If you’re new to Twitter, you want to quickly eliminate the five sure signs you’re a Twitter newbie:

  1. An empty user account with no tweets (see part 1 of our quickstart guide for 21 tweets that can help you avoid that fate!)
  2. Following fewer than 20 people (Oprah, please take note!)
  3. Having fewer than 30 people following you (Oprah, your 472,000 followers have got you covered on that one.)
  4. Updating less than twice a week
  5. Letting your feed peter out after an initial flurry of posts

Here are some quick ways you can follow people, attract followers, and keep your feed regularly updated — all in less than five minutes a week. You read that right: five minutes!

1 minute to 20 follows

I know, it sounds like a lot!! But you look silly if you’re not following anyone. The easiest way to do that is to go to the Find People On Other Networks page, and find out who in your Gmail (or AOL, Yahoo, Hotmail or MSN) contact list is also on Twitter. Choose 20, and you’re done.

If you want to start by following people we recommend, DM us so that we can give you the username & password for a list you can import into Gmail, and then sync to your Twitter account. (You’ll need to follow @socialsignal on Twitter so that we can DM it to you.)

Keep your Twitter feed alive in 30 seconds a day (Really!!)

Here are two totally legit (i.e. commonplace) ways to update your feed in 30 seconds or less.

  1. Post links: A lot of Twitter chatter consists of “check out this web page/blog post”. You can keep your feed from looking dead by doing the same thing every day or two. Two ways that can be done easily:

    TwitterBar: A Firefox add-on that lets you post a tweet from your Firefox address bar. If you’re looking at something interesting, you can hit the little Twitter icon in your address bar, and the URL will get posted to your Twitter feed. Even if you’re not Twittering anything else, that will at least keep your Twitter feed from looking totally dead.

    Delicious integration: If you’re using delicious to store your browser bookmarks, read the blog post on how you can set up delicious to cross-post to Twitter automatically.

  2. Retweet: You’ll also find a lot of “I like what s/he said” on Twitter. Keep an eye on what the people you are following are Twittering about, and just retweet anything that you find especially interesting. Visit Twitter.com once every day or two, spot something interesting, and hit the retweet button. Or use a Twitter client (see below) and hit the retweet button from there.

30 seconds to 30 followers

If you want to get a non-embarrassing number of followers — 30 is acceptable, 100 is better — your best bet is to follow a good number of people yourself. Many of them will follow you back, particularly if you’ve used your existing contact list (e.g. on Gmail or AOL) to find people you actually know who are already on Twitter. Post to your feed regularly — at least 2-3x week — and other folks will find you and follow you back.

But if you want to expand beyond your usual circle, you’ll need to actively reach out to some new people so that they’ll know you exist. So take 30 seconds a week to reply to a tweet you found interesting — ideally from someone who twitters about the same kind of stuff you tweet about (because they’re likely to find your tweets interesting enough to follow.) If you tweet about your kids, look for fellow parent-tweeters; if you tweet about banking, look for other bankers.

To find new people to tweet to, use Twitter search to look for tweets on a subject of interest. Just type in a keyword or two that describes your interest: “knitting”, “Battlestar Galactica”, or “nail biting”. Look for a recent tweet you can respond to — something in the past hour — and send a quick message that invites a response.  Like this:

The tweet you found from @cariboulover:

Just back from an awesome paddle down False Creek — first kayak outing of spring!

The tweet you send:

@cariboulover I’m envious — no kayaking here (Michigan) until the ice melts! See any otters?

Staying alive in 1 minute a week

If you want to keep your Twitter account from dying, you’ll need to keep Twitter on your radar. For me — and many others — the trick to staying engaged is to use a Twitter client (software that connects your computer directly to Twitter) and keep an eye on the latest chat there. You’ll find that keeping a Twitter client running on your computer is the thing that is most likely to turn you into a regular Twitterer. A few we recommend:

  • Nambu A nice, easy-to-use client for Mac users.
  • TweetDeck Another great, easy-to-use Twitter client, but available to both Mac and Windows users. (It will install Adobe AIR on your computer so that it can run TweetDeck).
  • Tweetie Brand new for the Mac, and a great Twitter client for the iPhone, too.

And that’s it: using these tips, you really CAN maintain a respectable Twitter presence in as little as five minutes a week:

  • Following people: 1 minute
  • 5 updates per week: 2.5 minutes
  • Reaching new followers: 30 seconds
  • Staying alive by watching Twitter: 1 minute

Of course, the odds are good that if you follow these tips, you’ll get sucked into a lot more than five minutes…but time management for your Twitter lifestyle is a bigger job. But I’m a firm believer that when you add something to your to-do list — even for only five minutes a week! — you’ve got to give something up, so my next post will suggest some activities you can shelve order to make time for your new Twitter chore/hobby/addiction.

If you can’t bear to give anything up, then you need to read the previous post, and enter the contest to win a Twittercation: three weeks of active twittering on your behalf by Social Signal’s team of 140-character poets.