Here’s a list of things I’ve learnt from 2011 which I believe should be understood to ensure a greater social media impact in 2012 for your personal or professional accounts. They’re in no particular order. I hope they help!

If you have your own insight to share, please do let me know in the comments box. I would love to hear from you.

You may also follow me on Twitter at @anthonypermal.

(This post assumes a basic to intermediate experience of using Twitter.

1. Engage, don’t enrage

Opinions are as varied as the people who have them. Yet it is easy to recall that not many people like being told they’re wrong. This is why ‘the customer is always right’ has always rung true for those in the retail business.

On the other hand, this should also hold true for your personal Twitter accounts. By and large, especially in topics which are high in sensitivity e.g. politics, religion, finance the discussions can reach deafening proportions with every person wanting their opinion to be heard and accepted as is.

A society is measured on its ability to debate. The Greeks thrived on it, and gave us much of the philosophies we base our societies’ existence on today.

Instead of being sucked into unhealthy, negatively charged discussions with harsh debaters (many of whom are usually new to Twitter and falsely attribute the Forum-based discussion styles to this new platform), engage with them. Accept for a moment that their viewpoint may not be correct, but in their eyes it is. Once you ascertain that the best way forward is not to deride them but to educate them with lucidity and rationale, you will go a long way in bridging and in fact maintaining a great twiendship with the said person.

Some of the most loyal and positively vocal customers you can have as advocates are those who had a bad experience with you but whom you managed to convince to come back to you through good, old-fashioned conversation and empathy.

2.  Remember to build rapport

Have a conversation regularly with your most loyal re-tweeters and your new followers.

You know how when you’re invited to a party, and you don’t know most of the folk there yet since they’re all mutual friends you know there’s at least ONE thing you have in common with everyone in the room? And you know how you hope someone there talks to you and makes a connection so that you don’t feel like the awkward dork standing in the corner while everyone’s busy ‘connecting’?

Same thing.

A new follower is almost always a potential customer, prospect, friend or in some cases a love interest. It has happened. Can you afford to ignore your future Mr. or Ms. Right?

Someone who re-tweets you often enough is also worthy of a good pat on the back once in a while, and if you have the time then they’re worthy of a conversation that is longer than ‘thanks mate’. A few words of encouragement go a long way when your followers don’t really want much more than to be noticed.

3. Choose a side

No one likes ambiguity or indecisiveness. It kills commentary and sours discussions. On Twitter, where one is forced to limit one’s characters of expression so as to be as succinct as possible, engaging with someone who sways from left to right instead of choosing to sit on the fence can be tiring.

4.  Share

You can be one of two kinds of followers:

1)      The moocher – you constantly retweet others tweets or links without offering any of your own. This basically makes you like that annoying cousin who borrows your great stuff but never tells others it’s yours

2)      The feeder – you don’t just retweet others’ content, you share stuff you write, or links that you find interesting. You add value to the conversations already going on. You’re like the friend who loves to tell stories that you like

You choose which one you want to be on Twitter.

 5. Trash the hash!

2011 saw a massive growth in Twitter users globally, and in the ensuing chaos of minds, one aspect of Twitter got abused like bad graffiti in a racist neighbourhood: the hashtag. More often than not, new Twitter users (and annoying older ones) sadistically enjoy adding a minimum of 3 hashtags, and a maximum of,well, there’s no maximum. They literally spam every known word by adding a # prefix.

Yes, I used the word spam, because that’s exactly what it is. Avoid it. Be smart and use only two. Be wise and use only one.

6. Finally, quality vs quantity

Isn’t it awesome, all those people you follow who have 20, 30 or 40,000 followers?

No, it isn’t.

For the most part, when you have that many followers, it is next to impossible to engage with all of them. Sure, they may love what you have to say, but more often than not they follow you because of your celebrity status or clout. I have just over 1,000 followers on Twitter, and because of that my timeline streams very, very fast and I hardly have time to look at all the tweets that come in. By the time my eyes pick something up, it’s gone.

Also, I’ve noticed that when I look at my Twitter timeline, I tend to focus on the few dozen or so people whom I follow, because I know I’ll get value from reading their tweet.

Lastly, there’s no point having thousands of followers when you only average 10 retweets a day, if that. It shows that those people clicked ‘follow’ on your profile, and then forgot all about you. Is that the kind of following you want?

It takes more effort to manage existing customers than to generate new ones, yet those existing customers bring you more revenue in the long run than new ones. Don’t believe me? Think of the buyers of Apple’s products.

In short: don’t worry about increasing your numbers. That will happen on it’s own if you focus on increasing the quality of your tweets and engaging with your existing followers.

After all, Twitter is, essentially, a big party with lots of little rooms, where everyone just wants to have a good conversation.