13 golden rules of Twitter

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13 golden rules of Twitter Expert October 2009

Twitter is a great tool to help your company win new fans. Here’s how to make the social networking service work for you

1. Respect the medium
Twitter is a social tool. It’s primarily used for conversation and networking. But selling is also a conversation. And because Twitter allows you to instantaneously search through millions of prospective customers, it can become an efficient and bountiful market, too. But promote with care. Remember your audience. Remember why they are there. Don’t flood the medium with repetitive, one-way messages. Converse with your followers; add to the conversation. Never preach.

2. Be truthful
Be transparent and tell the truth, says Lucy Freeborn, creative director at Propellernet. Make sure you are clear from the outset that you are a brand representative and make your advice or input impartial and genuine. “Stealth marketing is wrong, wrong, wrong,” she says. “How would you like it if you were at a friend’s house having a glass of wine and a surprise guest stuck their head round the door and tried to sell you stain guard in case you spilt your pinot noir?”

3. Be human
Social media is about making connections. If you’re not ready to humanise your brand, use a different form of marketing. Twitter correspondence can seem forced at first, particularly for press officers raised on a diet of corporate speak, but try to engage in real conversations. Have the confidence in your own brand to discuss the market truthfully. Just because you are a brand ambassador doesn’t mean you have to be a bore. “Try to develop a personality. Deliver opinions. People respond to people, not brands,” says Fleur Hicks-Duarte, managing director of Pass It On Media.

4. Know when to shut up
Not everybody out there loves your company. Five minutes in the search section of Twitter will confirm this. Just because you didn’t know about these brand enemies before you started looking at social media, doesn’t mean they didn’t exist, says Hicks-Duarte. “Be clear on what actually constitutes a problem and what is just not to your liking,” she says. Getting into what feels like a constructive argument will only feed the initial gripe with publicity. If you can solve a customer service issue, do it quickly, but don’t do anything you wouldn’t be prepared to do for all your other customers. Good news travels, too.

5. Choose your Twitter reps
Twitter throws open the doors of your company to the public. Make sure your chosen Twitter representatives are engaged employees who understand and respect you as an employer. If you don’t trust your employees to have a face-to-face conversation with customers, then don’t trust them to represent you on Twitter.

Give your Twitter reps their own unique Twitter identity (@mikeatcompanyx) that connects them to the brand. This helps to prevent impostors and hackers from representing your brand out of turn. Publish this contacts list on your website. Large companies should divide the list by area of responsibility. Dell, for example, segments its Twitter accounts by product and region.

6. Organise your followers
If you’re selling your brand far and wide, you’ll need plenty of followers. Once you’re into the hundreds, keeping track of multiple conversations and pressing customer service problems starts to get more difficult. Use services such as TweetDeck to give your account a more ordered feel. TweetDeck allows users the ability to split their followers into different groups.

7. Pick your brand ambassadors
The more influence your followers have, the bigger the network effect of your message. Influence can be measured in many different ways, but a key definition on Twitter is the ratio of “following” to “followers”. The people with the biggest clout tend to follow small numbers but are followed by many. Use Twinfluence to find the bloggers, commentators, celebrities and journalists with the most engaged followings. Befriend them, engage with them. Share interesting links. You’re aiming for influence by association.

8. Get professional
Even for small firms, it can be difficult to keep track of what’s being said. When a customer asks a question on Twitter, which of your employees answers it and how do you know when it’s been answered? With business-specific software such as CoTweet, employees can all tweet from the same account, or be assigned signatures that identify the individual talking on the company’s behalf on a case-by-case basis. So if a customer has a question about pricing or availability, he or she gets one answer. You can track each exchange and delegate particular tasks to different Twitter reps, such as following up a complaint.

9. Go direct
Twellow is a really useful directory of Twitter users, because it lets you search people’s biographies as well as their names,” says Rowan Stanfield, Online PR Consultant at Content and Motion. This can be extremely useful for finding out what people are interested in. So for a UK-specific campaign that’s promoting new web-design technology, says Stanfield, you could type in “Web Designer UK” to get a list of users that might be interested in your product. Tweetbeep’s search option lets you specify a location: for example, “50 miles from London” would show you any tweets on your chosen subject posted within that radius.

10. Track and measure 
The Twitter search function lets you eavesdrop on a conversation at any time. To save a search on a particular term, for example “theatre” or “kitchen”, click the orange button on the right hand side of the screen. This establishes an RSS feed for that search term, which can give you real-time, automated updates from people talking about your area of interest—a marketer’s dream.

And if you manage to help the person in question, by for example supplying them with theatre tickets or a new kitchen, you benefit from the network effect—a happy customer’s endorsement transmitted to all of their followers. You should also give your customer services team access to your RSS feed. An instant response to a customer problem can go a long way towards mitigating the damage.

11. Shorten your links
Learn to use URL shortening tools, such as bit.ly. Just copy and paste the original link into the window, then copy the new, shorter link into the Twitter message box. Not only will this help you tidy up your tweets, but more importantly it allows you to track how many people click on that link. If you’re interested in increasing your traffic, learning how best to engage large numbers of people with only a few words will make all the difference.

12. Careful what you say
Get your communications policy straight. Define the difference between your company spokesperson and someone who merely represents the company. Are your employees discussing personal beliefs, politics, or religion? Even in jest, there are always some comments that can cause offence, particularly if taken out of context and republished. If you have customers from different parts of the world, make sure your Twitter reps are sensitive to potential cultural clashes.

13. Be committed 
There are thousands of Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and blogs that were started with huge enthusiasm, only for a brand’s commitment to wane, says Freeborn. “There’s nothing more off-putting for a customer than a branded social media experience that is out of date,” she says. “Unless you are deliberately engaging your audience around a specific event or season, starting a social media campaign is a long-term investment,” so stick with it.

“Generating the information to make a corporate Twitter account worth following can be surprisingly time-consuming, even if generating the actual tweets themselves is not,” adds Portfolio Communications’s Jonathan Bawden. However, he says, “it is possible to contribute to social media by pointing to research, market reports, case studies and opinion pieces that can add significant value to a debate while taking remarkably little time to execute.”

By David Woodward

For more on using Twitter and social media see:

Social media & hiring

Telling your company story is becoming an integral part of success

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