As a social networking platform, Twitter is at a crossroads: its user amount hasn’t grown in well over a year, and active users have reported their followership dropping as a result of deleted accounts and loss of interest. One could argue that the casual era has come and gone: not many seem to genuinely care about what you had for breakfast, when you’re going to bed, or a play-by-play of the weekend. From observing and engaging, it seems like Twitter is going more in the direction of being brand and news-focused, as content has become more formal and well-thought out.

That being said, branding does not only apply to companies and organizations. Whether they know it or not, everyone creates a kind of “personal brand” for themselves based on the nature of their tweets, how often they tweet, and whether or not they incorporate videos and photos. Social media has become a foreground for launching, building, and at times maintaining a career. A large number of individuals in creative industries (specifically music and acting) have been able to reinvent themselves partially due to their presence on Twitter. However, successfully building your own brand is less about actual presence, and more about how you project it.

Know Your Purpose, and Your Industry

Whether you’re completely new to the tree branch, or scrapping your old account in the process of starting over, one of the key points is awareness. Are you tweeting because you’re trying to create followership, or do you want to take engagement to the next level? Do you want to get discovered, or is this just another way to expand your reach with what you already have? (there are plenty of people who became well known before the Internet, and understand that traditional markets don’t work as well as they used to). When you have a firm idea of “why,” the concept of “what” becomes a lot easier to navigate.

In order to have an audience, you must become part of the audience as well. By curating specific lists of accounts that you’re following, (i.e. news, influencers, etc.), it will make keeping up with the latest trends, ideas, and hot-button topics a lot less overwhelming. If you want to become an influencer yourself (and perhaps get a verified account), you have to be up to date on what’s happening and how it might or will affect your career. It’s a great way to gather inspiration, think a little bit more deeply, and perhaps contribute to important conversations.

Create Content That Matters

If you’re trying to promote yourself, you’ll want to showcase your portfolio whenever possible, whether it be in the form of videos, blog posts, and a website, and so on. Yet when it comes to social networking, consistency is vital to gaining and retaining followership. Twitter is a way to allow people to get to know you, and to be creative while doing it. What inspires you? What frustrates you? What problems in your industry need to be addressed, and are you willing to step up and make a difference? Tweeting at times can feel like adding to the noise that’s already there, but it’s important to focus on rising above the usual fluff and saying something that adds a little spark. People want to care, but don’t often see things worth caring about.

That’s not to say that anyone should constantly project a shiny version of themselves; it’s fine to be honest when you’ve had a setback, or to add the casual quip in here and there. Twitter has become such a hub for connection because it’s where users discover that they can relate to one another. Why do celebrities receive such widespread reactions when they post make-up free photos, or comment on current events? It’s nice to feel normal, as though you don’t have to develop this façade over the course of time. The only time “normal” becomes a slippery slope is when it becomes predictable.

Having time to use the platform also plays a role, and most likely why Twitter’s growth rate has slowed down. Due to busy scheduling, many have turned to automation, where people can schedule their content ahead of time, and it will be distributed on their platform(s) of choice anywhere from an hour to several hours later. Scheduling has really helped when it comes to proofreading and editing so that there aren’t any spelling or grammatical errors. Users can ensure that their voice matches with their persona or target audience, and so that they won’t have to backtrack and potentially delete later on. it allows users to think before they speak, rather than hit “send” in the heat of the moment and pay the price down the road. Programs like Tweetdeck and Buffer are great for basic automation, while Hootsuite and Sprout Social allow content enthusiasts to dig a little deeper and look at the analytical side of things. Regardless of what you use, time is what you make of it.

Foster Engagement

One of the great (and perhaps overlooked) aspects of Twitter is that engagement often takes front and center, especially with the help of a hashtag. Rather than waiting for a mention to partake in discussion, there are plenty of ways to start one on your own. Don’t be afraid to reach out to influencers or role models and ask questions, or offer your own point of view on a topic. There’s been an emergence of engagement with the help of Twitter polls, and live tweeting is one of the primary reasons that Twitter is still on some level with other social networks. Commentary on award shows, sporting events, politics, and so on has become a highlight of entertainment, particularly if controversy is involved. There’s no telling what opportunities can arise.

Yet, there’s no ignoring the prevalence and concern of online bullying, which is partially why many have ceased using Twitter at all. There isn’t a concrete solution as far as how to completely shut down trolls or spam accounts, and in most cases it will depend on the situation. If an account continuously comes knocking for negative reasons, there’s always the option of blocking them or reporting them directly. Above all, know when to graciously remove yourself from a thread if it starts to escalate, because that’s exactly what the other side is trying to do. They want to hassle and provoke for the sake of feeling powerful, and they get that power from those who take the bait. If they’re not mature enough to put a face to their name and take responsibility for what they’re saying, then they’re not worth engaging with.

It’s hard to tell if Twitter will formally become branding-based for the long-term, but it’s a possible direction that the network could take. If it doesn’t want to go the way of Myspace, it needs to ask what people want (and need) from the platform, as opposed to making decisions based on assumptions. That aside, every social network experiences subtle changes based on social trends, and if this is the way that it phases from one level of maturity to the next, then we should be open to it and act accordingly.