On Using Twitter Lists
From time to time I get asked about Twitter Lists. To be honest, I couldn’t use Twitter without them. Here’s my approach, along with some practical examples.
Why Use Use Lists?
If you follow more than a few hundred people, it becomes hard to keep track of what everyone is saying by looking at your main feed. The solution is to break people up into lists, which makes it easier to keep up with all the activity. Lists let you can group people according to interests, location or whatever takes your fancy.
You can add people to lists without following them. This is useful when you are researching something, or maybe tracking an event, where you want to listen in for a while, but maybe not follow someone forever.
Tokyo Example: Using Lists To Research Something
Before I announced my upcoming move to Tokyo, I created a private Tokyo list. Private lists can only be seen by the user who creates them, so they are a great way of discreetly tracking an interest or conversation.
I started adding any twitter account I found that shared information about Tokyo; things to see and do, places to shop and eat, or just experiences and images of the city. Eventually, I’ll edit the list, but for now it’s a great source of information and since it’s now public, you can check the list here.
MusicMatters Example: Using Lists To Network
Next week I’ll be at the MusicMatters conference here in Singapore. It’s a big music industry event and many of the attendees are active on Twitter. So, I’ve already started to create a list of those who’ll be at there, either as speakers, delegates or playing in the various music showcases.
Following the event hashtag (in this case #mm13 and #mml13) is still the best way to track a big conference. But, making a list is a good supplement. The last two MusicMatters conferences I’ve had plenty of people say hello simply because I added them to the list. In a way, it sharpens networking. By tracking people’s tweets I already have a sense of where they are coming from and vice versa.
Member Of Example: Using Lists To Find Interesting People
When someone else adds you to a list, it’s a great way to find people with similar interest to your own. Or, you can check out the lists someone else is a member of to find people similar to them.
Curated lists are often a treasure-trove of surprising, cool and unusual Twitter users.
And, ultimately, that’s the point of Twitter for me. It is a great tool for meeting people, virtually and eventually, in person.
Finding And Creating Lists
In the browser version you can find lists to the right of your profile section. Clicking the lists tab shows you the lists you are subscribed to, which includes the lists you create, the lists you are a member of and gives you a button to create new lists.
You can add people to a list by looking at their profile, clicking the little head and shoulders icon, next to the follow/unfollow button and then hitting “Add or remove from lists…” Once you create a list, you can edit or delete it on the list’s own page.
On the Twitter iOS app, lists are also accessed from the profile page.
However, you can’t create or add people to lists in the app.
UPDATE: As of September 2013 you now can manage lists on the iOS app. Just hit the controls icon for the user and you can add or remove them from lists.
Power-user Tips: HootSuite, SocialBro
Once you’ve created a few lists, you might find yourself wanting to manage them. The best solution I’ve discovered for this is SocialBro. They offer paid services, but if you scroll down you’ll find their free version which can be run in a Google Chrome browser.
SocialBro makes it easy to add people to a list based on location, something in their bio (like an interest in cooking), or how often they interact with you.
If you have multiple lists you might want to look at Hootsuite, which allows you to create tabbed windows based on lists. Right now I follow four locations, Singapore where I live, Adelaide where I often go on holidays, my former hometown of Hong Kong and my future hometown of Tokyo. In Hootsuite I had one page with each of these lists assigned to its own column. So, I can easily scan the four locations when I want to check up on what people are saying.
Hootsuite is also great for tracking events. For MusicMatters, the conference I mentioned above, I’ll create a page with a column for the list of attendees and also columns for saved searches of each event hashtag and the conference name (#mm13, #dm13, #mml13, #musicmatters). So, on one page I’ll have a detailed grab of everything people are saying about the event.
And When All Else Fails
And, here’s a little secret I don’t often share. Most days I don’t read Twitter in anything like this kind of detail. Frankly, I’m too pressed for time to keep track of what everyone is saying. I like having access to all the information, news and insight Twitter provides, but I can’t digest it every day.
So, I have a private list, with never more than 100 people on it. If I only check Twitter once in a while, that’s the list I look at. This maximises the chances I will see updates from the people who are most important to me.
Update – June 2014
This article was written in May 2013 & in June 2014 I decided to delete all my lists, keeping only one private list of favourite followers. I still believe in the ideas in this article and will use lists in this way again, in the future. But, for the time being, as a way of focussing down hard on some key projects, I decided to change the way I used Twitter for a while.
Second Update – August 2015
Getting rid of the lists helped me finish a few projects, most important amongst them my book, No Missing Tools. But, the lack of lists made Twitter frustrating to use. Despite not being a highly publicised feature, lists continue to be one of Twitter’s most powerful tools.