Using Social Media Effectively


When some people hear the word “Twitter,” they automatically think of wasting time. After all, how can you have time for work when you’re telling people what you had for lunch, or spreading the gossip from your 2 p.m. staff meeting?

It’s true that Twitter can be a distraction. But it can also be an important resource for both personal and organizational growth. And knowing how to use Twitter effectively, and the common mistakes to avoid, is vital to getting the best from the service.

In this article, we’ll review how to use Twitter to grow your career and benefit your organization. We’ll also look at the basics of Twitter.

Twitter can help you with professional development. © Twitter

What is Twitter?

Twitter is a social networking site that allows users to connect with each other and send short messages, or “tweets,” about what they’re doing or thinking.

Your “followers” see your tweets in a rolling feed, called a timeline, when they log into the service.

Tweets can be trivial – we’ve all heard the “what someone ate for breakfast” example – or they can be significant and valuable, for example, when they highlight key news, or articles written by thought-leaders in your industry. It’s up to you who you follow!

Twitter Definitions

Here are some useful definitions for new Twitter users:

  • Tweet – a post on Twitter.
  • Timeline – your “feed” on Twitter, where tweets made by people you follow are published.
  • Hashtag – The hashtag symbol (#) can help people track different topics to find information easily. Simply put the # symbol in front of your tweet’s most relevant word, or use it to “tag” a tweet under a certain category. For example, #leadership or #mindtools.

You can search for other tweets tagged with a particular hashtag by clicking in the hashtag when you see it in your Twitter timeline.

  • Followers – These are your friends or connections – the people who are following your tweets. Your tweets will appear on their timelines. (All tweets are technically “public” and searchable unless you decide to make your account private. Be careful what you say!)
  • @ Replies – If you want to tweet to someone else, use @ right before that person’s username. For example, tweet “@Bob45 I saw your tweet. Interesting!” – and Bob45 will get the message in his timeline (if he follows you) or in his “@mentions” column (if he doesn’t follow you).

If you put the person’s name at the very start of the tweet, as in the example above, only you, him, and people who follow both of you will see the Tweet in their timelines.

If you put his name elsewhere in the message, everyone who follows you will see the tweet. For example, this would happen if you tweeted “Me and @Bob45 are working on a new marketing proposal.”

  • Profile – Potential followers may read your profile, as well as your latest tweets, to decide if they want to follow you back. There’s also space on your profile for a web address, and you can customize the colors and images.
  • Retweet – Retweeting is when you tweet someone else’s tweet to your followers. This helps your followers find useful information. It’s also a sign of respect, and it can help you build credibility and develop your network on Twitter.

To retweet, simply type RT @ and the person’s username (to give the person credit), and then copy or type the tweet. For example, type “RT @Bob45 CEO will make big announcement today. Stay tuned!” You can also retweet directly on the Twitter website without the need to copy or type the tweet.

If you want to give a person credit for a link or idea, you can also say “via @Bob45” in your tweet.

Tip 1:

Before you retweet, make sure it’s on a subject that you want to be associated with. Don’t just retweet for the sake of it!

Personal Use

Although it’s easy to find yourself spending too much time on Twitter, the site offers some great benefits to help you grow professionally. For example, you can:

  • Stay informed about industry trends – Follow people or organizations that lead your industry. This allows you to stay updated about your field. Trade publications and magazines often have informative Twitter accounts as well.
  • Network – Establish and strengthen professional relationships. Twellow can help you find industry-specific groups and people to follow on Twitter.
  • Brainstorm – Ask your followers for ideas – or, if your team is on Twitter, brainstorm back and forth. This is especially useful when you’re working with a virtual team, or when you don’t want to spend time getting together for a meeting. (If you want a more secure environment for organizational brainstorming or information sharing, take a look at Yammer.)
  • Advance your career – Some people use Twitter to find new jobs or training opportunities. Organizations often post jobs on Twitter, so this is a great way to see openings quickly. Networking through Twitter can also lead to some great career and learning opportunities.


If you’re concerned that Twitter will distract you from other work, specify certain times to check your timeline, or use Twitter to take a break from other more demanding tasks.

Organizational Use

There are several ways to use Twitter to help market your organization:

  • Branding – Help to establish and grow your organization’s brand and image.
  • Engagement – Get feedback, run contests or giveaways, and respond to customer questions. This personal engagement will build trust and loyalty with customers and vendors.
  • Marketing – Publicize upcoming changes or promotions in your organization.
  • Customer service – Use Twitter’s search feature to discover what people are saying about your organization. Once you discover a conversation, you can handle any customer complaints or thank people for their feedback.
  • Recruiting – Advertise open positions.

Writing Tweets

Use the following guidelines when creating your tweets:

  • Use a strong headline – Most followers simply scan Twitter, so your “headline” should be effective and authentic enough to capture their attention.
  • Keep it short – Twitter allows only 140 characters, so your messages must be simple (members only) yet powerful.
  • Stay well below the 140-character limit if possible – Try to stay at 120 characters or below to allow room for followers to add comments to any retweets.
  • Write clearly – Use the same good writing rules you would use when writing any professional document. Grammar and style – and proofreading – still matter with Twitter. Our Bite-Sized Training Written Communication (members only) can help you with this.
  • Keep it useful – If you tweet a link or share an article, make sure it’s something that your followers will find useful or valuable.
  • Don’t self-promote too much – Remember, you want to engage your followers, not sell your company so much that your followers no longer want to pay attention. Balance your promotions with genuinely helpful information, advice, and articles.
  • Link to further sources if required – Your tweets are limited to 140 characters, but you can link to further sources such as web articles, blog posts, or images within your tweet if you need to. (URL shortening services such as or TinyURL are useful for this.) This is also a great way to generate more traffic to your organization’s website.
  • Thank people for retweeting – If practical, thank people who take the time to retweet one of your tweets.

Tip 1:

It’s natural that if you use Twitter, some co-workers may think that you’re not doing “real work,” or that your time could be better spent doing other tasks. If co-workers or your boss are skeptical about Twitter, ask them to read this article!

Tip 2:

As an example of using Twitter, why not follow Mind Tools? (If you don’t already have a Twitter account, you can sign up by clicking the link.)

Key Points

Although many people think Twitter is just for fun, it’s also a rich source of information for professionals. Use Twitter to network with others in your industry, find a job, or improve your organization’s brand and connect with customers.

It’s important to use Twitter intelligently. Log into the site daily, and send information that’s relevant to your followers. Be personal and interesting, but write carefully – tweets may stay online forever. And always try to thank followers who retweet your posts.

Share Your Experiences

Do you use Twitter or other social networking websites for work purposes? How have you found it useful? Do you have any other tips to share? Let us know in the forum posting (members only), or get in touch on Twitter, or via our Facebook page.

A Final Note from James

So there you are – social networking can be useful in a work environment. You just need to connect with the right people to use it effectively!

One of these people is Srikumar Rao, who we mentioned earlier. We’re exploring featuring some articles on workplace happiness co-written with Prof. Rao in future newsletters. In the meantime, it’s a fascinating subject, and you can find out more about it at his website, or in his book “Happiness at Work.” Enjoy these!

Keep a look out for our next newsletter, as we show you a step-by-step approach to Creating a Strategy for your team, department, or organization. There will also be many more career-building resources from the Career Excellence Club!

Until then, all the best!
James Manktelow

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Mind Tools
Essential Skills for an Excellent Career!


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