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Technology

Janet Bodnar Makes the Scene on Twitter

The editor of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance is adding followers and generating buzz on the popular social-networking site. But what does it all mean?

As editor of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine, I’ve been posting updates about money and finance on Twitter, the hot social-networking Web service, since April (see All A-Twitter and My New Life on Twitter). And, frankly, after seven months, I was wondering whether my Twitter experience was worth the time and effort. But now I may be on the verge of a big breakout -- all because of baseball.

A couple of weeks ago I sent out a tweet saying that the playoffs were my favorite time of the season, even though my team -- the Pirates -- was glaringly absent. Lo and behold, I got a phone call from Major League Baseball, which was looking for people in various walks of life to tweet their observations about the playoffs and World Series for MLB.com. Would I be interested? Sure, I would (tune in to my interview). Who knows? This could be my Twitter tipping point.

Hot topics. Actually, my Twitter metrics aren’t bad. I have just about 700 "followers," people who have signed up to receive my messages. That puts me in the top 10% of Twitter users, according to the marketing firm Rapleaf. With almost 800 tweets, I’m also among the most active. Rapleaf reports that only 10% of tweeters have posted 50 or more updates; the most active 1% have tweeted more than 1,000 times.

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Twitter is approaching 18 million members, but the vast majority remain silent: 76% have posted fewer than five updates, and half haven’t sent any. I usually post between three and six a day, a combination of links to my favorite stories at Kiplinger.com, financial tips, behind-the-scenes anecdotes, personal notes on books, movies, restaurants and TV shows, and, of course, my running commentary on baseball and football.  

Yahoo describes me as a Twitter "scenester" because I use hashtags related to the topic of my post (for example, #mlbpulse or #money) to disseminate my messages to as many people as possible. "Your use of hashtags makes sure that people always know where the hot conversation is," says Yahoo.

And according to RetweetRank.com, which tracks the number of Twitter users who retweet my posts -- meaning they forward them to other users -- my rank fluctuates around the top 95th percentile. I’m not a retweet heavyweight, like, say, Ashton Kutcher, but I must have something worthwhile to say.  

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High standards. Nevertheless, I’m still not sure what to make of these stats. As I approached 600 followers, for instance, the number signing up slowed to a crawl. Then several dozen names simply dropped off the list. Was it something I said -- or didn’t say? Or did they just give up on the whole Twitter thing?

Once I got past 600, the pace began to pick up again. One big reason users tune in to Twitter is the celebrity factor -- the chance to listen in on such famous tweeters as Martha Stewart and Chad Ochocinco of the Cincinnati Bengals. I can’t cook like Martha and I can’t catch passes like Chad, so I’ll never reach their rarefied heights. But when I post an update that’s beyond my usual personal-finance bailiwick -- such as a review of The September Issue, a documentary about Vogue editor Anna Wintour -- I pick up a flurry of new followers.   

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It takes me about a half hour each day to decide what to post. Despite the 140-character limit on each message, I have my standards. I always write in full sentences, and I try to follow my son’s advice: Come across as a real person, and make it interesting.

Is there a payoff? Nobody has figured out how to make money from Twitter. But, says Doug Harbrecht, director of new media for Kiplinger, "We’re getting our brand out in the social-media space, and we gotta be there." 

Personally, I’m thinking that if baseball sells, I might try food next. My cousin Pauline, one of my loyal followers, keeps reminding me that as an experiment I’ve promised to tweet my favorite recipe from the Kiplinger cafeteria: tortilla-crusted tilapia. Watch for it. Maybe that’ll get me to 1,000 followers -- and beyond.

Follow Janet’s tweets on personal finance, baseball and who knows what else at www.twitter.com/janetbodnar.