Often times when someone new follows me on Twitter I’ll usually spend a few minutes going through their timeline to learn about their background and interests. I’ll also read timelines for new people I encounter in @replies or retweeted messages. In addition to a person’s timeline, I recently started reading through Favorites which, in some cases it seems, is a better way to learn about someone.

But the information you’ll find in Favorites is sort of hit-or-miss. I did a quick (and very ad hoc) survey of how Favorites are used by the people I’m following. My observations are that Twitter “celebrities” (ie, those people who have a very large follower base and generate hundreds of tweets) have a very low percentage of Favorites compared to their total tweets. Which is understandable, I guess, since tagging a tweet as a Favorite takes time and their purpose in using Twitter is most likely broad communication for marketing- or evangelizing-type purposes. The reputations of the people in the celebrity group usually proceeds them anyways, so it would seem that their Favorites would be less useful for learning more about who they are.

For the non-celebrity group, say those people with a few hundred followers and who tweet with much less frequency, I found that it’s 50-50 on whether you’ll find Favorites of any value. It seems that most people have tried Favorites as a feature but don’t keep-up with the idea. That’s too bad since I think Favorites can offer a lot of potential if used in the right way.

Twitter has developed Favorites so that it’s public; people can see your list of Favorite tweets even if they’re not logged into the service. Therefore, it’s important to think about how you’re using Favorites. Do you favorite tweets so you can remember or archive them? Have you thought about the tweets that you’re tagging as Favorites from the perspective of someone visiting your Twitter profile, and how that information might be useful to summarize your interests? Or maybe you’re not effectively using the Favorites feature and there’s really nothing meaningful for anyone to see; if that’s the case then you could be getting a lot more value out of the Twitter service by rethinking your approach.

Favorites is a much less talked about feature of Twitter but its potential, when it’s used properly, could be significant. Your Twitter Favorites can summarize your interests and can highlight to your followers and the Twitter public those ideas, concepts, and thoughts expressed through Twitter, by you and by the people you’re following, that you find meaningful and important.

Favorites are a very important part of the Twitter feature set and to leverage it you’ll need to take a little extra time to pick appropriate tweets for your Favorites list. In addition, think about linking to your Twitter Favorites page from your Website or blog so that people in your community can have a convenient way to find the information that you’ve flagged as important; I created a link to my Twitter Favorites on this blog page to make that information more accessible. And if you’re looking for ways to make Twitter more useful, improve the way you’re currently using the Favorites feature.