Twitter listsI’ve done a little Twitter housekeeping the last few evenings.

I had a couple goals in mind. One to make Twitter work for me as a relationship building tool. If I could see what was being shared by the people I wanted to get to know better, I could engage them and nurture a relationship.

Secondly, LexBlog, through its LXBN Network, has almost 8,000 lawyer members, some more active on Twitter than others. I wanted to be able to see, to the extent feasible, what they were sharing and give them a shout out when appropriate.

I did this by deleting some of the people I was following (mostly companies) and getting 90% plus of those deleted into lists. Those I continued to follow (and I will reduce the number further) I worked to get into relevant lists. Not to worry if I ‘stopped following you,’ I actually made it easier for me to see what you’re sharing, retweet it, and connect with you.

Alexandra Samuel (@awsamuel), VP of Social Media at Vision Critical, nailed why organize Twitter and use Twitter lists in a post in the Harvard Business Review this morning.

I believe there’s a better way [than a news feed] to use Twitter: as a relationship medium, one that helps you find, connect, and converse with people. Being the first with a nugget of industry gossip is nice, but creating, nourishing and sustaining meaningful working relationships is far more fundamental to your professional success and career development.

And with thoughtful use, Twitter can help support those relationships. Instead of the self-organized sphere of Google Reader, you can use Twitter as a system where others do the filtering for you: a network you’ve assembled that is telling you to “check this out,” or better yet, “read this, and here’s why it matters to you.”

How do you to set up Twitter as a relationship medium?

The key to making effective, satisfying use of Twitter is to keep your attention focused on the people who matter most to you.

You do that by using Twitter lists to organize your tweets, giving each list a name that prompts you to think about how you want to relate to each set of people you follow. A multi-column Twitter client like HootSuite (one of the world’s most popular Twitter clients) can help you focus on your lists rather than your home feed, so you’re much less likely to get overwhelmed. (Full disclosure: My employer, Vision Critical, built a survey app that plugs into HootSuite.)

If you rely on relationships and a strong word of mouth reputation to get your best work, and which lawyer doesn’t, you need to make Twitter work for you. Otherwise Twitter is, at best, a firehouse of news feeds.

One you set up lists on your desktop, there are any number of applications such as Hootsuite, Twitter, or Twitterrific you can use on your iPad or smartphone to leverage your Twitter lists.

It’s very nice to be able to stand in line at Starbucks and flip through your Twitter lists so as to engage clients and the influencers of those clients (i.e, bloggers and reporters). It’s the stuff relationships are made of.

As a heads up, Samuel goes on in her Harvard Business Review Post to detail how to set up and use Twitter lists on Twitter. She’s also got book out today, entitled Work Smarter with Twitter and HootSuite (only $3.99), published by Harvard Business Review Press.

Image courtesy of Flickr by puuikibeach.