Monday, June 27, 2011

TFF: The Twitter Follow Formula

After being in social media strategy for some time I’ve developed a formula to decide who I follow on Twitter. And although it is not as precise as say the formula for getting a rocket into outer space it works for me to determine the most relevant and useful Twitter accounts to follow.

So here is the Twitter Follow Formula (or TFF):

If the answer to all (or at least half) of the following questions is “Yes” then the account is a good fit and likely worth your time to follow:

The bio mentions key words relevant to your interests: Yes, some people put words in their bios just to fill them out, but if there is a bio (and if there isn’t I, for one, will not follow that account) it is the first stop on your checklist.

More than half of the most-recent 20 tweets look interesting: The number might vary for you, but if I see that a majority of tweets are about relevant and interesting stuff it helps me decide.

The Follower-Following ratio is not lopsided: The ratio you find “lopsided” will vary but for me if the account is following 20 percent or more accounts than it has followers it tells me one of three things: The account is a “Twitter newbie,” a “Twitter broadcaster” or a “Twitter incompetent.” Any may be a reason not to follow.

The Follower-Tweet ratio is not high: There is no real science here, but if someone has more than three or four tweets for each follower they likely are talking a lot (OK), on auto-tweet (not OK) or just on Twitter to broadcast sales or other messages (definitely not OK).

The account is run by a person: Yes, brands and companies can have Twitter accounts, but I’m just not that interested, usually, in talking to a faceless account. How can I tell? The avatar is a logo or product picture (or worse the “Twitter egg”). The types of tweets are also an indicator: Any account talking about its own products and services too much is there for one reason only.

The account is geographically relevant: In other words its based near you (great for meet-ups in real life) or is based somewhere else on the planet that you have a high interest in. Oh, and note to some: If you say your location is “the world” or “everywhere” I won’t believe you and I won’t follow you. Be genuine.

The hunch or everything just feels right: The least scientific part of the formula is just the sense I get that the account is “for real.” This is based on my belief that our intuition is our sub-conscious trying to tell us something based on all our previous experiences. If anything at all doesn’t seem quite right I stay away.

Because there are seven elements I consider it’s relatively easy to know that I have satisfied a majority of the points. Should the answer to all of them be “yes”? Of course, but on occasion I will follow an account that meets only five of these criteria because I have a sense that the person, for example, is a newbie but shows great promise as a useful member of the Twitter family.

So, when it comes to social media strategy on Twitter how does this list stack up to select people to follow? I’d love to have your input.

Possibly related posts:
Twitter 101 Day 1: Why are you on Twitter?
Twitter 101 Day 2: How will you use Twitter?
Twitter 101 Day 3: Who will you be on Twitter?
Twitter 101 Day 4: When will you be on Twitter?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

What are essential social media skills for PR?

Update Aug. 4: Since this original post the number of PR professionals who have taken the survey has risen to more than 100. Among the results the percentages have remained remarkably the same. - Mike Johansson

Twitter or Facebook? Blogs or Wikis? Search Engine Optimization or social media presence management?
What should graduating students interested in public relations careers know about social media tools and how and when to use them?
That was the question I posed via a three-question Survey Monkey survey recently as I started prepping for a new class called Social Media for PR that I’ll teach in the Winter Quarter at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
More than 60 public relations professionals responded to my admittedly un-scientific survey and the results were sometimes intuitive, sometimes surprising and always insightful. Here’s what I learned:

How important is it that PR students understand the various social media tools?
The results (with the percentage of respondents giving each tool a “10” on a 10-point scale) were:
• Twitter – 63 percent
• Facebook – 55 percent
• Blogs – 52 percent
• Social presence management tools (such as Tweetdeck) – 50 percent
• Linkedin – 50 percent
• YouTube – 41 percent
• Wikis – 23 percent
• Flickr – 14 percent
• Social bookmarking – 12 percent
• Geo-location services (such as Foursquare) – 9 percent
• Social gaming – 4 percent

Which tools and techniques MUST students completely understand how to use for PR purposes? Participants were asked rank-order the list: For example, only one tool or technique could be a “10” and only one could be a “9.”
The results (with the percentage of respondents giving each tool a “10” on a 10-point scale) were:
• SEO (search engine optimization) – 33 percent
• Twitter – 19 percent
• Facebook – 18 percent
• Blogs – 12 percent
The results (with the percentage of respondents giving each tool a “9” on a 10-point scale) were:
• Twitter – 23 percent
• Blogs – 22 percent
• SEO – 21 percent
• Facebook – 18 percent
The results (with the percentage of respondents giving each tool an “8” on a 10-point scale) were:
• Linkedin – 26 percent
• Facebook – 24 percent
• Blogs – 20 percent
• Twitter – 15 percent
The high ranking of SEO, frankly, surprised me, while the consistency with which Twitter, Facebook and blogs were given an 8, 9 or a 10 makes it clear they are the big three for now in PR.

How important is it that PR students understand how to use social media for the various public relations functions?
The results (with the percentage of respondents giving each tool a “10” on a 10-point scale) were:
• Crisis management – 63 percent
• Media relations – 60 percent
• Community relations – 57 percent
• Campaign management – 52 percent
• Employee relations – 32 percent
• B2B relations – 31 percent
• Investor relations – 19 percent
• Government relations – 13 percent
All of which tells me a couple of things:
First, social media tools are seen as an effective part of the PR toolkit for the top four on this list and less so for the bottom four.
Second, there may be tremendous potential for developing techniques for better using social media tools in the bottom four categories. Based on some of the comments at the end of the survey this is a chicken-and-egg situation where PR pros are unsure how involved in social media these four groups may be and therefore have not given a lot of thought to how to use them here.

Overall, the responses are tremendously valuable as I develop the course and I’m extremely grateful to the PR pros who took the time to complete the survey.
I’m also impressed that in a very short time (two years or less by my estimation) PR practitioners have gone from casting a wary eye at social media tools and tactics to embracing them as a way to connect with and inform publics everywhere.

Possibly related post
PR crisis management in the ‘Twitter Age’

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Twitter 101 Day 4 When will you be on Twitter?

This is the fourth (and final) in a short series of posts designed to help newbies understand some social media strategy behind the professional use of Twitter. (See the links below for the earlier posts.)

Now that you’re set up on Twitter and you’ve figured out why and how you’ll use it you need to think about when you’ll use it.

The "when" falls into two categories – literally the time of day you’ll be active on Twitter and the stages in your personal and/or business life that you’ll use Twitter.

Let’s deal with the time of day first since there are numerous tools that can help you figure which times are best for you to be active (assuming you’re interested in engaging with people, growing your follower count and getting your tweets re-tweeted). And a quick note: Your results will always be different from anyone else’s since they depend on where in the world your Twitter followers reside and the types of people who follow you (9-to-5-workers vs. college students, for example).

But, maybe the first thing to try is to just experiment with Twitter itself. Try reposting a few different high-quality tweets (newsworthy or in some other way likely to attract a retweeter) over the course of a few weeks. Do this by changing the time of day one week and the days of the week the next and so on. You should repeat the experiment a few times until you start to see trends in retweets (and an attendant jump in follower count).

Some other things to consider include the # FollowFriday effect (there’s a spike in Twitter activity each Friday because of this) and hashtag chats related to your industry (when there will also be a spike in activity among people who are likely highly relevant to your business).

But if you want to use some free tools to help here’s a quick look at some of them (and I freely acknowledge that there are dozens of others out there):


Whentotweet analyzes the time at which your followers tweet and gives you a recommendation on when the best time of day for you to tweet is. The app analyzes your follower data to determine the time of the day your followers are most active and displays the results as a helpful fever chart by time of day.

Tweriod examines up to 5,000 of your followers and generates a report based on the time zone attached to your Twitter profile. The report, in fever chart format, can be selected to show activity on Weekends, Sundays, Mondays, Weekdays and Combined. You can also look at "general stats," "hourly graphs" and "@replies" – all excellent fodder for deciding when to be on Twitter.

Favstar is a site that tracks what you, your friends and everyone else is favoriting on Twitter. This will show you which of your tweets others have found valuable enough to tag as a favorite. The downside, of course, is that not everyone tags all good content as a favorite.

Timely analyzes your past 199 tweets and figures out the best time slots for future tweets. It then uses this information to auto-schedule tweets that you’ve posted to Timely. If this sounds a little creepy or too automated for your tastes, that’s OK, but mow you know it exists.

14 Blocks randomly selects a subset of your followers (500 for the basic plan) and analyzes their recent tweets (past two weeks) to determine the likelihood they will be online at a given time. This is not based on the followers’ activities with you (RTs or @replies), but rather on their activities in general.

In addition to the above tools you can also use link/URL shorteners that offer tracking such as and from Stumbleupon, but that may be getting a little technical for a 101 class!


So now that you’ve figured out the time of day and day of the week it is most likely you’ll connect with others on Twitter. How do you decide when to use Twitter for professional purposes? Obviously the answers are as many and varied as there are individuals on Twitter, but here are a few you may not have considered:

Offering help/Answering a question: The No. 1 way to get a good "rep" on any social network is to be helpful. So by watching your Twitter stream and offering to help or sharing an answer to another Tweep’s question you will earn a lot of goodwill.

Asking for help/Asking a question: Used rarely and strategically, asking a question or asking for help can also help you build relationships. Since Twitter limits response to 140 characters people are more inclined to help in this limited way. They may also see value in helping beyond the 140. Ask and you will receive – it’s a Twitter thing.

Testing an idea: You don’t have to give away the farm, but you can use Twitter as a sounding board for a new service or a new product or even just to discover a need. Just be careful to ask the right question.

Planning a trip or an event: Need to find a hotel in your price range in a city you’re unfamiliar with? Want to know if that airline deal is as good as it seems? Need to know what to do with that extra day in London? Need help to plan a conference? There are plenty of people on Twitter who would be happy to help. Just remember that some of them also represent a particular interest (which just a little snooping usually reveals).

Finding collaborators or employees: Need physical help? Twitter is also a good place to spread the word about your needs. People are usually willing to retweet or pass along your information to others they know who can help.

Of course there are many, many more, but I don’t want this blog to become
War & Peace!

So, there you have it a few tree-top-level tips on how to figure out when to be on Twitter. And that ends your fourth (and final) Twitter 101 lesson. If you read the series, congratulations for graduating with honors!

What do you think? Will this series help a social media strategy newbie figure how they’ll use Twitter? Should I plan a follow up series called Twitter 102 for later in June?

Earlier posts in the series:
Twitter 101 Day 1: Why are you on Twitter?
Twitter 101 Day 2: How will you use Twitter?
Twitter 101 Day 3: Who will you be on Twitter?