How To Be On Twitter Without Being On Twitter

Alan BelniakSocial Media, technology6 Comments

[note: If you’re reading this in an RSS reader, the images may not line up well with the text. If you start to get sea sick, pop on out to the full post.]

OK, so not the most SEO-friendly headline.  But have you ever been faced with this scenario (either you or someone you know)? “I don’t really get Twitter.  And even if I did, I don’t care if people walk their dogs.  Plus, I don’t have the time.” Below is an example to follow a select group of people without being ON Twitter, and push those updates to a once-a-day, compact, combined digest e-mail.  This lets the person keep a pulse on what’s going on, and <gasp!> might even get them on to Twitter.

Here’s an example to keep in mind when reading this; YMMV: Say you work in PR at a consumer-packaged goods company, and you want to show your product managers that people (some customers, some analysts, etc.) are talking about their products on line, on Twitter.  You want a summary of those tweets, once a day, in e-mail, because that’s a form they’re comfortable reading and it’s one that’s forward-able.  Let’s go. (NB: This procedure makes a few assumptions, documented along the way).
find friends

  1. Take the list of names and e-mail address you have.  You have to start some minimum of e-mail addresses for this to work.  Presumably you have them in your mail program (I’ll use Outlook as an example; File >> Import and Export… >> Export to a File… >> Comma Separated Value (Windows) [a .csv file] >> pick your contacts, pick a location pick ‘next’ >> pick ‘Finish’)

  2. Create a dummy GMail account (you can use one of the others and follow a similar approach; I’m listing the steps using GMail; the process is going to be similar).  I suggest a dummy account, because all we’re really using it for is as a host of the .csv file to give to Twitter (see step 5).

  3. In GMail, on the left, click ‘Contacts’.  Since this is a new/dummy account, there shouldn’t be any.  Under ‘More actions’, select ‘Import’.  Click ‘Choose File’, and navigate to the .csv file you created.  Add them to a group if you like (not required).GMail import

  4. Finish the default prompts, click yes, and otherwise finish the importing process.  Close that tab/window and get out of GMail.

  5. Log in to Twitter (This presumes that you have an account, and that you’re helping others lurk; if not, go to and create one; or go here for other Twitter account creation options).  In the upper right/middle, click ‘Find People’ (see first screen cap).  Click on the ‘Find Friends’ tab.

  6. Huzzah! you say.  Click GMail, then enter your uname/pwd info for the dummy GMail account (also another good reason to use a dummy account and not your typical/personal account).

  7. Twitter will now look through the contacts list for e-mail addresses, and see if any of THOSE e-mail addresses were/are used in Twitter.  This whole exercise would be obviated if one could just upload a .csv file right to Twitter, but I digress.  That would shorten this blog post significantly.
    1. As in, it’s a shortcoming of Twitter, not my editing skills.

  8. Twitter will report back the number of matches.  It may also report that it found a user, but that the user didn’t want to get found via email.  So, you may have to send a request.Twitter - request to follow

  9. DO NOT CLICK FOLLOW ALL, or follow any individually!  (You can, but that’s not the goal of this post).  Instead, print to .pdf or otherwise screen capture the results.  Essentially, what you’re looking for is the individual user IDs/Twitter handles.  We’ll do something with those later.

  10. Save your work. 🙂
    1. [that’s a joke]

  11. On the results page (the page where I mentioned to NOT follow all in step 9), right-click and open that Twitter-ers account in a new browser tab (you’re using a tabbed browser, right?)

  12. Of each new page that’s opened, scroll down on the right side of the page, about half way, and look for the text ‘RSS feed of ___ ‘s Tweets’ RSS feed URL of Tweets

  13. Huzzah! you say again.

  14. Depending on your browser, grab that feed URL, and throw it into Google Reader (the dummy GMail/Google account you made)

  15. In Google Reader, I suggest creating a new folder and adding each RSS feed of a Twitter-er into one of your folders (using our example, you might create a folder for each product this Product Manager manages, so you can fire off a digest email per product).  The idea is that you create a new folder for each lurking activity.

    1. You can click the drop-down next to the newly added feed, or simply drag ‘n drop the feed into the new folder (presuming you created at least one new folder to start).  If you do go through this again, clear out your Google Contacts list before connecting to Twitter so those names from the previous exercise are not ‘found’ again. Google Reader: add to folder

    2. Repeat this for each of the found Twitter-ers.  It might take a half hour, so grab a cup of coffee and settle in. Once you get into a rhythm (and if you have a good Internet connection), it takes about 20 seconds per person.  Again, YMMV.

  16. Following some international Tweeters?  No problem.  If you surf in Google Chrome or some versions of Firefox, Google translate will prompt you if you want the page translated.  Answer accordingly.  If you use Google Chrome, there’s an extension that will translate tweets and Facebook updates.

  17. Take a break.
    1. Save your work.
    2. [that’s a joke, again]

  18. In the bottom left of Google Reader, click ‘Manage Subscriptions’.  Up top, click ‘Folders and tags’. Google Reader: manage subscriptions

  19. You’ll now see a list of your folders (this is why you created them).  Look for your folder name and then scan to the right and look for the familiar RSS symbol and the word ‘private’.  Click the gray RSS symbol to toggle it to ‘public’. Google Reader: folders and tags

  20. Next, look directly to the right of that, and click on the option for view public page.  You should now see a page of just those Twitter-ers tweets.
  21. Google Reader: RSS public/private toggle

  22. Like you did before, you want to grab the RSS feed of this page (just the feed URL; we don’t want to add it to reader – that’d be a bit recursive).  Look for the ‘Atom Feed’ text on the right.  Right-click on it and pick ‘Copy Link Address’ (or the equivalent in your browser). Google Reader: text for Atom feed

  23. Head over to FeedMyInbox or any other RSS-to-email tools.  You can read what the site does on your own, but it does one thing very well: it converts an RSS feed into a once-a-day digest e-mail (up to five feeds free; after that, you have to pay).

  24. Huzzah you say again!

  25. Right-click and paste (or CTRL+V if that’s your thing) the feed URL into the first window. Enter a valid email address into the second window.  Click the huge green submit button. Feed My Imbox submit page

  26. Check your e-mail and confirm the message.  Make sure you white-list this address/ensure it doesn’t end up in junk mail.

OK.  So this seems like a fair amount of work.  But it’s 90% one-time setup.  Here’s how to use it moving forward….

  • Set up a rule (Outlook) or filter (Gmail) in your e-mail program/client that forwards this message along to other colleagues so they get it, too.Outlook rule

  • When a new Twitter-er pops on the scene, you can manually run step 7 with their email address; and then steps 12 through 14.  The rest is taken care of. GMail: create a filter


A bit of labor upfront, yes.  But if you’re trying to convince someone to get into the swing of Twitter, or if you yourself want to do some listening, but don’t have time to do the talking (baby steps), this is a good start.  How about the rest of you?  How do you listen on line?  Do you do something like this?  Or something different?

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