How to follow a Twitter account without using Twitter

Say you’ve found a Twitter user whose posts you’d like to read. You don’t want to post anything yourself, you don’t want to know what other people are posting, you don’t care about trending topics or popular users or hashtags or whatever – you just want to follow that one user’s Twitter posts without any fuss.

This is surprisingly difficult.

I recently thought that I’d enjoy keeping up with Brandon Sanderson‘s posts on Twitter using my new Android smartphone – maybe I could just get a quick notification and a link to his tweet on my phone whenever he posts something. I looked into using an RSS feed to do this, but nope, Twitter doesn’t do RSS. So I gave in and decided to try using a proper Twitter app on my phone. And there are lots of nice Twitter clients to choose from on Android…but, well, that’s exactly the problem. There are too many to choose from, and they have too many distracting features I don’t care about, like tools for posting tweets yourself…while they don’t have features I do care about, like options that would let me see Brandon Sanderson’s replies to other users along with his normal tweets.

But there is a better way! And what’s more, with this method you can do more than just get notifications on an Android – you could also get notifications on an iPad or iPhone, or email notifications, or an SMS, or a phone call where a robot reads out the tweet…Though you may want to avoid that last one if you share a phone number with anybody.

Where we’re going today

IFTTT (“If This, Then That”) is a website that lets you automatically trigger a certain action when a certain thing happens. That sounds very vague, but that’s because IFTTT is so versatile. The trigger action can be anything from “My Android phone connected to my home wifi network” to “I posted something new on my blog” to “It’s 5:00 pm on Sunday” to “Somebody mentioned me on Reddit”. The resulting action can be anything from “Send me an email” to “Post a new photo on my Facebook account” to “Turn off my lights” (if you have the right kind of lights) to “Upload something to my Dropbox account”.

With IFTTT, you create a “recipe” that has one “trigger” and one “action”. I’m going to use IFTTT to create a recipe with a trigger of Brandon Sanderson tweeting something and an action of a notification being sent to me. I’ll show you how to get Android notifications as well as two different types of email notifications.

Setting up a Twitter trigger

Okay, let’s get going! First you’ll need to go to the IFTTT website and sign up for an account. Click the blue button. I know it’s hard to find, but I think you can do it.

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Fill in the information and click “Create account”.

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Go through the introduction…

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IFTTT asks you to choose three “Channels” you’re interested in using so it can recommend some recipes to you. It doesn’t matter what you choose, though.

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Now let’s start actually creating our recipe for getting notified of tweets. In the top right-hand corner, click on the little arrow next to your username, then click on “Create”.

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First we’re going to set up the trigger action – in my case, Brandon Sanderson tweeting. Click on “This”.

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There are a lot of options for triggers! But for now we’re just looking for the Twitter one. Find or search for it and then click on it. (You’ll probably see an icon for Twitter there, unlike me with my strange Internet connection.)

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Now we’re going to have to activate the Twitter channel, which is a bit of a pain…but you won’t have to do it again if you make another IFTTT recipe using Twitter!

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To do this you’ll need a Twitter account. If you already have one, you can just sign in, but I’m going to quickly sign up for one here. I’ll use this account to activate IFTTT’s Twitter channel and never use it again.

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Fill in the information and click Sign Up. Like I said, I’m only making this account so I can use IFTTT with Twitter, so I’m not even bothering to give Twitter an email that I actually check – I’m using a disposable email address from Mailinator.

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Now click “Authorize app” and IFTTT will be able to create a Twitter trigger.

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Twitter will send you back to IFTTT; click “Done” and then go back to the browser window where you were working directly with IFTTT. Now you’re be able to click “Continue to the next step.”

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Now it’s time to actually choose what will trigger a notification! So, we should choose the “New tweet by a specific user” trigger, right…?

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Actually, that depends. If you choose this trigger, you’ll get all the tweets that the person you choose sends out to everyone….but if they direct a message to a specific user, on the other hand, you won’t get it. So if Brandon Sanderson tweets “The 5th Alcatraz book is coming out today!”, I’d get it, but if he tweeted “@MarcTauss What exactly is that wooden thing on the cover of the 4th book?”, I wouldn’t be notified. Now I, for one, love to eavesdrop on Brandon Sanderson’s exchanges with fans, so I want to make sure to get all the tweets he sends to specific people. And so I’m going to choose another trigger – the “New tweet from search” one.

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Now I’ll search for everything coming from Brandon Sanderson. In Twitter search lingo, this is “from:BrandSanderson include:retweets”. If you’re trying to follow another user besides Brandon Sanderson (though why I can’t fathom), put their username in instead of “BrandSanderson”. So for instance, “from:FiatLingua include:retweets”. This is how you can get all the messages coming from somebody, not just the ones they send out generally.

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You’ve successfully set up a trigger! Now let’s see how you can get a notification sent to you when your trigger fires.

Setting up a notification action

Start by clicking on “that”.

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Well, there are sure a lot of choices here, too! I’m only going to demonstrate how to set up Android notifications and email notifications, but clearly there are plenty of other options available for you to try.

For now, though, let’s see how you could set up…

Simple email notifications

Find the cleverly named “Email” channel and click on it…

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Then click “Send me an email”.

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Now you can tell IFTTT what the subject line and text of each notification email should be. See those weird gray boxes? When you actually get an email, they’ll be replaced by information from the actual tweet. So if Brandon Sanderson sent out a tweet saying “The 5th Alcatraz book will be released tomorrow!”, I’d get an email with the subject “@BrandSanderson: The 5th Alcatraz book will be released tomorrow!”, and once I opened up the email I would see “via http://twitter.com/BrandSanderson”.

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If you click on one of the grey boxes, they’ll change to text surrounded by double curly braces, and then you can move them around as you like.

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Once you’re editing some text, you’ll also see a little test tube icon in the upper right corner. If you click on that, you can add more magical grey boxes that will replaced with different things when you actually get the email. I’m going to add a link to the actual tweet in the body of the email. So I’m going to click on the test tube icon, select “LinkToTweet”, and then click “Add Ingredient”.

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Additionally, I would like to have the text of the tweet put in the body of the email, so I’m going to move that {{Text}} thing. I’ll also make a few other changes. As you see, you can add text wherever you like; just don’t change what’s in between curly braces or the grey boxes won’t magically get replaced by information from tweets anymore.

When you’re finished, click “Create Action”.

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Now you just need to give your recipe a title, click “Create Recipe”, and you’ll be all set!

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And there you go! Next time the user you chose tweets, you’ll get an email like this:

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Email digest notifications

Instead of sending you an email every time somebody tweets, IFTTT can instead just send you an email every day or every week with all the tweets that have been sent out in the interim – an email digest. Let’s see how that would work out. First off, once you’re at the “that” part of making an IFTTT recipe, find and click on the “Email Digest” channel.

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Now decide whether you’d like to get an email every day or every week. I’ll be trying a weekly digest, but it’s basically the same process to set up a daily one.

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Here you can tell IFTTT when you want to get your digest and what should be in it. As I explained in the instructions for normal email notifications, you can move around the curly-braced grey boxes or delete them as you’d like, and you can add in other grey boxes by clicking on the test tube. Besides that, you can add or delete whatever other text you want.

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When you’re done, click “Create Action”…

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…name your recipe, click “Create Recipe”…

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…and you’re done! Now at the time you set, you should get an email from IFTTT with tweets like this:

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Android notifications

Now let’s try something a little more tricky: an IFTTT recipe that sends a notification to my Android phone when Brandon Sanderson tweets. So, once you get to the “that” part of a recipe, find and click on the “Android Notifications” channel…

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Click “Send a notification”…

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Now you can decide what the notification will actually say, using those same magical grey boxes I showed you before.

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I’m going to switch around a few things and then click “Create Action”.

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Name your recipe and click “Create Recipe” as always.

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But wait a minute. How will IFTTT know what phone to send the notifications to? It won’t…until you install the IFTTT app on your Android device! Let’s see how you can set that up. First, head over to Google Play and search for “IFTTT”.

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Now choose “IF by IFTTT” and install it.

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Click “Accept”. It does want access to a lot of stuff, but that’s because you can use it to do a lot of stuff.

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Once it’s finished installing, open it up…

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…flip through IFTTT’s little intro…

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…and you’ll get to a login screen. You’ve already made an IFTTT account, so click on the “Sign In” link at the bottom.

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Fill the username and password you chose and click “Login”…

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…and there you go! Now when Brandon Sanderson tweets I’ll hear my message tone, and then when I look at my phone I’ll see a notification:

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Which I can then click on:

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Which I can then click on again:

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And then I can click the “Open in Browser” button to open up the tweet in my browser, which will show me any replies to the tweet as well as any other tweets it was replying to.

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And there you go, that’s how I’m now following Brandon Sanderson’s tweets without having to bother with the rest of Twitter. If you try this yourself, let me know how it goes!

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