Twitter Nation

A Primer on Twitter for Beginners
Putting a Value on Your Twitter Account

I am a big believer in Twitter, despite its unfortunate name, for professionals. I like it better than Facebook for those purposes because Twitter is an outward-facing service while Facebook is a gated universe. Anyone can follow me on Twitter (unless I block them) while on Facebook I have to become friends with them.

For me, FB is about friends and family. Twitter is for friends, family and fans—but remember ‘fan’ is short for ‘fanatic’ and I am not sure I want to be friends with fanatics.

Just imagine for a moment, if you are a young Twitter user and new to the service, that when you are my age (59), say 30 or 40 years from now, you could have 1,000 followers or maybe 5,000 or possibly 50,000. If you change jobs, need a job, start a new enterprise, learn something cool, participate in an event, need input on a new logo, want to run a poll on a new product or service, want to share information, feel like speaking your mind, need an apartment, want to organize a meet-up, whatever, you can broadcast a message that will be instantly seen by everyone who follows you.

You can DM (Direct Message) them privately, you can mention them publicly (using the @mentions feature), you can create lists of certain groups (like I do for my former students).

You can follow people of interest to you and see what they are doing, what they are reading or watching and learn from them. You can tailor your follow list so that it includes news on subjects of interest to you—which might include current events or obscure subjects of interest only to a handful of people on the planet including you.

I integrate Twitter into the classes I teach—every student must have a Twitter account (which is free) and follow me. That way, when I answer questions like: “Hey Prof, when is my essay due?” I can tell the whole class with a single tweet instead of, say, 45 emails, using the hashtag feature (which the Twitter community apparently created). We use: #ADM3396, which is the course code preceded by the ‘#’ sign (which is nicknamed a hashtag).

The Hashtag Symbol on Twitter
The Hashtag Symbol on Twitter

Every tweet with #ADM3396 in it will appear as a group. So students can not only see answers to mundane questions like the one above but also answers to more substantive questions. This hashtag feature allows cross-conversations to develop where it isn’t always the Prof talking to his students and vice versa but students helping each other and other students, seeing what is going on, can jump in.

I will have much more to say about hashtag conversations in 2011.

The @mentions and retweet features allow you to give props to a follower or, for that matter, anyone on the service. You can expose your followers to a new Twitter user who has something relevant to say to your group. One thing you should know is that @mentions only show up in your Twitter feed and that of the person you are mentioning so that if you want to give them wider exposure you can retweet them or use another Twitter convention: put a period in front of their name so it shows up in the feeds of all your followers. So rather than use @ProfBruce (my Twitter handle), you would use .@ProfBruce.

You can individualize the backdrop to your Twitter home page (I use a photo collage of the things I have been involved in like the founding of the modern day Ottawa Senators, the establishment of our not-for-profit,, my affiliation with the Telfer School of Management and so forth). You can and should link it to a secondary site that is meaningful to you (I link it to this blog) and hopefully to the people who follow you.

Prof Bruce's Background Image for Twitter
Prof Bruce’s Background Image for Twitter

Faces count, especially on the Internet, so don’t use an avatar of yourself, a caricature or an animal to represent yourself. Just you be you.

Use this:

Prof Bruce's Image on Twitter
Prof Bruce’s Image on Twitter

Not this:

Brett Serjeanston's Twitter Image
Brett Serjeanston’s Image on Twitter

Ever think about the first two proto-humans who met at a water hole and decided to not try to kill each other but instead to cooperate by forming a village for mutual protection and intra-tribal trading? They did it because they (correctly) interpreted, first, the signals from the other person’s face and then their body language; i.e, that they weren’t hostile. (See: Teamwork in the 10th Millennium BC,

So make sure your Twitter place is a welcoming sight.

You will want to use a URL shortener. One of the main uses of Twitter is to include links in your tweets to interesting places on the web. Most URLs are too long for Twitter with its 140 character length (which originally came from technical limits on SMS messages). So I use I used to use but for obvious reasons, is better (6 characters versus 11). It’s a free service and basic will even keep some history for you– if you check back an hour or a day or a week later, you can see how many people have clicked on your link which will give you some idea of what interests your audience and what doesn’t.

Many power users of Twitter like Guy Kawasaki (with almost 300,000 followers) tweet dozens of times a day (actually more than 60 tweets per day on average) and Twitter is an integral part of their business. Guy runs, a news agglomeration site, and I would guess that links that Guy includes in his tweets are one of, if not the primary, generator of traffic for it.

Like many Twitter users, I spend about 6 to 10 minutes a day on the service; I integrate it into my workday. I check out what people I follow are saying from time to time, just to take a break from normal work. And when I am talking with someone or working on stuff and I trip over something that I think my followers would find interesting, I jot down a note and add it to my Twitter feed later.

Kawasaki repeats each of his Tweets a few times per day. He does this because, when you have 300,000 followers from all points of the Globe, they aren’t all going to be on Twitter the first time he decides to tweet something out. While not necessarily the same for a person with 300 followers, you might still choose to repeat your tweets if you think it is especially important that everyone see them. I would do this judiciously though; you don’t want to bore people or have them think you have an inflated opinion of yourself.

Back in July of this year, I attempted to put a value on Twitter accounts. The methodology is based on an old advertising formula that uses CPMs (Cost per Thousand Pairs of Eyeballs) to value exposure multiplied by the estimated number of thousand people to see your work. CPM varies a lot: from $3.50 per thousand for bus boards to $15 or $20 for high end magazines to as much as $60 for high quality, targeted Internet ads and $120 for 1,000 pieces of direct mail delivered by CPC (Canada Post Corporation). I used $50 per thousand for my calcs.

Estimating the number of people who see each tweet is quite complicated; I’ll leave it to the avid reader to look carefully at my spreadsheet and see how I did it. You can download my spreadsheet in .XLS format from:

Anyway, here are my results for three Twitter users:

Twitter User/No. Followers/Avg. Tweets per Day/Twitter Account Value (est.)

Prof Bruce 690/5.4/$1,793.41

Guy Kawasaki 256,188/60.4/$6,986,771.58

aplusk (Ashton Kutcher) 5,312,333/10.6/$8,635,196.29

Another way to look at the above is to ask the question: What would you have to pay Guy or Ashton not to tweet? I think for both it would be in the millions so maybe my estimates of value are not too far off. Now you might cleverly ask why, with a puny value of less than $2,000, I bother with Twitter. The answer is: I like it.

How you actually use a tool like Twitter is completely up to you but one thing you mustn’t do is think of it solely as a marketing program. It isn’t ‘Social Marketing’, it’s ‘Social Media’. Remember, it’s about communicating and also about learning and educating; it’s about authenticity, sharing, listening and speaking out. Twitter isn’t just about broadcasting, it’s about communicating. What it’s not is just a shill for your products or services. As former student, Ryan Anderson (@RyanAnderson) told me when I first logged on to Twitter, it takes a while in blogging to find your voice but when you do, it’s very gratifying.

Even though it isn’t marketing, per se, social media is part of your personal (or corporate) brand. So indirectly, it may help you sell more products and services. But that is not its primary mission. However, if it helps to build your brand that will help you build a trust relationship within your community and, at the end of the day, people like to buy from people they like and trust, so be mindful.

I answer all DMs and try to answer all my @mentions.

When I first saw Twitter, most people were asking and answering the question: “What are you doing?” Today, Twitter prompts you with the question: “What’s happening?” I think both can be useful as long as you don’t tweet out things like: “I have a hot date with my wife tonight.” Nobody is interested in that except you and, maybe, your spouse. But the people I find more interesting and the content on this micro-blogging service that is likely to have legs (i.e., last) is when they answer the question: “What are you thinking?”

Twitter’s search tool is not as good as it one day will be and searching your own Twitter feed is a bit of a nightmare so you can favorite your tweets and, hopefully, reduce the time it takes you to find, say, a useful link you tweeted out that you need right now. I also created a log of my tweets (basically, a series of word docs with all my tweets in them) and put them on our server so: a) I could search them and b) I could own them instead of Twitter. It’s all a bit clunky but no doubt it will get cleaned up in the fullness of time.

I only wish the Internet was where it is at today when I was 19 or 29. I love the tools that these amazing kids have created for us to use for free, like the original Netscape browser, Skype, FB, Twitter, Word Press and so much more. The Internet is where electrification was at about the same stage of its evolution into something that reshaped everything we do. In other words, the Internet is a teenager and I can hardly wait to see what it will be when it grows up, if I last that long.

Prof Bruce

Postscript: I created the above post for some of my colleagues at the University who have asked me if Twitter is worthwhile and how they might be able to use it too in their teachings. It may save them and me a bit of time to have them read this before I give them a fifteen minute how-to demo. It also might save them a couple of years of frigging around with Twitter like I have experienced. The interface and use of Twitter has some subtlety to it.


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Bruce Firestone

Bruce Firestone

CENTURY 21 Explorer Realty Inc., Brokerage*
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