Twitter 101: What Should I Tweet About? Understanding Why Personal Branding on Twitter Matters

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Despite the fact that Twitter has apparently grown from 58 to 175 million users in less than a year, it is clear that some of those “users” are actually “bots” or even corporations who have several different accounts to serve their current and potential customers with.  Case in point: Dell alone has more than 30 Twitter accounts.  All it takes is an email address to register a new account, so it is not uncommon for even some individuals to have multiple usernames.  This may explain why, outside the networking circles of those active in social media, there are many people who still do not even have nor see potential value in having a Twitter account.  I just did a random survey using the keyword “Omaha” in LinkedIn and surveyed the top ten people who showed up who were not my 1st degree connections, and only 2 of the 10 had Twitter usernames listed on their LinkedIn profile.  Not enough statistical data to prove a lot, but I do believe that, despite what the mass media says, Twitter is far from a “mainstream” tool used by a majority of professionals in the United States.

It doesn’t surprise me, then, when I use a tool like ManageFlitter to see who of my followers haven’t been active, I find many people who signed up and haven’t tweeted in months.  That’s why I still get questions from my network like this one:

I signed up to Twitter but never use it due to the fact that I really don’t know what to do or say.

I wanted to spend today’s post to take a step back and look at what should someone tweet about if they are just getting started on the micro-blogging platform.  I also hope it provides value to those of you who may have “burned out” or stopped seeing value in Twitter to give it another try or use it in a more compelling and meaningful way.

Twitter, like any social media site, can easily be perceived as merely a waste of time, so the first order on hand is determining what your objective is in joining social media sites like Twitter.  Facebook is easy to understand because that’s where your friends and family are.  LinkedIn is where your colleagues are.  But what if neither of those people are on Twitter?  This is likely the case for many.  In this case, what on earth should you be tweeting about?

Even if you don’t have an objective for being on Twitter, it is a powerful public platform that can be a consumer’s best friend in terms of finding deals or even potentially getting preferential treatment from customer service organizations.  But more importantly, you can start to create a public persona that goes beyond what your personal Facebook network might be interested in: your personal brand.

That’s right.  Twitter is an amazing way to build up your personal brand because it truly is a case of you are what you tweet.  Are you an expert in something?  Why not tweet about it?  Follow others who tweet about it.  Make lists of people who tweet about it to better view their contributions and provide your curated lists so that others can enjoy it.  Share things that you read about.  Comment on what other people are tweeting about it that interest you.  Engage in a professional discussion on Twitter just like you would at an industry convention.  Better yet, start your own #chat about your profession.

This has an important relationship with another compelling reason why every professional should be on Twitter: You could lose your job tomorrow.  I’ve been in a situation where my position was eliminated merely 14 weeks after I was hired.  And it could happen to you.  When you go through that experience, you realize that you need to create something that no one can take away from you: I came to the realization that that was my personal brand.

When you look at the world like I do, you begin to understand what the U.S. Department of Labor recently reported: “Among jobs started by 39- to 44-year-olds, 33 percent ended in less than a year and 68 percent ended in fewer than 5 years.”  Unfortunately, the analogy for most of our careers is like this revolving door: In one company one day, out again and back into another one tomorrow.  I wish it wasn’t this way, but the statistics prove that many of us are experiencing this in this day and age.

So, where does Twitter fit in?  It is a public platform who’s tweets are being archived by the Library of Congress.  It’s also where more searches are being performed on Twitter than on Yahoo or Bing.  Journalists like David Pogue from the New York Times wrote a book solely based on people’s responses to his questions on Twitter.   Companies pay upwards of several thousand dollars a month (if not more…) to have access to social media monitoring software from companies like Radian6 to be able to monitor what you are tweeting about.

In short, the world is watching you on Twitter.  So what better place to share your expertise with the world?

Sure, there are ways that LinkedIn and Facebook can help build your personal brand.  But the simplicity of the Twitter user interface displays your raw ideas and thoughts more transparently than any other platform.  And it’s all for public consumption.

So just as I said that blogging is the best way to build and showcase your personal brand, tweeting becomes the best way to have your personal brand be found based on the public and viral nature of the platform.

Now that you see the fundamental importance for every professional to be on Twitter, I recommend you start tweeting a combination of the following to help strengthen your personal brand:

  • Share links with what you read concerning your industry or profession
  • Comment on the current affairs or hot topics of your industry or profession
  • ReTweet either of the above from people that you follow
  • Let the world know if you are attending a professional event…and share the link!
  • Reach out to your industry peers, potential mentors, and thought leaders…you will be surprised how easy it is to communicate with and potentially develop relationships with people that you’ve never met on Twitter
  • Join a relevant #chat and participate
  • Ask questions related to your industry and see what your peers following you think

This is only a sample of the things you could be tweeting about, but maintaining a healthy flow of relevant tweets and following relevant people will ensure that you will be found, not only by the public but also by people who may be able to help you out on your professional journey.  All it takes is a tweet a day to start.

Twitter truly is the Field of Dreams: Tweet, and they will come.

What do YOU tweet about?

Neal Schaffer
The Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Maximize Social Business, Neal Schaffer is a leader in helping businesses and professionals strategically maximize their use of social media. Neal is the author of three social media books, including the recently published definitive social media strategy book Maximize Your Social. Forbes lists him as a Top 35 Social Media Power Influencer and AdAge lists his blog, Maximize Social Business (formerly known as Windmill Networking), as a top 100 global marketing blog. Neal provides social media strategy consulting and coaching, having worked with Fortune 500 companies and a Grammy-award winning musician. He has presented worldwide on social media at more than 150 events and also teaches social media marketing at Rutgers University. +Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer


Author, @MaxYourSocial | Founder @msocialbusiness & @socialtoolssmmt | Trilingual Social Media Strategy Consultant, Coach, and Speaker
How can rainmakers (Investment Bankers) ‘make it rain’ like never before? via @LinkedIn - 9 hours ago
Neal Schaffer


  1. Toni says

    I have two twitter accounts with two distinct brands one is all about social media, branding, marketing (like everyone else on the planet). The other, is a Christian stream which offers value to the Christian online. I enjoy both and have built a very strong brand position on both. They are both useful relationship builders as well as information channels (I don’t think Twitter is stricktly an information channel like some do). Your article was thorough and helpful. Thanks for thinking this through and adding value to people at any level of Twitter. I’ll be back to read your posts!

    Webmaster Note: Links to websites and Twitter usernames have been deleted by the webmaster.

  2. says

    Thanks for sharing Toni. Glad to see that you are active on Twitter and have your own system of managing your brands on both. I have personally tried to manage multiple brands on Twitter, and I no from experience that it is not an easy feat!

  3. says

    I can understand the brand-building potential of Twitter and blogging for solopreneurs, consultants, marketing peeps and the like. However, my experience of ‘rank and file’ employees is that they’re usually too busy and/or petrified of offending HR / legal departments. In a tough economy few want to stick their necks out any further than they have to.

    • says

      Thanks for your comment Mark…I believe that, just as rank and file employees are on Facebook, some of them are starting to see value and are participating on Twitter. In fact, some forward-looking companies like Zappos encourage their employees to be on Twitter. I also think that a lot of companies want to have employees more experienced in social media, so I don’t know if what you would describe would apply to the current situation in the U.S. Is what you describe the current situation in Japan? Anyone else want to add to the discussion?

      • Heskethmichael says

        social media is not encouraged in UK Educational Establishments and is filtered out when accessing the web. Not sure why?

        • says

          Social media sites are often filtered out of companies, organizations and establishments here in the United States as well. I believe someone needs to educate the Educational Establishments on the educational uses of social media!

  4. says

    While I agree with you Neal that Twitter can sometimes be a great and powerful tool, it’s just not for everyone.
    I’m an active user and I get so much out of it, but I have friends who ask me if they should be on it and I have to honestly tell them “no”. While some professions standout online there are many others that don’t. Sure you can make a few connections using it, but for some people it’s just not the real solution that they’re looking for.
    I think everyone should give it a try because there is a little something for everyone whether it’s business or personal, but do I think everyone NEEDS to use twitter? Not really.
    That’s my thoughts anyways.

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos (

    • says

      Nice to hear from you Sheldon…it’s been awhile since we last met in Toronto!

      I would tell people that, if they don’t have an objective, they should stay off it. But in terms of professionals needing to establish a personal brand, there is nothing that can help them achieve it more than Twitter. If professionals don’t care about their personal brand, or in social networking, then you are right, they don’t need to be on Twitter. But in my book I believe that they should be on Twitter because, should they have a networking or branding objective, they really can achieve a great deal from the platform as you know.

      You are also right in that some professions are more online than others…but social media is really starting to envelop every type of industry just like the Internet did. It may not happen it overnight, and maybe the U.S is moving at a different speed than Canada is, but I do see it happening in the different types of industries of the businesses that I am consulting with.

      Looking forward to bumping into you online again soon!

  5. says

    I go back and forth, Neal. But I am making a huge effort to tweet and connect with others. I know it has great SEO. One time I was watching a program on PBS and I searched for a quote they had just shared. The quote came up from everyone tweeting it that was listening to the same program. That’s how I know if is very powerful.

  6. Anonymous says

    Hi Neal,

    After reading this, I realize that my approach to Tweeting has been unfocused. I’m a radio personality and a college teacher. Should I be using two different Twitter accounts to build both brands? I also wonder when re-retweeting goes from “interesting” to “annoying.”



    • says

      Hi Jim, If you want to build out two different brands, then, yes, you should probably have two different accounts. But you can also effectively merge both of your backgrounds into one account through creative branding. As for retweeting, if that is all you are doing, it might be seen as annoying, so you might want to mix it up ideally with your own content and/or perspectives on things that might matter to your target audience.

  7. says

    Hi Neal! Great post. I tweet mostly about social media but also about events/situations going on in my everyday life. I would have to say I disagree with your statement “tweet, and they will come.” For the average Joe, I think you need a twitter strategy and actively spend time almost everyday following others you would like to follow you back. If not, you can tweet awesome info all day long but if no one is listening, what’s the point? I also agree with a few of the comments below, you must start engaging with people and develop relationships. What are your thoughts? Thanks!

    • says

      Hi Cara, Thanks for the comment. What I meant about “Tweet and They Will Come” is not to worry about not being followed and concentrate on tweeting according to your content and engagement strategy. This post was only about the content strategy side of things – engagement strategy deserves a different blog post in itself 😉

  8. says

    Hi Neal,
    Good post, what are your thoughts about using inspirational quotes in tweets? As they are a good conversation starter specially if they are timely


    • says

      Interesting question Gina. I have seen some reports that say quotes can be very effective, especially on Facebook. I personally don’t use them because they are cliche, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be effective. The best quotes are ones that are aligned with your social media content strategy – the more relevant the better.

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