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Effort = Authenticity, Persistence and Active Engagement

November 20, 2009
Is Twitter a major hub for the changing landscape of internet communication, or is it a soapbox for anyone and everyone to share with millions of uninterested souls what they just had for lunch?

For the past year or more, mainstream media and some of the prime movers of emerging ideas have been buzzing about Twitter. By now nearly everyone has heard some great things about the media giant: everything from changing the way people keep in touch with each other in their day to day lives to revolutionizing the way products are sold and politicians elected. But for many, immediate first impressions paint a different picture; one of a constant stream of noise announcing to the world some of the most banal thoughts and activities of our culture. So which is true? Is Twitter a major hub for the changing landscape of internet communication, or is it a soapbox for anyone and everyone to share with millions of uninterested souls what they just had for lunch?

Somewhat predictably, the answer is: both. Like most things in life, both personal and in the workplace, Twitter can only give back as much as you put into it. Getting past the noise and using the system for marketing and building your brand is going to take some effort.

Who Is On Twitter?

Like the real world around it, the people on Twitter are not, as a whole, a singularly focused group. While some networks and communities concentrate effort into specific areas of pursuit, Twitter is extremely open to supporting the interests and desires of anyone willing to take 30 seconds to sign up. Although chances are that the majority of users won't be too terribly interested in what your business has to say, it is also likely that at least some will. And unlike more focused communities, Twitter offers the opportunity to have your ideas organically spread to people with a more modest interest in your area of expertise; people who might not otherwise join a more focused service.

In essence, Twitterers are everybody, along with all the good and bad that entails. There is a more active process to ascertain exactly which members are a perfect fit to be your followers, though tools like Twellow, Trendistic (formerly Twist) and TweetBeep can help narrow the field more quickly. For example: someone who spends their evenings tweeting about bird watching may in fact be the corporate buyer interested in precisely the products you sell. You will undoubtedly find competitors as well, and more than a few people merely interested in tweeting about their favorite snacks and seemingly little more. Easily finding someone craving your product or service and announcing it to the world is rare, to say the least.

As a result, marketing in Twitter tends to require a very pro-active approach that sometimes bears little resemblence to the magic "build it and they will come" that websites with good SEO sometimes seem to be. Building a quality following will take time, but the advantages of an engaged and interested group of followers, ready and eager to share your ideas with their friends and co-workers can be enormous.

Consider this: even a great website with excellent search engine optimization still requires an actively interested party to do a search for it... on Twitter, if you work the network properly, you can often reach not only that interested party, but their followers as well.

How Can Twitter Work For You

First things first: Twitter is not an effective way to spam masses of people with corporate sounding press releases about your product. If you're only interested in push-publishing in the old, top-down ways then Twitter is not a good fit, but you'll also be missing out on a whole wealth of possibilities that traditional publishing methods lack.

Businesses who cater to the general public have a wealth of possibilities, especially when it comes to creating pseudo-viral marketing through the use of timed discounts, giveaways and similar specials that engage your followers and encourage re-tweeting. The majority of marketing you'll recognize on Twitter fits this sort of approach.

But even businesses who don't usually engage the common consumer have something to gain by participating. While most tweets are passive messages that inform followers about what a user is doing or thinking, there is nothing that prevents you from using the platform to encourage active behavior from your followers. If you want to know what your customers or readers are thinking or are interested in, sending a quick tweet to elicit feedback is not only an excellent way to keep your finger on the pulse of your customers, but also to further build your brand. The more that your followers converse with you, the more your name appears in front of their followers too.

It's also worth noting the power of providing support for your product or service within the Twitter sphere. If people are already talking about you on Twitter, you can quickly find them and begin to turn what could have been negative publicity into a very public display of your genuine concern for your customers by addressing their problems directly.

If people aren't talking about you yet, allowing yourself to be engaged through the service can get that started. One way is by actively seeking out members that have a concern or problem that you can help with, another is by participating in the conversations of other experts in your field. Through "giving back" to the community as a whole, you will gain followers and earn their trust.

Whether you're selling physical products or just trying to influence through gaining mind-share, Twitter's real potential shines through when you begin to leverage not only your own followers, but begin to see your message spread through to their followers as well.

Of course, getting your followers to actively engage with you requires that you too be ready and willing to participate in the community on the community's terms. That requires you to actually BE a Twitterer in order to influence other Twitterers. Through doing so, you will earn respect and recognition of your expertise. While most people rarely forward spam onto their friends, re-tweeting the messages of expert Twitterers is extremely common.

Twitter As Part of Your Strategy

If this sounds like work, that's because it is. Using Twitter is not like buying an ad in the phone book or running a traditional, short-term campaign, Twitter is about active engagement, and it is definitely a long-term strategy rather than a quick fix.

If you're going to try using Twitter for your business, you need to know what you're signing up for. A poorly run or abandoned account will make you seem out of touch, uninterested in your customers, or worse. If you don't have the time to participate effectively in the community, it is unlikely you will see much return on limited efforts.

Thus Twitter's down-side, if it is one, is that you'll need to be ready to commit yourself to the community in order to leverage it, and to keep with it. That doesn't mean you have to tell people what your staff is having for lunch too, but it does mean that you'll need to at least participate beyond simply trying to use the service as a platform to make announcements. Here are a few ways you should be using Twitter:

  • Engage in conversations about your topics of expertise. Don't just wait for people to come to you, seek out conversations where you truly have something to add.

  • Answer questions where you can be of real benefit. If someone is having trouble doing something that you can help with and it fits your business's expertise, help out. Not only may you have made a good follower, but other people will see your help in real time.

  • Share news about your business that the community cares about. Consider your audience carefully and tweet about things that genuinely interest them. The goal is to inform, non inundate.

  • Invite feedback on your products or services. Data mining your following can be a powerful way to reach beyond what is happening inside your business. Not only can you gain valuable feedback about yourself and your market, but replies to you show up on other Twitterer's timelines, boosting your visibility.

  • Run special offers that make your followers feel privileged. Whether it's your own products or those of affiliates that directly relate to your business, special offers can spread like wildfire across the network, furthering your brand while rewarding your regular readers for continued support.

  • Support your products or services. If people are already talking about you on the service, keep a watchful eye for problems with your offerings and be ready to jump in to provide solutions to customer concerns or complaints. This can not only turn a bad situation around for one customer, but really boost your brand as it can happen in full view of other Twitterers.

  • Track keywords related to your business. This can help you find good followers and conversations to join, as well as clue you in to emerging trends in your field. Don't just look for instances of your business's name, watch in and around your area of expertise.

  • Engage on a friendly and authentic level. Of course, Twitterers will expect a rather human approach, though not overly casual, in your interactions. Find a good balance between professionalism and familiarity that authentically represents your brand. Twitter is more conversational than many other publishing platforms, so the occasional random thought and witty remark are also usually welcome.

The up-side of participation is that you can see the rewards of doing so in terms of building your brand, establishing trust and expertise, increasing customer engagement and spreading your message in ways and to people that were not previously possible.

Of course, this level of commitment also means that you should consider Twitter as part of your larger brand strategy, not an isolated experiment and not just as a peripheral piece of your website. Those responsible for engaging with people one-on-one on Twitter will become true brand representatives for your business, and poorly thought out additions to your website can actually divide your community rather than unite it.

As always, we here at GeekPAK recommend a very holistic approach to utilizing Twitter in conjunction with other elements of your brand.

The Tip of the Iceberg

Of course, we can only scratch the surface here with a big picture view of how Twitter can work for marketing. There is still much to be said about the proper etiquette for business tweeting, frequency and types of tweets and content that are best, how to find the best followers, tools you can use to help find good conversations and more.

But if you think about the way your business converses with your market as a key element of your brand (and believe us, you should), then you just may have something to gain from making the leap.

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