December 4, 2013 By Colin Wood
Jonathan Reichental is good at Twitter. StateTech and Huffington Post both recognized the CIO of Palo Alto, Calif., as the top government CIO on the platform for the quality of his tweets and strength of his followers.
Reichental (@Reichental) has 2,873 followers as of this article’s publication, which falls well short of pop star Justin Bieber’s 47.3 million, but is impressive in the world of government IT. And beyond his sheer number of followers, Reichental excels at attracting influential leaders and entrepreneurs in the technology and government communities, including figures like President Barack Obama.
Building and retaining a Twitter following can be difficult, so how does Reichental do it? He admits to putting a good deal of thought into using Twitter effectively, and he recently shared his recipe for success.
Success on Twitter starts outside of the micro-blogging platform with regular, longer-form writing. “One of the most valuable things you can do for your career, especially in the knowledge worker space, is to write,” Reichental said. “And the most common way to do that, and the easiest, is to blog.” He says his career opportunities, speaking engagements and number of Twitter followers all grew as the amount and quality of his blogging increased.
Anyone can share what they ate for lunch – people are attracted to Twitter users who have unique and interesting viewpoints on topics they are interested in. To develop one’s viewpoints and to have something beyond 140 characters to share with others, some form of expanded writing must take place, Reichental said.
Writing something that is useful and pertinent is difficult and time consuming, he acknowledged, but it works. People have an uncanny ability to separate valuable information from the white noise, and Twitter is overflowing with the latter. Reichental found a direct correlation between new blog posts and gains in followers.
Good content starts with tweeting things that are of interest to you. Don’t worry about losing people who don’t share your interests, Reichental said, because those people aren’t your audience. Instead, he suggested tweeting from the heart, so to speak, and like-minded people will follow, with the caveat that Twitter should not be a stream-of-consciousness experience either. There needs to be a quality filter, he said – so just keep the good stuff.
Reichental tweets about technology and government issues, but also includes personal interests, such as movies and behavioral economics. A “diverse, interesting and sometimes funny” stream of tweets will intrigue people and attract new followers, he said.
“You build a following based on things that are interesting,” he said, and while that may sound trite, many Twitter accounts are full of things that no one is interested in, like complaining about freeway traffic or pictures of sandwiches. There’s nothing wrong with complaining or tweeting pictures of food as a form of self-expression, especially if you work in transportation or the food industry, but such trivial content is not something that will attract many people, particularly not the kinds of followers that IT professionals want. So, when you tweet, “make it count,” Reichental said.
Good form is different from good content. Having good Twitter form means crediting the sources of your information and putting things in context for followers.
Using hashtags and linking to where information comes from gives followers an opportunity to integrate the information they find into their lives beyond just reading the tweet, Reichental explained. For instance, a tweet that reads “There will be 300 million smartphone users in the U.S. by the year 2020” is not nearly as compelling as the same tweet that includes a link to the source of the information. Given these extra handles, followers have more things to hold onto and more opportunities to retweet or repurpose the information. A twitter feed then goes from being one person’s musings to what followers begin to see as a trove where they can go to find new and interesting things.
There is such a thing as tweeting too often and alienating followers, but there is a time investment in Twitter that needs to be made in order to have success at it, Reichental said. “Tweeting once every day or once every week isn’t going to hack it.”
Reichental admits he sometimes skips days on Twitter and isn’t as consistent as some others on the service, but it’s important to keep a steady flow of content to keep people interested. And although there is a time investment, it’s still possible to tweet with a busy schedule, he says. “It doesn’t take me a lot of time to do what I do.”