Law Practice Today | November 2013 | The Internet Marketing Issue
November 2013 | The Internet Marketing Issue
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FEATURE

Don't Cross the Streams: Filtering for Useful Content on Twitter

By Jared Correia

Boris Karloff, as "the Grinch Who Stole Christmas," partakes, against the Whos of Whoville, in a wonderful lament against "the Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!"  Imagine if he had a Twitter account (@whocuttheroastbeast).  The jingtinglers would not have seemed so bad, leaving crumbs much too large for the other Whos’ mouses.

Twitter is a potentially fantastic platform for the professional and business development of attorneys, but you sure have to slog through a lot to get at the good stuff -- and it starts as soon as you sign up.  From the moment of your Twitter conception, you’re asked to follow your email contacts, people you might know, Yeezus . . . When you start posting, it only gets worse, as others are similarly encouraged to follow their email contacts, you, Brad Paisley . . . You can follow as many as 2,000 users per day (within follower-followee ratio restrictions), and any number of users could follow you on any given day.  In the near term, your Twitter stream (where all of your followees’ posts appear) is a dump of facts, opinions and content links without any sort of rational, unifying ordering principle, short of the fact that you, for three seconds of your life, once found each of the contributors interesting enough that you clicked a button.  Clearly, this is not an optimal situation, and a potentially criminal time waster.

Twitter is best when it is filtered.  Ultimately, you only want to read the good stuff (quality content and useful observations from trusted sources), and none of the bad (poor content and inane observations from questionable sources).  While some chaff may not separate from the wheat (one of your trusted sources may have a penchant for posting nightly dinner menus), that’s fine.  Think of it like panning for gold: Even if all of the mud flecks don’t shake off your nuggets, you’re not going to throw them back.  But then there’s also the question of the pan in use and how you wield it: How large are your holes?  How vigorously do you shake it?  What size nugget do you seek?  When do you head down to the riverbank?  Fortunately, less arcane tools exist to help you to manage the information flow via Twitter.

Regardless, the best trick for filtering your stream on Twitter is to exercise discretion when following users (or following users back if they followed you originally and you’re thinking about returning the favor).  Certain obvious clues can help you determine quickly whether someone will be a bad follow: their avatar is an egg; their bio is non-existent or riddled with typos; they follow far more users than follow them, or their followers look sketchy or spammy; and perhaps most importantly, their last several tweets are not of interest to you.  Those are all things that you can quantify in short order, and that you can use to vet your potential followers. 

More proactively, you can assert the obverse of the coin and take time to look for followers who fit certain criteria: their profile is fleshed out; they engage some of your best follows or are recommended by a trusted contact; you search (searching Twitter could itself be the subject of an entire article) for a specific topic or hashtag and they present as an expert; they tweet in areas of your (or your targets’) interest, etc.  Assuming you set up general and specific criteria that is actually reflective of the users you’d like to derive content from on Twitter, this is probably the most effective way to filter what you see on Twitter.  It’s easier to keep the gate closed than to open the gate and eject invitees; just ask the Trojans. 

In the end, you’ll want to be utilitarian about selecting the users you’d like to follow, since they’ll ultimately be the ones guiding this particular segment of your professional development, as well as providing the bulk of the content that you will broadcast (via retweets and other arrangements) to the mass of your followers.

You won’t be able to tell immediately, every time, when a user happens to be a good follow.  In some cases, you’ll only discover that after the fact.  It may be that a user tweets too much, or too little. It may be that the quality of the user’s content falls off after time, or the account is abandoned; or maybe they were just having a particularly good day when you decided to follow them.  Maybe you change fields, or practice areas, or your set of needs shift.  If that’s the case, you’re not locked in: You can just unfollow a user who no longer holds your interest.  Some folks do this on an ad hoc basis, while others engage in large-scale purges, running down follower lists to clean them up.  The latter operation is ultimately more time-consuming (unless you use one of the tools further discussed below), but it may be your only option, if you’re a trimmer and let it slide.

Certainly, a quandary must be addressed when you unfollow: Is it the polite thing to do?  Perhaps not, but it’s sometimes necessary.  In any event, it’s a fact of online life that users will drop into and out of your circles -- best to have a thicker skin established for those types of events.  If you’re cutting ties to another user because of aggressive or bullying behavior, you can block that user and/or report them.

But even if you follow more users than provide useful content for you, or if you’re too dainty to unfollow, you can streamline what you see regardless of the number of your followers.  Twitter lists allow you to select particular users and add them to categories that you create.  You can create as many lists as you’d like, for as many topics as you see fit -- though, if you overdo it, you’ll met with diminished returns at some point.  If you don’t, your lists will allow you to review information by poster category so that you can more easily locate helpful content to read and to repost. If you are diligent about maintaining your lists (because these can get stale and overstuffed, as well), you may use those exclusively, and never even look at your unlisted users any longer.

Beyond the facility lists provide in filtering content, these user-defined streams promote engagement and often generate for the list creator a dedicated sub-following.  If you frequently post from users on your list, those users are more likely to post your content.  If you list other users, they’re more likely to list you.  Lists allow you to promote other users in two specific ways: as members of exclusive groupings, and when you repost their content.  Generally, they’re delighted to return the favor.

If you develop an affinity for lists, the Twitter.com website is not necessarily the most effective tool to manage those lists. You may want to consider a social media dashboard like HootSuite for the purpose, where dedicated streams can be more easily managed.  (To a lesser extent than lists, and in a more static fashion, favorites operate to list your favorite tweets from users on or off of your lists.  But your favorites are not set up in a running stream; these are selected by you on a one-off basis.  While favorites provide you another method for promoting other users in the hopes that they will promote you, they cannot be said to be an effective method for filtering content for your reapplication.)

If discrete following, lists and favorites all sound like too much manual labor for you, there’s an app for all that – or, several:

  • HootSuite, as alluded to above, offers a more comprehensive and manageable dashboard for your Twitter account and related social media profiles than does Twitter.com, but HootSuite also has baked in advanced search and filtering features.  HootSuite’s stream search operators are very comprehensive, and will allow you to winnow down to and monitor for targeted searches via dedicated streams. 
  • TweetDeck, Twitter’s official management platform (and HootSuite competitor), recently improved its filtering tools. 
  • SocialBro (which sounds like something Donald Glover might be behind) is a filter and search platform aimed at business managers with features that allow users to monitor communities (via hashtag) and to keep an eye on their competition’s activities. 
  • Tweepi, among other functions, allows you to sort potential follows by established criteria and to add new follows in bulk; it’ll also identify those who have unfollowed you, information that is not as readily available as you might imagine it should be through the Twitter.com interface. 
  • ManageFlitter is a set of Twitter tools that offers follow and unfollow features similar to those that Tweepi does; it will also provide analytics information, advanced search and a ‘PowerPost’ feature, to help you to make certain that you’re delivering your tweets at the most optimal times. 

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of Twitter applications that you can use to more efficiently manage the flow of information across your streams.  And keep in mind that Twitter apps do come and go at an alarming rate, with few achieving any level of staying power, especially as Twitter continues to tighten its API, in order to encourage users to work inside of its determined, canonical universe.

Unsophisticated users allow Twitter to wash over them, but savvier users have come to realize that they can effectively swim against the tide.

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About the Author

Jared D. Correia, Esq. is the assistant director and senior law practice advisor with Massachusetts LOMAP. He can be reached on Twitter @jaredcorreia.


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