by Elizabeth Mott
If you’re not sure whether Twitter supplants soap operas as a time sink or offers you some of your best opportunities to build relationships with customers and enhance your company’s brand identity, the answer may not surprise you. Like any marketing medium, or any medium that can be used for marketing, Twitter offers you results commensurate with how thoughtfully you approach it and how wholeheartedly you engage in it. Look past its non-traditional exterior to see Twitter’s real ability to connect people in ways that can transform your company — a little bit at a time.
1. Remember that success on Twitter can build slowly, and that trying to hurry it by buying followers or using shady shortcuts doesn’t work. As SocialMediaToday points out in a case study of hardball marketing run amok, “There is no magic pill, magic ticket or free ride to success in social media and business.”
2. Be yourself. That means two things on Twitter. First, make your tweets sound like the cohesive voice of your business. If you’re small, capitalize on your identity as a one- or two-person business and equate your size with a focus on treating customers like individuals. Second, even if you’re bigger than a sole proprietorship, assign one person who’s good at communicating your authentic value as a business to be your official and singular voice on the service. Keeping your participation real goes a long way toward attracting followers. As Twitter itself suggests, “Share photos and behind the scenes info about your business. Even better, give a glimpse of developing projects and events. Users come to Twitter to get and share the latest, so give it to them!”
Balance overt attempts to attract customers with tweets that convey your company’s personality without making an obvious commercial pitch. When you do post a discount offer or a special sales event, your followers pay greater attention to it because you’re not always explicitly soliciting their business.
4. Use your Twitter presence to gather more than customers. You can share insights with fellow business people, and even find opportunities to barter services, collaborate on a project with community implications, build a network of like-minded entrepreneurs or learn from veteran business owners. Use mentions and following strategically to build a position of authority in your field. Twitter recommends that you “Reference articles and links about the bigger picture as it relates to your business.”
5. Think twice about following everyone who follows you. If you’re using your Twitter timeline as a place to rub elbows with customers and suppliers, trying to keep up with a long list of people you followed only as a thank you turns your tweet stream into a raging river of who-can-read-all-that. If you do decide to follow back routinely, define whom you’ll follow and whom you won’t on the basis of attributes you can discern easily, then create original, non-automated thank-you responses in keeping with your focus on authenticity. As Mashable points out in an essay on the American Express OPEN Forum, “If you do decide to follow everyone, authenticity is key. Your followers will be able to tell whether they’re talking to a robot or a person — and a real person is always more valuable on Twitter.”
6. Leverage your plans for charitable giving into your Twitter strategy. Consider the relationship between Halo Pets, a holistic pet food company, and the twin websites Freekibblekat.com and Freekibble.com. Modeled on the FreeRice microgiving concept, in which visitors correctly define words to add small numbers of grains of rice to the total donated toward world hunger, these two websites donate small amounts of pet food to homeless animals in shelters. Visitors take a daily multiple-choice quiz, and right or wrong, their participation adds to the kibble donation.
New Twitter followers of the charitable sites trigger additional kibble donations, as do new followers of the Halo corporate Twitter account. Followers see discounts on pet food, previews of the daily trivia questions, and other informational and commercial tweets. The relationship unifies two congruent organizations in an endeavor that’s consistent with both their goals, and gives the commercial enterprise added credibility for its visible commitment to a cause.
7. Avoid the “too-much-information,” or TMI, phenomenon. If you overshare with your target audience, you may wear out your welcome. Never give your desired customers a reason to unfollow you. As difficult as it is to garner worthwhile followers, it can be many times more difficult to reacquire them, especially if they tell their friends why they stopped following you in the first place.
8. Don’t bribe people to follow you. It’s one thing to offer special discounts, one-time or longer-term, to your followers. It’s another to post repeated tweets about how grateful you’ll be for followers, or anything else that sounds awkward, desperate and just plain wrong. Ask yourself if you’d make the same pitch or solicit business the same way if you were on the phone or in the office with the people you’re courting on Twitter. If the answer is no, don’t implement the strategy.
9. Ignore messages — formerly direct messages — and tweets that ask specific questions or offer specific comments at your peril. If someone’s taking the time to engage you on specific grounds that relate directly to what you do or what you didn’t do, meet her halfway and learn something from how you’re perceived, good or bad.
10. Be the powerboat, not the ocean liner. Ocean liners need lots of space and time simply to turn around and move in the opposite direction. Twitter’s short, direct communications encourage and foster nimble abilities to move in new directions you weren’t expecting to go. Listen to what your customers ask, and don’t be afraid to change a bad policy swiftly in response to criticism, or continue a special offer if too few customers found out about it in time.
11. Resist the temptation to tweet about or at an event just because it’s different to do so. Different killed the Edsel, a remarkable car with advanced features — and a grille that looked like a chrome gourami. On a Network Solutions blog, Joe Loong describes five things you don’t want people remembering you tweeted about, including two that involve life and death. You don’t want to be the company that live-tweeted a child’s funeral, or the doctor live-tweeting a kidney operation. Some things need not see the light of day.
12. Don’t get into a back-and-forth defending yourself against an accusation of a deal gone wrong from a disgruntled customer who clearly gets more enjoyment out of visibility than you do. Take the high road. In the long run, it’s far less expensive to maintain.
13. Sign up for Twitter to help build brand equity for your business, not to become a compulsive retweeter with nothing original to say. If your Twitter output consists of nothing but what other people think, your customers and prospects have no idea where you stand and every reason to suspect you don’t, either. The occasional retweet can be a great way to show your agreement with an equally great idea, but think about how annoying “me-too” behavior can be in real life, and avoid being a digital bore.