Rule #1: Planning Matters
One of the best metaphors for Twitter is that it’s a bar. Unlike Facebook where you interact with ‘friends’, on Twitter you can engage with almost anyone. There are millions of simultaneous conversations happening on thousands of topics. It can be overwhelming. It can also be enlightening.
The open nature of Twitter is what makes it so compelling as a potential tool for business. However, businesses that think they can create an account and start marketing with Twitter (or: spewing sales pitches) are in for a rude awakening. Not only will that strategy fail, the Twitter community could turn on the company and create a public relations nightmare for the business.
Marketing isn’t about pushing products. It’s about understanding market needs, analyzing competition, identifying the positioning ‘sweet spot’, building awareness and credibility, developing and supporting a community of loyal customers and more. One can use Twitter for business marketing as stated. In fact, one of Twitter’s unique strengths is its ‘discovery’ capabilities.
What do you want to accomplish? What are your goals and how will you know that you’re successful or going the right direction? You can start Rule #2 before having these fully completed, but you need to have your Twitter objectives nailed down before you start tweeting.
Rule #2: Listen First
Remember how we said Twitter is like a bar? How would people react if you walked into a bar (or coffee shop or other public place for socializing) and you started shouting about whatever was on your mind? Best case they’d ignore you. More likely, you’d be thrown out – and maybe never allowed back.
The same applies on using Twitter for business. Don’t spam. Relevance is essential. The Twitter community is judge and jury. It can be difficult to recover from a bad reputation so it’s best not to get one in the first place.
If you’re just getting started on Twitter, be sure to listen (read) for a while before you start posting or replying. There’s nothing wrong with being a voyeur. Even if you’re already on Twitter, take a step back and just listen once in a while. Do it on a fairly regular basis. Twitter is evolving quickly.
So what are you ‘listening’ for?
– What are the hot topics, most popular links from tweets, or most popular users?
– What are the types of tweets that get re-tweeted most?
– What are the users in your industry or target audience tweeting about?
Rule #3: Find Your Voice
When you were listening in the previous rule, you certainly noticed many different styles of tweets. If you didn’t, you should go back and listen harder.
While there is no right or wrong answer for what your Twitter style or voice should be, there are definitely considerations to make before you start using Twitter for business. You need to make sure that your voice is appropriate for the objectives that you are trying to achieve and the image that you want to portray. You should document the characteristics of your chosen voice and why they are important – this is especially useful if you will have more than one person tweeting for your organization or if you plan to hire ghost writers.
So what are the characteristics that you need to consider? One way to think about the characteristics of your Twitter voice is to map out several vectors with different extremes on each end then decide where your ideal position would be on each vector. For example, do you want your Twitter stream to be fully automated or fully manual? Professional or casual? It’s unlikely that you’ll be at either extreme, but the vector will allow you to easily visualize your voice.
Rule #4: Look Alive
Creating a Twitter account and leaving the default profile photo and background is a sure-fire way to show Twitter users that you’re not serious about Twitter or the Twitter community as a whole. There is no excuse for not investing in the small effort that it takes to create a rich profile page and profile photo.
Have a designer create something that integrates well with the Twitter profile page. The Whole Foods and Zappos examples below should give you some ideas of how to design Twitter for business effectively. Look at your competitors and do something better! If you don’t have the skills in-house, there are plenty of freelance designers that can create something totally custom without spending much. Of course you’ll want to complete the profile information and include a URL – consider a specific landing page on your website.
There are several couple schools of thought on profile photos. Since lots of people use Twitter for business, more and more logos are showing up. In our opinion, logos are not in the right spirit. Twitter provides a unique way for businesses to deliver a human touch. Our recommendation is to use a good quality, properly formatted photo if you can. There are many articles on the topic. Do a quick search to get more information and suggestions.
Now you’re ready to use Twitter for business promotion. Promote your Twitter account on your website, in email signatures, direct mail pieces, business cards, etc. If you are tweeting regularly, consider displaying them on your website or blog. There are plenty of tools that make it easy.
Rule #5: Grow Your Flock
Several strategies exist to help get more followers on Twitter. Some are a bit controversial. We’ll save those for later. Hopefully we don’t need to explain the benefits of having a lot of followers. The real question is, “Are you attracting the followers you need to get to your goals?”
Rule #4 covered the first step. Letting your existing customers and partners know how to find you will get you some Twitter followers. The second strategy is to follow companies and individuals within your industry and/or region. Some will follow you in return. But there are other benefits.
Many tools look at the relationships between users (who’s following whom) and make recommendations based on that information. As a result, following users with certain characteristics can actually help you attract followers. Genuine engagement (Rule #6) is also key to gain followers and builds off of the users you follow. Another totally acceptable way to gain followers is to follow interesting people. If you find someone who tweets interesting things related to your business, see who she follows, and follow her.
Auto-following users based on them following you or using third-party tools is where you start to get into a gray area. Tools are already starting to show up that look at the ratio of followers to friends for ranking and other purposes. It’s probably not a good idea to get your ratio completely out of whack. “Follow many but don’t auto-follow everyone” is probably the best approach.
Rule #6: Engage Genuinely
Look before you leap when it comes to Twitter. You are embarking on a journey. It can’t be viewed as a one-time event. You have to nurture and support your efforts. If your initial level of activity begins to wane, your Twitter followers will notice and will feel a sense of abandonment. Start with a comfortable, sustainable level of engagement. Engagement on Twitter is like the inverse of product pricing – it’s easy to drop prices and easy to increase Twitter engagement, but doing the reverse is exponentially more difficult.
To get started, use search.twitter.com or another Twitter search method to see who is talking about you, your brand or a keyword related to your industry. Read up and then engage when you have something informative to say. If you are looking for your user name you can only see your replies in Twitter if someone starts a tweet with ‘@(your twitter name)’ but sometimes people will put @yourname in the middle of their tweet. By searching “to:yourname” it will find any tweets that included your user name.
Using common sense combined with Rules 1-5, you should be in pretty good shape. The more time you spend on Twitter, the more efficient and effective you’ll get. Below are some tips gathered from various Twitter users around the web on how to optimize your Twitter time and avoid potential Twitter landmines:
- Clients like Tweetdeck and Twhirl make it a lot easier to manage Twitter and make you more efficient.
- Understand and use direct messages (DM) (private), replies (public) and re-tweets (RT) correctly.
- You don’t have to read every tweet or reply to every DM, but don’t ignore them all either.
- Use URL shortening tools like TinyURL, tr.im and others for cleaner tweets and more characters for you.
- Comment on others’ tweets and re-tweet what others have posted to build your place in the community.
Rule #7: Track Your Results
Once you have everything in motion, you’ll want to keep an eye on things to track your progress and to determine whether it makes sense to spend more (or less) time on Twitter for business marketing. You can easily go overboard with measurements. Here are our recommendations on the ‘must haves’ and the ‘nice to haves’.
In Rule #1 you set your Twitter objectives. What do you need to measure to make sure you’re headed in the right direction? These are your key performance indicators or KPIs. Once you know what your KPIs are, you’ll be able to figure out what tools you need.
For example, if your goal is to get visitors to your website and to sell a product, you’ll want to know how many visitors are coming to the site from Twitter, how many of those visitors buy your product and how your conversion rate compares to visitors from other sources. Web analytics tools from Yahoo, Google and others can get this information for you. Obviously this is simplified. You’ll likely have multiple goals and more KPIs for each goal, but it’s important to understand what metrics you really need and why they are important – what do they tell you and how can you use that information? You’ll need to track your KPIs on a regular basis and use them to make adjustments to your strategy as needed.
Twitter is changing the way people communicate and search for information and it hasn’t even scratched the surface in terms of its potential reach and influence.
Twitter can be used for fast, effective and inexpensive research, customer support, public relations, lead generation and more – but your efforts will almost certainly backfire if you don’t follow the explicit and unspoken policies in this vibrant and rapidly growing community.
Whether you are self-employed, a small business owner, a multi-national corporation or a government agency – a high-tech company, a manufacturer or a coffee shop, Twitter provides huge opportunities and risks.