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 color options. From here, upload a nice profile photo of yourself and an expressive header photo too.

Sometimes, you’ll pull tweets off your page and want to embed them on your blog or other websites. For that, check out this link about how to embed tweets.


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 final thought...

  • 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.


Comments 49

  1. 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 :)

  2. Post

    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!

  3. 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.

  4. Post

    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.

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  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

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