If you were driving to go to a job interview in a new city, would you forget to research the company, get into your car wearing ripped jeans, and not bother to bring a GPS or a map?

I didn’t think so. Urban landscape

But every day, aspiring journalists set up Twitter accounts exactly that way, hoping to attract business that never comes.

Some of us leave Twitter’s default images of eggs up as our profile photos.

Some of us use Twitter to post about our nightlife and coffee habits. If nightlife and coffee aren’t part of your beat, it’s generally best not to post about them much.

Some of us aren’t sure what we want our niches or beats to be, so we post randomly about anything – and follow anyone. This is also not a good idea. In journalism, specialists earn more than generalists, I find.

Some of us use Twitter to be one-way communicators – broadcasting our own content, but never retweeting or interacting. But on Twitter and in real life, being a good listener is part of being a good conversationalist.

Some of us are drawn into controversial conversations that are unrelated to our beats or interests. Keep a sticky note up as a reminder not to join these discussions, if necessary. Unless you want to become known as highly political, don’t go there. And if a troll starts bothering you, handle it sensibly and move on.

But perhaps most importantly, many of us really don’t know how to plumb the depths of Twitter’s search and list features to find the hashtags and search terms that could be valuable to us.

Did you know you can make a large list of your competitors by looking for keywords related to your specialty and adding your fellow writers to a new list?

Did you know you can make a list of potential sources by looking up keywords related to your beat or to target organizations?

Did you know you can make a list of potential employers and their staff? Look for hiring managers and be sure to include them. Search for keywords related to employers – or names of their organizations.

My favorite list contains tweets from a group of news editors whose work I admire. My main career goal is to edit news websites and magazines, so I am watching my peers and role models to see what they are posting.

You can also use keyword searches related to articles you have written or topics you want to follow.

Is there a conference you’ve missed this week? Look up the conference hashtag, search for it, and take notes or participate in the conversation.

Finally, don’t forget to look up hashtags like #journalismjobs, #scicomm, and #mediadiversity when you are job hunting. Or try combinations of words – like “journalism job Chicago” without the quotes.

This post is loosely based on insights from a Twitter workshop I delivered for Science Writers of Western Massachusetts on June 27, 2015. For more info about our group, please visit our Facebook page. For details about my journalism and teaching experience, please visit my LinkedIn bio.

Sometimes a picture is worth 200 Twitter follows. That’s what Ceres‘s online communications director, Brian Sant, learned when he ran a campaign to stop natural gas flares in North Dakota. Oil companies use these flares to burn away unwanted natural gas they do not plan to save or sell.

North Dakota’s natural gas flares are visible from the night sky and rival major cities in their brightness. Sant circulated the following photo of the night landscape of North America via social media and email. The response was electric. Writers picked up the story.

North Dakota gas flares light the night sky
A photo from Ceres’s campaign to stop natural gas flares in North Dakota.

Sant showed the results of this campaign at New England Women in Energy and the Environment‘s March 14 panel discussion, Social Media Success in the Energy and Environmental Sectors. He also described how he uses podcasts, videos and infographics to make data attractive for social media distribution.

Sarah Finnie Robinson, founding partner at Practically Green, talked about her exploration of the nuances of behavior change. Working with an enthusiastic group of interns and staff, she develops social software that companies and individuals can use to alter their environmental behavior.

Practically Green is building on the current wave of interest in gamification – making activities more like computer games – and integrating that approach with social media. The resulting product makes conserving water and other resources less like doing a chore and more like using Facebook.

“You’re not alone,” one of Robinson’s slides said. Robinson wants her software to engage people in communication, not just give them tasks to do in isolation. Based on the rapid expansion of demand for her product, this approach is certainly working.

Cindy Jolicoeur, vice president of Marketing Drive, used a different tactic in her work with the Mass Save energy efficiency program. She leveraged consumer interest in sharing information about deals and taking advantage of discounts to build the fan base for the Mass Save Facebook page from around 2,000 to over 15,000. These likes came as a result of targeted promotions and advertising across multiple media. Consumers developed a relationship with Mass Save and used the page to ask questions about energy efficiency.

“People want to connect with people,” said Cindy Hoots, corporate social responsibility account director at Cone Communications. She encouraged the audience to be informal on social media. Being able to respond on the fly is crucial, she said. She recommended keeping an unofficial FAQ on hand to use in response to stakeholder comments.

“Not all these stakeholders are friendly,” Hoots said. “Some can be a thorn in your side. Others may have an activist bent.”

Building relationships with stakeholders is a complex process, Hoots said. First, one needs to identify who they are. Second, one needs to understand their values and priorities. Third, one needs to learn how to reach them. And that’s just the first phase of action. One also needs to prioritize influencers, reach out to them, and offer them resources they want.

Hoots recommended two online tools for identifying influencers: Traackr and SocMetrics. These sites can give one basic information about the behavior of influencers and help one develop a plan for building relationships.

There are many ways communicators can engage stakeholders and build support for sustainable actions. This discussion demonstrated how Twitter, Hootsuite, Facebook, and other social media tools can support energy and environmental organizations in reaching their goals successfully. Sometimes, all it takes is a surprising picture.

A recent article claiming that 84 percent of one’s Facebook page fans are lurkers raised an interesting question for me. How does one get communities to “gel” online? What are some of the tricks of the trade that help web communication professionals engage their audiences?

The ideas below are based on my experiences with organizing meetups, including NetSquared Boston; producing news content for an online community of graduate students and professors; and building the audience of an energy-related newsletter.

1. Make Your Most Important Content Visible

Journalists know that the first few seconds of reading will determine whether your audience reads the whole article or puts down the paper. Your title, subheading, and any content that is highly visible will attract readers’ attention.

Here are a few tips:

  • Choose clear, attention-getting headlines
  • Test your web content using the Five Second Test
  • Think about the first sentences you use
  • Choose interesting topic headings

2. Organize Your Site Logically

Take a look through a website usability guide and use those principles to organize your content clearly. Will a new visitor to your site know where to find information? Try to keep the number of levels in your site map to a minimum. This will make it easier for website visitors to find the content they need.

3. Use Your Audience’s Favorite Media

If you know how your audience already finds information, you can communicate with them using their preferred media. For many audiences in the United States, e-mail is still the best way to present information. If you make your content conversational and entertaining, you can also use Facebook to reach a large audience. Sites like Twitter and Quora can give you access to professionals in specialized fields like journalism and IT. Some audiences spend long hours on YouTube.

If your audience isn’t RSS-literate, they won’t subscribe to your blog’s news feed. On the other hand, if your audience knows how to subscribe to your meetup calendar, they may be watching all of your events without even being members of your meetup. Twitter users may add you to private lists without following you openly.

4. Build Your Niche

What does your website provide that other websites do not? Is your meetup unique, or is it the same as another meetup in the next town? Like running a business, running an online community requires that you provide added value. You should make your content easy to use and worthwhile.

If you have a niche for which there is not much demand, recast your focus so that it addresses needs that people know exist. You may be absolutely convinced of a need that others don’t see or recognize; this will make your job more difficult. I’ve seen scientists experience this problem often. Simplifying your message and making it convincing can help your website gain support.

5. Know Your Audience’s Priorities

Knowing the priorities and values of your audience can help you move your website into their “to visit” list. What do they need to know? Can you make their lives easier by providing networking or useful information? If your site looks like a resource library, you should work to make your content more immediately useful and action-oriented.

Some audiences dislike spending time online and will not surf in search of resources. Other audiences may own mobile phones but not computers. The more you know about what matters to your audience, the easier it will be for you to integrate your site or community into their everyday workflow.

Ask your audience what they want to see. You may be surprised. I used a poll in a meetup recently. I discovered – unexpectedly – that most of the respondents wanted to do outdoor activities this spring and summer. Because I did this poll, I’ll schedule the kinds of activities they requested.

I started writing queries to editors via social media because I realized how much journalists love their blogs and Twitter accounts. So when I wrote a marketing plan that included meeting editors online, I looked on Twitter.

According to the Pew Foundation, only eight percent of the United States population uses Twitter. Twitter users are well-educated innovators; they cluster occupationally and demographically. They’re professionally experienced, often work in computer and media fields, and are increasingly likely to be Latino.

Combining these pieces of information shows that senior-level media professionals are likely to make up a larger-than-average fraction of the pie chart. Since I was looking for editors, Twitter was a logical place to find them. (Another useful site for meeting subject-matter experts is Quora.)

A website called Muckrack makes it easy to find well-known journalists’ Twitter accounts. Muckrack aggregates tweets from writers at many publications. Watching Muckrack is one quick way to get the pulse of conversations at a news organization.

When I opened my Twitter account, I was taking a break from freelancing. I used the site solely for news reading for over half a year. This gave me lists of target publications which I could contact later; I use Twitter’s list feature to sort the sources I read. Twitter’s list feature allows me to group sources by topic for easier reading. This feature is like a filing system for incoming tweets.

I enrolled in a series of social media trainings that taught me how to use Twitter more interactively than I’d done before. After these trainings, I created a list called “networking” and began adding editors and journalists to it. As I followed these new contacts, some of them followed me back. I began asking them questions, reading the news that interested them, and passing along their tweets to my readers.

Once I was ready to take my show on the road and send a few queries out, I looked at the “networking” list, picked out likely publications, thought of a few story ideas, and started contacting the editors via Twitter. Since some of the editors were following me already, I was able to message them.

My Twitter response rate for queries has been more reliable than email for some publications. After I have the editor’s address, I follow the 140-character query with an email. Once I have built a relationship on Twitter, I maintain it by staying in contact and forwarding links occasionally (including @username in a tweet that may interest the editor).