How I collect data and build community on social media

Dear Justin,
How do you get all the great links and items that you post on social media? Are your lists open, where I can see who you follow?

This was asked via Facebook, and I answered directly, then thought I’d post my social media strategy. It’s an evolving thing, and what I do a year from now may vary. For me, the key to social media has been to constantly test different approaches, as the media changes over time based on participation.

For data aggregation, I primarily use Twitter, so that’s what this post will be about. I use Facebook more for connecting with friends and patrons, and sharing news than for collecting it.

Social media can be a huge time sink. Used correctly, however, it can be a great tool for finding information, and for serendipitous discovery of things you didn’t know about.

I have several public lists on Twitter through which I aggregate news sources. For example, news-top5 are the news sources I use the most frequently. My news-intl list are the most highly rated or respected international news outlets in each country (this gives me a diversity of opinion). My news-breaking list is all of the major “breaking news” outlets (CNN, AP, Reuters, etc–each usually has its “Breaking News” specialist feed). My “agencies” list is all the mission agencies on Twitter. Anyone can subscribe to my public lists.

In addition, I have some private curated lists of people who are specialists in a particular area (“who-future”, “who-startup”, etc). I’ve built these by watching my main timeline and adding people to these lists who generally post about these topics, and removing them if they get too off-topic too frequently.

However, the key part of my social media strategy are my “a-” lists. These are private, but you can build your own using the exact same strategy I use.

“a-reshare” is a list of everyone on Twitter who regularly reshares the content I share – people who favorite, RT, Quote, etc. Resharing is a pretty strong signal they have common interests with me. (I don’t add accounts that are obviously spammers, who reshare “everything.”) Someone who reshares me also typically reshares others; and most of what they reshare from others is interesting to me. So, by following them, I discover content that I will be interested in as well, and I reshare it. You might call this a “reshare-fest” or more snidely an echo chamber, but in reality not everyone who follows me also follows these folks. Resharing amplifies content, builds community and spreads wisdom. You can build a similar list by watching Twitter Notifications for people who reshare your content, right click their names, and click to add them to your own internal list.

“A-patrons” is a list of everyone on Twitter who is a Patron of our work; this is another strong signal of shared interests. Not eveyone who gives to us is on Twitter, but those who are go on this list. I just cross-reference my donors with Twitter.

“A-charts” is my list of people I’ve discovered who share graphical charts. I’m always keen on charts of data. This is a pretty small list. When I see someone I follow consistently sharing charts, I add them to this list.

“A-longreads” is a list of people who regularly share longer analytical posts. I prefer “longreads” (e.g. articles of several thousand words that are deep dives on a subject); I don’t read them all, obviously, but with news items I’m far more likely to simply skim content.

“A-photos” is a list of people who regularly share photographs, especially of areas where the unreached are typically found. (This may be news photography feeds, or people who specialize in photos).

“A-convos” is my list of people who annotate, reply to, or talk with me on Twitter. This is an even stronger signal than resharing content, but people who are on a-reshare are also likely on a-convos. Again, this is a simple matter of watching notifications, replying to people, and then adding them to the list.

The point of these lists is to segment out “pools” of data that I can “fish in.” My “a-reshare” and “a-convos” lists are my two most frequently watched feeds, because these are kind of my “tribe” of people. They are far smaller: I follow 1,640 in my timeline, but just 85 in my reshare list. I can “dip my toe” into the firehose that is Twitter, while spending a far smaller amount of time with my tribe (because they don’t post as often). This allows me to manage my time and focus on people who are most passionate about the things I am passionate about. By creating these lists, you can follow a lot of people in your normal timeline (and analyze that with tools like Nuzzel or Flipboard) while still having a smaller list of people that you interact with.

How some other people do it
How Dave Verwer curates for iOS Dev Weekly
Robert Scoble’s excellent tips for using Facebook