Hints for creating small business and non-profit Twitter Lists

[Notes: You can view all my “Thoughts on Twitter” posts displayed chronologically here: http://www.RexBlog.com/thoughts-on-twitter.]

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During the past few weeks, I’ve been spending a few minutes each day creating Twitter Lists as part of a set of directories on SmallBusiness.com (a wiki) called the Small Business Twitter Lists Project.

smallbusiness.com twitter lists project

Currently, the project involves creating (or finding) local lists of merchants, cafes and other consumer-oriented small businesses who are actively using Twitter to communicate with their customers. (Later, we’ll be adding lists of professional services, personal services, business services, consultants, etc., but now, we’re focusing limited bandwidth on doing lists of small businesses that are consumer-focused.)

Our plans are to create good models of lists and then to encourage others to create such lists they can add to the directory.

Even though I spend just a few minutes each day on it, the project has led me to realize what a great potential service Twitter Lists are, but how there needs to be some guidance or suggestions for what makes a good list. (And yes, I realize the irony that the lists created under the @r Twitter account do not follow these suggestions yet.)

So, here are the top hints for creating and curating Twitter Lists I’ve learned (so-far) from the SmallBusiness.com Twitter Lists Project:

1. Know the difference in “following” and “listing”: On Twitter, “following” is like adding a Twitter user to your iTunes Library. “Listing” is like creating a play list.

2. You don’t have to “follow” a Twitter account to “list” it, so that iTunes metaphor in #1 is a little inaccurate. Another kink in the metaphor: At this point, you can only create 20 lists. (Warning: see hint #8)

3. Lists are incredibly helpful to people who look to you for expertise on a topic. A list titled “Boise stores where I shop” can be a great service to those who consider you a retail maven in Boise.

4. Another way to explain #3: If you have more than 100 Twitter users you follow, new Twitter users may look at the list of those you follow hoping to find people they should follow — a Twitter List would be a lot more helpful to them.

5. Name your list in a search friendly way. Twitter has not yet integrated Lists as a filter (operator) to Search.twitter.com and is even promoting a third-party list directory called Listorious (obvious acquisition possibility for Twitter), so it is important that you name a list so that it can be found by those using Google to find lists. (Here’s an example of the Google search engine results page if someone is looking for a Twitter List of small businesses in Austin and uses the query: Austin small business twitter list)

6. Keep your lists “narrow” in focus. Think niche. Twitter Lists are like tagging. They can be categorized any way you like, and using any term, and can include hundreds of accounts. However, I’ve found that for me, personally, the most helpful lists are narrow in focus, and very limited in number. For example, with our SmallBusiness.com project, I feel certain we will end up with lists of coffee shops, lists of bars, etc., in a certain city — rather than lists that are broad.

7. Use the “description” field to explain what your list is about. This is a recently added feature, so if you’ve created a list, go back and add it. Again, this will help Google find the list, and make it easier for readers to understand what you intend the list to be about.

8. The best Twitter List to experiment with is a cause about which you are passionate. In fact, here’s your first Twitter List trail run. Create a Twitter List with the name of your hometown as the first word followed by “___________ non-profit organizations I admire”

9. (A cautionary hint related to #2) You can create “private” Twitter Lists that only you can see, but those on the list can see they’re on such a list — so don’t name a private lists “idiots worth monitoring” or anything like that.

10. If you create or run across a good list of your hometown merchants, bars, restaurants and cafes using Twitter to promote their businesses (i.e., *not* a list of social media experts and marketing consultants – yet), please email me a link to it: rex@smallbusiness.com.