silhouette of a bird
PHOTO: Benjamin Balázs

Twitter was founded in March 2006. I signed on to the service in December 2007, so I consider myself an early adopter. I’ve used Twitter daily over the past 10 years and love it.

Here are some of the things Twitter has made possible for me:

  • I have “met” interesting people from across the globe that I wouldn’t have met otherwise.
  • I have developed deep and meaningful friendships with people I may never meet in person. (Though I hope that changes!)
  • Following an exchange of direct messages on Twitter, I sold a copy of a book I had self-published and listed on Amazon.
  • I have shared job-related content that helps me build and sustain a strong personal brand.
  • I followed Sir Richard Branson and he followed me back. He has more than 12 million followers and follows just over 3,800. He’s still following me.
  • I have engaged with well-known personalities, including actors, actresses, sports reporters and athletes.

I can’t imagine life without Twitter. Looking back, I realize there are three distinct phases to my use of Twitter. Let’s take a look at each phase to see how my use has adapted and evolved.

Phase 1: Focus on Sharing Content

In this early phase, I was working for a company that provided virtual event software (browser-based technology for holding online conferences). I wrote about virtual events and was focused on building a personal brand around that topic. My Twitter use reflected that focus: Roughly 95 percent of the tweets I posted were about virtual events, and all of those tweets were simply a title, a link and a few hashtags.

In this early era, Twitter hadn’t yet created the “Tweets and replies” section of user profiles. If users interacted a lot with other users (via what we called “at replies”), their profiles would fill up with a series of tweets beginning with the “@” character, followed by the username they replied to.

I obsessed over what prospective followers thought of me when they visited my profile. I wanted them to see a set of valuable virtual event links, not random replies to other people. Once, a former colleague replied to a tweet of mine, asking a question. Rather than reply to her publicly, I sent her a direct message (i.e., a private message) with the answer.

Phase 1 Summary: My focus on building a personal brand around curated content came at the cost of meaningful engagement with other users. Automated accounts may have looked just like mine.

Related Article: Marketers Share Strategies for Twitter's New 280-Character Limit

Phase 2: More Interactions, Combined With Heavy Scheduling

In the second phase of my Twitter experience, I began to interact with users more often. I did this for two reasons. First, I opened up to Twitter’s potential for driving connections and conversation. In Phase 1, I used Twitter as a broadcast outlet. In Phase 2, I began to mix in one-on-one dialogue — the opposite of broadcasting.

Second, Twitter made it easier to engage with other users. When I first started using Twitter, it didn’t even have a “Reply” feature. If I wanted to comment on someone’s tweet, I’d compose a new tweet that began with the user’s handle (e.g., “@JohnDoe That’s an interesting point ...”). In addition, Twitter didn’t yet group replies with the original tweets, which made it difficult to follow conversations.

That was all resolved in the second phase of my Twitter experience, and the changes remain in place today. Replies are grouped together, and conversations are easy to follow.

Scheduling tools also began to surface during this phase. Users could schedule tweets to be posted at a future date and time. Under the mindset that people might miss my tweets the first time they went out, I made heavy use of scheduling.

I purchased a paid subscription to a scheduling tool and would slate up to 50 tweets over the course of one week. At the time, it was empowering to think that so many tweets would unfold over the coming days. Whenever I checked Twitter, it was to see what interactions I received (e.g. likes, retweets, replies) on posts that were auto-tweeted since the last time I logged in.

While I replied to people’s comments and thanked others for their retweets, I spent very little time scanning the newsfeed. As a result, I missed out on breaking news and interesting articles and didn’t get much of a chance to meet new people.

Phase 2 summary: Increased interaction, but primarily in response to users’ reactions to the content I shared. I didn’t take full advantage of Twitter as a news source and lost the opportunity to connect with more people.

Related Article: Drive Higher Engagement by Joining a Twitter Chat

Phase 3: Fully Present, Available and Sometimes ‘On Air’

Phase 3 is my current Twitter experience. I have shifted from scheduling to “sharing in the moment,” and I spend a lot more time checking the newsfeed, responding to users and being present.

I try to participate in a weekly Twitter chat, such as #ContentChat or #CMWorld. Each time I participate in a chat, I meet new people and learn a lot. Each hour that I spend in a chat embodies precisely the sorts of things I enjoy the most about Twitter right now: conversations, the exchange of ideas and some good old joking and banter. 😆

My shift away from scheduling is partially due to updates that Twitter made to its terms of service. The company placed new restrictions on automation, including this: “You may not post duplicative or substantially similar Tweets on one account or over multiple accounts you operate.”

In response to this, I started experimenting with Twitter threads, a feature that allows you to group multiple tweets together. Lately, when I share an interesting piece of content, I won’t simply tweet the article title and link. I’ll surround it with a series of tweets (five to 10, sometimes more) that include quotes from the article, along with my own thoughts or takeaways.

I’ve seen an increase in engagement (e.g. likes, retweets and replies) when I share content in this manner.

In the past week, I installed an app called Periscope on my phone. Periscope enables me to stream live video directly from the Twitter app. For being present and available, there’s nothing like live video. It can be easy to “hide” behind a profile photo of your younger self. With live video, there’s no hiding. It’s simply the real, authentic you. I used live video to broadcast a portion of a Content Marketing meetup. I also used it to broadcast a short Friday tip.

With Periscope, you can choose to keep the recorded video in your Twitter profile, making it available for on-demand viewing as soon as the live broadcast is done. People who are not using Twitter during the live broadcast can view the recording later on.

Phase 3 Summary: I’m present, I’m available, and I may be “on air.” There’s very little automation involved. And I’m having more fun than ever. I wonder what’s next.

Note: I recently did a presentation on how to use Twitter for personal branding. Here’s a photo from my talk:

dennis shiao twitter presentation
PHOTO: Rich Schwerin (@Greencognito)