You could be forgiven for thinking that Twitter is taking over the world. A journalist’s dream, it provides a constant stream of information that forms the bedrock for an increasing number of news stories.
Barely a day goes by without a story either based on information gleaned from Twitter, or about Twitter itself, appearing in one or all of the national papers. It is therefore unsurprising that, apparently, all the world’s a-Twitter.
Different people view Twitter in very different ways. Those outside the ‘Twittersphere’ tend to see it either as an entertaining diversion or as an incomprehensible waste of time. At the other end of the spectrum are those who begin to have palpitations after a few hours away from their screens. Frequently overlooked, however, is the rapidly increasing number of businesses using Twitter as a new marketing tool - and deriving significant benefit from it.
Twitter presents a number of exciting opportunities for businesses. It offers an unrivalled means by which companies can communicate directly with their customers, while simultaneously helping to build and solidify their position as a dominant presence.
What is Twitter?
In the most basic terms, Twitter is a tool that allows you to tell anyone anything you like - as long as you can fit it into 140 characters or less. By ‘following’ your Twitter feed people will be alerted when you make a new post. Likewise, you can see what others are saying by following them or visiting their profile. Every time you make a new post, every one of your followers will be able to see it.
Perhaps the most pertinent question, though, is, ‘Why would I use Twitter?’ Twitter is very much what you make of it. But there are five main reasons why businesses might choose to use the service.
- Brand monitoring. Twitter is a very useful tool for listening to what others are saying about your company, or about your competitors. Crucially, it also provides an opportunity for you to engage with the people that are talking about you and your brand.
- Networking. Twitter is one of the easiest ways to get in touch with likeminded businesspeople, or to network with companies and individuals who might be able to help you out.
- Inspiration. The sheer stream of knowledge and information available on the Twittersphere is extraordinary. If you are in need of new ideas, Twitter is an excellent place to start.
- Leadership and dominance. If you are trying to build or solidify your position as a ‘thought leader’, Twitter is a great way to share your content and increase your following and readership.
- Product promotion. Finally, Twitter provides opportunities for simple product promotion - but this is far more successful if you can come up with interesting and unusual ways to utilise the medium.
Many businesses start out on Twitter assuming that they can simply plug their products with one-line ‘come and get it’ calls to action. The important thing to remember is that Twitter is a community - one-way communication is not the point, and it does not work in this medium. Repeated posts that are no more than advertisements will look like spam to the rest of the community, and will be counterproductive.
Twitter can seem complex and confusing to the uninitiated. In reality it is a very intuitive service to use, but it may help to give a rundown of the basic concepts of Twitter.
- Tweet: a 140-character message broadcast to all your followers, and available for all users to read on your profile page.
- Follow: when you follow a user, their tweets will appear on your Twitter home page (distinct from your profile page, which displays tweets you have sent). They will also appear in the list of people you are following, which is a useful way for other users to determine whether or not you have shared interests.
- Reply: a tweet sent directly to another user. This is often a way to start a discussion, or answer a question posed by a user to their followers.
- Handle: another user’s username, prefaced by ‘@’. A user’s handle, without the ‘@’, is also the second part of their profile URL. For example: http://twitter.com/simplybusiness
- Retweet: to post a duplicate of another user’s tweet, including their handle and sometimes some commentary. A good way of sharing useful information with your followers, and increasing your value to the Twittersphere.
One of the most important things to remember about Twitter is that it is not the preserve of tech companies or the very nerdy. On the contrary - amongst the major reasons for Twitter’s stellar success has been its ease of use, and its value to ‘normal’ people.
Leveraging Twitter for business
From the outset, you should decide what you want to get out of Twitter. Look again at the list of reasons for using the service above, and pick at least one. This will serve as your objective.
For example, if you are intending to use Twitter to monitor ‘chat’ about your business and brand, your best bet is to use the excellent near-real-time search function. This tool allows you to monitor certain keywords or phrases. The page will update every time your chosen phrases are tweeted about.
You must then decide whether you intend to engage with those who are tweeting about your brand. Twitter works best when you treat it as a multi-way conversation, so even if users are talking unfavourably about your company, you should still consider interacting with them. Twitter provides a valuable opportunity for you to put your side of the story, and hopefully rectify problems with customers. In this way, you can think of it as an extended customer support tool. For more hints on this type of use, you may also wish to read our article on profiting from complaints.
Alternatively, you may intend to use Twitter as a means to increase brand recognition and cement your position as a ‘thought leader’. In these cases, the old internet adage rings true - content is king.
You should think carefully about what you are going to tweet about. Users with a high ‘signal to noise’ ratio are the ones that gather and retain followers the most efficiently. You should gear your content to the interests and needs of your network; for example, if you are aiming to build a network of UK-based restaurant owners it is utterly pointless tweeting about a double glazing conference in Cincinnati - regardless of how interesting you might find it. The best content is that which is valuable to your network, and unlikely to be found unless you share it. If it is written by you, all the better.
Twitter for lead generation
Finally, many businesses wish to use Twitter as a way of generating leads. Again, the search function is a great tool for this. Monitoring keywords that are relevant to the products or services offered by your business is a good way of finding people in need of your services. Twitter’s Advanced Search allows you to narrow your results based on location or language.
It is worth remembering that Twitter should be thought of as a ‘first contact’ opportunity when being used for lead generation. Do not try to negotiate a deal on Twitter - it probably won’t work. Instead, keep an eye out for people who seem to be in need of your services, get in touch with them, and arrange to chat further by email or over the phone.
Building your network
In the short-term, adding new users to your follow list is the best way of building your network. If your last few tweets are of interest, these users are likely to follow you back.
In the longer term, you will only be able to grow and sustain your network with a continued stream of interesting, valuable information. Twitter requires a time investment. Many people do not understand that Twitter is, amongst other things, a marketing activity in and of itself. From a standing start, it will require a not insignificant amount of effort to begin producing results. When it does, though, Twitter has the potential to pay dividends.