If you're like most people, trying to make sense of Twitter can feel like trying to hear everyone's conversations in the middle of a crowded restaurant.
With 100 million active users and as many as 1 billion tweets posted every five days, Twitter can easily become a lot of meaningless noise. The amount of chatter is enough to drive someone away from the platform, if not insane.
What can you do? How can you make sense of your endless tweet stream? Here are some practical tips:
1. Follow only relevant users.
The simplest way to make your Twitter stream more useful is to be selective about the users you follow. What interests you or your company? What kind of updates do you want to see? Be strategic about which accounts enter your feed. Only pick those who post content you find useful and interesting.
Not only will this make it easier to stay up-to-date, but it will make you look more interesting to others. On Twitter there's a common perception that the follower/following ratio shows how influential you are.
2. Use lists.
With Twitter's built-in lists feature you can organize users into easily-accessible groups, whether you follow them individually or not. When you break down Twitter this way, it's like you have multiple streams you can access from one location. To catch the chatter of one particular group, simply click on that stream.
Plus, you can also follow the lists of other users to check in on certain groups whenever you like.
To set up a list, navigate to your lists page. From your profile, click the lists tab on the left. Click the "create list" button at the right. Then, add desired users to that list from their profile pages.
3. Implement tools.
If you want to follow a lot of people, take advantage of one of the many helpful third-party apps that make it easier to keep track of many users.
When you link your account with ManageFlitter, for example, you can see valuable stats on people you follow, such as who follows you back, is inactive, tweets a lot, hardly ever tweets, etc. This will help you pare down your following list for greater relevancy. MG Siegler of TechCrunch says ManageFlitter helped him "eliminate over 200 people I was following that I determined I shouldn't be."
Other valuable tools for managing your Twitter stream include dashboards like Seesmic, TweetDeck and Hootsuite; Twitoria to identify inactive friends; or Tweepi to make sense of your followers.
4. Stay updated on your mobile device.
Nowadays, it's actually more common to use your phone to check Twitter than not—as many as 55 percent of people grab updates while on the go.
Whether you check in from Twitter's mobile site or through one of the many Twitter-centric smartphone apps, your mobile device gives you more ways to quickly check in on your stream and/or lists.
"Twitter is much more fun if you connect it to your cell phone," says Michael Hyatt. "By doing so, you can receive updates from those you are following (or just some of them) as well as send your own updates."
What are your favorite ways to organize and better understand your Twitter feed?
Shanna Mallon is a writer for Straight North, an Internet marketing Chicago company that provides SEO, Web development and other online marketing services. Shanna writes for B2B clients in various industries, from providers of an environmental monitoring solution to makers of fire retardant clothing.