate to your interests. Do you love sports? Find the sports news, athletes, and other Twitter accounts that are relevant. Big into the arts, travel, or a particular cause? There are Twitter accounts for that, too. Want to help relieve homelessness, work in a soup kitchen, or contribute to one? Again, there are many relevant Twitter accounts.
Whether it's European travel, cruising, healthcare, eldercare, blogging, professional tennis, finance, books, pets, religion, venture capital, or fashion, you'll find it on Twitter. Once you find one good account to follow in a particular category, it will lead to others.
I highly recommend that people find the accounts they most enjoy, and see who those people are following. You'll find some of your best accounts on Twitter that way.
I recommend against autofollowing.
Autofollowing will only get you a clogged Twitter account, the opposite problem of the celebrity who is following no one, and it will garner you a lot of spam. Try to keep the number of people you are following under the number of people following you until you reach that magic number 2000, or Twitter will keep you from following anyone else.
If you don't have time to pore through the accounts that are newly following you, consider sending out a regular message, or adding one to your profile, which encourages new followers to contact you in order to get you to follow them.
I send out the following message to new followers regularly:
"Welcome new followers. I don't autofollow. If you want me to follow you, and I'm not yet, please message me, engage in conversation."
Those first few follows are critical.
One of the first people I followed after joining Twitter was @martindave. Another was @HawaiiRealty. From there I found people like @docmurdock and @AlohaArleen, and looked to see who they were following. Almost every interesting follow I found after that was as a result of just those first important few.
I recommend that every journalist and media person coming on Twitter start by following @newmediajim.
Media and journalism people especially should start by following Jim, but he's a great follow for anyone. He knows his way around and has helped many newcomers, including news anchors sitting in famous chairs. I haven't quite sorted it out, but Jim seems to be a keystone on Twitter.
If I could only follow one person on Twitter, it would be @martindave.
Dave is a class act who knows what is worth retweeting, and sets an excellent example to follow.
Journalists can also look to tweeters like @palafo (Patrick LaForge, at The New York Times) for a first-rate example of how to tweet, and retweet, well.
You've got your accounts to follow. Now interact.
Once you get a basic start on accounts to follow, start reading their tweets and interacting. Not all interaction needs to be done with @replies; if an account you're following is following you back, you can also communicate through DM, or direct message, which is private.
If you see an interesting tweet, particularly with a helpful link, consider retweeting it. Passing it along is a productive way to interact with others on Twitter when done well.
Building a working Twitter account.
A good Twitter account is only as useful as the feeds you have coming into it. View it as you would anything else as a consumer. Do you read particular newspapers, subscribe to particular television channels? It's the same. A good Twitter stream should keep you updated on breaking news and current events, along with the information you find valuable in your own life. It should bring you in contact with others who share similar interests. It should be a source of information, problem-solving, even entertainment.
You might find yourself behind the scenes as Leslie Sanchez is getting ready to go on CNN, or as Jim Long is getting ready to figure out camera angles for the President of the United States. You might find yourself discussing the latest movies with a magazine editor, or state fair culinary offerings with a cable news producer. You might see TwitPics from Fashion Week, the red carpet or a book signing, or be among the first to learn a breaking news story as it happens. You might find yourself sharing vicarious coffee with a restaurateur on Martha's Vineyard or travelling around the world with a vagabond family.
The ability to trouble-shoot or get answers to questions, and particularly to resolve customer service disputes, cannot be underestimated on Twitter, which has a way of cutting through typically frustrating experiences to get things accomplished. Is your bank charging you unfair interest? A tweet about them might resolve that faster than you think. Don't know how to repair that appliance or electronic device? Someone will have an answer. Looking for a great restaurant recommendation in Vegas, or a hotel in Italy? Someone will respond.
It isn't that there's anything wrong with Twitter. Generally, people starting out, particularly celebrities, just don't know how to use it well. They see it as a one-way vehicle, often for outgoing public relations, and miss what Twitter is really all about. Writers and journalists who are unfamiliar with the medium are particularly prone to missing the point, which sadly leads to it being misrepresented in the press. There are, however, many journalists on Twitter who know how to use it, and use it well.
It's a smorgasbord. Choose wisely.
*If you're a journalist just starting out on Twitter, or want to learn how to use it better, I recommend Patrick LaForge's Basic Twitter Links for Journalists.
Thanks to @lizadonnelly, who knows Twitter is more than just oatmeal, for letting me hyperlink her wonderful cartoon, "Twitter (R)Evolution."
I'm grateful to the Los Angeles Times, particularly @latimesnystrom and @LATimestot, for liking this list well enough to circulate among their staff, and putting it all into a hyperlink, here: Recommended Twitter follows
Twitter bird logo is in the public domain.
Twitterbird3 icon courtesy mysitemyway.com.
Follow @katriord on Twitter.