Work Smarter with Twitter and HootSuite, new from Harvard Business Review Press

Work Smarter With Twitter and HootSuite coverDo you feel like you could get more out of Twitter? Or are you a passionate Twitter user who wants to help your colleagues, friends and family use it and love it the way you do?

Work Smarter with Twitter and HootSuite is for everyone who wants to get more out of Twitter, whether as a newcomer or a longtime user who wants to make smarter, more strategic use of this platform. The second in my Work Smarter with Social Media series for Harvard Business Review Press, this short guide focuses on how Twitter can help you build the strong, meaningful relationships that can support your work and your career.

And I’d like to ask for your help spreading the word about this new ebook. Please buy a copy for yourself or as a gift for a colleague or a friend (it’s the perfect way to help that Twitter newbie or skeptic get serious about how to use Twitter). Once you’ve had a chance to take a look at the book yourself, I’d be delighted if you would post a review on Amazon, iTunes or Goodreads.

My community of Twitter pals has been a constant source of inspiration and encouragement in the writing of this book — in fact, in all my writing for the past five years. If we’ve ever exchanged so much as a tweet, believe me when I say that you are part of the extraordinary experience of Twitter that I tried to capture in this title. Thank you for helping make Twitter such a valuable part of my own professional practice, and for any help you can provide in tweeting, blogging or otherwise sharing news about this new ebook.

Where to find it

To jump into the conversation on Twitter and Facebook

Tweetable links

Click to tweet this: New ebook from @harvardbiz: Work Smarter with #Twitter and @HootSuite, by my friend @awsamuel. http://amzn.to/wswevernote

Click to tweet this: How can #Twitter and @HootSuite build your professional relationships? Find out in @awsamuel’s new ebook. http://amzn.to/wswtwitter

Click to tweet this: I love @HootSuite! This new ebook from @harvardbiz will show you how it can help you tweet smarter, too. http://amzn.to/wswtwitter

More ways to share

If you’d like to talk about the book in more than 140 characters, here are some short descriptions that can help you get started:

You know you could make good use of Twitter — if only you had a roadmap of exactly how to use it. Now you can get that roadmap from Work Smarter with Twitter and HootSuite, the latest ebook in the Harvard Business Review Press series, Work Smarter with Social Media. It’s like looking over the shoulder of a social media pro to find out how to keep up a lively Twitter presence in just a few hours a week. In this case, you’re looking over the shoulder of Alexandra Samuel, VP of Social Media for Vision Critical, as she shows you how to use Twitter and HootSuite to build the professional relationships that can make a big difference to your work and your career.

If you have ever felt overwhelmed by Twitter, a new ebook from Harvard Business Review Press may have the cure. In Work Smarter with Twitter and HootSuite, Alexandra Samuel shows how to use Twitter lists to focus on the relationships that can really make a difference to your work and career. Her methodology relies on a multi-column Twitter client like HootSuite, which makes it possible to focus your attention on your key lists instead of on your home feed, and makes it easy to maintain your own Twitter presence with a combination of scheduled tweets and real-time conversation. Check it out here: http://amzn.to/wswtwitter

Shareable quotes

These short excerpts from the book are ready to share as summaries or sample tips:

Even Twitter enthusiasts are often paralyzed by the sheer volume of tweets and the velocity of Twitter conversations, both of which increase quickly once you follow more than a handful of people. Twitter newcomers are often so overwhelmed by Twitter’s size and pace that they tune out altogether…[T]o make the most of Twitter, you have to focus on individual people, not individual tweets….You’ll stay focused on these relationships and get away from the dilemma of “keeping up” only if you embrace Twitter not as a news site but as a social network, which is, after all, how Twitter bills itself. — from Work Smarter with Twitter and HootSuite by Alexandra Samuel (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013)

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Using Twitter lists means that when you take a five-minute Twitter break, you’ll be able to quickly home in on the updates from the people you really want to hear from, simply by looking at your two or three most crucial lists. When you’re taking the time for a deeper dive into the Twitterverse, you’ll see each tweet in a context that reminds you why you’re tuning in to that particular person. — from Work Smarter with Twitter and HootSuite by Alexandra Samuel (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013)

* *

Putting your top relationships into lists and streams [in HootSuite] is the key to helping you filter out the folks you don’t want to spend your time on, even if you want to keep following them out of courtesy or so that they can message you privately. If you’re scrupulous about focusing on tweets from folks in your top lists, you may be just fine following all sorts of other random feeds, secure in the knowledge that you won’t be distracted by the detritus. — from Work Smarter with Twitter and HootSuite by Alexandra Samuel (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013)

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If you do want to build a significant following—whether you define “significant” as a hundred thousand followers or a hundred leaders in your immediate field—you need to think about defining a focus for your tweeting that you can lead with a sustainable level of effort. If you’re willing to put in several hours a day to managing your Twitter feed (something I’d recommend for very few people), you could take on a broader topic or one that already has some serious tweeters. If you’re going to keep your Twitter time to a few hours a week, you’ll need to define a fairly narrow focus. A good way to do that is to locate your tweeting at the intersection of two or three lively fields, or a couple of fields plus a geographic location. While you may not be the top tweeter in the field of human resources, you could be the top tweeter on recruiting young people in retail (which lets you tweet a mix of content about retail, Gen Y, and recruitment) or retail recruitment in Dallas. — from Work Smarter with Twitter and HootSuite by Alexandra Samuel (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013)

* *

To sustain a consistent pace on Twitter, while leaving yourself room to engage with people in real time, make tweeting easy and schedule a certain number of tweets in advance. By setting up an efficient process for consistent tweeting at roughly predictable intervals, you ensure that the people you want to connect with know not only what you’re about but how often they can count on a little nugget of wisdom or news. Better still, you free up your spontaneous tweeting windows for replying to the people who want to engage with you, engaging with the people who you want to know better, and thus building important relationships. The next few sections show you how. — from Work Smarter with Twitter and HootSuite by Alexandra Samuel (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013)

Thank you

This page was inspired not only the brilliant example of Lee LeFever, but by the amazing generosity of the friends, colleagues and readers who spread the word (and shared their reviews) on Work Smarter with Evernote. Your enthusiasm has been the key to its success, and your constructive feedback has helped to shape Work Smarter with Twitter and HootSuite.

Thank you in advance for anything you do to support this new book and series, whether it’s with a Like on the Facebook page, a review on Amazon or sharing your feedback with me directly. Most of all, thank you for reading.

3 tricks for monitoring Twitter mentions and trackbacks

The brilliant Lauren Bacon made a big splash yesterday with her thought-provoking post on the emotional work that often gets assigned to women working in the tech world. The response to that post has been so massive that it’s left her with a challenge: how do you monitor and reply to the torrent of ensuing tweets?

Whether you’re trying to track and engage with public perceptions of your work, your latest blog post or your company, monitoring Twitter is an essential part of that work. It’s not enough to get Google News alerts that tell you if your company is in the news, or to read the comments on your blog; odds are good that a huge part of the conversation is going to unfold on Twitter, and that conversation may look quite different from what you see on blogs or news sites.

If everybody who was talking about you or your company was referring to you by your Twitter handle, this job would be relatively easy: you’d just monitor your mentions feed. But a lot of the time, people may be talking about you — or especially that latest blog post — without including your Twitter handle in their tweets. And if you’re trying to track the response to a blog post, in particular, they may not be mentioning you at all: the only clue that they are talking about your work is the link that’s embedded in each tweet sharing your post.

Here are three tricks for tracking and responding to the folks who are talking about you, whether or not they are mentioning you by name:

  1. HootSuite column monitors search on author's name and its variantsMonitor your name, as well as your handle. Set up a Twitter search on your name (and common misspellings thereof); if you use a multi-column Twitter client like HootSuite or Tweetdeck, add this search as as a column (a “stream”, in HootSuite-ese”). Do the same thing for your company name, senior execs’ names, etc. Keep an eye on this column and respond to it the way you’d respond to mentions. Note that if you have a common name, this could produce a lot of irrelevant results, so you may find it easier to do your search directly on Twitter where you can use “-” operators to exclude irrelevant results: for example I might set up a search on “alexandra samuel” OR “alexandra samuels” OR “alex samuel” OR “alex samuels” -“self magazine” -linux (because there’s an Alexandra Samuel at Self Magazine, and an Alex Samuel who writes about Linux).  
  2. Monitor link backs with Topsy. If you’ve got a post that is blowing up, like Lauren’s, use Topsy to watch for any and all tweets that link to that post. For example, by entering the URL of Lauren’s post, we see these tweets:
    Topsy trackbacks on Lauren Bacon's post shows 191 tweets and some of the most interesting tweets
    Note that Topsy finds tweets that include shortened links (e.g. bit.ly URLs) as well as those that include the full-length URL (which is unlikely to be tweeted, anyhow) so you just have to enter your full-length URL in order to track all the tweets that have shared it. When I have a post on the Harvard Business Review blog, I typically visit the Topsy trackbacks for that link several times in the first 48 hours, and then one a day for the next week or so.
  3. Thank and engage with scheduled tweets. Of course, you shouldn’t be tracking all those mentions just for the sheer ego gratification (or in some cases, ego shattering) that comes from seeing what people have to say about you. The whole point of seeing all these links is to engage with them, ideally by replying to any questions or substantive comments, and perhaps by thanking some or all of the folks who have tweeted about your work. You can thank people in real time, or you can queue up a bunch of thank-yous in Buffer, an app that lets you schedule tweets on a specific schedule. You can use HootSuite for tweet scheduling, too, but as my next post will explain , using Topsy and Buffer together will turn you into tweet-thanking ninja.

Twitter & HootSuite stories wanted for next Harvard Business Review ebook

FROM AN EVERNOTE USER: I largely use Evernote to clip news articles, academic articles, and journal articles. I use separate Evernote notebooks for teaching, for material relevant to my book, and one for my next research project. I also created a notebook when I was writing a piece for The New Yorker about the shooting at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek. I wanted to make sure I gave proper attribution to the ideas that I was building upon, so I clipped links to analyses of media coverage of Oak Creek or details about the shooter. I didn’t want to plagiarize anything by accident, so anytime I made an argument that had been made before, I linked to it.—Naunihal Singh, assistant professor of political science, University of Notre Dame

Work Smarter with Evernote features a number of great tips like this one. One of the best parts of working on the book was hearing all the creative ways people use Evernote to be more productive, smarter and taller. (OK, maybe not taller, but possibly thinner.)

Now that I’m working on the next ebook in the series, I’m eager to hear more great stories from creative social media users. This time, I’m looking for your best examples, tricks and tactics for using Twitter or HootSuite. How do you decide who to follow? How do you read tweets and follow people? How do you structure and organize your own tweeting?

If you’ve got suggestions on how people can get more from Twitter, examples of how you’ve used Twitter or HootSuite yourself, or stories about how Twitter has rocked your world, I’d love to hear them via Twitter (to @awsamuel), in the comment thread below, or via email to alex[at]alexandrasamuel[dot]com. Thanks in advance for your help!

How to add yourself to your own Twitter list using HootSuite

Today I noticed an irony on the SIM Centre website: our Twitter sidebar widget, which does a lovely job of displaying tweets from all those who are connected to the SIM Centre, wasn’t showing tweets from the SIM Centre itself. I realized that was because our sidebar was fed by a Twitter list called @Simcentre/sim-people, which didn’t include @SimCentre. Easy enough to fix — right?

Arrow points to icon on Twitter profile that lets you add someone to list

When viewing someone else's Twitter profile you can click an icon to get the "add to list" option.

Actually, it’s not so obvious how you go about adding yourself to your own Twitter list, even though there are lots of reasons to do so. (If you’re creating a list of influencers in your field, for instance, don’t you want to include yourself?) If you look at your own profile page, you won’t be able to access the drop-down menu that gives the “add to list” option when you’re looking at someone else’s profile. And the alternatives that Google turned up were either too hardcore (do I really need to learn Ruby in order to solve this problem?) or too dated (this methodology relies on switching to “old Twitter”, which is no longer an option).

Happily, I came up with a quick and easy workaround myself. Using HootSuite, it’s easy to add yourself to your own Twitter list. All you have to do is open your own profile within HootSuite (just click on your username in a tweet that mentions you, as per #1 in the screenshot below), click “add to list” (#2) and then select the list you want to include yourself on (#3).

User profile pop-up in HootSuite shows "Add to list" button that launches window with list selector

If you aren’t already using a Twitter client, this is yet another reason to start (here’s how). And if you aren’t yet using Twitter lists — well, that is going to rock your world too.

How to sustain a social media presence in 3 hours a week

When it rains on a weekend, I don’t bemoan my decision to live in the Pacific Northwest: I just know it’s time to queue up my blog posts and tweets for the week. That’s what I try to do in about two hours every weekend, and since folks often ask me how they can keep their social media presence alive in an efficient and sustainable way, I figure I’m long overdue to blog my system.

First, let me come clean. I don’t maintain my social media presence in just 3 hours a week; for me, it’s more like 40. But that is because social media is what I do, and I do a lot of it: I write for five different sites, contribute to seven different Twitter feeds, and aim to write at least 3 (typically 4 or 5) in-depth posts per week. All that social mediafying is the heart of my work, and more importantly, I love it. I would write that much even if it weren’t my work, so I’m just incredibly lucky that it is.

For most people, however, 40 hours a week would be overkill. And the same approach I use to maintain all my different social media activities can support a much more streamlined — but still very effective — presence. Three hours a week is enough to:

  1. Tweet original content 2-3x day, 5 days/week
  2. Publish 3 blog posts per week
  3. Reply to comments on your blog posts
  4. Reply, retweet and engage in conversation on Twitter

Let’s start with items #1 and #2 — which is what I spend about two hours tackling each weekend. If you’ve got your setup in place, that two hours is all you need to keep your social media presence alive and useful. By “useful”, I mean useful to the people you are trying to reach…which in turn makes it useful to you. The point isn’t to queue up a bunch of junk that keeps your blog and Twitter presence notionally alive: the point is to spend two hours teeing up some content that will provide real value to your target audience by speaking to the topic on which you are (or wish to be) an expert.

Here’s how:

    1. Open up Google Reader and look at the latest blog posts and news stories that are coming in through the custom searches you’ve set up and subscribed to. I’ve put my searches into a separate folder so it’s easy for me to see all latest results in one place:
IRL searches viewed in Feedly

Does my Google Reader look prettier than your Google reader? That's because I view my Google Reader feeds in Feedly.

Quickly scan through the teasers for all the stories that look interesting, Command-clicking (that’s ctrl-clicking for you Windows users) on anything that looks interesting so it opens in a new tab. I do that until I have ten or fifteen tabs open:

Many tabs open in Chrome

    1. Flip through the tabs and skim (or where warranted, read) each post or story in turn. It’s a sudden death system: as soon as I read something that makes me think that what I’m reading is too stale, too weird, too off-topic or too poorly written to share or respond to, I stop reading and close the tab.
    2. If you find something useful, queue it up as a tweet in HootSuite. If you’ve got the “hoot this” bookmarklet installed, it will likely pre-populate your tweet with the title of what you’re sharing:

Hootsuite bookmarklet prepopulated with story title

At this point your fastest option is to just hit the calendar icon and pick a date and time when you want your tweet to go out, but I like to customize at least half of my scheduled tweets so that they reflect my voice and are more intriguing:

Hootsuite bookmarklet with tweet rewritten as "Disable chat (please!!!) plus 4 more tips on how to use Facebook without letting it take over your life!"

  1. Continue flipping through your tabs, skimming and tweeting, but watch out for scrapers. A lot of content you find online will be scraped (i.e.republished or stolen) from other sites. I can’t give you a hard-and-fast rule for spotting scraped content, but you’ll get a feel for it. For example, this page on Youth Service America just didn’t look like it matched the voice of a blog post about online dating. I selected a string of text, dropped it into Google search, and sure enough, it turned up as a blog post that originally appeared on the Social Citizens blog. (It looks like YSA republishes the Social Citizens blog in a totally legit way, but I’d like to share the original post, not the reprint.)
  2. Look for the most thought-provoking stories and posts. When you hit something that’s especially interesting, insightful or simply annoying — something that makes you want to share your own perspective — then don’t tweet it. Instead, use it as the jumping-off point for a short blog post. Your post can share an excerpt or two from the source of your inspiration, but should do more than link to the post. You need to add your own perspective on it, or simply share the questions it raises for you. A blog post like this, which might be 2-4 paragraphs long, can take 5-15 minutes to write. That means you can queue up 3 blog posts in under an hour. (Don’t believe me? My next post in this series will offer proof.)
  3. Schedule your blog posts to go out on 3 different days of the week by setting the publication date and time in WordPress:
    Publish immediately with "edit" link you can click to schedule Date and time fields to edit publication time in WordPress
    Click “edit” next to “Publish immediately”…. …and you can choose when to post.

    That might be Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or perhaps Monday, Tuesday, Thursday; I often front-load my prewritten blog posts because I usually get inspired to write something here or there over the course of the week. I drop those longer, original posts into my schedule on the days I don’t have a post lined up, or I adjust my schedule to make room for them. I usually schedule my posts to go live between 9-10 am, when people in my time zone (Pacific) are at work and people on the east coast are ready for something to read over lunch.

  4. Queue up tweets about each of your blog posts on the day it’s scheduled to be published. Make sure you don’t link to the “preview post” URL you get while editing (where it says “post draft updated” when you save a draft) — that’s not the URL that will let people access your blog post once it’s published. Once you’ve got your post written and scheduled, WordPress will give you a new “preview post” link with the real URL for your post. You’ll know you’ve go the real URL if it doesn’t include the word “preview” in the address.

    Link to "preview post" next to "Post Scheduled"

    This links to the actual URL of your soon-to-be-published post.

  5. Review your “pending tweets” column in HootSuite (you may have to add it if it’s not already part of one of your HootSuite tabs) to see if your tweets are scheduled out evenly. You can click on any pending tweet to edit its text or scheduled time. Ideally you’ll have two or three tweets about other people’s content scheduled each day, and you will have the tweets about your own blog posts spaced out with tweets about other people’s content so that you’re never tweeting your own stuff twice in a row.

And that’s it! Well, almost. Remember items #3 and #4 at the top of this page — where I point out that you need to reply to your blog comments, Twitter mentions, and just generally participate in the Twitter conversation? That’s what your third social media hour is for.

I’m confident that you can queue up 3 blog posts and 10-15 tweets in just two hours each weekend. But that investment won’t do much for you unless you spend that additional hour — ideally as 10 or 15 minutes, 4-5 days a week — engaging with your community.

And yes, you will have a community. Because once you commit two hours a week to delivering real value to the audience you care about, you’re going to have people reading, tweeting and talking to you. So please, don’t forget to talk back.

5 steps to create your social media toolkit

Building a social media presence around a specific area of expertise is your best way to connect with a network and audience that cares about your work, and gets real value from your online contributions. To do that, you need to begin by defining your turf: the area of expertise in which you will offer content and expertise. Ideally, that’s a space that isn’t currently well-served by dozens of other bloggers and tweeters.

If you’re passionate about a topic that already generates a huge amount of online content, try finding a distinctive angle on that topic. Maybe you’re not going to write the definitive sewing blog, but you can write the definitive blog about sewing with vintage patterns and equipment. Maybe you’re not going to be the top Ruby on Rails tweeter, but you can be the top tweeter on Ruby on Rails for beginners. Your site might not be the web’s foremost destination for South American travel, but it could be the web’s foremost destination for choosing mobile apps for South American destinations.

Once you’ve got a hunch about how to define your turf, do some searches on Google News and Google Blogsearch to see how much is written in your space. Ideally you’ll find a topic for which there are lots of news stories, blog posts and tweets, but no one-stop shop. Your job will be to round up all the news in your turf from all these different sources, add your own distinctive spin, and present it in a single spot.

I recently walked a bunch of Emily Carr’s MAA students through the tools and steps I recommend for creating a simple social media presence that showcases your expertise, and for feeding that presence with a lightweight social media monitoring system that makes it easy to find content to blog or tweet about.

I won’t write about each step in great detail because every tool I recommend is widely documented. Use Google to find specific resources to help you get up and running with any tool that is unfamiliar (for example, by searching on wordpress.com “custom domain” “how to”).

Here’s an overview of the 5 steps:

  1. Get a blog. Set up a blog with a custom URL (i.e. http://yourfirstnameyourlastname.com or http://yourtopic.com). I recommend setting this up on WordPress.com because you can get up and running for almost free (you’ll pay $20/yr to register your custom URL through WordPress.com, which is a little more than you might pay to register your URL elsewhere but saves you the trouble of configuring your domain settings to point to your WordPress blog.) If your blog takes off or you want to customize and extend it in ways you can’t do on WordPress.com, it’s very easy to export your entire blog and move it to another hosting service where you can run your own WordPress blog.
  2. Start monitoring. Set up Google Reader as your social media monitoring dashboard. You’ll use this Google Reader account to subscribe to a wide range of sources in your field or area of (current or planned) expertise so that you always have something to write about. You can begin by subscribing to the RSS feeds of any blogs you read regularly; if you haven’t been reading a lot of blogs, find a handful to follow (seeing which blogs people tweet a lot is a good way to find some) and read the regularly for a few weeks so you can think about what kind of content to put on your own blog.
  3. Search for news. Set up searches to bring you blog posts and news in your field. I recommend creating advanced searches that really pinpoint the kind of content you want to read; it really helps to learn the ins and outs of Google’s advanced search operators. Err on the side of pulling in too much rather than too little. My post on RSS for nonprofits may help you think about what kinds of searches you should monitor. In general I recommend setting up searches on Google News, Google blog search, Twitter search and delicious. For example my Google reader account includes multiple searches on strings like “information overload” OR “inbox overload” or (“social media” AND overwhelmed)”.
  4. Follow smart tweeters. Follow people who tweet in your field and follow them. Listorious is a good way to find entire lists of people you want to follow, whether your field is B2B marketing or psychology or classical music. Follow even one list in your field and you’ll get the latest from a range of people instantly (but still have the ability to get rid of all of them just as quick). NB that if you really like the Twitter feeds of people you follow through a list, you may want to follow them individually so that you can exchange DMs. (My Twitter glossary is here if you need help decoding this step.)
  5. Track Twitter news. Sign up for CoTweet, HootSuite or another tool that lets you track and schedule tweets. (Disclosure: I’m working on a project with Invoke, HootSuite’s sister company). Use this client app to keep an eye on the news from the people and lists youa re following. If you’re new to Twitter, check the news on Twitter for 5-10 minutes at least twice a day for at least a couple of weeks, to get a feel for the conversation and for the kinds of tweets you might like to write yourself.

This set up will take a little bit of time to set up — figure on spending 1-2 hours on the set up for each of your three main tools (WordPress, Google Reader and HootSuite). But once you have this set up in place you’ll be able to maintain a very respectable social media presence in just 3 hours per week.

Really. My next post will tell you how.

Using RockMelt with HootSuite and Feed.ly

For an overview of the RockMelt web browser, see part 1 of this series.

The big advantage of RockMelt is the tight integration between browsing and sharing. To keep my Twitter account up-to-date with interesting resources on the meaningful use of technology, I currently use a combination of Google Reader (for subscribing to searches and feeds), feed.ly (for a better reading experience when I review what Google Reader has brought in), and HootSuite (so that I can schedule a bunch of tweets to go out over the next 24-72 hours). I also use Packrati.us and Tweecious to ensure that all of those tweeted links get saved to my delicious account, too.

I was curious to see if RockMelt could improve on that set-up. Like virtually every HootSuite alternative I’ve tried, RockMelt’s “share” function does not offer the option of scheduling a tweet for later; that meant I’d still need to use HootSuite. And while RockSuite’s built-in aggregation is good for following one or two feeds, I follow dozens (many of them aggregating from multiple sources). So I knew I’d need to use something like my current combination of feed.ly and HootSuite, within RockMelt itself.

Since RockMelt is essentially a version of Chrome, it can (in theory) run Chrome Extensions. When I installed the feed.ly and chrome extensions in RockMelt, however, they got added to my right-hand edge, but clicking either icon did nothing. However when I navigated to www.feedly.com/home my feed.ly setup was unusable; it just wasn’t accessible from the icon in the right-hand edge. The HootSuite extension didn’t work at all, so instead I used this workaround to install the “Hoot This!” bookmarklet, but the bookmarklet is less useful than the extension because while it shortens my tweets and gives me a window to type my update and schedule my tweet, it doesn’t pre-populate the update with the title of the link I’m sharing (as the HootSuite extension does).

In one respect, RockMelt was an immediate improvement, because of the all-in-one-place workflow:

Arrows show how user can complete all 5 steps of viewing & sharing a post on HootSuite from within RockMelt's main window.

  1. I clicked the icon in my right-hand edge to bring up the latest news in my search feed.
  2. I spotted an item in pop-up window that looked interesting and potentially bloggable/tweetable.
  3. I clicked that item and the full story on its home site immediately filled the main window; however, the pop-up list of items remained visible, making it easy to skip ahead and look at another item if the one I first clicked proved irrelevant.
  4. I clicked “Hoot” to bring up my HootSuite bookmarklet, which auto-populated my tweet with a shortened link to the story URL.
  5. I entered my tweet text and scheduled it to be delivered later.

All great, right? Yes, except that the pop-up window on the right-hand edge obscures the scroll bar for the main story, so there is no way to scroll down and actually read the story; ideally the scroll bar would jump to the left-hand edge. But that turns out to be a moot point, since as soon as you click on the main story, the pop-up list of stories closes. OK, it’s not a monumental effort to click the icon and bring the list back up, but it defeats the benefit of being able to scroll through many stories quickly while viewing selected stories more carefully in the main window. I also found that it was very easy to lose my HootSuite window if I did anything between bringing it up and scheduling my tweet; this isn’t RockMelt’s fault or problem, but it means that the workflow isn’t that useful. So when I’m going online specifically to catch up on news and queue up tweets, I’ll still use Chrome.

But RockMelt will be a great option for day-to-day reading and sharing; i.e. if I’m not trying to queue up a few days’ worth of tweets. That’s why I already feel a vested interest in seeing this browser grow, and why I’ve compiled my wishlist of 8 ways RockMelt can get even better.

Using HootSuite as your Twitter dashboard

This week I’m offering an updated look at the Twitter methodology that helps me focus my attention on the people and news that matter most to me. As I put it in my post for the Harvard Business Review, this methodology lets me use Twitter as a tiny gym for my attention.

I’m updating my 2009 post because of two major changes in how I use Twitter. The first was the introduction of Twitter lists, which make it possible to organize your tweeps and to keep whatever lists you create when you move to a new Twitter client. When I first started using this methodology, I used Nambu; since then I’ve switched clients several times depending on my platform and needs, and the advent of Twitter lists has been crucial to enabling that fickleness.

The second major change has been the adoption of HootSuite as my Twitter client as choice. (Full disclosure: HootSuite is an offshoot of Vancouver’s own Invoke Media, an interactive agency that is involved with one of the projects at the SIM Centre.) The main reason I use HootSuite is that it does a great job of scheduling tweets, so that I can queue up a day or even a week’s worth of tweets at a time. This feature is so valuable that I’ll write a blog post focusing specifically on how to use HootSuite for scheduling tweets. Yes, Tweetdeck (my preferred Twitter client for over a year) also has a “tweet later” feature, but I found it quite erratic.

The other benefit of using HootSuite is its support for team-based tweeting. Since I share a few of my Twitter accounts with colleagues, it can be useful for us to share Hootsuite tabs so that we can monitor the same Twitter searches or collaborate in drafting tweets.

The big picture

My use of HootSuite really took off when I followed the suggestion to set HootSuite up as an Prism app. Prism is like a mini-version of the Firefox web browser: it lets you take any web application into what feels a lot like a client app that’s actually running on your computer. Once you set HootSuite up using Prism (or Fluid), you’ll have an icon that you can double-click to launch or switch between apps, so HootSuite doesn’t get lost in a bunch of browser tabs.

Here’s a snapshot of my HootSuite dashboard:

As you can see, I’ve customized my HootSuite dashboard with the columns, tabs and accounts that help me track the tweets I want to see in different contexts. You can read about my column set-up here. And I’m going to add another blog post specifically about scheduling tweets. But first, a look at a couple of other features of my HootSuite set-up.

A closer look

Account selection

One of the useful features of HootSuite is that it’s very easy to switch between accounts, and to see which account you are tweeting from (the one with the big checkmark). In TweetDeck, I had a terrible habit of tweeting from the wrong account.

Tabs

I have tabs for different clusters of columns, as follows:

  • @awsamuel tracks the main feeds for my primary Twitter account, like my home feed, mentions and DMs.
  • Lists tracks the lists I use to keep my Twitter monitoring focused on specific kinds of relationships, as per my earlier post.
  • SIMCentre is the tab I use to track the @SIMCentre account, which one of our students helps populate. This column tracks the people in my SIM Centre People list (because we like to retweet some of their posts), along with mentions, DMs, pending tweets and sent tweets.
  • My Facebook tab shows my Facebook news feed — i.e. all the news from everybody I’m friends with on Facebook, even if I’ve hidden them from view when I visit Facebook itself. It also shows pending posts to Facebook; I just found out today that I can use HootSuite to schedule Facebook updates the way I schedule tweets. (Thanks for that tip, Heather Watters!)
  • Vancouver Tech is a set of columns for Vancouver-related Twitter lists and searches that help us find news and events to tweet about from @simcentre.
  • HBR is a tab full of searches I set up after each blog post that appears on HBR, so I can track who is tweeting about it and reply to at least some of those tweeters. Unfortunately there is no way to set up that search based on the URL I want to track, so I try to come up with search strings that will (mostly) turn up people tweeting about my latest post.

Wishlist

As much as I love HootSuite, I do have a couple of items on my wish list:

  • Topsy-style searches: let me set up a column that shows me every tweet linking to a specific URL, even if it’s been shortened.
  • Drag & drop pending tweets: I’d like to be able to reorder my tweet simply by dragging and dropping. This would require HootSuite to make a guess about what time the tweet should go out once it’s been repositioned; perhaps it could be assigned a time half an hour or an hour ahead of the tweet immediately beneath it in its new position.

That covers the key elements of my Twitter monitoring set-up with HootSuite. I’m happy to answer questions about any of the above, and I’d also love to hear other people’s tips for getting the most out of HootSuite — or your impassioned case for another Twitter client. Just leave a comment below, or tweet me.

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3 ways short links can help you drive traffic to your blog or web site

This week I showed a colleague a few of my favorite tricks with link shorteners — you know, the services that replace http://www.YourVeryLongURL.com/then-the-directory-name/plus-the-long-name-of-that-specific-page with http://bit.ly/sh0rtl1nks. After sharing some tips with her I realized they were worth writing down.

Short links help you drive traffic to your web site or blog by making it easier to share links: and the more often you share your links with people, the more often they’ll click through to visit your site. Link shorteners make it easier to share links in three different situations:

  1. Including a link in a tweet, SMS message or other update that constrains your total message length to 140 characters: you don’t want to waste half of that 140 on a long URL!
  2. Sharing a URL in an email, print document, or anywhere else that it would be intrusive to see a very long URL written out in full.
  3. Remembering a link that you like to share on a recurring basis.

I use two link shortening services to support these different use cases:

1. bit.ly

bit.ly is my day-to-day URL shortener. It’s handy for many reasons, including its sidebar bookmarklet (clicking a button in my menu bar now opens a sidebar I can use to create a bit.ly link, without leaving the page I’m on) and especially for the ability to customize the links I create. If I create a link for this post using bit.ly, it will initially give me a URL based on a random set of characters, like http://bit.ly/baea3q. But if I click the “custom” button, bit.ly lets me create my own, more memorable URL, like http://bit.ly/sh0rtl1nks. You usually have to play around with the custom name a bit — I used a zero instead of an “o”, and a one instead of an “i”, because “shortlinks” was already taken.

Entering a custom bit.ly link

A custom URL is handy if you are planning to tweet the same link multiple times (because you can easily remember which link to tweet) or if you have a repertoire of pages or blog posts that you like to point people to on a regular basis. For example, I often tell people about my “Don’t Keep Up With Social Media” blog post (http://bit.ly/K33PUP), my “10 reasons to stop apologizing for your online life” post (http://bit.ly/n0s0rry), or my methodology for getting my inbox to zero (http://bit.ly/inzero). A year-and-a-half after writing that inbox zero post, I can still remember that bit.ly URL, so when I get into conversations about e-mail triage I can scrawl the URL on the back of my business card and hand it over. (This would be even cooler if I could get a custom URL shortener working with Google — so that I could refer people to http://awsamuel.com/inzero — but after several tries I have never gotten it working. Tips?) You may also find it useful to create memorable short links to web sites that aren’t yours: if there is an online article or blog post that you frequently point your clients too, you may want to create a short link that will make it easy to share that resource.

A custom URL is also better for sharing a link in a print document: I for one do not understand why the print edition of the New York Times uses the random links generated automatically by bit.ly (or nyti.ms), instead of customizing its bit.ly links to relate to the article that contains them. It is way easier for someone reading a print document to turn to their computer and type http://bit.ly/inzero than to enter http://bit.ly/dAJIZ, since the latter will require them to refer back to the document and confirm they have the right combination of upper and lowercase characters. The one thing to be careful about when creating links to share in print is that if you are using numbers to substitute for letters, your reader may not enter them correctly — try to either avoid the numbers-for-letters trick, or use a font that makes numbers look very different from letters.

2. ow.ly

ow.ly is the URL shortener built into HootSuite, a Twitter client. I use HootSuite for more and more of my tweeting because I love the ability to schedule tweets (HootSuite’s scheduling is way more robust than TweetDeck‘s “tweet later” function) and to collaborate with other members of a team.  Using HootSuite’s ow.ly is handy because it lets you shorten your link from the same interface you’re using to tweet.

But the real advantage of ow.ly is that it gives you great stats on how often each link gets clicked: you can actually see the number of clicks for each individual tweet, even if you tweet the same link multiple times in a day. When I write a blog post, I typically schedule 3 or 4 tweets to go out over the next 24 hours, linking to my post, with teasers for the post that are phrased a different way each time. (I intersperse these scheduled self-promotions with other kinds of non-self-promoting tweets, so my Twitter feed won’t be tedious.)  Bit.ly can tell me how many times each link gets clicked, but that doesn’t tell me which tweets drive the most traffic. With ow.ly, I’ve been able to figure out which times of day yield the best results, and which kinds of tweets generate the most interest; for example, questions that act as somewhat enigmatic teasers seem to do better than tweets that literally recap my post.

Link shorteners are only growing in popularity, so I’m sure that there are many more tricks out there for using them smartly — I’d love to hear yours. In particular, we’ve got to cope with the diminishing supply of memorable keywords: now that I’ve snagged http://bit.ly/sh0rtl1nks for this post, that’s one less handy URL for the next link-shortening blogger to use in creating a short link. Perhaps memorable short links will be our next great crisis of scarcity, and one day our children will worry about running out of short links the way we worry about running out of oil.

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