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Originally posted February 2009 on the Mr. Tweet blog, this post was very popular though it needs to be updated to reflect the current times.

I lived in Texas all my life until moving to Kansas. As a designer and business owner who depends on rich relationships for personal and business prospects, I originally felt like a fish out of water in this strange new land. Twitter was a critical component that changed everything for me, both in terms of finding and being found by relevant folks.

As opposed to gaming the system to gain followers, I believe in regular engagement and adding value to build a meaningful network. It works!

Here are just some examples of meaningful relationships and opportunities I have gained by using Twitter.

  • Fresh Partnerships: I’ve met people online and done business with at Fresh ID that I’ve never met in person or talked to on the phone.
  • New Clients, Friends & Mentors: I have clients that I would never have known if not for Twitter, friends I cherish, and mentors like Kelly Olexa, Gary Vaynerchuk and Olivier Blanchard that I draw motivation and inspiration from regularly.
  • My Own Application: I have designed several applications for Twitter because of the incredible availability of the Twitter software feeds and creativity such freedom inspires.

Based on the principle of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits, I have loosely adapted them to explain the 7 habits I have practiced in order to achieve the results above.

 Habit 1: Be proactive.

Get involved and stay involved with your Twitter community. A lot of people say “Twitter is what you make of it.” I find that to be very true. If you send out links to your site, or try to push your products or services, you’re not liable to get as much out of it as someone who gets to know people before they talk about business. If you ask for advice or competitive information, but never share valuable tidbits when you come across them, you’re not likely to reap the same rewards as someone who is known as a generous sharer.

Jump into conversations. I get to know people by just jumping into the conversation when I see something that I can respond to. It can be awkward to make random statements to the world at large. Especially when starting out, replying to someone else can be the safe way to get some conversation going. Don’t be shy – when you see someone ask a question and you have the answer, or know where they can find it, don’t hesitate to speak up. I cannot remember all the times when I shared some information that seemed obvious to me, but really helped someone else out because they didn’t know something that I did.

Proactively seek out people to follow. I used Mr. Tweet a lot before that product went offline, because of the way my report gave me advice on who to follow and the related connections so I understood the big picture better.  I have used Twollo to find people to follow based on keywords, and found some awesome user experience people I had never known were out there. I love to visit the Just Tweet It directory because people are organized by their interests, and I’ve even gone to favorite friends follow lists and found really cool people that way. It is not uncommon for me to go on a “find new folks” mission once a week or so and add lots of people that seem interesting to me.

 Habit 2: What’s your mission?

Why are you on Twitter? To build relationships with customers, advocate a cause or connect with friends? The beauty is there is no one way to use Twitter. I admit, I had no idea, really, what was available for me until I read a great article by Darren Rowse on his Problogger site about other bloggers being on Twitter. I had a Twitter account with one update on it – I didn’t understand what to do with it. I was new to blogging, but a lot of the folks he listed seemed cool, so I made it a point to follow 100 of them to get started. Very quickly, I saw that this was a wonderful place to connect with like-minded people. Since I miss the social aspects of working around other people in an office, Twitter soon became my personal “breakroom” – a place I could stop in and visit for a moment with people who get what I’m talking about.

I have a friend with an autistic son, and she is an autism advocate who provides autistic children with a creative outlet in Texas. She uses Twitter to connect with parents of autistic kids and has found a marvelous support system. A coffee shop in Houston uses Twitter to provide service to its customers and bring together people in person who live in Houston, frequent the coffee shop, and use Twitter. Whole Foods Market answers customer questions and passes information along to headquarters, so that customers have a direct communication channel that’s easy and convenient for them.

Despite a lot of people who feel there is a right and wrong way to use Twitter, the truth is there are many valid reasons to participate, and everyone’s is unique. I try not to criticize people (except for spammers) for using Twitter how they want to.

You don’t need a formal mission statement or personal brand, but some internal guidelines will be helpful if you intend to use Twitter in any sort of business capacity. I often self-censor because I use Twitter for general networking and playtime, but am a business owner with clients following me, and this is always in the back of my mind.

 Habit 3: Prioritize your Twitter time.

Make tweeting work for you, instead of becoming overwhelmed by all the noise. How important are your Twitter friends and this social platform to you? For some of us, it’s the first thing we check every morning and our Twitter friends are the last people we communicate with before bed. Others check in every few days, or maybe only once a day. If Twitter is important to you and not something you can use at work, get an iPhone, Droid or Blackberry and check in at lunch. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying Twitter so much that it becomes an important part of your day.

Make it part of your business. Having been on Twitter for a number of months, I now have clients that follow me and sometimes they Direct Message (or PM me on Facebook) instead of sending an email. For those of us doing business with other Twitter users, it’s as important as having email or internet access.

Log off when you need to and turn off notifications. If Twitter is sucking away your time and distracting you from important tasks, try to put it aside totally for a while and get yourself started on a single task. I have had to do that before, because my friends would not stop sending out fascinating articles and saying interesting things!

 Habit 4: Make Relationships Mutually Beneficial

Give Love to Followers. It’s been fun to follow celebrities like Lance Armstrong, Demi Moore and Brent Spiner on Twitter. But for the average person, those relationships are fairly one-sided: we send love to the stars we like so much, and they soak it up, but don’t follow many people back or even acknowledge many people with @ replies. How do you treat your followers? What do you give, and what do you take from them?

Get Personal, Not Bottish. I have been very vocal about my dislike of automated Direct Messages from people you follow. They bother me because someone is talking “at me”, not “to me.” If you’ve been on Twitter very long you’ve probably witnessed some disastrous DM’s that make you roll your eyes. For example, and this one happens quite often: someone follows me. I see them, and decide to follow them. Then I get a ridiculous message that thanks me for following them, and says they will check out my bio and possibly follow me within a few days. Now this person I thought was cool, just took a turn for the worse in my eyes. Consequently, I think I end up filtering them out mentally because I prefer other people I don’t see as lame, more. If this same person did not send a thank you when I followed them, but rather waited for an opening and sent me a reply that was helpful, supportive or funny, I would be more likely to forge a friendship with them based on mutual interest.

 Habit 5: Listen, don’t just talk.

Seek first, to understand your followers. If Twitter is a place you want to be for a long time, treat followers as you want to be treated… show them respect if you disagree, be courteous, offer sympathy and demonstrate empathy. It takes a big person to put themselves in another persons shoes, though it might seem easy.

We can only relate to what we already understand, so when someone is rubbing you the wrong way, try to imagine their position. If you don’t agree the majority of the time, you don’t have to follow each other. There’s no shame in removing yourself from bad situations. I have done it, and have had people unfollow me that didn’t feel we were a good fit for each other. But be gracious. When people see you are capable of comprehending their point of view, they may become more open-minded about hearing yours.

 Habit 6: Synergy is the magic of Twitter.

Take advantage of people’s willingness to collaborate and share ideas freely. Synergistic brainstorming is the secret sauce that brings new users to Twitter by leaps and bounds month after month. It is the reason people talk their co-workers, industry colleagues, friends and family members into joining. If people following each other is the fabric, brainstorming is the thread that binds them together and makes individual networks strong.

I am a designer, though a bit more focused on software design, usability, neuromarketing and product branding than some of my creative pals. The design community on Twitter is amazing… they promote each others work, share ideas, links and articles, support each other if one of them suffers an issue and unconditionally have each others backs. A lot of these creatives, like myself, work alone, but this community effect ensures we are never far from suggestions, feedback or a willing ear to listen when times are tough.

 Habit 7: Twitter can help sharpen your mind.

Participate with others to elevate the thinking of everyone. I always feel my followers have made me smarter. There is an evolution of a thought… if left alone, your thought may only go so far, limited by your past, experiences and imagination. Take the same thought, and launch it into the sea of Twitter friends. Now it morphs with another idea added it to it, changes into something new with yet more input, and growswhen someone smart makes a comment from a new angle you didn’t realize existed. This is how using Twitter on a regular basis can sharpen your mind and improve your thinking. Of course, it helps if you follow smart people! I have found Twitter to be such a valuable tool, I struggle for words to describe its place in my life. It is woven into my day as much as brushing my teeth, petting my four-footed children, eating, drinking and sleeping. I believe it makes me a more effective person and I know it’s made me a more satisfied person.

How has using Twitter changed your life?

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