Surviving the Twitter Learning Curve

by Eric Stoffle – Follow him @topicturtle

For new Twitter users, understanding Twitter and how to use it may change in those first few days after signing up. It could mean working through the learning curve or it could mean too much frustration to continue. Some people stay, others move on, realizing Twitter wasn’t for them. I know of some people, including me, who stopped using Twitter but came back and tried it again to find out they really enjoyed it. The problem is, as with many things in life, there is a learning curve. I want to offer three important steps to surviving the Twitter learning curve.

If you’re particular about who you want in your friend and follow lists, finding people you want to follow can be a bit tricky. It’s relatively easy to amass followers by following them and hoping most of them will follow you back. But most of these type of followers will probably be people who will never communicate with you. And you probably won’t receive a shout out from anyone in the top 500 rankings, either. See Twitterholic. Here are some basic ways of finding people with whom to network:

  • Try Twitter tools like Twubble or Twellow to help find people with interests similar to your own. TweeterTags is a new tool that allows you to tag yourself with your interests and also find people with similar tags.
  • My interests are in writing, blogging, and social networking, so I look for people with similar interests. My preferred method to find people is simply using Twitter itself and look up my favorite and respected friends to see who is following them.

The obvious principle behind Twitter is communication, but sometimes it’s hard to feel engaged in the medium when you send out a tweet, @Reply, or DM and no one responds. At first Twitter can seem like a black hole and conversations may be more one-sided with people in your network. But it won’t always feel that way, and here are some reasons why:

  • You will find friends who have things to say that interest you and provoke a response (It’s hard to become engaged when you don’t care what is being said).
  • You will learn how to tweet messages that are interesting and evoke a response.
  • People will begin to engage in conversation with you over something you tweeted.
  • People will retweet your tweets, and you will think, hey, I really made an impression!
  • You will become comfortable with the format and enter into more and more conversations.
  • You will find your favorite tools for making Twitter fun and easy to use. My favorites for the communication part of Twitter are TweetDeck and Seesmic. A key function in their design is to help you manage your friends and followers groups, which makes conversations a snap.

Managing our lives requires negotiation. Relationships require negotiation. Using Twitter requires some level of negotiation on how to fit it into your lifestyle and schedule. Here are some ideas to keep in mind when negotiating the Twitterverse.

  • Don’t feel you are locked in to your game plan for using Twitter. If you want to build a big follower base, change the way you do business. If you realize having thousands of followers is not what you really want out of Twitter, feel free to change your goals and strategy.
  • Don’t feel you can’t unfollow someone. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. For instance, if you don’t like the comments from a particular individual, hit the unfollow button. Poof!
  • Don’t feel you have to follow everyone who follows you. Sure, an etiquette about following back has developed, but if it doesn’t apply to how you want to use Twitter, don’t follow back.
  • Don’t feel you have to respond immediately, or ever, if someone sends you a message or reply. You only have so much time and you can only do so much in a day. Time, friends, followers, etc. all enter into your negotiation.
  • Sometimes followers leave. If they do and you’re no longer interested in following them, you can certainly unfollow. Applications like Tweetlater will even auto unfollow if that’s something you choose to do. No need to take it personally.

As a new user, understanding and using Twitter can seem overwhelming. It can be frustrating, it can even feel depressing. And you may decided it’s not for you. But remember that these are sometimes symptoms of working through a learning curve. Ultimately Twitter becomes how you re-invent it for yourself.
My Twitter Learning Curve graph from TwitterCounter


  • May 6, 2009

    Similar to yourself, I started using Twitter late last year but abandoned it due to a lack of connection. I returned a couple of months ago and now I’m in love. I don’t auto-follow as I really want to pay attention to every Tweet in my stream, but if someone engages me in conversation I almost always follow back. The thing I have a really hard time with is unfollowing people. The last thing I want to do is hurt someone’s feelings or cause them to feel rejected. Yes it’s silly and shouldn’t really matter, but people are people and feelings are real.

  • May 6, 2009

    Think you have some ok points here.

    I would also add ‘Follow Up’ and ‘Evaluate’ to the learning curve.

    Not sure if TwitterCounter alone is representative for the learning curve. I see that your curve here represent about 2 month, and I don’t think you have learned all the aspects of Twitter in that short time.

    Twitter has become for me more and more about the quality of your followers. And using your tips here to finding great quality followers I support. I think you have mentioned several great tools here, but would also add some analytical tools to support the learning curve. Like Twitalyzer and one that I really enjoy Twitter Analyzer.

    But mastering the points you mention here is a great step in the right direction.


  • May 6, 2009

    One of the things that has surprised me is the number of people who follow but never make any attempt to engage. When I get behind on checking out new followers, that’s a good way to get my attention. Auto DM’s, on the other hand, are annoying, especially if the person sends one but isn’t interested enough to follow you back. Like you, I’ve found great people by checking out who my friends are following, especially those with whom they are actively chatting. I get curious whenI see only one side of a really interesting conversation, and when I check out who is on the other end I discover another great Tweep. Participating in chats is also a terrific way to meet and get to know people with similar interests and concerns.

  • May 6, 2009

    An excellent post. It is easy to start getting paranoid and wondering if I am doing this twitter thing all wrong, so I like what you say – “Ultimately Twitter becomes how you re-invent it for yourself.” Nice.

  • May 6, 2009

    Hi Eric,

    Great tweeting tips bro.

    The Twubble link is a PARKED DOMAIN bro…

  • May 6, 2009

    Very easy to understand,with some great tips.I wish i had the benefit of your advice when i first started twitter.My learning curve was quite painful at times,as i did not fully understand the rudiments of sicial networking,and yes twitter felt like a foreign country who’s language i failed to comprehend.Now two or so months on i have at last found my own level,or at least were i like to be.Although i am still sorting out my follows,i am meeting interesting people and finding lots to tweet about.I am going to retweet your work,in the hope that by doing so it will help newbes to engage more successfully with twitter. Kind Regards Bea.

  • May 6, 2009

    Useful info for a newbie in both post and comments, thanks. One thing I’m finding is that Twitter is a new writing form; like any form, it takes getting used to. I’ve been surprised at how much I like this short, choppy, mish-mash form, though. It’s very vital.

  • May 6, 2009

    Are, thank you for your thoughts. Certainly my learning curve continues as I learn more. As with most things, the process is evolving. Thank you for your suggestion on analytical tools.

    Rosali, thanks for pointing out the Twubble link. It should be

    Peter, you and me both. But learning is half the fun.

    Sean, I understand your feelings. Ultimately, each person uses Twitter how it works best for them. I applaud your reason for not auto-following.

  • May 6, 2009

    i’ve tried both tweetdeck and seesmic and much prefer nambu over both of them.

  • May 6, 2009
    Barry Miller

    Is there an application to get Twitter alerts similar to Google Alerts that are not strictly about jobs?

  • May 6, 2009

    Thanks for great info–I am still getting the hang of Tweet and RT. I’ll be checking back here for more of your help and encouragement.

  • May 6, 2009

    Its really important for new user to have in mind this fact that i t will not be complely easy how as how they make it look like, teh real fact its that you have to work on twitter and make your life run on twitter as it run in real life, so you will have real twitter fallowers and real raltions on twitter.

    thank you for the post..

  • May 6, 2009

    I also joined Twitter in June 2008, but didn’t know what to do with it:) I finally got back on February 2009 (kinda late to the party, maybe?). Just joined with TweeterTags, it looks good. I’d encourage you to try it!

  • May 6, 2009

    I’ve just started a couple of weeks ago. The only things that are difficult for me is RTing and finding people who I’ve followed or are following me. RTing is a bit of a hassle with the cut and paste you have to do and I wish that there was an alphabetical sort feature for followers and those I’m following. I am happy that they now have a search function in the column on the right side and a snapshot of what other people are searching for.


  • May 7, 2009

    @ryan700 – ryan, one of the worst tools for following tweets is i’d highly recommend tweetdeck, seesmic or (my fave) nambu. all make retweeting easy. (a little too easy sometimes.) ;-) there are also several sites that help you track your followers and followees. i don’t remember all of the site names, but you can find a growing list of twitter apps at

  • May 7, 2009

    When I first started using Twitter in the summer of 2007, I had no idea what to do with it or what it was for. After several dozen Tweets, I abandoned it. I came back to it late last fall and finally got the hang of it (though I still have a ways to go) – it helps that there are more users too.

    I’ll have to check out the new tools you listed.

  • May 7, 2009

    Carla, many people seem to have had the same experience.

    Barefootmeg, thanks for your input. You’re right, is not easy to use.

    And Ryan, like Meg I would use a tool like TweetDeck. It takes a lot of frustration out of tweeting and managing your contacts.

  • May 10, 2009

    Hi Eric,

    Thanks for mentioning about Tweetdeck. It makes tweeting easier and more organized especially if you’re following a lot of people. And Twellow makes following people who are like-minded such a breeze.


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