Some say Twitter is a waste of time. However, it is the world’s largest platform to strike conversations globally and is a very effective way for cyclists to network, campaign and communicate.
I have been very keen to embrace Twitter. Like many cyclists I am IT savvy. It has been useful to network with cycling organisations, cycling media; print, internet and television. Twitter was especially a great tool to use to let my friends and followers know where I was as I cycled across USA in 2013 from Los Angeles to Boston covering 3415 miles with my daughter Catherine. (My blog: From Los Angeles to Boston: an epic ride across the United States)
Twitter is a lot more than Facebook which I do use to keep in touch with family and friends. Twitter can use a lot of your time but if used effectively, you can be very up to date which helps you organize your life. I have met other cyclists I would not have otherwise have met and have built bridges across many cycling organisations. I have certainly learnt a lot about the cycling world by gathering information and tweeting. I have gathered information far faster by using Twitter and I feel much more connected with the cycling world. I have been able to provoke and take part in interesting debates such as ‘use of helmets’. It has helped me promote globally physical activity and obesity strategy which I have been involved professionally with. I can follow newspaper and academic articles on Twitter and ask authors themselves about their writings. You must look way beyond the 140 characters to ways that Twitter allows you to communicate. You can add pictures and videos. We all like to talk about cycling, I’ve discovered many erudite blog writers’ posts through Twitter. Twitter can make you feel more connected with current issues and allow you to evaluate evidence more completely. Twitter and Facebook have certainly been very useful for cyclists to communicate and energize cycling campaigns such as the Scottish Pedal on Parliament – pedalonparliament.org
Getting started on Twitter?
When you sign up at Twitter.com it’s very evident you get access to people and information very quickly and my cycling world got suddenly bigger. Journalists who I connected with would ask me about my past obesity and weight loss cycling story which then led to embracing paper, internet and television appearances. I’ve now made 150 appearances over ten years. It was like my cycling world suddenly expanded. I had a global conversation with cyclists from everywhere rather than my local cycling club. Initially, there is often a time lag before you get followed back, sometimes you would have to mention the name of a person to get a follow you back. Getting my cycling TransAmerica story tweeted by Richard Branson to his 3.5 million followers was a great thrill and inspiration.
I’ve always restricted my Twitter account just to discuss cycling and have avoided bland meaningless open conversation. For anything personal I go to direct messaging. I’ve always tried to make every Tweet meaningful and count. Often the shorter the message the better and the use of a picture would get the most favourites and retweets. Things start to get quite busy when one of your Tweets gets retweeted over 100 times; stories go global at that stage.
My Twitter goal?
In the beginning I just wanted to hook up with as many cycling organisations and real cyclists as I could. I thought I could be a rigorous trustworthy information source. I often Tweeted stories from the Times and Guardian cycling columns. My initial goal was to get 1000 followers in the first year. Now the growth is exponential, I now have 25,000 followers. I wanted to connect with other cycle campaigners and be part of the global conversation. I wanted to be a source of encouragement and support for sufferers from obesity who wanted to get physically active and lose weight through cycling.
Finding the initial followers?
You first find a few friends and cycling organisations then see who they are following then follow them; sometimes they would follow you back. Twitter has a series of lists and subscriptions and these are the key. Once you start to get on lists you will get more followers and subscribers so it’s worth adding yourself to subscriptions and adding others to lists you create yourself. For instance, I have a list on cycling journalists. It’s surprising to see how many people are on Twitter, most cycling organisations have a Twitter presence of varying maturity. Some of the famous Olympic cyclists have Twitter accounts and have massive subscribers but some can be a bit dull; I’m not really interested in what they eat for breakfast! The cycling campaign gurus mostly have Twitter accounts. I certainly started following editors from cycling journals, cycling organisations, cycling bloggers.
There are Twitter groups somewhere representing most forms of cycling and active travel. Some of those I follow would be role models. I found this quite empowering. It’s great to get a direct message or Tweet from someone famous. I could tweet cycling stories from newspapers and Internet media to people that would not otherwise think about a topic or read that media. Having something to say and sharing it with others is a very powerful thing to do and I am sure therefore so many people are engaging with Twitter. I do think you have to engage before the account starts to pay off. It takes time to establish a critical mass of followers and a certain level of engagement with other people. Don’t give up and don’t be shy. Everybody knows someone on Twitter, so search for them. Once you find them start looking at their followers. Start following those who interest you. Don’t be afraid of unfollowing them if you don’t find their tweets interesting. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t follow you back. Initiate a conversation. If you think you have something interesting to say to the person you follow but they don’t follow you back, just tag their handle and you might get them engaged in a conversation with you. You may have to do this a few times.
The # hashtag has become ubiquitous. A hashtag is a word or an unspaced phrase prefixed with the symbol #. It is a form of metadata tag. Short messages “#” before important words (no spaces), either as they appear in a sentence, or appended to it. Hashtags provide a means of grouping such messages, since one can search for the hashtag and get the set of messages that contain it. A hashtag is only connected to a specific medium and can therefore not be linked and connected to pictures or messages from different platforms. Tweeting lets say a cycling conference or event using the agreed conference hashtag may bring a refreshing engagement with the conference and its delegates.
A Retweet is used on the Twitter to show you are tweeting content that has been posted by another user. The format is RT @username where username is the twitter name of the person you are retweeting. Retweets can be very helpful in growing a Twitter audience.
Did I doubt Twitter was worth it?
My Twitter was slow to build in the first year. When I rode across America I made a tweet every day where I was and where I was going, after this I gathered a lot of interest and support. I got followers for no apparent reason sometimes. Twitter is very fresh, and things happen quickly. Only on one occasion I got “trolled” and chased during a cycling “share the road” type campaign by a few angry cyclists but quickly blocked difficult followers. You should be careful when considering personal versus professional use. I will never give any individual medical advice as this would conflict with my role as a consultant surgeon. So overall Twitter has been very worthwhile, but you do need to be careful that it does not become an obsession and take over too much of time that I could be cycling!
Pedal and Tweet!
About the Author: Chris Oliver is a retired Orthopaedic Surgeon based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is a professor attached with various institutes, an inspirational Cyclists and a Kayaker. To know more about his work visit cyclingsurgeon.bike
Follow him on twitter: @CyclingSurgeon