Twitter is great for keeping friends and family updated with what you’re doing, but it can also be a good business tool too – you can keep customers updated with news, blog posts, feature releases etc.
On WorldTV for example we built an ‘in-application alerts box’ that disseminates news right within our Flash based Editor, and is powered by Twitter. Effectively we are using Twitter as a simple CMS. Whenever we want to add a new message to our alerts box, we just log into our Twitter account and write something. Since our blog is connected to Twitter those updates get posted automatically to the alerts box too.
Periodically we want to be able to go through our list of registered users’ email addresses and add any new ones to our Twitter account as people we ‘follow’, if for no other reason than it’s a good way to let those people know we’re on Twitter and they can follow us if they choose.
Twitter has an e-mail address import feature but it only supports specific web based e-mail services like Gmail, Yahoo, AOL etc. There is no option to upload a text or Excel file.
The workaround is to make use of one of the aforementioned services to do the import for you and then pull that in to Twitter. There’s a couple of gotcha’s along the way so I’ll take you through the process with Gmail.
(I chose Gmail for the task but the same idea could work with Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL etc too. I’ve just not tried it.)
Sticking with Gmail I suggest you create a new Gmail account for bringing in your e-mail addresses. You could use your existing Gmail account but depending on how many addresses you are bringing in and the circumstances, you might not want to mix the two sets of contacts. For example, Gmail only lets you delete 500 contacts at a time (not very useful if you are importing thousands) and Twitter can’t distinguish between your Gmail contacts in any way – it will import them all.
Depending on the number of contacts you are trying to add, I would suggest splitting them into chunks of no more than 15,000 at a time. I don’t know what the limit is with Google or with Twitter but this seems to be a workable number. Depending on your audience, those 15,000 e-mails could yield 200-750 Twitter contacts.
To upload / import your contacts into Google you will need a CSV file such as those created by Excel. Google has instructions on this but basically a two column spreadsheet with all your e-mail addresses in the first column and the name of the person in the second will suffice. Make sure the columns have the descriptions ‘Email Address’ and ‘Name’ in the first row above each column so Google can figure out which is which. You do need a name column (even though Twitter will ignore this), or else Google won’t import it.
Once imported into Gmail, you can then go to the ‘Find People’ section of Twitter and give Twitter your Gmail account details. It’s at this stage you find out how many of the e-mail addresses you had are actually Twitter users. In my experience Twitter frequently gives error messages during the adding contacts process but they still seem to get added anyway.
Once you are all done, I suggest deleting the Gmail account you created if only to play nice and free up the space for others. Enjoy!

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