The 90-10 Rule for Successful Twitter Networking

by Jack Humphrey blogs from The Friday Traffic Report (follow him at @bendtheweb

Have you noticed all the electronic and tree-based books that have come out on Twitter? There’s an amazing amount of verbiage being thrown at us for such a simple service. The sheer volume of training guides, paper books, and in-depth courses on using Twitter is kind of weird when it surrounds a service that worships brevity, 140 characters at a time.

You can learn about the hottest 3rd party applications that purport to make Twitter more useful, efficient, and effective on thousands of sites. You’ll find over 11,000 search results on Amazon for “twitter.”

On the flip side, there are only a little over 13,000 results on Amazon for “rocket science!” Can a simple microblog actually be almost as complicated to understand as rocket science? Requiring just as much training in order for us to understand it? Don’t forget, Twitter’s history makes it a toddler compared to the much longer history of rocket propulsion.

This made me wonder if there really could be an overlying theme or practice which could sum up in one sentence the most important thing you need to know to be successful using Twitter to generate buzz.

The one thing I believe is more important than anything else about how to use Twitter to gain followers and to move crowds in your direction is this:

90% of what you share on Twitter should be made up of personal insights and thoughts along with a heavy dose of helpful links, while 10% should be made up of messages that more directly benefit you.

90% Helpful Stuff (Giving)

This can be anything really, but should be made up of links and messages that help your followers do something better, find neat things they appreciate, and thereby bind them to you in a positive way. The more the pattern of linking and messaging follows the interests of your ideal followers, the better your buzz will be when it comes time to ask them to visit your blog or take a look at your latest “thing.”

Variations on the “helpful” theme, depending on the market you service with your website, blog, or store, can include funny, controversial, political, or newsworthy things.

The feeling of following you on Twitter should be like “Hey, here’s something from Darren. He always has good stuff!”   And the clicking of the links you share in Twitter, when your followers think this highly of you, becomes second nature. A foregone conclusion. Dare I say, automatic?

Won’t that be nice when it comes to the 10%, more self-serving tweets?

10% for You (Giving and Taking)

Now that you have done such a good job providing an overwhelming amount of great things to click on or ponder by your followers, you can certainly ask them once in awhile to check out your latest blog post or something else that directly or indirectly benefits you.

Now, you still have to massage your message with an air of altruism. And you still have to come through with something good on the other end of that link. That’s why proper blogging is in order and why you should follow the 90-10 rule on your blog as well.

Because you follow the 90-10 rule, your followers will come to know you as a giver. So a blatant advertisement isn’t going to fit the character you’ve shown on your Twitter stream.

Think of the most favorite person you follow. If they are doing their job, and they probably are, then when they post something that obviously helps them out, like their latest post or some other content on a site they own, you aren’t repulsed by this.

Your reaction is probably very positive because you’ve been to that person’s site before and they live up to the same spirit of giving that they do on Twitter.

So the number of times you click on 10% of their “taking” tweets isn’t much different than the number of times you click on 90% of their “giving” tweets. That, to me, is the heavy duty power of Twitter.

You might have to think about the power of that for a moment. But after you clear away all the twitter tools and mountains of strategies and tactics flying about, I believe this philosophy is really the heart and soul of Twitter networking.

It doesn’t mean you wouldn’t benefit from some books and courses on Twitter. But get this down pat first, and the rest is going to support something of value rather than some short-term, possibly cheesy set of tactics.

Is 90-10 Some Hard-Fast Rule?

No. I’ve never actually tallied up the percentages myself. Twitter isn’t rocket science after all. 90-10 is just used to help me prioritize how often I post different things on Twitter. I just strive to make sure that I give way more than I take from my Twitter following.

And remember that you shouldn’t feel like you’re really “taking” anything from your following just because you are pointing them to your stuff. As long as you work to provide content on your site that’s as great as the other things you share on Twitter, you’re actually working to help your followers even when they are helping you.

Jack Humphrey blogs at The Friday Traffic Report. You can also find him trying to stick to the 90-10 rule on Twitter.

Comments

  • February 24, 2009

    Thanks for the “rule,” which is more like a reminder – definitely one thing that complicates this is the chance of being drowned out by the sheer number of tweets that deluge a number of users.

    But I do like how you’re pushing for us to develop a guide whereby we can reasonably give more, build something nice, and “take” as we need. It’s a whole other way of thinking about one’s audience, one that I wish would spread.

  • February 24, 2009
    WDC

    Is it just me or does that huge “The Branch” banner cover part of the first 3 paragraphs for anybody else? I’m using Firefox …

    I like this position though. Would make for far more interesting (productive) tweet reading than most of the stuff I’ve been seeing.

  • February 24, 2009

    Awesome post!
    I will try this when I am back from my Twitter break.

  • February 24, 2009

    Just checked back over my last 20 tweets and it looks like my ratio is more 60-40, so I have some work to do.
    You have provided us with a simple twitter goal – now all we need is a simple explanation of Rocket Science…

  • February 24, 2009

    As long as you work to provide content on your site that’s as great as the other things you share on Twitter, you’re actually working to help your followers even when they are helping you.

    This – for me – was actually the most important sentence in the message above.

    It would make twitter an even bigger source for valuable information and pointers on any topic thinkable.

  • February 24, 2009

    Some salient points well made!

  • February 24, 2009

    I could not agree more. The more quality content you give, the more people will be happy to learn about your website/blog/products when it is appropriate.

    I try and mix my replies, links, own thoughts and own links so that if someone clicks through to my profile at any time, they will not be put off. If I click through to someone’s profile and they have no bio or a mass of links from one source, I very rarely follow back. That is unless I already know their tweets are of value – like Problogger for example.

  • February 24, 2009

    Great post! The concept is very important – you need to give more than you take. You need to, after all, provide your followers with a reason to follow you.

  • February 24, 2009

    Great article!

    I just want to add one simple thing that most people tend to ignore: Try to reply and TALK to your followers. Some people would unfollow friends that don’t reply to them, others (like me) won’t do that but have it in mind.
    It’s very simple, boys and girls, your followers are people and they have pretty much the same reasons to be on Twitter as you. It won’t hurt you to be friendly with your “friends” and talk to them. This will bring you closer to each other and provide more benefits for your future “relationship” (being link sharing or whatever you need).

    Regards,
    Phil

  • February 24, 2009

    I like this post.

    I’m starting to see people slowly use Twitter as free advertisement. It’s a little annoying to those of use who like to use it for the conversation and really provide useful information to our followers.

    I wish you could fit this post in a Tweet: )

    Thanks Darren.

    Donovan “DFitnessguy” Owens

  • February 24, 2009

    I think it’s not so much about a hard andfast ratio, it’s more about concept. Keep in mind your followers and not so much yourself, and you’ll do just fine.

    George

  • February 24, 2009

    Give-Serve-Inspire! ::repeat:: :)

    Be empowered; share the love. Donna

  • February 24, 2009

    cool, I found this on twitter, great set of advice :o )

  • February 24, 2009

    Very useful article, and applicable not just to Twitter but to any social networking service.

  • February 24, 2009

    Dr. Ivan Misner talks a lot about the idea of V+C=P. Visibility plus credibility equals profitability. Visibility on twitter means posting several things that other people like and will respond to or retweet. Credibility means posting things that are relevant and factual. Eventually, that will lead to the traffic you are looking for.

    I say all this because the formula laid out here is a perfect way to approach gaining the visibility and credibility needed to make Twitter or any social media work.

  • February 24, 2009

    I didn’t realise I was part of a business. If I’m working for Twitter, where is my pay check?

    In the end Twitter is a social networking site, or at least that is what it started out as.

    As I see it, being on Twitter is giving 100% of yourself. What people give to you is just a very nice bonus.

    I think we are taking Twitter too seriously. Don’t get me wrong, Twitter is an extremely powerful tool, just don’t make it your second job. You’re actually allowed to have fun on Twitter too. ;-)

    Just my 2 very honest cents. :-)

  • February 24, 2009

    I think the proliferation of information on Twitter is a result of its simplicity. This makes it more popular and allows it to be used in more different ways.

    I like the 90/10 rule. I think that good Twitterfolk naturally follow this pattern without really thinking about it but some have been sold on Twitter as a marketing channel and need to learn this rule before they lose their credibility.

  • February 24, 2009

    Hello Jack – Wonderful post and a subject that everyone should note. The key to effective use is understanding the unspoken rules of building community; nobody wants Twitter to turn into a stream of self-serving spam. I always recommend eight or nine out of every ten tweets should provide high value without any offer or self-promotion. If you seek first to build community you will develop a following that will welcome your recommendations and promotions because you have earned their trust.

    Those you create a profile, connect with others and immediately spam will usually be ignored within most social communities. Participate fully in social media, encourage others, give praise by re-tweeting what moves you, answer questions, provide resources and every now and then let everyone know what you you do and what you need.

    Some days more some days less the 90/10 rule is a great guideline.

    James
    http://www.Twitter.com/AskJamesHolmes

  • February 24, 2009

    This advice is good in that it encourages users to give, share and respond rather than broadcast, but the best and worst things about Twitter are there are very few rules.

    Twitter HQ is very hands off except when it comes to suspending spamming accounts (100 times more following than followers) so Twitter is whatever you want it to be. You can be more or less successful with it but even success is measured in several different ways (business connections, offline friendships, follower number, retweeting, etc.).

    There are so many guides to the proper way to use Twitter and most of it is such BS. What they should title the articles is “This is how I use Twitter and you should follow my lead and do what I do.”

    The only absolute I’ve seen is that your use–your preferred Twitter client, who you follow, how much you Twitter, what you Tweet about–will change over time. It’s an evolving medium so as soon as hard & fast rules are made, they are out of date and they definitely don’t apply to every user–the homemaker in Tulsa, media exec in NYC, student in Georgia, freelance computer programmer in Romania, actress in London, entrepreneur in Hong Kong, celebrity in Hollywood, filmmaker in Canada, the blogger in Ireland–they all can have different reasons for Tweeting.

    The beautiful thing about Twitter is you can follow the conversations of all of these different people and be exposed to different communities, ideas and practices. The only limitation is really language.

    [/Twitter soapbox]

  • February 24, 2009

    In deference to Pareto, I try to stick to 80/20.

  • February 24, 2009
    David Jagger
    @davidjagger

    All very interesting and worthy comments. But never forget, Twitter is a social networking site and as such should be all things to all who use it – from the banal to the serious and fun comment.

    As Robert Townsend (Up The Organization) said in his book of many years ago: “If you’re not in business for fun or profit what the hell are you doing here”

    I think that’s exactly how the founders of Twitter feel, except they had the courage and the energy to create this business for fun and, also profit………eventually.

    As a recent newby to Twitter I thoroughly enjoyed reading Jack Humphrey’s 90-10 rule – very good advice. Thank you.

    Have fun in whatever you do…….even with your tweets.

    David

  • February 24, 2009

    Kind of true. But personally, if you have other persuasion opportunities like meeting tweeple offline, a 60:40 ratio also will work out. Thanks for the amazing article.

  • February 24, 2009

    Thanks for the insight! I’m new to Twitter and just learning my way around.

  • February 24, 2009

    Twitter really is quite simple – once you get past the “a-ha” moment, following a 90/10 rule is about all you really need to know – or to use another 90/10 rule, about 90% of what you need to know about Twitter. ;-)

  • February 24, 2009

    Interesthing.

  • February 24, 2009

    This is a great formula!!! I’d say the 90-10 rule works for just about EVERY “social” media. 90% of your blog posts should be “giving” while 10% should be “asking others to give”. 90% of your newsletter content should be “giving” while 10% is “asking others to give”. 90% of your Tweets should be “giving” while 10% should be “shameless self promotion”.

  • February 24, 2009

    While I agree with the basic premise of this article, I think your conclusions from analyzing Amazon search are incorrect. Rocket science is a very specific term. Only a handfull of people have use for these books, while Twitter is much more generic. Search results are no good measure for difficulty. According to that metric, sex, gardening, and travel are extremely complex subjects.

  • February 24, 2009

    Interesting post..
    Can’t say I agree at all.. If you try to make 100% of your twitter stream be something giving or receiving then you’re falling into the typical “marketers” traps of twitter..

    Its like saying you speak to your friends all the time either by giving or taking advice.. NO!!!
    It’s not about that!!! It’s about being yourself.. What you share is a function of who you are, not the other way around..
    It’s advice like this that pollutes people’s twitter streams.. Twitter is first and foremost a watering hole… Out of the ideas, and thoughts that get exchanged, including links of value or exchange, will come the income streams.. Not the other way around..

  • February 24, 2009

    Great article.

    If you give with and open hand you get back in abundance. While if you give with a closed hand it is hard to give back.

    I guess in way this is comparable with the Pareto principle. Where 80% of the effects from your tweets comes from 20% of your followers.

    Cheers…

  • February 24, 2009

    Getting the right balance between giving and taking is the most important thing to do if you want to take a lot from Twitter. Like you said, it’s not a set-in-stone 90/10 ratio and I think the higher the quality of your helpful posts, then the higher the ratio of self-beneficial posts you can get away with without making your followers unhappy.

  • February 24, 2009

    found this article on Twitter via Nabbit

    loved it! So much so that I had to blog about it.

  • February 24, 2009

    Thanks all! I’ve been wanting to do something for Darren’s new site since he first put it up.

    I do agree with those who’ve indicated the silliness of how some of us tend to turn a social thing into a formula. But then, it’s quite natural if you think about it. Sociology majors around the world have their noses in statistics from day one to the end in various courses.

    I am so not the formula type. I am the B type. Which makes me writing about anything hinting at math kind of funny for people who know me.

    Rest assured my heart is in it for the right reasons. To me Twitter is social first, any reward that may come later. And since it’s all likely going to be different this time next year (tool-wise), that is the only constant I see surviving through the evolution of Twitter.

  • February 24, 2009

    Hi,
    Thanks for this great article. The comparison of twitter related literate to rocket science is just rocking – lol.
    I am sharing time and life related quotes on Twitter and also talking about life in Tokyo and from time to time I also inform on new blogs on the An Extra Hour Every Day blog.

    Dear twitters,
    Please let me know what you think about the balance – be hard on me.
    http://twitter.com/nsoergel

    Nicolas

  • February 24, 2009

    Jack,

    Great post. Personally, I follow the 100% rule because then I don’t have to do the math.

    John

  • February 24, 2009

    With the social web it’s about “give to get”.

  • February 24, 2009

    One always gets more by giving than taking, in any medium. It is the opposite of human nature, yet the essence of what is right. Establish yourself as a source, then share your message. To preach before an audience of strangers is wasting words.

  • February 24, 2009

    This is a great idea I think I will try out… I’ve been hovering around 50/50 and think 90% may be a little too generous… perhaps 70-80% would be acceptable?

    It also depends on who you’re following. The one thing I can never understand are the people on Twitter who you’ve never heard of that follow 45,000 people and have 42,288 followers and tweet 100 times a day. As long as you don’t do that… I think you’re ok!

  • February 24, 2009

    Hmmm interesting article. Great advice and definitely worth testing with Twitter.

  • February 25, 2009

    Man I’d like to think I’ve done exactly this.

    Also, another thing that made/makes Twitter great, is equalizing effect.
    As it has grown, it has become more difficult, (and some never did it), but
    seeing big name, in-demand personalities having equal, one on one convo’s
    with folks was terrific.

    I suppose part of the 90/10 is tacitly accepted when their 10% also
    translates to genuinely edifying content for the follower.

    Of course someone with many thousands of followers can’t personally help
    each and every individual request. But one should never abandon some real
    1 on 1 entirely, either.

  • February 25, 2009

    Oh, kind of like “Do unto others…” Yeah, I agree, and also agree that you’re a person, talking to people, not a business talking to customers. Why, that would be advertising, and that would stink, if my feed was filled with that instead. Good read, & I’ll pass it on as part of my 90% today. Thanks.

  • February 25, 2009

    I think most of forget that to get you have to give. Your article brings home the message loud and clear and its something I am recommending all of my contacts to read and think about. I’m probably more comfortable with an 80%/20% ratio but that’s me. Excellent article.

  • February 25, 2009

    I like what VoteAudrey said: “yet the essence of what is right”. I think giving resonates with our higher self, and when we “activate” that higher self, the universe responds in kind.

  • February 25, 2009

    This is the first time I hear about 90-10 rule. I’ve heard of 80-20 rule before when reading several books about it and made some essays on it. But 90-10 is definitely right for twitter.

  • February 26, 2009

    Great advice for Twitter and in life. 90/10 may not be a must, but adapting the habit of worrying more about what we give to life rather than take from it can help our pursuits across the board. Thanks for the reminder!

  • February 28, 2009
    Mariey

    This is a great tool, especially for new Twitter users like myself. Actually, this is the first time I am hearing of the 90/10 rule. It is all about sharing information with others that you think is most interesting, valuable, and worth tweeting about. I now understand that tweeting, for the most part, is a 2-way communication…you write, share, and then respond. The same goes for other twitter users, the more you view their page, and something seems interesting, you continue to re-visit that page because what they have shared is interesting. That is definitely the 10% part, giving and taking makes the communication on-going. In the end, becming a great Twitter is what I would like to become…lol.
    Thanks for the useful information. I will share this…

  • February 28, 2009

    You get what you give.

    I have followed this rule in my life and its been very successful so far. Twitter is no different than real life. I give my 100% to my followers. I am helping anyone who asks for help. I have an ECONOMIC SERIES tweets that simply provides information how to cope in this nasty recession. In return I get a lot. Occasionally I throw in our website or some link but the that’s 5% of what was given. It work very wells indeed.

    Compare this to some marketer whose every other tweet is about a book or some purchase of product and on top of that an IPOD contest to make it look an icing on the cake. I think people can see through it and they reject it.

  • February 28, 2009

    You get what you give

  • March 4, 2009

    Cool, stuff, did you all read the post by @KrisColvin, it actually helps so much!
    http://blog.mrtweet.net/7-habits-of-highly-effective-twitterers-kris-colvin

  • March 10, 2009

    Ditto to Mike, Comment 20.

    My first 90 days of tweeting revealed nine conversational styles. 100% contributing — 80% by sharing and 20% requesting. To read Nine Styles of Tweeting, visit http://preview.tinyurl.com/cm6gx4

  • March 11, 2009

    Don’t forget: the 90% that benefits others…also benefits you. It’s an exercise in patience and long term thinking. Compare:

    1. Go to my blog. Visit my blog. Read my blog (and click on ads). Comment on my blog. Blog, blog blog…me, me me!

    2. Check out this tool. Here’s something Twitter fans will like. Oh- big news from Apple. I updated my blog. RT @chrisbrogan writing tips.

    The reputation of #2 grows strong, and more folks are likely to visit that person’s blog with only one tweet! More on reputation here, very nice: http://thefuturebuzz.com/2009/02/28/digital-reputation/

  • April 6, 2009

    Great post ..

    I’m sure Twitter would be a lot nicer if everyone would follow this rule. I think my ratio is around 95/5. So am I a nice guy .. nope … just checking Twitter out before using it more commercially

  • May 13, 2009

    This is great article I totally agree with this. So many people write about Twitter as if it some miracle marketing tool and a spawning ground for internet marketers.

    For me personally it is a place to share and be shared. You have to respect everyone elses information as much as you respect your own and be willing to participate when time allows.

    The single most useful tip I could possibly think of myself would be to keep your own Tweets on topic and relevant.

    When looking for people to follow I generally avoid Tweeps with high number of Followings and low numbers of Followers. Aviod too those who rarely publish if at all, and those who publish too frequently (like every couple of minutes). Plus I also look for those who take a pride in their profile page.

  • June 12, 2009

    Absolutely true, IMO.

  • July 16, 2009

    nice tips here.. thanks for share the tutorial..

    Some times, somebody fill the twitter just to promote they blog. in the other side, they fill with the un-trusted information.. :)

  • July 16, 2009

    need hard work to get succes in twitter. however, twitter be nice place to share information.

  • February 26, 2010
    Stan Lumber

    I agree with the 90-10 rule. By using an automated tool like Tweet Whistles, I put out 20 tweets a day. I set them up the night before and put in little personal tid bits that will stream on Twitter through out the day while I am at work. Mixed in, I’ll promote my web site about once every 10th tweet. With this strategy, I don’t lose as many followers as I had in the past. I highly recommend this strategy and an automated tweeting tool. Learn more about the tool I use at http://friendaddertools.com

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