How to start building your brand on Twitter

betty ming liu Writing how-to's 49 Comments

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.

So….how’d I do with this post? If you think it’s worth sharing, I’d love it if you helped me get it on information sharing sites like Reddit and Digg (Sharing is caring!). Facebooking and emailing this post would be great too. Just click on the little icons in the menu below:


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Comments 49

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    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. ^_^

  2. FP

    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.


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    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?

  4. FP

    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”.


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    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. :-)

  7. Laura Madden

    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.

  8. Joel Friedlander

    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!

  9. Post

    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.

  10. Post

    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.

  11. Karen Kawaguchi

    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!

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