10 tips for businesses starting out with Twitter

There’s been a lot of buzz about Twitter recently in the media, so its natural to want to know what all the fuss is about, and learn more about how Twitter might benefit you, both personally and in business.

I thought it might be a good idea, to put together a quick beginners guide to Twitter for our clients, and a list of my top 10 tips for using Twitter in business, to help you understand the basics of Twitter, and how you can use Twitter to help your business.

So what is Twitter?

Twitter is a social communication network that asks the question: “What are you doing now?” Users can answer via the Twitter website, sms, mobile phone application or a desktop application. Twitter updates (commonly referred to as ‘tweets’) have to be under 140 characters in length.

Its natural to think that you couldn’t possibly say anything meaningful in 140 characters, but the quality of communication is actually quite surprising, once you become familiar with using Twitter. Unlike writing a blog, Twitter is a great place to tell the world what you’re thinking before you’ve had a chance to even think about it.

I think its universal, that when someone joins and uses Twitter for the first time, there is a slow start. It takes a while to understand and see the benefits of using Twitter. Commonly, people ask…

  • why would I want to tell everyone about something I’ve just done?
  • why would they care?
  • why do I want to hear all about the mundane things that other people do?

But after a while, once you start following enough people, the right people, and have people following you, you have an “A-ha!” moment. Conversations start to build with people and information is shared.

Quite simply, Twitter is many things, including…

  • a multi-directional conversation.
  • micro-blogging.
  • social.
  • like an internet nervous system.
  • real time search engine.

Tweeting is being social

Through the use of links in your tweets, you can share almost anything, making Twitter the “social everything” network.

  • Social Updating
  • Social Media
  • Social News
  • Social Browsing
  • Social Networking

Social Updating
At its core, twitter was primarily designed for and is perfect for keeping up-to-date on what your “real-world” friends and family are up to.

Social Media
Share links to videos on youtube, photos on flickr and other photo sharing sites such as twitpics.

Social News
As something happens, you can often see trending topics on twitter as people tweet about it, 15 to 30 minutes before major news sites report the breaking news.

Social Browsing
You can share links to blog posts and stories that your friends and followers might find interesting. Twitter works best, not when you say “I had toast for breakfast”, but when you say “did you read
this great article?”.

Social Networking
Meet new people online who are in the same industry as you, or share the same hobbies and  interests. If you play guitar, follow other guitar fanatics and they will hopefully post links to interesting guitar websites, guitar tutorials, videos etc.

Complimenting Old Media

Twitter is a new form of media that compliments old media. TV didn’t kill radio and radio didn’t kill off the newspaper. Its unlikely that Twitter will harm old media in any way, in fact I imagine it will enhance the old media experience. There are signs that this is already happening.

When watching a sporting event on TV (eg, the recent Bathurst 1000 motor race), doing a search at the time, on Twitter for Bathurst reveals instant feedback from fans of the race. People sharing their thoughts with everyone about the day’s events as they unfold.

The same thing happened when radio station Triple J aired the hottest 100 songs for the year. People tweeted their thoughts on whether they agreed or disagreed with the song selection. New media giving instant feedback to old media.

It can also be useful at live events. Go to a conference and people will be tweeting feedback about the speaker, about the points the speaker is making, and tweeting links to websites containing useful information relating to particular point in the topic of the speech. There are even journalists tweeting Question Time live from Federal Parliament.

Twitter for business

When used in the right way, Twitter can be a great tool for business. It allows you to engage with your potential customers, and gain feedback from existing customers.

If you are selling a product or service, twitter can be used as a great way to promote a product offer, or marketing message. While its not the revenue channel, it can be a good  lead generator.

Build a sense of community around your business/product/service. If you have a great reputation with your customers, they will often retweet (the act or resending your tweet to all of their followers) your message, acting as a respected testimonial.

10 tips for businesses starting to use twitter

  1. First up, present yourself well.
    When you follow other people, they receive an email telling them that you’re following. Naturally they will click through to your twitter page to find out who you are, to see if you’re worth following back or not. Present your twitter page and profile professionally (otherwise they could think you’re a spammer). Create an avatar (an image that represents you or your business – company logo perhaps?). Write a genuine profile. Even design an interesting looking background for your profile page that suits your company’s branding.
  2. Be active, engage and be genuine.
    Communicating on Twitter should be no different from the real world. It might seem hard, but it is possible to be genuine and engaging in 140 characters. Following people and tweeting often helps people to find you. This might sound like the opposite of everything else I’m about to say, but don’t worry about how many followers you have. Be genuine (Tweet as if you were talking to real people, face-to-face) and tweet regularly and people will follow.
  3. Crowd Source – Ask questions.
    Ask your followers questions (crowd sourcing), its a great way to start a conversation, it creates an excuse for your followers to interact with you, you’ll get feedback, and see who is actively following you.
  4. Share, don’t spam!
    When you do promote your own product or service, don’t spam! Try to tweet about something unrelated but interesting/useful first to get attention. Write your tweets so they don’t sound like ads. If there’s something new or interesting, a new special offer, or useful information about your product or service, then share that information. Tweeting the same advert every hour will drive followers away fast!
  5. Use a desktop Twitter application.
    There are a few good twitter applications (my favorite is Tweetdeck) that allow you to get organized. Once you start following a lot of people, it becomes harder to keep up with everyone. With an app like Tweetdeck, you can organize the people you follow into groups. Place people you really want to keep in contact with into smaller groups. Use the application’s search function to create several searches relating to your business.
  6. Search and monitor.
    Search on Twitter for people tweeting about your company, product or service. Search for people tweeting about your industry, and your competitors. Following these people is a way of introducing your business to someone who may not have heard of you. Monitor the searches for feedback (both positive or negative) about your business. Observe trending topics. If a topic related to your business or product is trending on twitter, and you use the term in your tweets, chances are your tweets at that time will be seen by a lot more people.
  7. Respond.
    If someone has a complaint, try to respond in a quick and helpful manner. People will often use twitter to vent, not expecting a response. So the simple act of trying to take care of the problem personally is a great gesture. Try to make contact publicly, then fix the problem privately (direct message, email or phone), and then follow up publicly on twitter again. If someone compliments your business, reply and/or retweet.
  8. Consider timezones.
    Nobody sits in front of twitter 24 hours a day, so rewording and sending the same message later will help you reach more people. If your market is worldwide, you need to think about timezones. Send tweets when you think your local market would be in front of the computer, but also rewrite the tweet to say something similar to send later (don’t resend the same tweet – no one likes spam!). If you are rewording and resending your message, try to intersperse them with other tweets, to avoid them looking like spam when a new potential follower visits your profile page.
  9. Share Multimedia.
    Use links to videos and photos demonstrating your products (Tweetdeck and other Twitter apps make this very easy to do). Link to other people’s positive blog posts about your business/product, it’s a testimonial.
  10. Retweet and Give credit.
    Retweet interesting tweets that other people have sent. It costs you nothing, your followers might find it informative, and the original person who posted the tweet will appreciate you spreading the word. Retweeting is also very handy when you have tweeters block (can’t think of anything to tweet about). Give credit when retweeting someone else’s tweet. Apart from it being a nice thing to do, your retweet shows up on their twitter stream (as a “mention” – you mention their name in your retweet). If it’s someone that’s not already following you, you’re (in a way) introducing yourself to them.