The pragmatist’s guide to Twitter accounts [infographic]

Assessing Twitter accounts

Yeah, it’s been a hot minute.

Most of the time I feel like the Plato’s chair of that cobbler’s children thing: I churn out all kinds of content for other people, all day long, and yet my own blog sits here like a single 38-year-old straight woman who keeps having to go to bridal showers and remind herself that it’s better to be alone than to be with the wrong person.

It’s hard for me to keep telling clients that content and social media and consistency and ‘SEO blah blah blah is so important when I can’t get it together to write a blog post in 5 months. (Confidential to clients: Do as I say, not as I do.) So here is a post.

Some days, I feel like I live on Twitter.

These days, I manage a lot of social media accounts – about 90, all told, with about 30 of those being Twitter. I know Twitter gets a bad rap in some quarters, but I’ve always liked it. There are some fantastic writers (comedic and otherwise) who use it to great effect; it’s a good place to learn about breaking news; it can be an excellent way to stay on top of pop culture; and every so often you have a conversation with someone who’s both interesting and thought-provoking, and a whole other train of thought opens up to you. And it can be a great tool for businesses, brands and people to build awareness, word-of-mouth, thought leadership and networks.

(For writers, BTW, tweeting on behalf of others is a fantastic crash-course in mastering ‘voice’. Twitter only works when it seems authentic, so being able to accurately create or mimic the voice of your clients is crucial – and actually a lot of fun. For me, anyway.)

However, Twitter can also be a scary, soul-sucking morass of despair, especially when you fall down a Trump/#MAGA/anti-vaxxer/prepper rabbit hole or stumble into a thread of rabid Bill Cosby defenders.

Luckily, I’ve learned a few things in the past 8+ years that I’ve been tweeting for myself or on behalf of clients. And today, I will share them with you! In a handy infographic format that you will be sure to like and share!

This isn’t comprehensive, but it’ll help you avoid the worst of Twitter and learn to like it again.

Pragmatist's guide to Twitter accounts infographic

More tips from the seamy underbelly of Twitter

How to avoid letting Twitter make you crazy

Twitter will make you crazy if you aren’t careful

How to avoid letting Twitter make you crazy

I think Twitter can be both useful and even fun: It’s a great way to find out about breaking news, it’s a good way to quickly connect with people who are interested in something you’re wondering about right this minute, and it can steer you to information and topics you might never have discovered on your own (right now, I’m finding #blackhistorymonth very interesting). For businesses, it can be an excellent CRM tool, delivering the kind of instant gratification that customers tend to like; it can assist with SEO by ensuring you have regular content attached to your brand/name; and over the longer term it can be quite effective at building your profile, particularly within a particular industry or field.

Twitter is also fraught with dangerous rabbit holes. Make the mistake of clicking on a trending topic like #zayndontleave or #gamergate and you’ll find yourself sucked into a vortex of vitriol, misongyny, anger and illiteracy so bad you’ll start to wonder if social media really is the scourge of humanity.

But don’t worry!

More tips to help you actually like Twitter

1. People who have text on their background pictures are trying to sell you something. If you see text on the background pic of an account, think twice before following, even if you can’t actually read the text without clicking on the picture. If the text includes a number, be extra careful – anyone whose main message is “Ask me how I can increase your traffic by 92% in 2 weeks!” is trying to sell you something you almost certainly don’t need. And, worse, is going to tweet really, really boring stuff.

1.(b) If the text is a quote, do not follow. People who put inspirational quotes like “Walking in the sand, I knew my heart was in the sky” can be classified as one of 3 things: A bot/fake account; a person who tweets way, way too much; or a person who spends 98% of their leisure time on Pinterest. None of these people will help you professionally (and probably not personally, either).

2.  It’s okay to follow brands. I used to say that it was better to follow real people rather than brands – my reasoning was that people would actually tweet interesting stuff while brands would just regurgitate party-line soundbites. I’m happy to say this has changed. Some brands have great individuals running their Twitter feeds; others have hired content strategy types (like me) to give them interesting, relevant content which is even sometimes funny.

3.  Don’t follow anyone wearing a hat in their profile pic. The exception to this might be a professional baseball player wearing a ball cap. Otherwise, it just means “I am a self-published romantic fiction/sci-fi author and I like tea and cats.”

4.  It’s okay good to get personal. Sometimes.  No, you shouldn’t tweet endless photos of your meals out (unless you’re a food blogger). But a quick tweet about the marathon you just ran, or a pic of a funny sign you saw, or an amusing comment about current events lets your audience know that you’re a real person who does interesting things and has interesting thoughts. And it will often generate better engagement than a link to an industry-related article.

5. If someone with 10k followers, who is only following 100 people, follows you, ask yourself why. In fact, you don’t have to ask yourself – I will tell you: Because they are going to wait for you to follow back, then unfollow you immediately. They are not interested in you or your business, they aren’t interested in your tweets – they just want to build their follower base so they can sell someone something (possibly access to their follower base). Which brings me to…

6.  Follower: Following ratio is important. Twitter, like so much of adult life, is like high school: The winner is the person who seems most popular. A person with 20k followers who is only following 543 people looks more popular (and probably actually is) than someone who has 80k followers but is following 93k people.  When you’re first starting out on Twitter, your ratio will be poor (see #5 in my previous Seamy Underbelly piece), but your goal, over time, should be to ensure you have more followers than people you’re following.

7.  It’s a long game.  Digital media types in skinny pants often try to give you the impression that in the Modern World, everything happens superfast! and supergreat! But the truth is that Twitter, like almost any other component in a social media/content strategy, delivers results over the longer term. It takes time to build up a following and think up some clever tweets that get attention and push out content that people actually read. I tell clients they need to keep at it for 6-12 months before they can really assess results.

8. Be very clear about why you’re bothering with Twitter in the first place. Twitter can deliver lots of benefits for small businesses: It can feed your other social media channels; it can amplify your content; it can give you access to eyeballs you wouldn’t otherwise have for free; it can help your Google rankings; it can be a CRM tool; it can make your otherwise static website look continually updated; it can act as a focus group; it can raise your profile within your industry or target market – all these things can be valuable.

But Twitter can also be a lot of work – it doesn’t necessarily require a lot of time especially if you’re using the right tools, it just requires sort of constant care and feeding, and that can be tricky for small businesses with limited resources. That’s why it’s crucial to know why you’re doing it and what you hope to achieve. If you can stay out of the rabbit holes and stay the course for a year, you might find it more effective than you think.


Tips from the seamy underbelly of Twitter (mostly for SMBs)

Sarah Welstead Twitter for small business

Things the ‘social media gurus’ won’t tell you

Sarah Welstead Twitter for small business

The other day I wrote about why almost all small- and mid-sized businesses should have a Twitter presence.

But let’s face it: The world didn’t need another blog post about why Twitter’s so great for SMBs. Every day, my own Twitter feed is clogged unto bursting with articles by supposed marketing geniuses (if they call themselves  ‘guru’, it must be true!) promising that if you’ll only follow their 23 Foolproof Steps, you too will achieve business success via Twitter.

What I’ve noticed, however, is that all these “Top 10 tips for succeeding on Twitter” pieces littering the web seem to be written by people who’ve spent about 2 hours on Twitter, put quantity over quality, and who are too busy driving traffic to their keywords that they don’t actually tell you anything useful, like “If someone whose profile pic is a possibly-underage girl in a bikini follows you, do not follow back.”

Avoid disaster by following these simple rules

1. Don’t go more than a week without logging into your account or tweeting. Dormant accounts, especially if they have 1000+ followers, are targets for hackers/spoofers who take over the account and start tweeting spam. You don’t want to discover that your long-ignored account has been tweeting porn for 3 months without you noticing (true story).

2. Do not follow anyone with a US flag as their profile pic backdrop.  95% of the time, this person will turn out to be a super-right-wing conservative who will, sooner or later, tweet something unbelievably offensive, which will lead to two problems: Either (a) you will want to tweet a response, which will end badly; or (b) you will get associated with a whole community of offensive types that are not good for your brand. Prevention is the only cure.

3. Almost anyone who tweets more than 5 times a day is going to be boring – or worse.  Yes, you should tweet every day. But almost any non-celebrity/non-genius who tweets every 5 minutes is just going to clog up your feed with Inspirational Quotes or a zillion links to their Free Ebook – Download Now! page. Follow back if you want to keep your numbers up – but then see #4.

4. Use the ‘mute’ option liberally. Putting someone on mute means you don’t have to unfollow them (if you think that would cause offense and/or a mutual unfollow, thereby reducing your numbers), while still avoiding their incessant Maya Angelou quotes. Here’s where you can find the mute function:


5.  To grow your base, you have to follow 25-50 new people a day.  Here is what hardly anyone will ever tell you: Unless you’re famous, or really super-hilarious, no one is going to seek you out on Twitter. I’m sorry, but they just aren’t. So you have to follow a whole bunch of people and then hope that some of them follow you back.

6.  A half-naked profile pic is not someone you want to follow. There is a lot of crap on Twitter – the sheer number of accounts focused on pantyhose fetishists alone is astounding. To avoid falling into the Twitter slough of despond, do not follow, or follow back, anyone whose profile pic shows more skin than you’d see at the office on a normal day.

6.(a) Don’t follow anyone doing an elaborate duck-face, either. For mostly the same reasons.

7. Beware of secret religionists.  #6 notwithstanding, there are a startling amount of religious types on Twitter, and my personal philosophy is that religion and business do not mix. People who include ‘Christ-follower’ in their profiles are easy to spot – it’s the ones using secret code you have to be careful of. Religious tip-offs include using the word ‘servant’ in a list of personal adjectives (“husband, father, servant, SEO master”); Bible verses (any numbers separated by a colon, like 3:11); use of the words ‘saved’, ‘believer’, ‘disciple’ and ‘Israel’ are also problematic. And I’m always a bit dubious about anyone whose bio includes ‘family first’.

8. More hashtags = more spam. A person whose bio and/or tweets #consist #of #almost #nothing #but #hashtags is not interested in anything but promoting their own, probably spammy, website. Don’t follow them; don’t follow them back – they will do nothing for you, your brand or your business.

9. Don’t retweet a link you haven’t checked. Twitter-scammers are smart: They can make a headline sound great, so you retweet not realizing the link actually goes to some ad-filled clickbait or malware site. At best, you look lazy; at worst, you lose followers who think you too are a scammer. Check every link you tweet.

So there you are: 9 handy tips that should keep you out of the morass of mediocrity that Twitter can seem to be if you aren’t careful. Social media is not for the faint of heart.



6 blogging tips for people who kind of hate writing

I know you have great ideas. But they’re not doing much, just sitting there in your head.

b2b writer's block

You know you need a blog, or some kind of regularly updated content.  The problem is, you hate writing – well, maybe ‘hate’ is a strong word, but the last time you had to sit down and write more than 2 paragraphs in a row it took you all afternoon and finally you just gave up and spent the rest of the day making a fun diagram on PowerPoint.

If you’re at the point where you know you need to create content, you’ve probably got some ideas of what you’d like that content to look like – it’s just a matter of getting those ideas out of your head and into the world.

Of course, the easiest way around an aversion to writing content is simply to hire someone – they can interview you, extract all the good ideas you’ve been thinking about, and then ghost-write your content for you.  The problem is that this tends to be expensive, because anyone you’re going to trust enough to be your ‘voice’ is probably going to cost real money.

Here’s how to get as much content as you can out of your head and into some kind of format that you can use to either write some 350-word blog posts, or hand off to someone to turn into content for you without having to spend a huge amount of money.

1. Set a reasonable time limit and eliminate distractions

If writing’s not your thing, there’s nothing worse than telling yourself you’re going to spend ‘the day’ trying to do it.  Instead, just aim to do as much as you can in a 2-hour block.  Turn off your cellphone, shut down your email, disconnect the internet and send the family to the movies so you won’t be tempted by procrastination distractions.  Do give yourself a snack food and a glass of wine if that helps.

2. Pet peeves about your industry

This is an amazingly inspirational place to start when you’re looking for content ideas.  Start with everything that bothers you about the industry in which you work:  The incompetence of other practitioners; the bad customer service; the lack of regulation; the misconceptions and myths; the way the big players are ruining it for smaller players; the things that consumers should know but don’t – whatever drives you nuts.

Don’t self-censor at this point – at this point, you’re just talking to yourself.  So if you think that 75% of the other people in your industry are total idiots who shouldn’t be allowed to speak to clients, write it down.  You can edit yourself later.

3. The ways you’d change your industry

From your pet peeves, it’s a natural step to talking about how you’d change your industry if you could.  Better education, better customer service, better processes, more ethical practices – what would you change if you had the power to do so?

These could be small things that you’re already doing in your own day-to-day worklife (“I always make sure my team has continuing education opportunities”) or big things that you’d do if you were in a position of wide-reaching power (“If I was the president of a global multinational, I’d set up an ombudsman for my industry…”).

4. Keep a running list of topics

Even the best writers can struggle with inspiration – that’s why they all carry notebooks with them. Use the ‘notes’ feature in your smartphone and whenever you think of a potential blog topic, make a note.  The next time you sit down to write something, you’ll have a list of topics to start from.

5. Don’t try to be Hemingway

Many non-writers get sidetracked when they worry about spelling, grammar, sentence structure or style.  When you’re just getting started, it’s better to just get your thoughts out.  Stick to bullet points if that’s easier, and switch to paragraphs when you have a lot to say.  But don’t worry about run-on sentences and don’t stop to wonder whether ‘miscellaneous’ is spelled properly – getting your ideas to flow is more important.

6. Now you can turn on your computer and check other blogs

When you’ve run out of your own ideas, it’s okay to turn on your computer and read blog posts by other big names in your industry.  What are they saying that you agree with? What are they saying that you definitely don’t agree with?  Disagreeing with other bloggers – and offering well-thought-out reasons why you disagree – can be a fruitful area for developing your own ideas and content.

A couple of these sessions, and you may have rewired your brain…

You may never come to love writing, or find it easy to do.  However, once you’ve done a couple of 2-hour sessions to get your ideas out of your head and into a more share-able format, you’ll probably find that the ideas come more easily, because you’ve given your brain a bit of a structure in which to organize and think about them.  And that book you’ve always thought about writing may be more doable than you thought.