Twitter’s most underrated tool: lists

Last week, I co-presented a seminar on “Social Media Engagement” at the University of Guelph’s Writers’ Workshops event. Our audience was hugely engaged and we spent much of the seminar answering questions and polling participants. One of the things I like best about presenting to a large group is “matching up” audience members based on their questions and comments. For example, if someone asks about content strategy and someone else has a great example of an editorial calendar, you can suggest that those two attendees chat after the session and learn from each other. Social media is about collaboration.

Desktop and keyboard

Image courtesy Tomas Laurinavicius,

Because our audience was so engaged, my co-presenter and I ran out of time and weren’t able to cover all of our talking points. We summarized our remaining points quickly and gave audience members a chance to come up to us after the session to discuss more specific case-based questions. One of our audience members, who’d been using Twitter to promote a local business for nearly a year, asked about Twitter lists and how they could be useful.

This is a question I’ve answered before and I’m always surprised by how few Twitter users actively create and sort using the list feature.

Users can create and curate their own lists, sorting the people they follow into categories. Users can also choose to subscribe to lists created by other users. If you follow hundreds (or thousands) of Twitter accounts, lists are one of the best tools to cut through noise and focus attention on the people you want to engage with most.

**Note: you don’t have to follow an account to add it to a list. This is helpful if you unfollow someone, but want to keep them in a list.

A few ways that I use Twitter lists:

  • News aggregation. Include local, national and international news sources, as well as accounts for news magazines, correspondents, pundits and columnists and you have a personalized new feed that updates hundreds of times a day.
  • Engaging with industry peers. If I follow other Twitter users after a conference or networking event, I include these users in my “PR & SM” and/or “Higher Education” lists. It’s a handy way to keep track of contacts and get quick updates from fellow communicators. This also helps me to remember how I “met” someone or why I’m following them.
  • Finding concerts and events. Think: musicians, concert promoters, venues, community event listings, etc.
  • Tracking my interests. I’ve used lists to curate content from users and organizations who are thought-leaders in urbanism, public space, alternative music and Toronto politics.
  • Watching traffic. As a long-distance commuter, knowing about traffic slow-downs in advance can help me plan my trip to work. If I’m stuck in traffic on public transit, knowing the reason for the hold-up helps to alleviate some of the “but, why??” stress and helps me predict how long it’ll take for me to reach my destination.

On the Twitter platform, you build lists by adding people one at a time. If I’m looking to do mass changes to lists, I use TwitListManager, which has a checkbox-style interface for building lists from people you already follow.

Lists can be displayed within Twitter under the lists tab on your profile. If you’re using an application like HootSuite or TweetDeck, lists can be displayed in custom streams of tweets. The latter is useful if you’re managing a brand account and want to target engagement effort into people who are closest to your business or organization. In this case, I’d recommend using one or more private lists.

What’s the most useful Twitter list you’ve created or subscribed to?


Free stock photos and where to find them


Source: @writingquirky on Instagram.

Stock photography is a tricky beast. As a communicator and (occasional) graphic designer, I’ve relied on stock photos as background images, accents in layouts and to fill “graphic holes” in web and print pieces. The trouble with stock photography is that it can be stiff and many photos are over-used.

When working on personal or not-for-profit projects, I don’t always have budget for occasional stock photo use, so finding free and/or creative-commons licensed photos is a priority. Over the last year, I’ve culled together a bookmarks tab of sources for free stock photos.

Here’s my list:

  • Flickr Creative Commons: photos by amateur and professional photographers who are part of the Flickr community. Attribution is good to include, but not always necessary depending on the license. I like that Flickr is easily searchable and includes a huge range of photos. Because this source includes a lot of amateur work, quality can be variable.
  • Wikimedia Commons: Wikipedia’s multimedia portal, all content is free to use under a Creative Commons license.
  • MorgueFile: a searchable database of high-resolution stock images. Their collection isn’t as vast as Flickr’s, but MorgueFile has a great community of photographers and content creators who both upload and download.
  • Free Range Stock: a sizeable collection available to anyone who opens a free account. A lot of their photos have that “stock photo” look.
  • Open Photo: like MorgueFile and Flickr, this is a community-built collection of free photos on Creative Commons licenses.
  • Unprofound:  another community-built photo collection. I like that Unprofound lets users you search photos by dominant colour, which can be handy.
  • Little Visuals: subscription-based. The website emails a zip file of 7 photos every week to your inbox. Their archive is searchable. Little Visuals offers mostly textures, close-ups, landscapes and tech photos.
  • Unsplash: like Little Visuals, Unsplash is subscription-based and emails 10 high-resolution photos every 10 days to your inbox. It’s built on a Tumblr blog, which makes searching the archive a bit tedious.
  • Death to the Stock Photo: you’ll need a free membership to browse, but DTTSP’s photos are high-quality and high-resolution.
  • Microsoft Clip Art: this one’s counter-intuitive, but the latest version of MS’s clip art gallery includes some decent-quality stock photography that’s free to use.
  • New Old Stock: vintage photos, scanned from public archives. Also uses a Tumblr format, so you may need to try a few keywords to find what you’re looking for.
  • Picjumbo:  a personal project of photographer Viktor Hanacek. Attribution is requested, but  not required.
  • GetRefe:  a  Tumblr blog of stock photos taken by mobile phone users. Great source for gritty or spontaneous images.
  • Pattern Library:  tile-able patterns and backgrounds created by a community of graphic artists.
  • Gratisography: like Picjumbo, Gratisography is a personal project. Photographer Ryan McGuire, of Bells Design, has curated a gallery of his own images and offered them for public use, copyright-free.
  • Instagram: I’ve used several of my own Instagram photos as placeholders in mock-ups, or as accent photos in larger pieces. To download Instagram photos, use Webstagram.

Any suggestions of sites to add to this list?