Commentary

Make A Twitter List And Check It Twice

Twitter just introduced Twitter Lists, the biggest change to its service that ever came from the top down, rather than from users or third parties. The best way to understand the feature is to try it out yourself, as it's rapidly rolling out if you check twitter.com. But I'll give you a taste of what it means for your day job, as well as your day-to-day Twitter usage.

 

With Twitter Lists, any Twitter user can create a list of other users and make the list public or private. You can follow others' lists and see what lists you're on (assuming the feature's live for you) by going to http://twitter.com/[username]/lists/memberships (mine are here).

I wrote on 360i's blog about how Twitter Lists are the "Web's newest popularity contest." The next day, Mashable titled one of its posts, "Twitter Lists: Only You Can Help Mashable Beat Barack Obama :)". This is bound to happen, but Lists are easily gamed. Say you're a large company, or a smaller but tech-savvy one, with 100 people on Twitter, and these employees all add your main corporate account to 10 different lists. You're instantly on 1,000 Twitter Lists, which for now will probably put you well in the top 1% of the most popular listed brands on Twitter. Meanwhile, if I'm on 100 lists through 50 people each adding me to two lists, and you're on 75 lists but added by 75 different people, who's more popular? The allure of gamesmanship over this will be short-lived. I hope.

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The utility, however, will be far more appealing. The list creation feature has been around in other Twitter applications like Tweetdeck and Seesmic, but this is the first time lists have been available from Twitter itself. It's one of the biggest reasons I haven't spent much time making lists in other Twitter clients; I figured if and when Twitter built in that functionality, such lists would be more portable. That's what's happening now, as Twitter opened its API, and Seesmic already incorporated the feature.

Any Twitter user should find lists worthwhile. I was showing my wife how to make lists of family members, while my mother-in-law may make a list of businesses near her home in Dallas. Marketers should find even more value. Here are five ways marketers can use lists:

1) Aggregate multiple professional accounts if you have several faces of your business on Twitter. It's a natural for businesses like Comcast, which has a number of customer service representatives on Twitter, or Zappos, which has hundreds of employees tweeting. This can also work well for a company like Walmart that has a section on its site with all of its Twitter handles. A newspaper can bring together all of its reporters, or a packaged goods conglomerate can compile all of its brands in lists. Even if these lists don't bring in millions of new consumers or clients as followers, they may be useful for important constituents such as reporters, investors, or employees.

2) Aggregate passionate consumers. If you run a TV show, make a list of tweeters who love talking about every last plot twist. If you're a travel company, consider making lists of some of the most vocal Twitter users in each city where you have a presence. If you're a product manager for a technology brand, pull together all your die-hard fans. At the very least, you'll make it easier for all of these influencers to find each other to expand the noise in your echo chamber. But packaged right, it could be a way to pull in new fans and show others how much passion there is for your brand beyond those on its payroll.

3) Be a resource. Make lists of the most knowledgeable people in your industry, whether they're colleagues, reporters, consumers, or even competitors. While my lists are a work in progress, I've added many friends and people I respect from other agencies to lists. Mostly this will be convenient for me, but I'm more than happy to make these lists public in case they're useful to others.

4) Monitor what lists you're on and what lists include your competitors and peers. It's a way to gauge anecdotal brand perception. You can also find new people to follow this way.

5) Share lists beyond Twitter. It's going to take a while for lists to catch on beyond early adopters; this highly anticipated feature for die-hard tweeters may just be one more thing to learn for casual users. If you cater to early adopters, though, creating useful lists and sharing them in other channels like your site, email newsletters, or Facebook page should resonate.

I'm convinced Twitter Lists will change Twitter, and entirely for the better. I'm very curious what it will do to follower counts, though. When you create a list, you don't need to follow the people on it, even if you're likely to. I might create a list of brands on Twitter without following them and use it as a reference. Additionally, when you follow someone else's list, that probably includes many people you're not following. To counter that though, you may wind up discovering great people to follow.

I also wonder if people will be more likely to increase the number of Twitter users they follow. Now that you can isolate the handful of people you most want to follow and group them in a list, it's easier to run up the count of people you're following without worrying about the glut.

These effects, if they show up at all, won't be noticeable right away. But when you try Twitter Lists, I'd wager it will immediately impact how you use and think about Twitter. And as the feature appears in other Twitter clients over the coming months, lists will be as much a part of the Twitter lexicon as @-replies and direct messages.

8 comments about "Make A Twitter List And Check It Twice".
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  1. Kristin Thompson from RedShift, November 3, 2009 at 1:47 p.m.

    I have already increased the number people I follow. I never followed celebs or twelebs because I wanted to actually SEE my friends updates that are actually much more sparse. But now I can have both. Thanks Twitter.

    http://www.redshiftagency.com/journal/

  2. Katie Ingraham, November 3, 2009 at 1:49 p.m.

    Great insights on how to make the most of Twitter lists. Your first suggestion on creating a list for multiple professional accounts plays a key role for us as a franchisor- its easier to keep up with the conversations our franchisees are having across the country, and world.

  3. Howie Goldfarb from Blue Star Strategic Marketing, November 3, 2009 at 2:03 p.m.

    Just curious why anyone wants to 'game' the system like the example with a company with 100 employees on Twitter each adding the firm to 10 lists? Or businesses like USocial that basically sell friend/tweet fraud services, basically buying fake buzz to generate buzz. Doesn't this kind of hurt social media and the trust people will have in it?

  4. Monica Bower from TERiX Computer Service, November 3, 2009 at 2:04 p.m.

    I love this feature and we use it to separate the various incoming streams. By allocating 'shameless self promoters' to their own tab I can instantly filter them out of my tech commentary stream or my channel partners stream (which of course I keep private :) )but I can also look at the self promoters at a glance, and I have a handy place to put them without unfollowing them completely (because a shameless self promoter is still a valuable voice whereas a true spammer or scammer is certainly not).

    Its an ego lifter to get put on someone's list but we're a B2B and don't expect that to happen too often. We make sure to pass that little ego lift on to our brand supporters though by adding them to appropriate and useful lists.

    PS: if Thrillist has lists are they Thrillistlists?

  5. David Berkowitz from MRY, November 3, 2009 at 2:47 p.m.

    Thanks for your takes.

    Howie, totally agree with your comment about the erosion of trust. Fortunately the social forces of transparency tend to trump social media spamming and gaming.

  6. Robin Zaragoza from Plectix BioSystems, November 3, 2009 at 3:25 p.m.

    I'm an avid TweetDeck user, and thus already a "list-maker". I definitely see the value of lists, but I'm just not sure whether lists on Twitter are a redundant feature to what I already have on Tweetdeck. Anyone have thoughts on that?

  7. Adam Sherk, November 3, 2009 at 3:27 p.m.

    Good roundup David. I'm curious to see how news and content sites take advantage of the opportunities. It's still very early days but so far not too much is happening. Today I looked at 30 major news sites - list creation and building up followers is still pretty minimal. <a href="http://www.adamsherk.com/social-media/news-site-twitter-lists/">An Early Look at News Media Twitter Lists: Not Much Traction</a>

  8. Elizabeth Cottrell from Riverwood Technologies, November 3, 2009 at 8:13 p.m.

    Thanks for these insights, David. I hadn't even considered the gaming piece -- I share your hope that this is short-lived. Most of the lists I've created so far have been private. I presume that means that those I put on the private list won't even know they're on it, right?

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