Five ways Twitter can help you to develop skills to cultivate a community

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Just as the reasons to be interested in Facebook once more are how it teaches you the basic skills of social networking, so Twitter can become your primer for understanding what exactly is a community and how to garden it.

My moment of clarity came about after a conference we recently ran called the Future of Social Media. Several people, mostly social media marketers, began to follow me on Twitter and I realised just how easy it was to develop a little community. But I had to work out the focus of my community first, in my case social media marketers, PRs and journalists, then a little savagery, plucking out as many of my existing communty who did not fit the bill as possible, and then kicking off a programme of regular and useful Tweets far removed from the “On the bus home” stuff I started with.

I wish I had been as focused with this blog but it is written primarily for my colleagues in a global B2B exhibition and magazine company covering 15 different business sectors and boasting at least three different roles. No chance there, then! Twitter, meanwhile, has provided me with the experience of focusing on, cultivating and now expanding a community that I had not gained with the blog.  Here are my tips.

  1. Follow people who have attended a face-to-face event with you. It is blindingly obvious. Go to a conference, find out the Twitter hashtag that was used, go to Twitter Search after the event, see who exactly was there or following the event from on the outside. Many of those, through self-selection, will be exactly the type of people you see as part of your community – they are interested in exactly the same event as you, they are already on Twitter so have taken the first steps into social media, you can even see whether they think like you from their Tweets.
  2. Do not be afraid not to follow people, to stop following them or even block them. At this stage, I want to know who is in my growing community, I want to be certain that they operate within its core subject matter, I want my list to be clean, crisp and active. So, don’t immediately follow those who follow you. Wait and see what they have to offer. Do they bring anything to your conversation? Do they understand the etiquette? Are they even active? If they fulfil none of these criteria, don’t follow them. If they drop you before you have made your decision, they weren’t worth following. Why not go further and regular weed out those who have little to offer. Or even block some.
  3. Your community will never grow because of the stars only because of the up-and-comings. Inevitably, you will kick off your community by following some of the high profile social media gurus, as you jolly well should. They will lead you into the most extraordinary areas – they, after all, are gardening their vast community by being useful to you. But also notice some of those who have no profile (as yet), who occasionally overstep the mark between the private and professional but always exude great enthusiasm. They might not introduce you to ideas and concepts as frequently as the stars but what they do bring to you is a freshness and uniqueness that becomes sacred over time.
  4. Keep active, keep creative and keep collaborative. Twitter is like Christmas – so much more fun to recommend and help someone else, than to be recommended or helped yourself. As you get to know you little community, try and push the content around so that A gets to know B and C gets to know D. But you are going to have to be mightily attentive to achieve this, swiftly responding to Tweets and thinking of ways to keep people interested in eachother. 
  5. Understand the difference between regular Tweets, @replies and directs as soon as possible. For pity sake! Otherwise, like I have done far too often, you will embarass yourself far too easily.
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