While watching a Jason Falls #mediachat a couple weeks ago, a thread came up about scheduling tweets. Falls caught flak from several participants because he admitted he scheduled tweets. In answer to a particular chatter, Falls fired off a couple savvy replies that got me thinking.

Jason made a very important point here: he monitors for responses. He is a curator and story teller on Twitter. He tweets his thoughts, links to articles he finds, shout outs to good case studies, and then listens for people to respond. When they do, he jumps on.

The bottom line is, all tweets, even though conversational in nature, do not have conversation as a goal. There are four basic uses for Twitter, all of which can use promotion in some ratio.  They are conversation, broadcasting, curation, and awareness.

Twitter for Conversation

First and foremost, Twitter is a channel for conversation. They may not all be “over the backyard fence” conversations, but they are an exchange of information between real people. Oftentimes they are a “backchannel” conversation that is started between people responding to a news item or tweet. Other times, people crowdsource a topic by throwing a question or observation out such as, “what’s your reaction to the Russian hockey fail in the Olympics?” A conversation ensues. Other times it is just plain customer service. This is the way most people use Twitter. Links are mostly absent.  These tweeters think of their followers as a community.

Twitter for Broadcasting

In a real-time news breaking event, Twitter is an information stream. People tweet what they are observing, questions are asked, answers are given, feelings are shared. But the emphasis here is not in give and take, it’s in adding to an information stream being formed in real-time around an event.  If you’re a brand with an event or a crisis, it’s important to remember that listening is the backbone of this type of broadcasting.

Also, broadcasting may be as simple as people using Twitter to make announcements, sell products, or post news.  Not real effective for engagement, by the way. These tweeters think of their followers as people who need their information.

Twitter for Curating

Many people (including myself) use Twitter as a curating channel to provide content to followers. We look for useful information and links that can help our clients do business better. There may be some promotion involved here, but the idea is to set yourself up as a giver, not a taker. If this group of tweeters had a mantra, it would be, “it’s not about me.” This group follows sector influencers intently. Their concern is to provide useful, timely information for others—to operate like a clearinghouse of ideas more than an originator of ideas. These tweeters think of their followers as consumers that need helpful information.

Twitter for Awareness

These are some of my favorite Twitter accounts to follow. They are usually bigger brands that cannot possibly answer every mention, yet they have highly engaged followers because of their entertaining and useful content. They may be curating, conversing, and promoting, but it’s done with humor or banter, and can even be instructional. Here, I think of brands working for top-of-mind like Charmin, Old Spice, Cinnabon, Oreo, DiGiorno Pizza, and more. These tweeters think of ways to be memorable.

A Final Warning: Using Twitter to Promote

First, a disclaimer is needed.  I promote on Twitter—heck yes. But I’ve very aware of my giving-to-taking ratio. I try to promote more in my own space (website/blog) than I do on Twitter. It actually has a much higher return anyway. This can be a personal blind spot so I watch myself carefully.

These are some of my least favorite Twitter accounts to follow. Here you will find mostly personal brands where the mantra is “it’s all about me.”  Tweets are in the first person--somehow linked to a product, service, or achievement of their own. They tweet about how others are talking about them (mostly in retweets where they are mentioned), and they even retweet their own tweets. These tweeters think only about how they can relate everything on Twitter to themselves.

Lastly, I wanted to give a shout out to scheduling tweets. I know some people think it’s wrong, but I can’t get along without it. Like Falls, I schedule for time saving purposes and am present for responses. My phone has an alert for @mentions and I look to respond in real-time unless I’m in a meeting. See you on Twitter (@cksyme). That was a promotion.