Twitter – The Art of Influence

By Nathan Hangen of Making It Social. Follow him @nhangen.

Aidan Jones @flickrWhen I look at my Twitterfeed, I see that a lot of people are spending time talking about themselves. I get that…I really do, but let me ask you something. How many people on Twitter do you really pay attention to? Of those, how many of them talk about themselves more than they talk about others? If my guess is right, I’d say that the percentage is less than 25%. So why is it then, that people feel they have to talk about themselves in order to convert you into a reader or a customer?

Do the right thing

It isn’t because it works, we know that already. No, I’d venture to say that it is because they are mimicking the behavior of others. They see everyone else talking about themselves too so they think it is alright. Either that or they are afraid that people will not notice them unless they broadcast their talents like an ad agency. And it is OK I suppose, unless you want to really make a difference. If social media ROI is your concern, you’ll have problems using this approach.

I know it sounds like a contrarian perspective, but if you really want to get people to like you on Twitter, then you need to like them first. Aside from the celebrities, most of the Twitter power users are people that spend time giving away information and ideas. They prop you up and make you feel like your voice matters. This works because people don’t want to hear about you…they want to hear themselves echoed in your words. Even if you don’t mention them by name, they feel connected to you when you share a story that helps them.

In my time using Twitter, I’ve found that I gain the most influence, which I measure as RT’s, replies, and brand mentions, by talking with others instead of talking at them. One of the ways I do this is by constantly scanning my feed to find new ideas and inspirational stories. I keep what I call, “a portfolio of game changers,” and I like to tell other people about them.

Lend a helping hand

I don’t want to sound high and mighty here, but let’s face it…it feels really good to help other people. Oddly enough, when you help people on Twitter, you will often see the most return. This isn’t to say that you should only help others to help yourself or that you can’t talk about yourself at all, but I’m a firm believer in authenticity. Share what is good and hope that your content is strong enough to stand on its own in a similar fashion. You aren’t going to sell a bunch of ebooks on Twitter unless they are good. But, if you are a great designer that people have never heard of before, they’ll notice you a lot quicker when they see you offer to help with a problem or by answering a question of theirs.

Listen and learn

If you simply take the time to respond to the needs of others, they’ll be there for your time of need. It really is amazing how quickly a true talent can be found when they become a window for ideas, rather than a wall. Use Twitter to engage with the people in your niche and let your blog or website do the talking for you. Take it from Zig Ziglar himself…people like those that listen more than they like those that talk. If you can spend just 50% of your time on Twitter as a helping hand, then I can guarantee that people will start to notice you. At that point, your work needs to do the talking, but you already know that.

[Image: Aidan Jones on Flickr]

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  • October 30, 2009
    Green Meme

    There’s always exceptions to the rule. @greenmeme has never talked about hirself or interacted with followers. In fact, s/he doesn’t even follow anyone but has grown to nearly 3000 followers by providing a stream of pure information from authorative sources. Gets lots of RTs too!

  • October 30, 2009

    I totally agree with the points about helping and listening Nathan. I’m just not sure I agree about talking about ourselves. Sure, to use the old cliché – what people are eating for breakfast isn’t interesting, but what my friend in Jordan does at the weekend, and how the lady in England enjoyed her horse ride is fascinating, and it does provide a great social connection.

    If you examine the tweets of some of the most interesting people on Twitter, they’re constantly sharing their life and observations about the people and things around them, and I find that compelling. Certainly more so than the dull “motivational” phrases that so many people seem to pump out.

    I think we have to remember that to each of us our lives may seem dull and boring, but to other cultures, they can be intriguing. I dare say my lifestyle on a dssert island in The Atlantic would seem incredible to a Nepalese Yak farmer, as would his to me, but to the other people who live here, it’s just “life.”

    I’m interested to know what others think, maybe it’s just me?

  • October 30, 2009

    You are right in all respects of this article. Twitter does ask the question “what are YOU doing” but, if you read & respond to tweets, you will be a more popular tweeter. A up & coming popular Trend in the UK is #menutonight. People tweet what they are eating for dinner that evening, more often than not it gives followers ideas of what to cook the following night & give feedback if it’s good or bad, or ask for tips on cooking it. It’s a Twitter conversation:)

  • October 30, 2009

    Mike, you’ve got a point. I think the difference in what you are saying and what I am saying is that there are some details that are interesting, and some that are not.

    Mixing them in on occasion is great, but you’ve got to have a solid brand (like Chris or Gary) to do it often. When you talk about getting morning coffee for instance, that’s exiting for people, but when I say I’m going to Starbucks, it’s just not the same.

    Of course, I could be wrong…I often am :)

    Oh – and totally agree on motivational quotes as an MO…bad idea.

  • October 30, 2009
    grant hughs


  • October 30, 2009

    Yep, I agree. It’s about choosing the parts that might be interesting and discarding the ones that aren’t.

  • October 31, 2009

    Nice article. You’re touching on two psychological principles: liking and reciprocity. Both are used to build relationships with others which is what social media is all about.

    I do think occasional updates on what you do are good because they humanize you and allow you to connect with others who have similar interests. Social psychology experiments show liking others who share certain things in common with you works at the conscious and subconscious level. Bottom line, we like people who are like us so it’s wise to look for the potential connections.

    With regard to giving, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Reciprocity, feeling obligated to give back the same form of behavior that was given to you, is a social norm practiced in all countries. Obvious application for social media because we’re connecting with people everywhere now. The key, as you point out, is being the first to act. Help enough other people and it’s natural for them to want to “return the favor.”

    So sharing tid bits of your life over time and making the conscious effort to help others adds up to a formula for success whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or old fashion face-to-face interactions with others.


  • November 3, 2009

    Great article! I love what your saying because it is so true, I wish more people would realize that, if they did Twitter would become a much more interesting place… with less spam.

  • November 5, 2009

    Agree, agree, agree. It’s tough to get the most out of Twitter–or any social networking site–until you start giving back a little. It takes some time to learn how to do this properly, but it’s 100% true. It’s easy to fall into the trap of doing what everyone else does, but if you’re using Twitter for business purposes, the rules are different.

    Nice work.

  • November 13, 2009

    I definitely agree that listening is one of the most powerful and underutilized things you can do with Twitter. Listening and helping has ALWAYS been more helpful than just rapping about yourself. Twitter is no different :)

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