[Note: ETCJ's Twitter editor, Jessica Knott, has been working with Melissa to develop this series. See Part 1: Getting Started, Part 3: Curating the Chaos, and Part 4: Participating in a Live Event. -Editor]
If you’ve set up your account and have had some initial experience tweeting, you may be wondering how you’ll sort through and keep up with the constant flow of information and resources brought to you via your Twitter account.
The main Twitter page can be frustrating to use since it presents long lists of incoming and outgoing tweets in non-sortable, chronological order, which can make data consumption a chore.
Ideally, Twitter will become a source of information when you need it, and not just another item on your already lengthy list of things to do. Dashboard applications offer one way to make the process not only more efficient in terms of your time and effort, but also more user friendly so you’ll want to return.
Try a Dashboard Application
Tools such as TweetDeck and Seesmic are popular options that take the main Twitter page to the next level by providing customizable screen layouts. You can choose what appears on screen: incoming tweets from those you follow, tweets in which you are mentioned, direct messages, specific hashtags, and more. You can also search for information by keyword and monitor multiple Twitter accounts simultaneously, which is helpful if you use multiple accounts for different purposes. These types of tools simplify how you receive information via Twitter, as well as how you share it.
Figure 1 – Hootsuite Screenshot
Look for these basic features of dashboard Twitter management tools:
- Custom interface: drag and drop columns and tabs, sizing options, and color scheme choices.
- Browser extensions: access viewing and sharing functions from your browser’s toolbar.
- URL shorteners: to help you maximize the 140 character limit while also adding links.
- File upload: quickly share photos and video via your Twitter account.
Many more advanced capabilities are also available. Read the reviews of the 2011 top 10 Twitter clients for lists of features, screenshots, and more information about these management systems.
Considerations for Selection
A combination of tools may be ideal, or you might find one that does everything you need it to do. Listed below are several items for consideration as you compare and experiment with Twitter management tools.
- Multiple accounts: If you have active accounts with multiple systems, consider a tool that will work with all of them (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn), providing a single access point and simultaneous update functionality.
- Devices: Not all tools work well with all browsers, operating systems, or devices. How do you want to access Twitter? Your personal computer, tablet, and smartphone are all potential avenues, and some of the management applications can even sync your account so that you are up-to-date no matter how you choose to access.
- Features and functions: Focus on the tasks you want to accomplish. In addition to the organization and communication capabilities described above, additional social media management tools have more robust functions such as timed tweets, analytical reports, follower tracking, etc. It is possible that your favorite tool will be replaced by something new in the future. Thus, understanding how you want to apply the tool will help you find a new alternative if the need arises. Experimentation is key.
- Scope of use: Personal network building is one thing; developing a following and promoting websites for your program, school, or business is another. You may want a more robust tool than the ones listed here or to explore some of the more advanced features available if you have promotional goals or large-scale community building in mind.
- Cost: Almost all of these management tools are free to use or have free versions available, although registration and account set-up is usually required. Beyond financial costs, consider the time and energy required for use and possible benefits to be gained in these areas.
Establish a Few Ground Rules
What are your expectations for Twitter as a professional tool? Your use and level of participation are personal to you. Getting overwhelmed with the flow of social media seems to be part of the learning curve, but you can take several steps to keep things manageable in addition to implementing a management tool.
- Start slowly. It’s easy to get caught up in the endless flow of online information. Set small goals for your use, allow yourself time to acclimate to the social networking environment, and learn how to use the tools and their features.
- Be selective. You don’t have to read every tweet, and in fact expecting to do so is unrealistic as you grow your account and follow more people. You’ll find the items that gain attention with others in your network often circle back around.
- Set time limits. Schedule short periods of time during your day to check in with your Twitter and other social media accounts. This approach will help prevent getting caught up in the stream and spending too much time here and not on other work projects.
- Take a break. You don’t have to be online all the time. Step away periodically and reflect on how your use of Twitter is or is not helpful to you and consider modifying your approach.
Explore and Experiment
There are, of course, many more options available to help you organize your efforts with Twitter. Some of these tools have similar functions and features – what do you want them to do? When reviewing and comparing tools, consider how you are most likely to access Twitter and all of the information sent out by the people you are following.
Be open to trying multiple applications until you find the one (or ones) that best meet your needs. And, rest assured, there will continue to be more choices, upgrades, and things to try.
Please consider sharing your lessons learned and favorite management tools and techniques with us here, in the comments. Next up: Part 3 – Curating the Content.
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