At yesterday’s online communications question time, we came to speak about Twitter. Here’s what I heard:

“Everybody tells me to use Twitter, but I can’t figure out how to make it useful.”

“I get so many Tweets and I feel really overwhelmed.”

“All I do is to broadcast whenever I’ve published a new article, but that doesn’t seem to have an impact.”

Let me start by saying: Everybody uses Twitter in a different way, and just because some people tell you that you have to use it, doesn’t mean you should. You have a big permission slip to do it your way and to experiment.

For me, Twitter is mainly a source of news. I follow quite a few people (889 to be exact), and it’s the first thing I read in the morning. As I hardly read newspapers, Twitter is where I hear about Mars landings, gold medals and bailouts. Conveniently, my tweeps like to add their opinion – this helps me distinguish between amusing memes, important developments and banter.

I have no ambition to read everything that is posted in my Twitter stream – I just dip in my toe, I take what I enjoy or find useful, and then I move on with my day. To get an idea of the wealth of information posted in my stream, I’ve set up a daily summary of links just for me at

So, if you want to understand how Twitter could be useful for you, my first advice for you would be: Make Twitter a fun and insightful read for yourself.

This means: be careful whom you follow, and prune those that just litter your stream with irrelevant updates. Start with real people – some people you know, some that inspire you with their writing, some that you’d like to meet one day. Don’t forget to add people who make you smile (or laugh out loud). I find that many organisational Twitter accounts can be a little dry, or just automatic reposts from a website.

You can also experiment with Twitter’s list feature and create a list of “must read” accounts. That way, it’s easier for you to ignore the chatter in the main news stream.

If you don’t know where to start with following people, play with the Twitter search. Type in a few keywords of interest and see what comes up. Who else is tweeting about sustainable travel? What do people say about the event you went to last week? If something speaks to you, click the ‘follow’ button – and remember to unfollow whenever someone or something stops being interesting to you.

As you start reading Twitter more regularly, you’ll see how other people use the platform. Here are some of the things that I’ve seen people do:

  • Ask questions and get answers and recommendations from others
  • Start a direct conversation with a celebrity or a journalist
  • Organize spontaneous side meetings at conferences
  • Facilitate conversations around topics of interest
  • Goof off and joke around
  • Find (and pass on) relevant stories in their field

Of course, many also use Twitter as a broadcast medium for their own articles or try to market their own products, but that is not where Twitter comes to life. The magic is in the interactions.

So, my second advice for you would be: Connect before you broadcast. Try mentioning another user in your next ten Tweets. Can you reply to their questions? Add another point of view to their thoughts? Ask them for advice?

Go play.
Start by making Twitter a fun and insightful read for yourself.
Connect before you broadcast.

And then let me know: why would you want to come back to Twitter?

The next Online Communications Question Time takes place on Wednesday, 12 September, 18:00 CET. Sign up on Facebook!

Question Time: I really don’t get Twitter – should I?
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