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How to start building your brand on Twitter

March 3, 2011 · 49 comments

in Journalism how-to's

Imagine being in the fancy Manhattan offices of a top fashion magazine, interviewing for your dream job.

Things are going well — until the interviewer poses The Tough Question:

“So…which designers do you follow on Twitter?”

This scene is no joke. It happened to a graduate student taught by NYU Journalism Professor Mary Quigley, who shared this anecdote with me. Without getting into the student’s personal business, let’s just say that the question was brilliant. It reveals everything a prospective boss needs to know about the student’s potential.

Here’s what the interviewer is thinking: Hmmm, does this candidate simply follow the major clothing designers? Or does she track tweets by that groovy, undiscovered Bronx-based shirtmaker? Does she have fashion depth? Wonder if any fashion players follow her tweets. If so, this is an enterprising, ambitious candidate. Definitely a hot prospect.

Of course, I’m not suggesting people are finding jobs just because they’re good tweeters. Then again, maybe I am. Whether you’re focusing on work, a pet project or favorite cause, this online service with the blue birdie logo can make a difference.

Twitter is transforming the world one 140-character message at a time. Activists tweet their way through political revolutions. Celebrities might still travel with bodyguards, but they won’t hesitate to tweet their fans. Retailers tweet special deals to customers. And what about those editors and producers who were once “too busy” to return a freelancer’s phone calls? Now they’ll actually contact you on Twitter.

I’m a fairly recent convert to the charms of this micro-blogging phenom. But now that I’m hooked, tweeting has become part of my daily routine. I get a kick out of interacting online with my global network of writers, media folk, business contacts, artists and like-minded creative souls. To be honest, it still feels strange to be so familiar with people that I’ve never met!

But someday, I might be looking for a gig or marketing a book or selling my paintings. Until then, the mission is to “build my brand” in anticipation of that moment.

All the tech and social media blogs advise us to create that support base long before we need it. Because even though technology moves fast, Twitter — at its best — is still about the intimate process of forming human relationships. And marshaling a loyal audience takes time.

Twitter is a great vehicle for our current needs because:

  • There’s no expense involved; Twitter is free.
  • The company claims more than 145 million users, a true schmooze-fest.
  • You can develop your brand at your own pace.
  • Everything keeps changing, which leaves room for new possibilities.

Since I teach social media basics in some of my classes, I’m always searching the Web for relevant blog posts. While Twitter’s ultimately easy to use, it’s an idiosyncratic tool. I have yet to find anything written about Twitter that’s clear and comprehensive enough for classroom use.

So I’ve created this post for my students. But maybe it’ll help you or someone you know. Okay, here we go…..

10 Basic Twitter Tips for Your Brand!

Set up your Twitter account properly. The site’s Help Center is quite good on explaining the how-to basics. Other things to know: If you want people to find you, put the account in your real name. But, you might choose a different username for your Twitter profile. If you do that, make it a name that ties into your identity and brand.

E.g., If you search Twitter for “Betty Ming Liu,” you’ll find my account. My username is “BettyMingLiu.” You can call yourself anything you want. Just make it easy for others to remember. Keep it short too, so you’ll have more space for the actual tweet.

Adding a good profile photo is also key. So is filling out the bio section. It’s your one shot to blurb who you are. If you have a blog or website, include its url. If you want people to contact you, then your email address goes in the bio too.


An attractive Twitter profile page supports your brand. Twitter provides a bunch of basic backgrounds to choose from. You can pick a simple one and stick with it. You can also “shop” at for free design themes.

If you stick to a basic Twitter background, you can still jazz it a bit by changing its colors. If tweaking the color combos gets overwhelming, go to It’s a very cool color wheel that instantly shows what blues go with which shades of red.

Another quick-&-easy customizing trick is to use one of your own photos as the background. It can appear once in a corner of the screen. Or, you can have the shot repeated until it covers your entire page. For this option, check the “tile background” box. This is my current branding choice. My Twitter background is a photo of the orange-patterned wallpaper featured on my blog.


Link love is the key to connecting. Writing clever tweets comes naturally to some people. The rest of us stay in the game by being useful. That’s why I’m always scouring websites and blogs for stories, posts and photos that I can link to in my tweets.

I want my followers to click on those links and say, “Oh gee, I didn’t know that!” or “Wow, that’s crazy!” My links revolve around my brand: journalism, lifestyle, food, art, relationships, culture.


Use to link in style. A typical, space-hogging url link can be at least 70 characters long. Most exceed our 140-character space limit. What to do? Well, shrink the link. is what’s known as a url shortener. Paste a link’s address — the url — into In seconds, the url is compacted down to a bitty, 13-character url. This site can even elegantly bundle multiple url links into a single tweet. Anyone can use without signing in. But it costs nothing to open a free account. Do that, and will track the number of clicks on each of your links. The ability to score tons of clicks is definitely a marketable skill. This link offers bitly how-to’s.


Twitter etiquette is a must. Twitter folks can be very nice to each other. They often thank me for following them. They also tweet shout-outs to their crew by putting “@” in front of the valued follower’s username.

Tweeters also thrive on quoting each other. This practice of repeating someone’s tweet is called “retweeting.” It’s written up as “RT,” which is typed in front of your quoted tweet.

Warning: A word about good manners…Avoid the bad practice of dumping a flurry of tweets on your followers. That’s like being a rude dinner guest who talks too much at a dinner party. Be more conversational. Space out your tweets. And it’s totally okay to only tweet once a day.


It takes interesting tweeps to create a community. Finding tweeters to follow — and developing followers — can be daunting. Again, this is like throwing a party. You want an exciting mix of guests to create chemistry. And if your tweets are boring, no one will want to hang with you.

Last semester, a student told me that he only saw the value of Twitter once he crossed the 100-mark in both follows and followers. For me, the threshold was having 200 follows and 400 followers.

Now I’m mingling with the Dalai Lama, Kanye West, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, a bunch of journalists I’ve never met, real-life contacts, students and quirky far-flung strangers who either have interesting blogs, tweets — or both. Btw, you can group your followers into lists (but I don’t bother).  which is a great tool. The best part is you don’t have to actually follow the people on your lists. Just list them.

Once you have followers, stay connected. If I follow the Dalai Lama and mention him in a tweet as “@DalaiLama,” he’ll see it. And so will everyone else. But if by some miracle he decides one day to follow me too, then we can start sending each other private messages. Sometimes, if you mention someone enough, they start to notice you. And then, they’ll follow you. That’s the secret to networking in the twittersphere.

Also, beware of tweeting creeps. There’s spam out there: the accounts with profile photos of boobs and crotches, the beautiful women who look fake, the annoying advertisers…you can block them all. Curate your Twitter. That means, weed out the crap.


Manage your tweeting on a dashboard. is a free website that allows you to view all your social media networks on a single screen.

What a timesaver! You can have your feeds for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media on different tabs of the dashboard. Everything is there in one place. No need to click between different websites. You can also write your tweets in advance and schedule their future publication at a specific date and time.

P.S. — HootSuite has its own url shortener. But I like because once I open an account, it tracks my account activity, like the number of clicks on my links.


Tweeting by smart phone is the future. Twitter has a mobile phone app. Be sure to limit the settings so followers can’t auto-text you. Their constant tweeting would be more than just irritating. If your cell phone service plan charges you for texts, it could also get expensive. Hootsuite has an app too.


For variety, post photos that serve your brand. A good photo is worth a thousand characters.  Videos, PDFs…they’re all good too. Followers like seeing you in action.

You can also link your Twitter to Instagram, Facebook  and other social media websites that you like to use. That way, your news hits various places at once.

Be careful, though. People who follow you on multiple platforms don’t want to see the same news coming up on different sites. Be strategic about where you post what.


Join Twitter conversation groups. You’ll eventually need to learn two phrases: “trending topics” and “hashtags.” If you’re overdosing now on this stuff we’re covering, hold tight. We’re almost done, you can make it…

Your Twitter profile page alerts you to trending topics. You can choose where the trends want to come from. Choose a city. New York? L.A.?

Use the hashtag # if your tweet is about a topic you care about. That way, your tweet is logged under the hashtag and others can see your tweet as part of the larger conversation. This link explains the how-to’s.


A few final thoughts…

  • Be strategic and smart. Remember, anything that goes out on the Internet stays there forever. Plus, the Library of Congress is archiving our tweets. So don’t publish anything that you’ll regret. I constantly remind students not to tweet about being bored on the job or drunk in bars — unless they’re branding themselves as slackers who hope to land on some kind of reality show.
  • To tweet smart, learn more! Last year, I took a great social media course at my alma mater, Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

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{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

betty March 3, 2011 at 12:40 am

i’m actually taking an advanced workshop with sree this evening. it’s from 6-9:30 p.m. at columbia: “social media one-night stand.” for $100, i get tonight’s session plus access to two online discussions. will report back on it soon! xo


betty ming liu March 3, 2011 at 9:45 am

ooops, bad typo in the worst possible place…. it’s columbia school of journailsm! NOT journal. I will fix it tonight when I get home.


Karen Kawaguchi March 3, 2011 at 10:30 am

Very helpful comments, Betty! I’m on Twitter but not using it very effectively yet! I’m going to share your post w/a few friends. Thanks!


Daniel Krieger March 3, 2011 at 6:16 pm

This is just what I needed. Thanks for doing this!


betty March 3, 2011 at 11:42 pm

glad y’all are finding this post helpful! i taught two journalism classes today and had everyone read it. have to say, teaching from my blog helped the lessons run very smoothly. the students approve. it’s the best response i’ve ever gotten in covering the twitter segment. :-)

btw, i just got home from sree’s workshop. learned a lot. things keep changing mad fast. so i just updated tip #7 on the dashboards (but the bottom line is that hootsuite remains superior). and of course, i fixed that dastardly typo.


betty March 4, 2011 at 7:14 am

i’m gonna use the comments here to add more little tips and updates. here’s one of the most important basic tips i learned from sree..

tweets can be up to 140 characters. but make it a practice to max your tweets out at 120 characters. that’s because you want folks to retweet you. when peeps retweet, they often want to add a few words before the RT, to personalize it. so leave them 20 characters (or more) to do that.


Joel Friedlander March 4, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Betty, what a terrific and useful Twitter primer. Very nicely done, too. This will be a great asset to people getting started on Twitter.

I do use lists to track people in some subject areas, and I find that helpful. Thanks!


Laura Madden March 4, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Betty, This newbie tweep thanks you for a super-informative post on Twitter. It’s full of resources that, I’m ashamed to admit, I’d never have been able to discover on my own.


betty March 5, 2011 at 12:06 am

hmmm. if you like this post enough, joel, i hope it means you’ll give me some link love by tweeting about this post and linking to it on your blog. haha!

and laura, nothing to be ashamed about. that’s why i’m here! glad to be of use. and to be honest, teaching this stuff keeps me on my toes. i have to look semi-competent in front of my students. if it wasn’t for them, i doubt that i’d be working this hard to keep up. :-)


Laura Madden March 5, 2011 at 9:19 am

I gave you some love on my new Twitter account:


betty March 5, 2011 at 10:37 am

thanks, laura!

when you’re ready to go twitter crazy, try this “twitter guide book.” it’s packed with tutorials on twitter specifics. found it on mashable, which is a must-read website for tech media info.


FP March 5, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Betty and folks, dont be afraid to go ti 140 characters. True space is a issue, but this is the internet, and shortening words — while preserving meaning — is totally ok. Lets say your 140 char tweet says “I just found out registration for a fabulous new jazz theory class starts Friday, but hurry, it’s almost full.” it cool for me to retweet as ” RT @bettymliu registration for fab new jazz theory class starts Fri: hurry, almost full”.

That leaves room for you to “retweet with comment”, adding your own voice. “took class last yr, loved it. Go to RT @bettymliu registration for fab new jazz theory class starts Fri: hurry, almost full”.



betty March 5, 2011 at 4:45 pm

fp! thanks for dropping by and raising an important issue: what to do if the person’s tweet is too long to RT?

thanks for sharing your approach, which i know is done. but there are other alternatives…there’s actually an issue with changing someone’s RT. after all, if you’re quoting someone, would you change their quote?

so here are two other options that i learned from @sree’s classes:

1) don’t RT. use “via” instead.
so let’s say you rewrite my tweet. at the end, give me credit like this: via @bettymliu. now people know where you got it from. but they also know that i did NOT write that tweet.

2) don’t RT. use “MT” instead.
“MT” stands for “modified tweet.” i don’t know if this will catch on. but sree talked about it during thursday night’s class. it’s something he’d like to popularize. and it makes sense!

personally, it bothers me when people change my tweets & claim it’s a RT; the revised version NEVER sounds like my voice. and isn’t that the whole point of all this — to express ourselves in our own individualistic way?


FP March 5, 2011 at 9:39 pm

I guess we will have to agree to disagree on this. In my experience twitter is not meant to be so much literature — it’s expression,a vast sea of voices seekinand finding each other. It’s a crowd energized by thoughts and ideas, not an audience repeating quotes at a book reading. so the formalities that call for the preservation of copyright and voice don’t apply so rigidly as on the printed page. Of course there are times when one should take care to not change the original tweet. But Take a look at a twitter feed of most power users, or news agencies — you will find lots of tweets culled to keep the pulse in the originators
expression, while giving the retweeter room to join the discussion. but that’s just my view.



betty March 5, 2011 at 10:50 pm

fp, i’m loving this discussion with you!

here’s one other thing that @sree said in his workshop the other night: as far as twitter and social media is concerned, it’s like we’re living in 1996. in other words, we’re living in the frontier years, when everything’s developing. so yes, let’s agree to disagree. you’ll rewrite my tweets & i’ll preserve yours as you’ve written them! then, someday 20 years from now, we’ll be sitting in our rocking chairs and shaking our heads over this debate we once had as social media’s early users.

as for your point about twitter not being literature — check out @arjunbasu’s twitter account. for some reason, my blog won’t let me link to it here, but here’s his website:

arjun basu is a writer with a unique voice and brand. he makes each of his tweets a (very) short story! of course, twitter’s not literature in the traditional sense. but still, there’s so much room for people to express themselves in the way they tweet. and as a writer, i feel a stubborn need to hang on to that. ^_^


vishi March 8, 2011 at 12:58 pm

very helpful thnx…I never really got the whole twitter thing I think because I was a fan of facebook and plus I never knew how to reply to anyone on twitter and my twitter was inactive for like a year….i recently started blogging and tweeting and i love it! Unfortunately though I only have like 17 followers and I’m still trying to figure out how to get that up :-/…
Im actually a journalism student at NYU and I have this essay I have to do and I just wanted to ask your opinion on the topic of new media and the internet. a quote from my essay prompt:
“…discuss the question of whether the Internet and its cousins or offspring are causing a period of instability, as Harold Innis maintains all new forms of communication do.”
Are we seeing such instability now – an instability that can be traced to new communications media or a new communications medium?
What are those media?
What is the evidence for such instability?
How might any possible instability be traced to the media?
Are we witnessing the end of an old “monopoly of knowledge”?
who had the power in that old “monopoly of knowledge”?
Is there some sense that “the human spirit” is currently breaking “through at new levels of society and on the outer fringes”?
Should we expect “the established order” to co-opt the new technologies and “preserve” its influence?
Are there signs that this might be happening?
what do you think? If you want to/or have time to plz reply either here or via email at
thnx :)


betty March 8, 2011 at 10:27 pm

oh my goodness, vishi — whose class are you in? and you’re going to quote me for your homework??! well, okay. here’s what i think…

i always tell my classes that right now, we’re living in the wild, wild west. anything is possible. sure, we still have the media establishment. but these big money corporate players are freaking over the internet. between the web and the bad economy, everyone’s struggling to make money.

these companies are all having trouble with their customers — meaning, us. these days, we have access to so much free information online. we can find diverse sources for just about anything. we can even talk directly to our favorite celebrities and powerbrokers via twitter!

this situation leaves old school media scrambling for new ways to serve this new, increasingly demanding customer who wants instant, constant, free information. so the established players have fancy websites loaded with blogs, slideshows, videos. they tweet, they’re on tumblr, foursquare, etc, etc….will they ultimately “co-opt the new technologies?” hmmm.

but at the same time, take note. there are new “monopolies of power.” there’s facebook and google, for starters. does anyone want to throw out a few more names and concepts? let’s help vishi with his homework!


vishii March 10, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Thnx this this really helpful in give me an idea of what to think about and what to write about…and yes i might quote if that’s ok :)
i think the last part is really helpful because i never thought about that…with the break down in the monopoly of knowledge there’s another monopoly…
Im taking history of media with Mitchell Stephens and he always talks about how back in the day people never thought to use writing and printing press for novels but it was used for prayers, announcements, religious stuff basically…(the thought did not occur till years later) and he always asks are we using the internet to its full potential? is there more we can do with the internet? will people in 100 yrs from now look at us and say “that’s all they used the internet for? did it not occur to them to do _____ with the internet?”
so basically i agree with you anything really is possible.


betty March 11, 2011 at 10:34 am

mitch is great. he has written some excellent material on those ancient days of newspaper’s beginnings. before the newspaper, there were only chapbooks, right?

i too love the openness that the internet offers us now. for me, the direction of our online future comes down to this one quote:

“with great power comes great responsibility.” — spiderman.


M. Joshua Cauller March 21, 2011 at 2:20 pm

I kinda thought a lightning round approach to tweeting was good until I read this. I see how it can be spammy. I’ll try to tweet slower.


Rachel March 23, 2011 at 11:43 pm

These tips are fabulous! I would love to link to your post in my next Crafty Reading Roundup if you didn’t mind.


Julie - On the Dot Creations March 26, 2011 at 7:27 pm

What a wonderfully comprehensive post, Betty! I’m marking this to come back and read later when I have more time. Found you via One Pretty Thing.


murielle March 29, 2011 at 7:59 pm

fantastic, betty!! thank you so much for sharing this comprehensive speed course:))


betty April 21, 2011 at 5:13 pm

okay, my new school class is gonna post some thoughts now about tweeting. here they go….


Will H April 21, 2011 at 5:19 pm

Thank you Betty,
I used to think that twitter was for losers who only had a life in the virtual world. However, when I set up my own twitter account, I realized how wrong I was. Not only is it a fantastic way to get updates from people you care about, but also a great source of actual news from outlets like CNN, ESPN, etc. I found the tip very helpful; I use it for everything now.


Billy G. April 21, 2011 at 5:19 pm

I find that the best tweets are ones that are full of wit, surprise or helpfulness. I find tweets regarding giant squirrels, pictures of funny cartoons and political commentary are the ones that I retweet. An endless feed of links to other blogs, or attempts to make me buy something are boring. Now I’m not saying that you can’t or shouldn’t pitch your blog or product on Twitter. I’m simply suggesting that we are following you for you. Being funny and engaging can make people come back to your Twitter page, and therefore spill over to your blog or product. Btw, I get all of my news about the gay community off of Twitter now. It’s a great source for staying in touch with the worlds I care about.


Anonymous April 21, 2011 at 5:20 pm

I’ve had a twitter account for a while and usually twatted random everyday things. But I mainly just use it to follow magazines,designers, and celebs. They all twat random things to get to know their personalities. But the best is when celebs twat about their new projects and stuff. After all, pop culture dominates my personal timeline. And I always put their twats about their new projects on new blog. Because i feel ahead of the game kinda breaking a story, I guess.


Andrew S April 21, 2011 at 5:25 pm

I’ll be honest… I didn’t really like twitter at first. I though it was pretty lame. And as a comedian, I even made jokes on stage about the extent of its lameness……Now I can’t stop tweeting…….I’m following people I would never think about even looking at….. IT’S NOT MY FAULT THAT ROBERT PATTINSON SAYS FUNNY THINGS SOME TIMES!!…..this is a serious problem….Thanks A Lot Betty!!!!!


Veronica Marcos April 21, 2011 at 5:25 pm

There is so much to learn about twitter as opposed to any other social network. I hadn’t realized the importance of twitter and its social and professional value. LOVING the fact that I can review everything that I learned in Ms. Liu’s class and follow up. It’s very important to create a brand for yourself and twitter is the way to go. Using these steps, I’ve accumulated around four followers a week. It’s not much but it’s a lot better than the two I began with…. a long time ago. LOL


Amy April 21, 2011 at 5:35 pm

Betty, this was an invaluable introduction to the world of Twitter.

I want to suggest this fab tweeter with you and your blog’s audience – @twitterfiction. I thought you might be interested because they write “great works of fiction in 140 characters or less.” Reading @twitterfiction teaches you how to tweet a creative, entertaining, and captivating story. You could almost call these stories – nut grafs. Plus, it’s a great example of all the lessons that you outline above.

I’m trying to do this on my twitter account @amyEbrowne and my blog when I write about the latest things going on in the world of documentaries and the environment.



Mission Girl April 21, 2011 at 5:42 pm

I’m like “Anonymous,” had twitter for a while but didn’t get why it was so popular. I felt a disconnect with human interaction. Honestly still do. It’s completely a new language. Now that I’m blogging, linking my twitter to my blog saves time and instantly shares what I’m working on in the film, music, and art world.


Patty August 4, 2011 at 12:20 pm


Was looking for ways to teach Twitter to my upcoming classes, and you just made it a whole lot easier! Thanks for the great tips.


betty August 4, 2011 at 12:56 pm

you’re welcome! i actually make my students read this post in class. we do it together. it’s kinda long. so we take it point by point and do the steps as we go along. it makes the lesson totally interactive. and as everyone helps each other, we also get the benefit of a bonding experience.

one more thing to try — create a class list and put all the students on it. have them follow each other right away. lots of fun!


betty August 4, 2011 at 1:18 pm

and one more thought….here’s a recent post by one of my favorite tweeters. if you’re interested in analyzing how effective your tweets are, check out this post:


Betty September 10, 2011 at 8:37 am

i wanted to add a link to this story. twitter now has 100 million users. the key word is “engagement.” are you willing to engage with other folks via tweeting, retweeting, linking? it’s an interesting thought. anyways, here’s the link:


Jennifer Ressmann September 14, 2011 at 8:17 am

Thanks for the info Betty! Great Article. I need to pick through all the comments and reread some of the main info again! Very helpful.


Betty September 14, 2011 at 7:19 pm

jennifer, this post will always be here! thanks for checking it out. :)


Autumn July 12, 2012 at 12:57 am

This is so interesting! I love Twitter for keeping track of friends world wide, but I’ve has a hell of a time figuring out how to use it in a professional sense; in fact, if my publishing house wasn’t being insistent that I use social media for promotion of my book, I wouldn’t be doing it at all. I’ll definitely be referring back to this article to try to spice up my authorish tweets. Thanks!


betty ming liu July 12, 2012 at 6:45 am

Autumn, twitter will do wonders for your author tour. Just hit it at least once at day, two if you can stand it. Good luck with your book and thanks for joining us!


Roue August 28, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Made it a whole lot easier for me as well to explain it to my friends! A lot’s been asking me how can twitter help them. Thanks!


betty ming liu August 28, 2012 at 8:16 pm

I’m delighted to be useful. Thanks so much for stopping by — and letting me know you were here. Hope you’ll drop by again!


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