How to Use Hootsuite and Twitter Lists to Engage Your Audience

And a fine Twitter Tuesday to you as well. A Hootsuite tutorial about using Twitter lists can only begin with a beautiful memory.

I remember when I got my first Twitter follower. I was a bright-eyed web surfer with a bushy tail (since birth).

@getfree_ebooks3 followed me, and our relationship blossomed. She was beautiful. I would tell her about what I was eating for lunch and other important Twitter issues, and she would suggest nice pieces of malware for my computer to download.


I eventually discovered that @getfree_ebooks3 was a spam bot. It was heartbreaking. I realized the truth about Twitter.

At that moment, I realized that the best way to create quality relationships on Twitter is to seek out the people in your target audience and engage with them.

At first, I could manage this pretty easily. But once I was following over 150 people (often the magic number for our brains), it was too difficult to manage them all just with Twitter.

Why did it become so difficult so fast?

When you follow someone on Twitter, you are subscribing to their insight and opinions. So here you are, following hundreds or thousands of people because they might say something that’s interesting to you. But unless they tweet at you, retweet you, or happen to tweet moments before you check Twitter, you will miss out on everything they have to say.

And once you’re following +150 people, it’s pretty easy to miss out on everything.

But there is another way!

Enter Hootsuite

You may be familiar with the social media management tool Hootsuite. A free account with Hootsuite lets you monitor your Twitter, Facebook, and other feeds (called streams), as well as schedule updates for your social accounts. I’m sure the premium version does some more neat stuff.

Hootsuite is real swell.

Let’s focus on Hootsuite’s Twitter services. The average Hootsuite user may have a basic tab setup for their Twitter account. It probably looks similar to this:


From the left, you’ve got your home feed (the tweets and retweets of everyone you follow), @ mentions, and something else (I’m keeping track of who is retweeting me here, but this might also be your direct message inbox or favorites).

Not too bad. But there’s another way yet!

Enter Twitter Lists

A seasoned Twitter pro might have a good chuckle at the mention of Twitter lists. Twitter introduced lists in 2009 as a way to segment the people you follow into more specific groups.

You can easily add someone to a list by clicking their name to bring up a profile box, then selecting the “Add or remove from lists” option.

How to add a Twitter list in Hootsuite

But, I would wager that less than 1% of Twitter users utilize lists.

And I don’t blame people for not using Twitter lists; Twitter lists suck. From the homepage (which already has your regular feed), it takes three clicks just to get to a list. Why would I ever do that when my home feed is right in front of me?

The concept of segmenting all these people we follow is great, though. Twitter just doesn’t let you use lists efficiently. But Hootsuite does.

Lists in Hootsuite

My Hootsuite tabs are made up of a combination of the basic Hootsuite stream functions shown above, and Twitter lists. Adding a list as a Hootsuite stream is easy. Just click Add Stream and select the list you want to monitor.

How to add a stream in Hootsuite

So What Type of Lists Should I Make?

That depends on what you use Twitter for. Make lists that group types of people that you want to interact with. Here are some lists you might make:

  • Real life friends
  • Professionals in your industry
  • News or daily deals sources
  • The blogs you follow
  • Your favorite actors or comedians

Add those lists to your Hootsuite tab and you can create the ideal dashboard for monitoring the Twitter users you want to engage with the most. Follow Ian Lurie’s content curation schedule to start engaging with your segmented audiences efficiently.

My Twitter Dashboard in Hootsuite

Each Hootsuite tab will comfortably hold between 3-6 streams. You can have up to eight streams in a tab if you like horizontal scrolling. I use six streams, organized between two tabs. I call the tabs:

The Me Feed


The Me Feed tab is for me (I’m really good at naming things). I monitor:

  • My @ mentions. No-brainer, right? If someone tweets at me, I see it. If they’re not a spam bot, I reply (and sometimes when they are a spam bot).
  • My real life friends. Real Life > Online Life. Separating my real life friends has been a great way to follow the more @-heavy conversations between my closest friends.
  • The people I regularly interact with. These are people I’ve already made a connection with. I know I want to see what these people are tweeting about, but other than Google+, I probably haven’t “hung out” with them before.

The Focused Feed


The Focused Feed tab is for more specific engagement. I monitor:

  • Industry professionals. Instead of adding the top 20 internet marketing blogs to my Google Reader, I follow big and small time internet marketers and see what SEO cream rises to the top. When someone tweets out an article I like, I tweet back at them. What an easy way to start a conversation.
  • Future friends. When I follow someone new, they often end up in this list. These are people that I think are interesting, but haven’t interacted with me yet. I keep an eye on these tweets, and tweet back if I have something to add. Once I build a relationship, I move them into the Me Feed.
  • Favorite tweets. I favorite a tweet if I want to follow the link or reply to it later. I also use favorites to save the best tweets of the week so I have ammo for Follow Friday.

What’s missing from my feed?

  • My home feed. I’ve segmented the followers I want to interact with the most, so I rarely need the home feed. If I did, I could just go to old-fashioned, or check my phone.
  • Hootsuite keyword/query monitoring. Hootsuite allows you to add streams that monitor specific keywords in tweets. This is a great feature, and you should use it. For this post however, we’re focusing on ways to engage the people you already follow.

What’s the Low Fat Version?

You don’t want to go through all that trouble? Well, I can’t make you. I’m not your mom. And I realize that.

If I was going to give you one tip to increase your engagement on Twitter, I would say make a list. Make one list. And fill it with the 25 to 50 people that you want to engage with the most. Add the list to your Hootsuite dashboard.

Watch that list like a hawk, or like another creature good at watching things. If those tweeters ask a question, answer it. If they tweet a link, check it out and let them know what you think. Make them your friends and allies.

Now you’re building a real Twitter following, not just making complex Canadian wedding plans with a spam bot. In related news: I’m single again, ladies!

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  1. Terrifically helpful (and funny!) post, Jack – question: how do you see tools like bufferapp or timely fitting into the Twitter-management picture?

  2. Jack,
    Dude I loved this article. I’m a huge fan of twitter, and I’m always looking to find more ways to engage with people and make connections.
    A major lightbulb moment for me here. : when someone tweets an article you like, tweet back. I take this to mean more than a simple RT, but an actual comment of some sort. I think this is brilliant, can’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before.
    What are your thoughts on hootsuite vs tweetdeck?
    Anyway, thanks man, the is one of the best posts I’ve read in a while 😉

  3. David,
    Thanks. Yeah, there is definitely another piece to this puzzle — finding the right scheduling tool. Buffer and Timely are both excellent tools for scheduling social updates. They do some of the thinking for you by picking what they decide are the optimum times for tweeting/etc. Updating throughout the day is essential in getting your thoughts in front of as much of your audience as possible.
    Personally, I don’t like to let the computer do the work for me when deciding the best way to be social, because computers don’t have friends, so they don’t know.
    I’m not sure if Buffer will allow the same, but I use Hootsuite to schedule a few tweets at some specific times throughout the day that I specify, just to make sure I’m visible at all hours. Then I just fill in the rest of the hours with my natural desires to tweet. It leads to a pretty natural Twitter feed — general tweets throughout the day mixed in with my daily doings.
    Thank you. Yeah I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best way to directly engage someone, and after going through a bunch of tricks, I realized that the best way is just to get right in their face about what they care about.
    So instead of trying to get people to pay attention to what I care about, I find out what they care about. And the easiest way to do this has been when people tweet out an article. I give it a quick read, and tweet them a question or something. It’s definitely been key to getting real engagement.

  4. I have added your post to my Favorites. Really helpful! I have been using HootSuite for a year and now found just really great tool to cut all noise in my Twitter stream! Thank you so much!

  5. Jack,
    This is awesome. I just started my Twitter account and was quickly realizing that bulk-adding strangers in my niche was not really providing value to either party.
    I’m going to try out your list idea. I have a feeling it’s going to provide the value I was looking for from Twitter.

  6. Hi Jack
    Great article – and it reminds me a bt of my own Twitter workflow. But I’ve taken my use of Hootsuite a step further. I’ve segmented my lists into specific topics I work with – conversion rate optimization and landing pages, inbound marketing, linkbuilding experts and competitors (for surveillance) – and I’m building more lists as we speak.
    There’s more than one upside to this approach. By segmenting a topic I can:
    Always find fresh information. Use the lists for high quality automated content production.
    Help friends and colleagues to get value from Twitter by letting them follow my lists. You can see my lists here if you’re interested:,!/nielstybjerg/linkbuilding-experts,!/nielstybjerg/inbond-experts

  7. Thanks ! Will keep trying with Twitter and will try Hootsuite. The interesting thing is that I find my time is taken up with Facebook and maybe a bit of Twitter, but I dont think any of the other social tools will take on so much as I think people’s time is already taken up with the ones they are already using – would you agree or what do you see as the future tools that we should be using for our businesses ?

  8. Great article, I really like the tips on lists. I’ve been using twitter for along time, but had a different account that quit adding new followers! Well, to be honest, they were added, just not counted. So I created a new account (because the folks at twitter said it couldn’t be fixed) and I’m starting anew @OnlineVideoMktr, and using lists to better manage things. Thanks for the tips!

  9. Thanks for all the hints. Besides being useful you helped me find out where I stand re: Hootsuite and kept me from making a whole bunch of errors before I became socially terminal!

  10. J Wilson,
    I think I’m in a similar situation as you. I only have so much time in my day for social media. And I ever end up splitting that even further between my friends and my professional networking. Now people want me on Google+, Pinterest, and whatever else is out there.
    We’re having to make the same decisions for many of Portent’s clients. Which social networks do they need to be on? It depends on two things: What social networks do your potential customers use most, and how many social accounts is your business capable of running effectively.
    Customers don’t want to see a business doing nothing special on Facebook, Twitter and a hundred other networks. Depending on what your team can handle, have accounts on a few networks where you can actively engage with your fans. There’s no point having several thousand likes or followers or whatever if they’re not actively communication with your brand. Making Super Fans that actually interact in this way is what will really drive sales and increase brand exposure.

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