Done well, getting to know new people is the absolute best part of Twitter. Because it's so important, here are ten ways to do this right.
One of the best things about Twitter is how easy it is to approach people you do not already know. Done poorly, this is also one of the worst things about Twitter, because it means it's possible to annoy people.
If you put some thought and effort into it, it's possible to establish communication, to work together, or even establish a great new business and personal relationships on Twitter. Ask around and you're sure to find people who have befriended and even married people they first met on Twitter.
By talking to people you don't already know on Twitter, you can learn something new, get help on something you're trying to do, meet some new friends and even take care of business. For best results, follow these ten tips for doing it right.
Retweet (RT) them
Retweeting someone, as long as you stick to retweeting when you really mean it, can be a great first step to get on someone's radar. It's subtle, it's not confrontational, and it's a very natural interaction for two otherwise strangers to have on Twitter. Just don't cross a line and creepily retweet everything they ever say.
Kurt Vonnegut got this one right for certain in his 1965 novel God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater: "There's only one rule that I know of, babies — God damn it, you've got to be kind." A little kindness, especially when paired with patience and unselfishness, goes a very long way towards establishing trust and connection with someone new on Twitter.
People are nervous about strangers mainly because they do not want to be hurt. Extend the olive brand of kindness by doing or saying something thoughtful. Play them a sincere compliment. Help them spread word on something important to them. Offer help for something you think they're already interested in. Ask not what they can do for you, but what you can do for them.
Not mean sass; just kind, friendly, productive replies to stuff the person is saying on Twitter. Do they ask questions? Great. Share answers when you have them: It's a really natural way to start. Have something to add? Reply to their Tweet. Maybe they didn't tweet a question, but did say something you find compelling. An @reply is the way to go.
Ask a question
Relevance is the key to making this work well. Try to think of something that's not only on topic for them or in context of the kinds of things they know, do or talk about on a regular basis, but also try to also make your question to their advantage in some way.
Try to think what kind of question they might enjoy answering, or take note of questions they do answer on their Twitter account. Be sure to make the question worth asking, that is, not something very easily Googled. You don't want them to feel like you take their time and attention for granted.
Say thank you
Etiquette is effectiveness on Twitter and effectiveness on Twitter is etiquette. Thank people on Twitter when they help you or do something kind. Thank people on Twitter when they share a great piece of content. Thank people on Twitter when they inspire you or make you think. Seeing a pattern here? Thank people on Twitter!
There's a beautiful chapter in Antoine St-Exupéry's The Little Prince about a fox. The fox patiently explains to the prince that he must be tamed through nonthreatening, regular, and patient presence. Only then can the prince and the fox play together, once trust has been built.
One secret to Twitter's incredible power is that it's so well suited to how people build trust with one another, gradually, over time, and by appearing in one another's vicinity without asking much of one another. Twitter is ideal for that.
Make yourself useful
If, on the first interaction with someone you can directly help them out, you're really getting the hang of this Twitter thing. Help someone out. Maybe you notice something they are struggling with or looking for that you can help with. Maybe it's a more subtle kind of help that you can provide, such as attention, promotion of their special project, or simple human kindness.
This one is further down the list on purpose, because it can be a bit too direct. Remember that you're trying to tame, not confront. Although your basic "hello world" types of Tweets addressed to nobody in particular are totally fine way to get started, a hello is directed right at someone is a little bit more abrupt.
Lay some groundwork first using the steps above. Whatever you do, please do not make your very first message a selfish ask.
Not every new interaction has to begin with butterflies and rainbows. Sometimes people get to know each other better when they disagree. Do not run around finding people you can prove wrong and then do so. That's not the idea at all.
What is useful is bringing something real to the conversation. Taking it in a different direction, providing something they might not have considered, and overall, disagreeing productively, respectfully, and kindly. Don't do this to be negative or prove a point; do it to share knowledge and show that you truly considered what they had to say and you want to explore the topic together.
More than anything else, empathy will get you a long way on Twitter towards getting to know new people. Whatever initial approach you try might be missed the first time, or they might not be ready to reciprocate your interest. That's totally okay. Remember, Twitter is always best when it's about forging better connections with people.