Tag Archives: twitter chat

How to Enhance Your Personal Brand on Twitter

Amy Vernon. Photo by Andrew Kelly/Social Media Week

Amy Vernon. Photo by Andrew Kelly/Social Media Week

If I asked you which social network is best for advancing your own personal career, you might say LinkedIn. But while LinkedIn is certainly a great platform for updating your résumé and interacting with colleagues, the richest and most in-depth discussions in your field are likely occurring on Twitter. The tool is incredibly invaluable for not only keeping up with news in your industry, but also networking with the leading influencers who can aid your career development.

Amy Vernon has experienced the power of Twitter as a personal branding tool firsthand. A former metro editor in the newspaper industry, Vernon went on to consult with top publishers and brands on their social media strategies. She’s amassed over 24,000 Twitter followers and is a highly-regarded voice in her field. We discussed how she gained so many Twitter followers and why you shouldn’t use the platform to just talk about yourself.

You have tens of thousands of followers on Twitter. Before we talk about how you got those followers, tell me about the growth trajectory. When did you start on Twitter and what was the growth rate of followers?

I started my account in 2008, and at the very beginning I wasn’t using it all that much. When I started really using it, it was slow at first, and I was having conversations with people and joining in on other people’s conversations. The first Twitter chats started happening, like #Journchat. We were really having those conversations that were much easier back then because there were a lot fewer people using Twitter. So I would say my first 5,000 followers or so came over a year, and it was very slow. Then I started using a tool called Tweet Spinner. It was a company that was later purchased by Moz, which also owned a similar tool called Followerwonk. So I just dropped Tweet Spinner and kept Followerwonk. It helped you find people to follow. I’ve always checked out the profiles of all the people I follow. I know a lot of people are using the tool and set it as automated so that any person who tweets a certain word then the tool automatically follows that person for you. And I never did that because it doesn’t do you any good, and it ends up just flooding your timeline and making it impossible to follow the people you actually want to follow. But I did use it to automate the following, because I’d just go through large groups at a time and look at them and determine which ones to follow. But after awhile I felt I was following too many people and it became untenable. And Twitter Lists came a little too late to the game, and trying to sort everyone I was following into lists at that point was very difficult. So I took six months to really pare down who I was following and make that manageable. And I knew that a lot of people would unfollow me, and that was fine because they were only following me because I was following them. My following continued to grow though, because I was getting involved in a lot of Twitter chats and started being put on “best of” lists and I was also speaking at events.

Sometimes people follow me and I look at their profile and they have like 50,000 followers, but they’re following 50,000 people. And whenever they tweet links to my articles they send almost zero hits. And so I wonder about this quantity to quality ratio. It’s not that hard to get a lot of followers if you just follow people who follow you back, but I don’t think those people are actually following you. Would you agree?

I totally agree. I knew that if someone was following me only because I was following them, then they didn’t care what I was tweeting about anyway. I know some people who follow a lot of people and yet they still get a lot of engagement. That’s fine and I’m glad it works for them. I know some people who follow tons of people and they have tons of followers and I have no idea if they get much engagement at all. I think sometimes people fall into the vanity metrics. It’s very natural. People tend to be very competitive and they want to have the most followers. But it becomes this treadmill where at some point Twitter isn’t useful anymore. Even if you have lists, how many lists are you going to really look at? If you’re following people and you’re not paying attention to what they’re tweeting about, why are you even following them? I also don’t fool myself into believing every person who follows me is hanging on my every word. There are people who I’m sure pay no attention to anything I say.

Where does Twitter stand in the hierarchy of social media platforms when it comes to enhancing your professional brand? If you’re advising an executive who wants to engage in thought leadership online, and you have this pie chart in front of him showing how much time he should be spending on different networks, where does Twitter fit in?

I think that in terms of thought leadership, your own blog, LinkedIn, perhaps Medium, are the most important. I would say Twitter is more important than Facebook. Facebook isn’t really a thought leadership platform. Twitter is, and it’s something I’ve always recommended to clients, that it’s the place where you can show your knowledge and your authority on a subject. If there’s an article that is really important to your topic, even if it mentions someone, or is written by someone that happens to be a competitor, then you’re still better off sharing that because people are going to remember that you shared that and they heard about it from you, and you’re concerned with sharing the most important information even if you’re mentioning a competitor.

That’s something that a lot of marketers talk about, that you shouldn’t use Twitter to just talk about yourself.

Right. You can look at it as a place where you can exhibit your thought leadership. It’s probably the key platform after your blogs and LinkedIn. I think now with the LinkedIn publishing platform, that rises pretty much to the top, but Twitter has always been a place where you can show your thought leadership and show that you’re an authority on a topic.

When you have a client and they’re new to Twitter and looking for the right people to follow in their industry, what kind of strategies do you suggest they use to find the people they should be following?

There are a lot of great tools that can help with that. Followerwonk is one of them. You can search bios and use of hashtags. There are other platforms like Wefollow where people have self-selected categories that they’re interested in. It’s like a Yellow Pages for Twitter. People have put themselves in there for the topics they’re interested in. Those are places you can go to find the people who are talking about the topics you’re interested in. In addition, Twitter chats are a huge resource, and there are a couple of places you can go to find the many Twitter chats out there. Tweetchat.com has a Twitter chat calendar. There are Twitter chats on almost every topic out there and anyone can join in. So if you’re a company in the food industry, there’s #foodchat. Most of them are weekly, some are monthly. You can literally just join in on the conversation. Often they have a guest. Sometimes they’ll just have open questions to the group. For instance #flipboardchat on Wednesday nights, it’s a group of Flipboard enthusiasts, and the people who run it have open questions to the whole group, and people just kind of share their advice and ideas on how to better use Flipboard. There are a lot of chats where you can go just to learn more about different online tools. I really think that Twitter chats are the best platform out there to really find good people.

Do you find you get sharp increases in followers when you do Twitter chats?

Exactly. The thing is it goes back to what I was saying about when I’m having conversations on Twitter there’s so much more interaction than when I just tweet a link. And in those Twitter chats it’s understood that people are jumping in to answer the questions and respond to each other. You can really meet new people and have conversations with them. You’ll find interesting people to follow but other people will find what you say is interesting and follow you as well.

Other than Twitter chats are there any other strategies if you’re new to Twitter to get people to interact with you and follow you back?

Even if you create a list of the top 50 people who you want to interact with on Twitter, and you’re watching what they’re talking about, you can jump in and join their conversations. The nice thing about Twitter is it’s sort of like a cocktail party where someone is standing there and you walk up to them and start talking, it’s sort of that atmosphere where even if you’re not following someone it’s not considered weird or creepy to strike up a conversation with them as long as it’s a normal person conversation. You can just start talking to those people. Ask them a question. Comment on a link they shared. Answer a question they asked. Just say “Hi, I really admire your work.” You really can just reach out and speak to those people.

Would you recommend people purchase Twitter advertising for their own personal accounts?

I think if you do it should be done very sparingly. I know some people who have done it. I’ve experimented with it with my own account. It depends on the topic, what it’s relating to. It’s certainly something I would consider depending on who the person was and what the topic was. But if it was a new product or something and you’re talking about a CEO or someone in the C-suite, I might do that, because that would be an appropriate thing that you’re promoting.

How important is Twitter for driving traffic to blog content? Facebook has received so much press for being a major traffic driver to content, but it seems like on more niche topics Twitter is in some ways more important.

I think that it probably depends on the person and on the blog. It depends a lot on where you’ve built your audience. I know most publishers have never traditionally seen as much traffic from Twitter, but a lot of that was because many people access Twitter through third party tools that aren’t easy to track on anaytics platforms. They don’t show up properly because they’re not coming through Twitter.com.

What are some of the growing pains you experience once your following reaches a certain size? I imagine that keeping up and responding to all the replies gets more difficult.

If someone just retweets a tweet of mine I don’t feel obligated to thank them. Sometimes if someone retweets something with a comment, if I don’t have anything original to say about it, I’ll favorite it, which sends a signal to the person that I saw the comment and appreciated it. It’s saying thank you without wasting the space to say thank you. If someone asks me a question or congratulates me for something or adds something significant to what I’m tweeting, I try to respond in some way. Sometimes it’s as easy as tweeting “That’s a really good point.” Other times it ends up being a conversation. I think about how I would respond in real life and respond in a similar fashion. If someone asks me something, I will answer. When I get the spammy “Hey, take a look at this video” and they’ve tweeted at 50 people the same stuff, I often ignore it because it’s so unrelated to anything I’ve expressed interest in. The other day someone reached out to me about an app he created,  but what he said made it so obvious that he was speaking to me because he even mentioned my dog. This person actually took the time to specifically comment on something I take a lot of photos of, so I actually took a look at his app. In those types of things it’s all in the approach.

Sometimes if I have an article that I want to promote, I’ll schedule three tweets out to the article over a period of hours, and I’ll find three to six people who are most likely to be interested in that content and then add their Twitter handles to the end of my scheduled tweets. So then it’s not spammy.

Yeah, I have done that. Sometimes if I mention a couple people in an article, I’ll say “with shoutouts to so-and-so” in my tweet.

So my last question is: What actually comes out of using Twitter? It’s nice to have a lot of followers, but in terms of advancing your career, what can it actually do?

The thing about Twitter that has been most useful to me has been connections I’ve made with people, and then when you meet them in real life you’re not going through all the small talk because you’re meeting as friends. Very early on Pete Cashmore, the founder of Mashable, used to respond to everyone on Twitter. And when I met him at an event and said who I was, he knew who I was because we’d spoken on Twitter. That’s very valuable to be able to go up to someone who you want to have a conversation with whether it’s for networking or someone who’s a friend and you don’t have to waste time explaining to them who you are because you’ve already engaged in that small talk.


This article is excerpted from my book: Your Guide to Twitter Marketing. I sought out some of the world’s most powerful marketers and grilled them on their subject matter expertise. This book gives you direct insight into how the world’s top marketers approach Twitter and use it to drive sales and influence.

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Image via Andrew Kelly/Social Media Week

How to Run a Successful Twitter Chat


Michele Payn-Knoper

What’s a Twitter chat? It’s an event conducted on Twitter at a specific time that centers on a specific hashtag that was invented specifically for the chat. At the allotted time, a moderator begins tweeting out questions and other related material, and those participating in the chat answer the questions while continuing to use the hashtag so that others can follow along. For example, a Twitter chat called #Journchat occurs every Monday at 7 p.m. CT, and at that time professional journalists from all over the world tune in to share and gain knowledge. A Twitter chat can be an excellent opportunity to glean actionable insight in your industry and also network with the top practitioners in your field.

In April 2009, Michele Payn-Knoper launched #agchat, easily the most widely-used Twitter chat in the agricultural space. It was so successful that it spawned the AgChat Foundation, which now administers and moderates the weekly event. “We’re operated primarily by farmers,” Payn-Knoper told me. “We provide training for farmers and ranchers to equip them to tell the farmer story. We’ve had five national conferences as well as regional conferences. We work at different agriculture events to provide training on social media.”

I interviewed Payn-Knoper about how to use Twitter chats for crowdsourcing questions and how to get people to actually show up to one you’re organizing.

Why participate in a Twitter chat? What benefits have you seen both running and participating in Twitter chats?

I think one of the benefits of participating in a Twitter chat is about community. #Agchat and #foodchat were started in service to the community and to build a community. My goal is to use social media to inspire conversations around farm and food. When I started the chat I was already participating in #journchat and felt like there was a need for those in agriculture to work together and communicate with food buyers. And the benefit that I’ve seen is the community that has built around that, a kind of townhall from which a lot of smaller communities are formed.

In terms of what you get out of the community, is it more a form of networking? Or is it more of an informational hub where you’re actually learning a lot of stuff while the chat is going on?

It’s both. I think the networking is invaluable because in agriculture the people who work in it only make up 1 percent of the population, but while it may seem like a very small world most of the people who work in it live in extremely remote locations. The view I have out my window right now is a field. That’s my office view and I like it that way. As far as participating in the chat, regardless of the chat you’re in, if you’re in the right community you’re going to learn. I would encourage people to take the time to listen as much as they talk, because you can really glean a lot of information if you choose to listen.

You could almost use it as a form of crowdsourcing, like if you ask the right question at the right time, you can get a lot of good answers at once.

Absolutely. One of the keys to #agchat’s success is its consistency and the fact that it’s always been moderated consistently. It’s always been conducted at the same exact time, Tuesdays from 8 to 10 Eastern. It’s always been on the same time and the same day, so people understand what they’re getting into. The other component to it is the moderation. As a professional speaker I’m trained to facilitate, and the chats were initially structured the same way I would moderate an actual meeting between professionals. And that’s really allowed us to have a consistent voice regardless of who’s moderating.

Do you notice a sharp uptick of quality followers whenever you’re participating in a Twitter chat?

Oh yeah, I certainly think that people can expect that as they participate in a chat and provide good information and resources for folks. It varies depending on the chat. Some chats are designed to be parties. #Agchat was never designed to be a “party.” It was designed to help the community.

What are some ideal situations for starting your own Twitter chat? Let’s say you’re some kind of caused-based non-profit, what are some questions you should be asking yourself before you decide to launch one?

Well, first off, do you have the community?  #Agchat and #foodchat were successful because there were enough people concerned about agriculture advocacy and being able to connect farm and food. Do you have a community of influencers that can help you? Especially because moderating these things can be a huge time commitment, especially when you’re traveling. But aside from whether you have the community, I would ask is there a global need or a need within the community? Is there a common interest? Frankly even though my work and my business revolves around agriculture advocacy, I was dumbfounded during my first few weeks of #agchat by the number of folks who were interested in agricultural advocacy. And the other thing that I think people have to ask themselves, particularly at this juncture, is whether that need is already being served? When we started #agchat there was nothing like that out there.

Would you say that for a non-profit, if there’s already an existing chat similar to what they want to do they should just reach out to the moderator and get more involved in that chat rather than starting their own?

I do at this point. We all have to deal with information overload. And today’s social media ecosystem is much different than what we saw just a few years ago.

I imagine the biggest hurdle of launching a Twitter chat from scratch is there’s no guarantee that anybody will show up. How do you overcome that? Do you recommend reaching out to influential users beforehand so they can bring their followers to the chat? I’m guessing you want big players participating so it’s not an empty room where nobody is tweeting but you.

I think anybody who starts anything runs that risk, but if you don’t take on certain risk there’s no reward. At the time of launching #agchat I had no idea if it happened to be the right topic at the right time, and those were the earlier days when it was easier to get traction than it is now. While I’m a big fan of recruiting influencers and bringing them in early to build ownership, I don’t always see influencers as those who have the greatest numbers. Sometimes the most passionate people can build a community faster than those with the most Twitter followers because they are so passionate and they’ll put in the elbow grease. I think it’s a combination of getting worker bees as well as large numbers, but ultimately the common denominator needs to be the passion because those are the folks who are going to try to work to make sure it succeeds for the greater good. And there are those who unfortunately get involved for the wrong reasons, usually for self-gratification, so I’d just offer a word of caution. But that’s the reality.

And what’s the best way to approach other people to get them involved? I’m guessing that you word it in such a way like “This is how you’re going to benefit from this. We’re going to get all the key people within the demographics you’re looking to reach and together we’re going to pool our resources.” Is that the pitch you’re giving?

It’s pretty much centered on “Hey, we’re going to try to try out the chat, and this is what I think will result.” The secret is to have good relationships with people beforehand. I have built my community very strategically and tried to build relationships with people by doing good work and being a resource for them. When you serve the bigger picture and it’s not just about your name, it’s not just about building Twitter followers, then that speaks volumes to people.

Let’s talk about structuring the chat itself. Let’s say you’re the moderator. What should your role be in the days and hours leading up to the chat? What’s the prep beforehand?

My general recommendations are to announce the topic of the chat a week in advance. And then to have daily tweets scheduled for the first few days. For example I know within the agriculture community if I want to get people’s attention, I either need to send tweets out about 8 p.m, which is when the chat starts, or very early in the morning. You need to know when your community is online. You also need to give directions on how to provide answers. I’ve found pretty consistently over a number of years that people need guidance on how they’re supposed to participate. There’s a lot of intimidation about participating in your first #agchat because they don’t want to screw up. Which is ridiculous, because it’s just a chat on Twitter. That’s why I’ve developed guidelines that people can find at our website. Usually anywhere from three to five days in advance, you start sending out multiple callouts a day, asking people to direct message you their questions. And on the day of the chat probably just send out five reminders. People like the direct message aspect, then they can ask their questions, and I find that if people are publicly asking the account questions then it’s hard to really filter those and manage it.

So you’re saying they should direct message questions they want you to ask as the moderator?

Correct. For example, all questions are directed to the @agchat account, not me as moderator, because that allows for the consistency of the experience week after week.

You mentioned prepping people. Is part of it sending your other participants suggested tweets beforehand, like “Hey, it’s up to you, but here are some suggested tweets you can send to help promote the event?”

Yeah, it depends. I’m not a fan of telling people what to say.

Let’s talk about the chat itself. How do you structure the chat? Like is it the moderator tweeting out a question every five to 10 minutes?

Some questions will take seven minutes and there will still be discussion going on. Other questions take two minutes to answer and they’re done. The way I’ve always structured it is to have all the questions listed beforehand. You can use Evernote, you can use your calendar. I believe it’s critical to have it all organized beforehand because it goes so fast. We have to deal with thousands of tweets in our chats, and the way to keep up with it all is to have it organized beforehand and then I also recommend multiple streams. I’d often moderate from one stream and watch Tweetdeck from my personal account on another stream.

I talked to another person who did a Twitter chat and the first time she was put in Twitter jail because she was retweeting too often. Is that a danger, that you shouldn’t tweet too much especially if you’re the moderator?

Since you’re moderating from the @agchat account that typically isn’t a problem because it takes a whole lot to be put in the Twitter jail. If it’s an account with a lot of followers it’s harder to be put in the Twitter jail.

What’s the ideal amount of time for a Twitter chat? A half hour? An hour?

Ours has always been two hours. We’ve tried shorter time frames, and you don’t really get into an effective discussion. Within that chat, we typically would open up for introductions at the beginning and then in order to prevent people from doing too much self promoting during the chat at the end we set aside some time so people can promote their websites and blogs or ask questions that maybe weren’t asked by the moderator.

What are some of the insights you’ve gleaned from the chats? Do you fee like you’re actually learning something about the industry?

Absolutely. The insights can range from how people are using drones to apply the right products to their fields in an environmentally friendly way to how farmers can care for their animals on days like today when it’s snowing in Indiana. And then on the flip side we’ve had expert panels where there’s been dietitians on, and it was extremely contentious, but we’ve had a couple different chats where we basically told one side of the issue to be quiet so they could listen to the other side of the issue and then the next week we’d allow the opposite side to talk.

Do a lot of people try to hijack the chat?

There have certainly been efforts to do that, but if you have a powerful community that understands the guidelines, then that diminishes the risks. The more successful a chat is, I think the more likely that is to happen, but we just need to stay focused.

If you had to draw a line graph of participation, do you feel like the further you are into the chat the more people there are who are participating because people have been pulled in by the hashtag?

I think it’s a bell curve. For example, since we’re an international chat we have people who come on early who might be up in Canada, and then we have people who come on later because they’re out in California.

What’s the level of self-promotion that should be happening during the chat?

I would say minimal. I’m not a big fan of self-promotion during chats because I think the chat is for the greater good. That’s why when we structured the chat I made it so if people want to pitch their own projects, then they have 15 minutes at the end of the chat to do so.


This article is excerpted from my book: Your Guide to Twitter Marketing. I sought out some of the world’s most powerful marketers and grilled them on their subject matter expertise.  This book gives you direct insight into how the world’s top marketers approach Twitter and use it to drive sales and influence.

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