I was a little slow getting onto Twitter last year (when so many other bloggers embraced it). To be honest I didn’t think it had much to offer me – I’m beginning to see how wrong I was.
In this post I want to explore how I’m using Twitter to:
- improve the quality of my blogs
- network with other bloggers
- widen my readership
- grow my profile
- drive traffic to my blogs
Before I get into some of the benefits of Twitter – let me say that I’m still new to it as a medium. I’m in a phase of experimenting and finding my voice. So please treat this as a progress report rather than a complete and definitive one.
Also note that tomorrow I’ll share some of the more practical tips of how I’m finding Twitter to be most useful. Today is more the ‘benefits’ and tomorrow I’ll make some suggestions about how to use the tool more effectively. Subscribe to my feed to ensure you don’t miss that post.
The Benefits of Twitter (to me)
One of the main things that I’ve discovered about Twitter is that no two Twitter users are using it in the same way. Almost every Twitter user that I come across tells me that they have a different objective when it comes to using it and are benefiting from it differently.
As a result I won’t attempt to write a definitive list of the benefits of Twitter – but will share how I’ve found it to benefit me (feel free to add your own comments).
1. Research Tool
One of the things that I’ve come to enjoy about Twitter the most is the way that it can be used when you’re researching a post.
- Stuck for inspiration? Twitter and idea and see what others add to it.
- Need an example for a point you’re making? Twitter it and you might get some good ones.
- Got a question that you’re stuck on? Ask it to your followers to see what they think.
- Need to test a hypothesis? Do a straw poll on your followers.
The beauty of Twitter is that it’s quick, is used by a wide variety of types of people and because of the 140 character limit to messages it keeps interactions concise, manageable and productive (usually).
Example – Let me illustrate this with a ‘live’ example. Lets just say that I’m writing a post on RSS feed subscriptions and wanted to find out how many feeds people were following. I’d post a Tweet like this:
Now I actually posted that Tweet a few minutes ago and in the time that it took me to grab a screen shot of the tweet and made myself a coffee I’ve had the following responses:
What other medium can you gather that kind of data in 5 minutes? (actually by now – 10 minutes later there have been 30 responses and it’s the middle of the night for most of my followers).
2. Reinforce (and expand) Your Personal Brand
I’ve written previously about how I’ve found interacting on multiple mediums can be important in building your personal brand. Whether it be social networking, blogging, bookmarking, real life interactions etc – all of these ‘straws’ when added together can go a long way to building your own brand. Twitter is another ‘straw’ in my personal brand (and that of my blogs).
What I’ve found is that I’m getting emails and messages from people saying things like:
- ‘I used to read you at ProBlogger but had lost track until I found you on Twitter’
- ‘I subscribe to your RSS feed on the blog but seeing your posts on Twitter reminds me to read them more’
- ‘I was scanning through someone else’s Twitters yesterday and saw your face. I recognized it from your Facebook account so thought I’d check out you.’
- ‘I saw your name mentioned the other day on Scott Karp’s Twitter feed. I hadn’t seen your blog for a while and it reminded me to resubscribe.’
This type of comment to me illustrates that Twitter is another useful tool in putting you as a blogger in front of readers and potential readers.
The other thing that I’ll say about branding and Twitter is that it can be used to expand your brand or to show a different side of you. Some of the people that I enjoy following the most on Twitter inject humor into their Twittering that I don’t see on their blogs. There’s also something a little more personal about many of the people I follow on Twitter (even if they Tweet on a ‘professional’ topic – their voice is often more personal than on their blogs).
Example – the wonderful thing about Twitter is that it’s actually others who brand you and not just you who does all the work. Look at the example above and you see that 30 people (it’s now up to 40) answered my question and each time they did they publicly used my blog’s name and linked to my Twitter account. Those 30 or 40 people are collectively being followed by thousands of others and by responding to my question they ‘sneezed’ the ProBlogger virus out to them (incidentally I’ve had 15 new followers join up since posting that question just minutes ago).
3. Promote Content
The first thing that people usually ask me when I say that I’m on Twitter is ‘how much traffic does it drive back to your blogs?’ I’ve purposely held off on writing about Twitter as a means to drive traffic until this point in this post because I don’t see it as the main benefit of the tool. Having said that – it can potentially promote content and drive traffic.
I’ve been using a tool called TwitterFeed for the last four weeks (31 days to be exact) to take the headlines and URLs from my blog’s feeds and to publish them in my Twitter account. In that time I’ve seen just over 1350 visitors come from Twitter to Problogger after something like this appears in my Twitter feed each time I post:
That is not a massive amount considering I have over 1000 followers at the moment and considering that it’s .38% of the total traffic that the site has had in that time – however it’s not insignificant because I suspect that Twitter users are a fairly influential bunch of people and could potentially be spreading my URLs wider than just on Twitter (on their blogs etc).
Here’s how my traffic has grown since starting to use Twitter more seriously a month ago.
One surprising thing that I found when I started publishing my stories on Twitter was that some Twitter readers told me that they now read ProBlogger exclusively through Twitter – to the point that they didn’t check the feed any more. At first I was a little concerned by this – but then i realized that it was a good thing because those readers had found a way that fitted more with their own rhythm to read my content.
Twitter had become an alternative subscription method for them. Plus it actually caused these readers to read the blog on the blog rather just in their feed reader – creating increase page views/unique visitor counts.
4. Extend Audience – Find NEW Readers
One challenge that bloggers who’ve been around for a while in their niche can face is that they reach a saturation point. They sometimes feel like everyone who will hear about them has already heard about them and they can see a plateau in their stats. This often happens 6-12 months into a blog.
My encouragement to this type of blogger is to think about where potential readers might be gathering that they’re yet to tap into. I’ve found that this has happened for me with Twitter.
I’ve already touched on how this happens above in the ‘branding’ section – however a number of Twitter users have told me that they’ve just discovered my blogs through my Tweets (and the Tweets of others). There hasn’t been a flood of new readers from this – but my Google analytics says that 27% of of the visitors who have come to ProBlogger from Twitter are ‘new’ to my blogs. For me that’s about 15-20 new readers per day through Twitter – over a year that could definitely add up and those 5000 – 7000 new readers could have a significant impact upon a community.
Another obvious benefit of Twitter is the ability that it gives you to network on a different level with other bloggers, readers and ‘others’. I’ve lost count of the direct messages and group conversations that I’ve had with people that I’d never have ‘met’ any other way.
Already this has opened up some fascinating opportunities to work together on promoting each other’s content, sharing advice etc. It’s also opened up 3-4 opportunities for me to find new guest bloggers for my blogs.
One more thing on a networking front – I find it difficult to put this one into words, but there’s a certain camaraderie that develops when you read what someone’s written every hour or so throughout a day (and know that they’re doing the same with you). For me it’s something like that feeling that you get after spending a couple of days with someone at a conference – you know each other on a whole other level. Difficult to explain and I’m not sure I’ve quite put my finger on what this is (anyone able to say it better?).
Last week on a couple of occasions I released exclusive little previews to Twitter followers of information that I hadn’t yet posted on my blogs. I did this in two ways.
1. Once I posted news that I was yet to break on ProBlogger (I think it was about AdSense retiring their AdSense referral program). I did this because it was important news and I hadn’t yet had time to write up a post. I included in the Tweet that I’d post about it shortly – this created a little anticipation among followers (to the point where a few started direct messaging me asking when my post would go up).
2. The other time I shared a link to a post on ProBlogger that was yet to go live (ie I’d published it as an advance post at a time that was yet to happen – this created a page but no one would have known it was there). I did this as an experiment to see what would happen. The result was that when the post did go live on the blog on the front page it already had comments and a good discussion. I also found that three people had already linked to it. It also helped some readers to feel a little special to get a Twitter exclusive (in fact I’m publishing the link to this post on Twitter 3 hours before it actually goes live on the the blog).
There’s one more thing that I’d like to try in terms of combining this idea of ‘preview’ and the ‘research’ point mentioned above – and that’s to create a private post on my blog that I reveal only to Twitter followers and to then post a draft there of a post I’m working on to get feedback on before publishing it publicly. This would be an interesting exercise and explore the idea of a more communal writing of a post.
One of the things that I’ve been doing lately instead of posting so many ‘Speedlinks’ here on ProBlogger is to share these links on Twitter. I’m doing this largely from Google Reader using a Firefox add-on created by Bob Lee. While Speedlinking is something that has worked reasonably well here on ProBlogger (in posts like this for example) I’m actually finding the medium of Twitter to be well suited to it also.
Note: – if you’re not into Twitter but still want to follow my speedlinks I’m posting alot of them in my Shared Items feed via Google Reader.
8. Story Gathering
A number of times this past week I’ve heard of breaking news in my niches via the Tweets of others. I would have heard of these stories via my news aggregator and the RSS feeds of others eventually – but due to the immediacy of Twitter I heard them just minutes after they broke.
This can be the difference between breaking a story to readers and being second or third at it.
9. Find Out What People REALLY Think
Another observation that I’ve made in the last couple of weeks while on Twitter is that people have a certain level of honesty and rawness on Twitter that they sometimes mask or hide on their blogs. I’m not sure why this is – but perhaps when confronted with saying something in 140 characters they have to strip away some of the disclaimers and politically correct language and just say what they mean.
The good thing about this is that it gives you a sense of what people are really thinking on a topic. This helps you to get to know them on a new level but also helps you keep your finger on the needs and feelings of your potential readers.
So they are some of the benefits that I’ve found of using Twitter. I’d be fascinated to hear how others have found it to be useful. Don’t forget to look out for tomorrow’s post with suggestions on how to improve your blogging with Twitter.
PS: I wrote this post over a number of days. Since starting it Maki at DoshDosh put together hispost which has some good suggestions too.