Tweet Me Right

How to Better Target Your Tweets on Twitter: “Tweet to List”

Tweet Me RightLike many of you, I use Twitter to help get the word out on things I’m writing about or things I find interesting. The problem is that I have lots of different interests and not everyone who follows me on Twitter cares about all those interests.

Some people care about sustainability, but not social networks. Some care about CRM but not democracy. When I go on a big tweet fest on democracy for a few days, my CRM-loving followers may start to wonder whether following me was such a great idea – and may even unfollow me as a result. Then, a week goes by and I’m tweeting some interesting stuff on CRM that they then miss.

Sigh….Sound familiar to you? Do my fellow tweeters out there suffer from the same ailment?

There are workarounds, of course. You can set up different Twitter accounts for yourself – one for each of your interest areas. Lots of people do this, but that means they have a bunch of fragmented lists of followers. It’s an inelegant approach to a problem that bloggers have already solved by tagging their posts with different categories rather than setting up separate blogs for each of their interest areas.

In late 2009, Twitter first introduced the list feature, which is an enormously useful way to follow specific interest areas. I use it a lot and other people do too.

What I want to be able to do is tweet out to each of my Twitter lists. I want people to have the choice of following me and getting all my tweets, or just following my lists and getting a subset of my tweets that map to that list. When I tweet through the Twitter UI, it might look something like today’s “Tweet Location” drop down:

Focusing my Tweets

If I were to tweet this way and tag it with my @gideonro/engager list, the only people who would see it would be the people subscribed to that particular list. The rest of my followers would not – and that’s a key distinction between this idea and simply including the name of a list in my post . When you just include the name of a list in a post it does post that tweet to the list – but it also goes to all your followers who aren’t following that list as well – and that’s the same problem of my CRM followers not want to see my posts on sustainability or democracy.

Twitter is a micro-blogging service and this kind of “Tweet-to-List” feature would bring it closer to the kinds of categories you see in most blogging tools. Following a list would be equivalent to subscribing to an RSS category feed in a blog – but a lot more powerful.

When it comes to managing my own lists, I’d have a handful of options:

  1. Reserve my lists purely for my own tweets, so that people could just subscribe to a subset of my tweets on a particular topic.
  2. Use a list for my own tweets and the tweets of other Twitter users with similar interests.
  3. Use a list for my own tweets and the lists of other Twitter users who are also using lists to tag and differentiate their tweets.

This last option presents some very interesting opportunities to mix and match feeds from people, and to really fine tune the information I’m getting on Twitter in ways that make the service much more useful over time.

I just looked around a bit, and I’m not the first person to see this problem or to suggest solutions. I’ll also admit that there may be unforeseen problems from doing something like this and that I have no idea how hard of a technical challenge something like this would be for Twitter. I’ve worked on enough technology projects to know that sometimes what seems hard is easy and that what seems easy can actually be darn hard.

With those caveats, I think it’s time for Twitter to look at an approach like this as a way to help its users gain a little more control over Twitter’s massive flows of “real-time information.” So, if you agree and you’re interested in an approach like this getting implemented, let the folks at Twitter know by tweeting this post to @feedback and giving it the #tweet2list hashtag.

April 25, 2011 Postscript:

Facebook just announced a “Send” Button that accomplishes essentially what I’m talking about here – but on Facebook. I’m not sure that this “Tweet-to-List” approach is the right way to do this, but this new Facebook functionality is going to be very important, I predict. Twitter will ignore it at its peril.

May 29, 20011 Postscript:

My friend Richard Sprague pointed me to a post by Paul Irish with a bit more details on how the @reply works on Twitter. I had not realized replying in Twitter limits whose streams get your replies. The only people who see them are people following you and the person you’re replying to. Now, if only I could just reply to a list!

Featured Twitter Articles:

Twitter is Not a Social Network: 

Twitter is not a social network. It’s a “real-time information network” and once you see it that way, its competitive edges look a lot closer to Google than Facebook. Facebook is a social network utility, while Twitter is a social network application with real-time information as its end goal.


Lay!Twitter’s Golden Egg: 

“Information networker” describes a group of people whose work centers on creating and connecting information. Today the lines between information creation and distribution have blurred. Twitter is a social network application used by information networkers to distribute ideas and build their influence online, which, in the process, builds a very valuable real time information network that’s used by a much larger pool of people.

Latest Articles Related to Twitter:

[catlist tags=Twitter excerpt=yes numberposts=5 orderby=date template=archive]











  1. I completely agree that Twitter needs a way to tag tweets by their topic/focus/privacy level (some people have to resort to locking down their Twitter account completely, when they only really want to hide some tweets from the world), but I don’t think lists are the way to do it.

    A very good friend of mine is a Twitter addict, and while I would prefer to keep up with his personal life via Facebook as with most other people in my life, he prefers to post to Twitter instead. So I follow him on Twitter, and even have all of his tweets SMSed to me (for free) so that I don’t miss out anything important, but the problem I have is that he supports a soccer team that I don’t care about, and is a big foodie (which also isn’t hugely interesting to me). Unfortunately I have no way to filter his tweets, but I would if he could tag them and then I could set my Twitter client to ignore those tweets with tags I don’t care for.

    Lists though doesn’t seem the right way to manage this, as your lists as supposed to be a way of sorting/filtering the account that you follow, for the use of both yourself and others. They wouldn’t really work for selectively choosing who will see a tweet because I might my friend might put me in a list of people that he went to university with, for instance, but if he tweets about a particular topic, whether we went to university together may have no bearing on the interest that he would presume that I may or may not have in it (I hope that makes sense!).

    Also the limit of 20 lists per account is a massive hindrance.

    • Thanks for your note, Dave. Yes, it’s definitely needed and there’s no question that using lists to accomplish this would present some problems. Just to be clear though, I’m not proposing that a user would be able to add people to their own lists. That’s the way that Facebook does it, and though that’s less of a problem because friendships tend to be tighter on FB than on Twitter, I think it’s still a problem (for the reasons you highlight). What I’m proposing here is that users still decide whether or not to join one of my lists. I don’t get to decide that. The idea is to treat it like the categories in a blog. I can subscribe to the full blog or just the category feed. Looking back at my post, I can see that I wasn’t super clear about that – but that’s what I’m talking about.

      There are still problems (like the 20 list limit – and the fact that people are used to using lists as they are today – many would no doubt complain about changing this), and this is only one possible approach. It may not be the *best* one out there. A cleaner approach would be to simply copy the category metaphor from blogs and handle it that way.

  2. This is becoming a problem for me. I have 3 blogs, personal, programming and food. And people began adding me, although I’m okay to share even my personal tweets to them, the feeling might not be mutual. I want to be able to target my tweets without creating separate accounts. I agree to your suggestion, hope people from Twitter read this.

  3. I assumed there had to be a way to do this…I’m shocked there isn’t.  This is why I don’t tweet.

    • Thanks Wyndham. I just tried doing this and couldn’t get it to work, at least not in a useful way. I tried tweeting to one of my lists, but not only is that tweet showing up in my profile stream (as I would expect, as all replies do), but it was showing up in other lists of which I am a member. I guess this would work for getting your tweet into the stream of a list that you’re not a member of, but that’s not really the thing I’m trying to do. What I’m trying to do with Twitter is segment tweets to just certain groups of people – like I can do today on Google+.

  4. This is biggest issue I have with Twitter, reason that I’m withholding posting for many times!

  5. Try – you can tweet to a list using that

  6. This will make spammers job easier too.

  7. YA Author Kiy Weathers

    Yes, this is going to be extremely helpful. Thank you for taking the time to write this post. It is just what I needed two segment the two lists that I have.