Is Twitter good for business?

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Image shows a man looking up at illustrations of the Twitter bird logo

Twitter and big brands seem like a match made in heaven, but many SMEs are yet to engage with it. Can Twitter help your company, and how do you integrate the service into your business activities? We ask the experts…

Since launching seven years ago Twitter has gained 500 million users globally, including 10 million in the UK. Just under half are thought to be actively tweeting, with 400 million tweets being sent worldwide every day.

While giant companies including Tesco, EE and Coca-Cola are followed by thousands, a random search of many British SMEs reveals a less flattering picture. Despite research showing that 34 per cent of marketers have generated leads using Twitter, many local and regional businesses are either absent from the platform or have given up tweeting. So is Twitter good for business, especially small and medium-sized businesses?

“Twitter is a great platform to communicate with your customers directly,” explains Carli Palmer, social media and content marketing manager of clothing retailer TM Lewin. “You can have a two-way conversation in a friendly environment and customers feel like they’re speaking to a human being.”

Palmer’s sentiments are echoed by Jon Clarke, head of digital at media buying agency Space & Time Media. Clarke’s team looks after the social media operations of various property and pharmaceutical companies including Keepmoat Homes and Mentholatum’s Deep Heat and Deep Freeze brands. In his spare time Clarke runs BeckenhamTown.us, a community website and Twitter account with more than 8,500 followers that connects residents and small businesses in south-east London and Kent.

“More companies should be on Twitter than Facebook. Twitter is like a search engine, it drives people to your website and can improve your search engine ranking (SEO). It is somewhere to bring your brand to life, give it more personality and humanise it,” he says.

And what’s the best way of doing that? Director asked Palmer and Clarke for their dos and don’ts for SMEs wishing to set up or expand their presence on Twitter. Here’s what they said…

Do sign up to Twitter

Our experts agree that every business or brand needs a presence on Twitter, even if only to secure their Twitter profile name – or ‘handle’ as it is sometimes known – from competitors. “It costs nothing to sign up,” says Clarke.

“Register with an email address and create a profile name in 15 or fewer characters. Profile names are like URLs – even if you’re not ready to start tweeting now you will want to be on social media in the future and that Twitter handle could account for 20 per cent of traffic to your website. If you don’t take your Twitter name, your competitors could.”

Don’t start tweeting and give up

Discovering a business on Twitter only to find it hasn’t tweeted for months could cause a customer to look elsewhere, explains Clarke. “Everyone starts with zero followers and there is no silver bullet to get you to 50,000. Give yourself time to work out what works best and expect to see your followers rise – and sometimes fall – in fits and starts.”

Palmer says Twitter works because customers find it a lot less official than emailing customer services. Each tweet is limited to 140 characters – although research suggests those with fewer than 100 characters have a 17 per cent higher engagement rate. “We are conversing in a friendly environment – whether they are contacting us to praise or complain, or I am asking our followers questions.”

Do tweet throughout the day

According to Buddy Media, users are more likely to check Twitter during the day than evening but Palmer says she checks the feed and responds to followers throughout. “When people tweet us I don’t just end the conversation – if they tweet to say they bought some amazing shirts I’ll ask what shirts they bought. I will always reply to anyone who tweets us. Many customers seek advice on what to wear to a function and I’m fortunate to sit near the buying and menswear team, who can suggest products from our website.”

Some of Palmer’s tweets include hashtags to mark keywords but the advice is not to use more than two in a tweet. “I only use them if it’s relevant – #new to mark a new collection or #win for competitions, for example.”

Don’t tweet everything at once

Over the course of a day you should be tweeting around 10 times – and that’s in addition to responding to your followers’ questions and complaints, says Clarke. “Make sure to change the message. Seeing the same thing repeated every day is annoying. It is all about being relevant. You want your followers to engage with you and retweet you to build more followers.”

TM Lewin’s tweets will include product news with links to the relevant web page and, crucially, two marketing questions a day. “These are always on-brand but they can be fun, too. I might tweet a picture of a wacky-looking shirt and ask followers if they would wear it,” Palmer says. “We also run regular competitions where we ask followers to retweet our tweet. Recently we offered a collection of ties and achieved 1,700 retweets in three days. We pick a winner at random.”

Do think about TV

Statistics show 80 per cent of users access Twitter through their mobile phones and the same number tweet at the same time as watching television. Clarke believes SMEs can take advantage of this dual screening by looking at TV schedules to find programmes that might complement the business and resonate with new customers. “If Channel 4’s Location, Location, Location is set in Dudley and you’re an estate agent in the town then tweet something like ‘there are some lovely new homes in Dudley, Kirstie [Allsopp]’ and add the programme’s hashtag. You might be retweeted by the network and local communities, gain followers and, most importantly, drive traffic to your website.”

Don’t ignore complaints

According to news website AllTwitter, 56 per cent of tweets to companies are being ignored. “If a customer is complaining on Twitter there is reason for them to do so. I would never ignore them – even if I pick up the tweet at 10 o’clock at night, I always respond so they know we’re listening and we’re going to help,” says Palmer. “If there is a quality issue I will ask them to email customer services and tell our two customer service managers to expect the enquiry. I’m on the side of the customers to get it pushed this end and will chase if necessary. I will also inform our product team so they can investigate the manufacturing process.”

Do ask customers to DM you

Twitter users can send direct messages (DMs) to anyone who follows them. “This can be a helpful way of moving a complaint away from the public forum,” says Clarke. “Many companies will reply publicly, then follow the customer and ask them to send a direct message.”

Palmer might use this method when a customer’s order is delayed. “I can take their order number and then either send an email or direct message when it’s going to be delivered,” she says.

Don’t under-resource your Twitter operation

Some companies choose to outsource their social media to agencies while others prefer to do the work in-house. Clarke advises against spreading responsibility among several employees and departments.

“Ideally use someone who understands or already uses social media every day,” he says. “Once your Twitter account is established expand it to a team of two or three people who can work together and share their knowledge and tone.”

Do follow other people

While major brands and celebrities can gain followers quickly, sole traders and SMEs will likely need the help of customers and other businesses to raise their Twitter profiles. Clarke suggests following and starting a dialogue with those who talk most about your industry, including competitors.

“If they’ve got 20,000 followers and you’ve got only 10, conversing with and retweeting them isn’t going to kill your business. But if they retweet you in return, then you’ve gained a reach of 20,000 potential clients.”

TM Lewin follows around 1,200 users including journalists, manufacturers, bloggers and many of the company’s customers who tweet them regularly. “We have some fans on Twitter who respond to most updates or tweet photos of themselves in our clothes so it makes sense to follow them,” says Palmer.

Don’t forget to link tweets

For businesses, there is always the question of ROI [return on investment]. Tweets with links to websites boast an 86 per cent higher engagement than those without, according to Buddy Media.

Links to products or pages on your website can increase your SEO, says Clarke. He suggests using Google’s URL shortener with Google Analytics or Bit.ly-shortened links to track the number of page impressions being driven by referrals from Twitter.

Find an application that suits you

Many companies prefer third-party applications to the Twitter program. “I swear by HootSuite,” says Palmer. “The interface is easy to use, and I know at the end of every day if every single update has been responded to. HootSuite also allows me to schedule automated tweets outside normal operating hours and gives me analytics so I can see the most popular tweets clicked on that week.”

Clarke is a fan of Tweetadder. It allows users to send mass mailouts of direct messages to all, or a percentage of followers. “A local business could offer a 10 per cent discount only to followers in the same area,” he says.

Don’t ignore security 

Clarke says SMEs should be concerned with unwittingly distributing spam and disgruntled employees posting off-message tweets. “If you receive a direct message with links like ‘look at this, it’s funny’ or ‘see what someone is saying about you’, you know not to click on it,” he says.

“You also don’t want a disenfranchised employee leaving the company while in possession of your password and sending a rogue tweet that gets picked up by your followers. Change passwords frequently.” If your Twitter account is hacked or spammed be honest, says Palmer. “Tell your followers what has happened and explain that any tweets sent out in your name weren’t from you.”

Do let your personality shine

TM Lewin’s profile includes Palmer’s name and a link to her personal Twitter account. “It allows people to see I am a real person and that makes it easier for them to engage with me,” she says. And Clarke adds: “People aren’t expecting you to be the voice of God. You need to be professional, helpful and polite, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be fun or tongue-in-cheek. Do social media with a smile.”

The top three business tweeters…

In the Independent’s Twitter 100 last year were Sir Richard Branson, Lord Sugar and Umair Haque

For the full Twitter 100 list go to:

independent.co.uk

And make sure you follow

@DirectorIoD

@TMLewin

@SpaceTimeMedia

@Beckenham

@The_IoD

@IoD_press

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Director magazine

Director magazine

Director is the magazine for business leaders. Free to IoD members and available to purchase through subscription, each edition is full of insightful interviews with entrepreneurs and company directors.

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