Twitter Makes an Excellent Listening Post

Call it “microblogging” if you will, but Twitter is a lot more than a blog platform. It is, first and foremost, a communications platform. It’s basically a public, internetworked e-mail system and SMS network. If you are using Twitter simply as a podium to publish blurbs linking to your company blog posts and press releases, you’re missing the point. Yes, you can and should use Twitter to publish short insights and news. And it’s fi ne to link outside of Twitter if the item you’re mentioning is longer than 140 characters.

But what you’re missing, if you focus exclusively on getting your own word out, is the other side of the conversation. Just as in the real world, the online social-media world stops listening to narcissistic, self-infatuated speakers, the sort of people who pause in their monologue only long enough to say, “Enough about me—what do you think about me?” Engaging in back-and-forth dialogue and spreading the word about what others are saying are both critically important parts of the Twitter ethos. Plus, it shows you to be generous of spirit, open-minded to what others are talking about, and well connected.
Here are 12 steps for avoiding pitfalls and building a successful Twitter program for your business:

Reserve a good, relevant username
With only 15 characters or fewer to play with, and with, oh, about 106 million users earlier to the party, your most urgent task is to come up with a short, memorable, recognizable, intuitive Twitter handle: as close to @YourBusiness as you can get.
Display a human face for your business
I generally think the handle of your business Twitter account should be the name of your company, although others prefer names like @Jill_atCompany to humanize the account and to allow several people to tweet for a single company, an ideal approach for large firms. An example would be @Rubbermaid, “currently tweeted by Jim Deitzel”—this approach is an ideal way to have your cake and eat it, too. You get the recognizable handle. You get the face behind the logo—the personality of the specifi c human being doing the tweeting. And if the staff member should, at some point, move on to a different role or a different company, the account can be “currently tweeted” by some new person, without disruption to the brand.

Establish your specialty
You need an area of focus, a specialty and a perspective that’s easily expressed in just a few words. Your focus should be on benefits, not products. Sizzle, not steak. Your Twitter feed—indeed, all your social media efforts—should ride the coattails of a bigger, more passionate lifestyle and social mission represented by the market you serve.
Post frequently
Twitter is voracious. It demands at least daily postings to amount to anything. Keep it brief, don ’ t overthink it, but feed it. Get into the habit. If you establish a schedule of seven posts a week for Facebook, say, plan to come up with 15 or 20 posts a week for Twitter. If you ’ ve done a good job of establishing your specialty above, you can simply set up news alerts to be informed of new developments in your market. Summarize them in under 140 characters and point a link to the article. You should also echo on Twitter every promotional e-mail you send out and every company blog post you make.

Use hot-button keywords in your industry
Heavy Twitter users troll through Twitter search results or set up alerts to follow topics of interest to them and the Tweeps who post about them. Keywords could be the name of high-profile people or celebrities, news events, companies, just the name of your market or industry, etc. Whether it ’ s surfing, fat-free, Google Analytics, knitting, Scottish—whatever your niche, people on Twitter are searching for it daily and will follow you if you ’ re a regular poster on it.

Use popular hash tags, and promote your own
A hash tag is a single, concatenated string prefaced with the # sign used to make it easier to find all tweets on a given topic or event. Whether your topic or event is global in scope, or a niche business conference, giving it an easy-to-remember hash tag is key to helping your audience to stay in the loop.

It’s not enough just to post and hope for the best. You ’ ve got to actively build a network on Twitter, and the best way to have people notice what you ’ re doing is to take notice of them. Search for members posting on your topics of interest and follow them. Look at their own followers and select relevant folks to follow. Keep a focused network that aligns with your “elevator pitch” or area of specialty. When you follow people on Twitter, they’ll generally follow you back.

Recognize your followers
When people follow you, take a moment tocheck them out. Some will be blank-slate newbies or evident spam artists, whom you can ignore. But when real people with an interesting stream of tweets follow you, follow them back. Send them a friendly direct-message thanking them for the follow and looking forward to getting to know one another. Maybe nothing will come of it—Twitter is the least reciprocal of the social-media platforms—but it ’ s good form, and you never know what will come of these connections.

Give the Twitter icon prominent real estate on your Web site. Display the current feed widget on your home page. Pitch the Twitter feed in your e-mail newsletter, and maybe even your catalog or other print media.

Be listening for references to your brand, and when people say something nice about you, retweet it. Retweeting the good word is an easy, effective, daily discipline you should get into—it ’ s a great way to spread any good buzz enjoyed by your brand, and it ’ s unique to Twitter.
Ask for retweets . This can be a little crass, but if handled tongue in cheek or for a good cause, it can really spread the word.
Attend or host a Tweetup
One of the coolest elements of the surge in online social networking is that it hasn ’ t turned us all into lonely, isolated mouse potatoes. Twitter fans have popularized the Tweetup, an in-person get-together of related Twitter users. For the most outgoing and connected among us, online social media is just a tool and a facilitator for the kind of personal and business networking that even your grandmother would recognize. Today there are more opportunities than ever to identify like-minded people in your vicinity—or those attending the same event as you—who are interested not just in exchanging Tweets, but in getting together in person, for drinks, a meal, a meeting, a hike or bike ride, a street protest, performance art, you name it. When the social connection deepens through in-person meeting, you’re really taking the fullest advantage of social media’s rich potential.

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