We're in the early days of using Twitter, and while we're struggling with it a little, it certainly has been interesting. Twitter was not designed with businesses in mind; however, corporate culture has embraced it in a big way over the past year.
For the uninitiated, Twitter is a social messaging utility that is often described as a "micro-blog". Basically, you log into your Twitter account and post short messages ("tweets") about what you're up to. Messages are limited to 140 characters, about the length of an average sentence. With an estimated 3 million people using Twitter, someone somewhere is tweeting about your interest, your problem, your industry or maybe even your product.
At first glance Twitter can seem kind of trivial, but between messages like "Still reading my vacation emails - 112 more to go ...," and "Why do baristas insist on double cupping?" a lot of valuable information is being exchanged in short bursts.
Since we're fairly new to Twitter, our network is still quite small --- but everyday I am exposed to industry news, advice and resources, upcoming events and more. Today someone twittered a tip for working with Ruby on Rails that my colleague found helpful.
Over time and "tweets", you start to notice patterns and gain a better feel for people's interests and expertise. After only a few weeks on Twitter I take notice when certain people link to articles or post comments about specific subjects. I have come to think of them as authorities, even thought-leaders, and this is validated by their online following, the conversations they take part in and the quality of the resources they highlight. A by-product of all this is that their businesses are now on my radar. The whole process has been very natural.
Earlier this year Lee Odden of Top Rank Blog conducted a reader poll and asked people how they use Twitter. The following were the top three responses:
● Sharing links to items of interest to your network (34%)
● Networking for new contacts (18%)
● Reinforcing current network contacts (16%)
All these activities extend the reach of a small business. Twitter can allow you to maintain contact with hundreds, even thousands of people, in an instant. It can also help business owners maintain relationships more easily, as well as connect with like-minded people, or even people who need your service.
For bigger companies, Twitter has become an essential venue for brand monitoring. Companies such as Dell (DELL), General Motors (GM), H&R Block (HRB), Kodak (EK), and Whole Foods Market (WFMI) are among a growing using list actively using Twitter to build their brands, highlight (ahem! - market) new products and even provide customer service. Companies are using Twitter to provide product support, answer questions, etc. Dell, for example, has more than 20 Twitter accounts, each managed by an individual rather than a blobby marketing department.
Now back to our experience with Twitter. What we're struggling with, and what many businesses starting out on Twitter struggle with is: what do we tweet about? It's a lot easier if you are tweeting as yourself for your own business. It's also great if your company is big enough - and action-packed enough - to have multiple people tweeting as individuals on behalf of the company (such as the Dell example). It can be a little more tricky to "find your voice" as an SME. But as with many things, the more you do it, the less self conscious you are and the easier it becomes.
We found the following tips about "What to Say" from John Jantsch's "Twiiter for Business" guide and Chris Brogan's 50 Ideas for Using Twitter helpful :
● If you want to generate feedback or start a conversation, pose some questions
● If you want to promote an event, don't just post a link to it, ask for ideas or tips
● Don't dump links - explain why you think the information is interesting or valuable
● Give props - tweet about the cool things other people and business are up to
● When you tweet about yourself, try to make helpful or informative
● Share something that "humanizes" your business - pictures, causes, goings-on, etc.
While we're still not tweeting multiple times a day, we're gaining a better understanding of what works as well as what not to tweet about. Now that more people in our company are engaged with Twitter, I think we'll have a wider range of news and happenings to tweet about. I'm sure we'll still mess up a couple times by posting things that are boring or too promotional, but we're hoping our followers will let us know. So far we've learned that being real works best ... just like customer support, people want a human touch, not an automated message.
Twitter Articles and Resources
Don't be that Guy - Shannon Paul's Very Official Blog
Twitter for Business Guide - by John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing
50 Ideas on Using Twitter for Business - Chris Brogan's Blog
How Companies Use Twitter to Bolster Their Brands - Business Week