How to Ask Effective Questions on Twitter

This post follows up a post yesterday that explored Why Asking Questions on Twitter is a Powerful Technique.

OK – so asking questions is important – but are any questions OK on Twitter? What kind of questions work best?

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Photo by Macarena C.

Here are a few tips for asking questions effectively on Twitter.

Keep Questions Relevant

The types of questions you should ask will depend upon the way you normally use Twitter. If you use it in a personal way then almost any question will work but if your use of Twitter is more focused upon exploring a topic or niche, or if you’re using it for business – you’ll want to keep your questions at least somewhat on topic.

Acknowledge Answers

Simply asking questions and ignoring the answers is something I’ve seen a number of Twitter users do as a strategy for building up follower numbers. The problem with this is that it can leave those who answer feeling a little ignored. Of course it is difficult to respond to every person who answers (last time I asked a question on Twitter I had 100 responses – it would have taken over my day to personally respond to each). A few ways of acknowledging answers that go beyond replying individually include:

  • a general ‘thanks for your answers’ type tweet
  • picking a few responses to retweet and highlight as key answers
  • use answers publicly – for example you could pull the answers together and use them (or at least some of them) in a blog post (see below for an example of this)
  • summarize findings – for example if you ask people a ‘yes or not’ question tweet the results – eg: ‘13 people said yes they’ve tweeted from the toilet and 16 said that they hadn’t’

These types of responses and acknowledgments show your followers that you value their replies, will help them to see how their responses fit into the overall conversation and will increase the chances that they’ll respond again to future questions.

Be willing to Answer Your own Questions

When I ask a question on Twitter I find that among the answers are usually quite a few ‘what do you think?’ replies. Sharing what you think, have experienced, or what you know is a great way to give your followers insight into who you are. Plus…. being willing to answer your own questions is just polite.

Don’t just Ask them and Run

I made this mistake a few times – a question came to mind just before I was heading to bed so I tweeted it and then signed off for the night. Doing this says to your followers that perhaps you’re not as interested in their answer as they thought. It also means that if people want to clarify your question or unpack it in some way that you’re not there to have a conversation with them.

Next time you consider asking a question on Twitter ask yourself if you have time to interact with your followers for a few minutes (or longer if you have a lot of followers). If you don’t – make a note of the question and ask it later.

Leave Space for Answers and Conversation

This relates to not asking questions and running but the strategy of asking questions to follower becomes so much more effective if you extend the questions into an ongoing conversation. One way to kill this conversation is to follow your question tweet up with another one on a completely different topic.

Some Twitter users I follow tweet so often and on so many different topics that it can be difficult to know how to respond because they’re onto a different topic before you can reply. Take your time, pause, let your followers submit their answers before you move onto a different topic.

20 tips on asking Questions from My Friends:

I asked my followers to my @ProBlogger account what tips they had on asking questions on Twitter. Their responses included a lot of great tips, many of which I’d not considered myself. Here are 20 of their responses:

  1. KarenRussell offered – “repeat it several times throughout the day to get different time zones”
  2. jpostman suggests – “I like to use hashtags and twemes to gather and display responses on my blog when I ask Twitter questions”
  3. incslinger advises – “Ask the question but also ask members of your Twitter circle to retweet it so it gets more exposure”
  4. wolfcat suggested – “make sure the answer can be done it a single tweet :-)
  5. reedracer offered – “I notice Scoble posts a link to the convo. Another trick is to retweet some answers”
  6. Bradinator wrote – “offer a cash prize to winning answer.”
  7. tonyadam suggests – “asking questions at the right times…i’ve tested this ;) …its similar to publishing blog posts during “prime times” ;)
  8. BJ wrote – “Don’t be afraid to repost your own questions” – Sometimes there is so much noise, you need to build a taller signal ;)
  9. mcawilliams wrote – “I have set a time that I do it but then again its for fun at 6pm GMT on tuesday and Thursday. People have now got used to it!” – he followed it up with – “I call it tuesday/thursday twitter question time, ttqt for short, and its amazing the response that people give, a break away!”
  10. JohnChowDotCom advises – “I get tons of replies to my Twitter question if I say that I’ll post their answers on my blog. :)
  11. styletime suggested – “Dont be pissed off in no-one answers you but retweet it a couple of times in a day!”
  12. simontsmall wrote – “giving options in answer’s helps, and adding some controversy or spice gets more passionate answers & debate”
  13. JoshAnstey tweeted – “I find if you start it with: QUESTION: it gets more attention and people respond”
  14. CraneFactory offered – “make it easy (ie a poll) so they don’t need to write out long answers, or offer enticements (ie a prize draw) to get answers”
  15. misosouper suggests – “Give and you shall receive: the more questions you answer (the more helpful the better), the more likely you get answers back.”
  16. BtotheEtotheN wrote – “I think it has to do w/ asking questions and then twittering back about the answer or where we can find the research and results”
  17. diablogue_chat wrote – “Timing of Twuestions counts. Lead up to question helps. And asking for help never hurts.”
  18. scottbird suggested – “consistency. If people are used to answering your questions, they’ll expect them and look for them.”
  19. cyberpunkdreams tweeted – “I ask questions that are direct and succinct, to get a focused answer that can be written in the twitter limit. Nothing fluffy!”
  20. YuliZ offered – “one great trick is asking your tweeps to finish the sentence, example: “I’m still twittering at 2am because…”"

Comments

  • November 21, 2008

    I’m going to have to try a few of these tricks today. These are all great ideas! It’s a shame I didn’t think of some of them myself!lol

  • November 21, 2008

    This is perhaps one of the major uses of Twitter. The best thing about it is it’s instantaneous nature as well as it’s diversity when it comes to acquiring answers. I usually answer questions that I know on Twitter. But when the user did not acknowledge me, then I’ll assume I’m ignored and my chance of answering his next question is lower.

  • November 21, 2008

    these are some really great ideas, having a new baby in the house means I am actually up at all hours of the day to ask twitter questions to my friends around the world…

  • November 21, 2008

    Great tips, looks like we can use twitter as a good knowledge resource…i have a small question from my side…lets suppose if a small blogger asked a question from a well known big blogger but the big blogger does not reply at all, what one shld do to get his question answered at that point of time?

  • November 21, 2008

    Great ideas, useful list. Answering questions can be a very useful door opener, though that’s not why I do it, simply a bonus

  • November 21, 2008

    Good tips, and this is my first glance at this blog in general – great resource. Asking a question then going to bed reminded me of a conference I attended where someone got up to ask a question of the panel, then halfway through the panel answering the question, that person just walked out.

    Probably not the best thing to do on Twitter, or in person.

  • November 21, 2008

    People will answer your question either you are famous or your question is interesting.
    By the way, Darren, I found that your blog time is Nov 21th today, so where are u?

  • November 21, 2008
    Ande

    Another important thing is to remember that you aren’t addressing the best and brightest, but the marketing/social types. Not exactly ask.slashdot.org

  • November 21, 2008

    Great points. I think we would all participate more if we knew people were going to at least listen to answers and then could follow along to see what conclusion you came to. Twitter can be like personal conversation and a lot of the conversation etiquette could be used to make twitter a better place.

  • November 21, 2008

    Another helpful article as usual, Darren. I like your thoughts about not trying to respond personally to every response but sending a general thank-you tweet.

  • November 21, 2008

    As bad as this sounds I just realized what RT meant at the beginning of a tweet. “RE-Tweet”. Wow, I’m slow.

  • November 21, 2008

    Asking questions has provided me with feedback and has sent me a follower or two. I make an effort to pay attention if I’ve asked a question and respond back to as many as I can.

    I’ve had the best response when I’ve clearly indicated that I need a little help.

    Cheers

    George

  • November 21, 2008

    This would be helpful, due to some people getting their questions lost in between other people’s tweets.

  • November 21, 2008

    This is one of the best way to use twitter to get something from the twitters. As Darren said on ‘ WHY questions” post don’t Google to know instead Tweet it.
    Thanks Darren and All contributors of this post.

  • November 21, 2008

    If you’re going to ask for a retweet (for anything), keep your tweet short so the retweet doesn’t exceed the space.

  • November 21, 2008

    Thanks for the tips. This is something I struggle with. Not many people will answer my questions.

  • November 21, 2008

    Great points Darren! Thanks for sharing this. I’m still pretty new to Twitter, so I love reading up on all the different ways that it can be used. So far, I’m a believer in the power of Twitter :)

  • November 21, 2008

    Knowing your peak times for main responders is a good one. I get why ppl would retweet their question, but sometimes the question is followed up by such non related tweets, that I have no idea what they want answered first! So giving some lag time behind the Q is a great idea.

  • November 21, 2008

    Thought this would be useful

    http://tweetanswers.com/

    Ask questions, get answers

  • November 21, 2008

    Hi Darren,

    I appreciate the mention. :)
    For me, personally, the most important one is “summarize findings” and SHARE.
    So thanks for setting a good example!

    Jaculynn

  • November 21, 2008

    I wonder if anyone has tweeted from the toilet… (or would that be twoilet?)

  • November 23, 2008

    Great suggestions everyone. thanks for pulling them together Darren. I’ve tried asking questions here and there, but overall not had much success so these tips come at a nice time for me personally.

    I look forward to trying them out!


    http://twitter.com/franswaa

  • November 26, 2008

    My questions are both personal and business questions depending on what I have going on. The ones I get answered the most are the “dumb questions such as “Is Twitter slow for anyone else today?” type questions. It would be nice if people would dish back some value. I think the answer to that is in my audience!

  • February 18, 2009

    This is really good advise. Thank you for compiling it.

  • March 11, 2009

    I still don’t understand, if I want 2 ask some1 a question, how do I do that? I’m primarily on my phone tweeting. Can u please help?

  • March 26, 2009

    Great tips! Thanks for sharing. I definitely know what you mean when people ask questions, and then move onto a new subject in a nanosecond. It’s important to be social when it comes to tweeting.

  • April 16, 2009

    Great resource here! Let’s build relationships!

  • May 17, 2009

    Thanks for the post. I take esp the tip ‘Don’t just Ask them and Run’ with me. Generally I tweet during train trips which means I lose internet connections rather often and can’t thank for answers within a short time. I’ll try to ask questions more in those times where I am sitting at home.

  • May 20, 2009

    Great post. I really appreciate the 20 tips from your friends. It shows that you are open to masterminding and the suggestions of others. Your tips were really thought out as well. Thanks for arming me with better ways to ask questions and ultimately to be more social when it comes to tweeting.

  • August 23, 2009

    Thank you for the awesome post! This is definitely the way to make and keep your friends on twitter. It’s amazing how people will go and use Twitter for many different reasons, but yet, forget their manners. Common human nature doesn’t kick in until you actually read a post like this one. Thanks for breaking it down into consumable steps. Creating a following on twitter can be as easy as remembering to be a human :) Thanks!
    ~MD

  • September 7, 2009

    Just come across this site, I just cracked up at ‘dont ask questions and run’, I have been guilty of that, only to find that by the time I’ve come to summarise the answers, everyone’s moved on!

  • December 24, 2009

    Cash prize for a winning answer? I said that? I must have been drinking.
    Come to think of it, it might be a good idea. If I had any cash to give out.

  • August 2, 2010

    I usually just say, “thanks for the answers” like you said. It works out pretty well

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