Twitter as a Tool for Listening

Business and Legal Resources

Twitter is a great tool for easily finding new information about topics that interest you.

When I was first introduced to Twitter, I didn’t have any use for it. I didn’t see the point of trying to get people to follow me just so I could broadcast whatever was on my mind. Plus, why would I want to follow people to hear about what they had for breakfast?

But I was looking at Twitter backwards. Twitter isn’t about broadcasting inanities. It’s about creating a simple system for allowing interesting information to come to you. Set things up right and you’ll have easy access to breaking news, items of personal interest, current happenings in your industry, interesting events in your town, and — if you choose — personal trivia like what people are eating or their recent workouts.

Of all the mainstream social media platforms, Twitter is the least intuitive. But it’s also by far the most useful. Along with my Contracts Guy blog (and now this blog), Twitter is my online home. As Sheldon would say, it’s my online zero, zero, zero, zero.

I’ve put together a few tips on how to use Twitter as a listening tool to help you get more out of your time using the platform. Let me know if you have any more to add to the mix.

Follow the right people

Twitter aggregates every tweet from everyone you follow into a column arranged in reverse chronological order and serves them up in real time in your news feed. Here’s a screenshot of my news feed that I took from a phone using a Twitter app:

Twitter news feed screenshot

This captures three tweets from people I follow, two lawyers and a business broker. Each of these tweets is what I consider to be a basic business tweet. Basic business tweets contain either the title of an internet-published article or a short description or commentary of the article. They also include a link that allows you to easily access the article with one click.

If you’re following the right people, your news feed will be filled — and constantly refreshed — with tweets about articles, images, and videos that you find interesting.

Craft a Twitter stream that you want to review regularly

I currently follow 163 people. This creates a stream of information in my news feed that is large enough to consistently serve up interesting content. But the volume is small enough that I can view all the tweets from everyone I follow in 15 to 20 minutes per day. Over years of use and continual tweaking, I’ve honed my cadre of followees to a group that consistently produces a stream of information that informs and entertains me. This stream is 100% customized for my tastes and interests. Probably no one else would arrange things just like I have and it works well for me.

Many people use lists to pull together tweets into a stream of relevant information. Lists function like specialized news feeds. While your news feed serves up every tweet from everyone you follow, lists serve up the tweets from the users the list follows. Using lists, you can slice your followees into categories, for example, of family, friends, lawyers, business brokers, news outlets, and funny stuff.

You can create your own lists or follow lists created by someone else. One of the benefits of following a list created by someone else is that you don’t have to do the heavy lifting of curating the list. The downside is that the list won’t be customized for your own needs and tastes.

There are other effective methods for finding information on Twitter, including saving searches and using hashtags (i.e., topics designated by #).

Improve your signal to noise ratio

Whether you use lists or follow a minimalist approach of following a small number of people like I do, you should optimize your signal to noise ratio if you want to get the most out of time spent on Twitter. Signal refers to tweets that interest you. Noise is everything else. One person’s signal is another person’s noise. But noise is a waste of time, so you should try to keep it out of the twitter streams you create. Since no one tweets specifically to cater to your tastes, noise is unavoidable. But if someone’s tweets are 99% noise to you, consider dropping them, unless that 1% is true gold.

Consume Twitter like apples…every day

Like many activities, the quality of time you spend using Twitter improves with practice and familiarity. As you follow and unfollow people, click on links to tweeted articles, and engage with other users, you’ll learn what works best for you and what simply wastes your time. I find that spending a little bit of time every day on Twitter keeps a flow of interesting information coming my way and helps me keep current with topics I care about.

How do you use Twitter as a tool for listening? Are there any tips you’d include?

[This article was first published at on March 13, 2014 and is being republished here without updating.]

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