Filtering Twitter: Going from mostly noise to all conversation

Tweeting from the field

I’ve been a Twitter-head since 2006. Sheila Scarborough caught me tweeting “from the field” in 2009.

Twitter, to me, is for conversation. I’m tired of all the automatic tweets, the broadcast announcements, and the cross-posts from Facebook.

I live and work in a small town, and I love using Twitter as something like an office water cooler: a convenient place for a quick talk with friends. It gives me a breadth of interaction I cannot get here at home.

But all the noise gets in the way of conversation: automated links, check-ins on Foursquare, new pins on Pinterest, blog feeds, Tumblr,, Triberr, and a bunch of other things.

Rather than ask everyone else to change what they tweet, I decided to change what I see. Here’s how I did it.

On my desktop and laptop:
I use TweetDeck. In the Settings, under Settings, there is an option for Mute. In that, I picked Source. I started by filtering out posts from Facebook, Foursquare, and twitterfeed. Then I just watched for any tweet that seemed automated. I clicked on Details to see where the tweet came from, then went back to Settings and filtered out or muted that source.

On my iPad:
I switched to the paid TweetBot app. It also has a setting to Mute any source. I went through and added the same filters there. And I keep adding as I find new automated sources.

Now my Twitter stream is mostly live comments from real people. It’s fascinating. I’m able to connect with the people who are actually present now, and have those conversations I’m here for. It reminds me of Twitter before the marketers went crazy blasting links and automating messages.

There is just as much conversation as ever on Twitter. It’s just that there is more noise, too.

As I’ve shared this tactic, people have asked a few questions:

Don’t you miss the links? 
Not so far. I still see links that people share from the Tweet Button, from the web, or actually type into their tweet by hand. The sender has to care enough to post a link like that individually, so I see stories that really resonate with someone. I have FlipBoard on my iPad to flip through the automated links, if I want. I also receive a summary of the top links my friends share each day. I can view it to catch up on links.

Don’t you tweet links, too? 
Yes, and some people love them. I do not automate any tweets to @BeckyMcCray. I have a separate account (@SBSurvival) where I post links to my articles, rural business news items, and other interesting stuff. If you want mostly talk, follow @BeckyMcCray. If you want mostly links, follow @SBSurvival.

How could I give up my Hootsuite Dashboard/TweetDeck columns I use to monitor everything? 
Go ahead and use your massive dashboard/columns when you are in “monitoring mode.” When you are ready to have a conversation, consider using a different tool with filters. I think you’ll find it refreshing.

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About Becky McCray

Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband own a retail liquor store in Alva, Oklahoma, and a small cattle ranch nearby. Becky is an international speaker on small business.

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  1. says

    Good points, Becky, but… :-)

    I use Buffer to schedule interesting/fun things I want to share without overloading the people who follow me (and also because I have a corporate job, and it’s bad form to spend hours on twitter during the day).

    This way, when I do have a few minutes here or there to be on twitter, I’m engaging in conversation rather than scrambling to send all the fun stuff I want to share.

    On the other hand, I never automate anything sales-pitchy; twitter has definitely become something of a non-stop infomercial, and I don’t want to be part of that problem.

    • says

      Kathleen, first, remember that I’m not asking you to change how you tweet. :)

      Second, yes, Buffer is one of the tools I filter out because it is not conversation. I use Buffer myself on @SBSurvival to collect and share links. That way, the links spread out during the day, instead of all at once. However you choose to share is up to you.

      My only goal is to change how I see Twitter. And since I’m enjoying it so much, I wanted to share it with others.

    • says

      Oh, I know you weren’t asking us to change what we do. I was just explaining (justifying? rationalizing?) why I use Buffer. I’ll make sure when I want to talk to you, I’ll do it directly from hootsuite. :-)

      I do agree with you on the bigger point, though – twitter has become a LOT of noise, and I’ve grown more than a little disillusioned with the neverending stream of sales pitches and pithy quotes.

  2. says

    I suspect many people have a problem filtering the noise in twitter. One tool that is extremely helpful is Engagio ( as it focuses only on the conversations part of twitter (and other social media channels) rather than the complete fire hose. As a result, I only see replies to messages in my dashboard feed and in the process discover interesting sites where my friends are engaging. Give it a try and let me know what you think (FYI. I work for Engagio).

    • says

      While engagio doesn’t serve the purpose I’m seeking, I do see it as potentially useful for a more deliberate marketing approach to conversation.

  3. says

    Thanks for writing this up Becky. I’d seen you mention you were doing this, but I couldn’t find the tweets that said how.

    I feel so disconnected from Twitter nowadays, and even though I’ve reduced the numbers I follow it still seems like a whole lot of noise, and I can’t find the ways in to converse that I used to be able to.

    And I miss it.

    I’ll give it a whirl.

  4. says

    Another reader asked by email, “So what happens if you get negative tweets?”

    I answered that replies still show up in your replies column/tab. Any mentions of your key words or phrases will also still show up in your searches. And really, very few negative tweets come in the form of an automatic post from Facebook,, or Triberr.

  5. says

    Hi Becky
    Thanks for the post. I will be tweeting it although I’ve done that by Buffer. It’s the only way I can find to stay away from Twitter during the day! I will have a look at Flipboard, though.

  6. says

    Hi Becky – Do make lists in Twitter, so you can relate and engage with a small group of people, or those talking about a particular subject area? Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Debby

    • says

      Debby, I definitely do use lists! I watch my smart people lists, my Oklahoma/Kansas contacts, and my Rural/Small Town Resources list closely. In case you’re curious, here are my Twitter lists.

      Now that I’m using lots of filters, I can watch my stream from everyone I follow.

  7. says

    Great post. I love how you emphasized how Twitter can be tailored without insisting that others change their behaviors and that some things are right for some but not others. In other words #NORULES

  8. Jipy says

    Hi –

    I was pointed to this post by a friend of mine. I totally Becky and others in this regard.

    As an individual Twitter user, I was feeling the same pains. I started off with lists and Tweetdeck, but that was too much to manage. I wanted to spend more time engaging and reading, rather than doing housekeeping.

    When I hit 200 following, I almost quit. Then while speaking to a friend, this idea germinated – what if I could prioritize things somehow. That led to this hacky command line tool that analyzed my tweets based on links, hashtags, places/people being mentioned, who is sending it, and so on.

    It worked well. In fact, my average tweets (including RTs) went up from 4-5 a week to about 2-3 a day. My Klout score went up from 44 to 46 in two weeks. I think this was a direct result of finding most relevant content without endless scrolling.

    About a week back, I turned that tool into a website. It takes your most recent Tweets and scores and ranks them per relevance. Done reading, just hit refresh, and you get any new tweets.

    Its not perfect. I would love to hear how I can make it even better.


    PS: We love Buffer too. And, within few weeks should be able to integrate Buffer into our site.