Saturday, March 21, 2009

How to use Twitter - An Introduction

Brian Turner from Team 4 gave an excellent presentation on Twitter during our StratMktg class. Lots of questions about why someone might use Twitter, as well as plenty of questions about things like Security, Privacy, Following, so I thought I'd try and give some basics. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather some example and guidance from someone that has been using for business purposes for a while.

Business vs. Personal...or Mixed: This is probably the first decision that someone should make if they decide to start using Twitter (or any social media service). Do I want this to represent personal-me, business-me, or all aspects of me? This is very important, because while you may have great business tweets all week, the tweet about having too many beverages with friends at the Britney Spears concert might destroy any goodwill you created. For others, this diversity adds to the personality you're trying to convey about your company. Either way, it's a decision that should be consciously made up front.

Giving & Receiving: There are two basic concepts in social networking and social media that need to be understood before jumping in. For some people they are initially counter-intuituve, but they are critical if you hope to gain anything from the tools.
  1. Social media/networking is about having conversations, two-way or multi-way. It's about connecting with other people that have a similar interest, or who wish to have discussions about a specific topic. It's not about publishing content that is speaking to someone else. That's what newspapers or TV news does.
  2. As with personal conversations (face-to-face), you typically don't receive much if you aren't willing to give something to the conversation. Sure, you can sit at a dinner table and listen to great stories or conversation, but unless you say something, nobody is going to remember that you were there. So while it may seem concerning to share ideas, opinions, details with an online community, it's one of the critical hurdles needed to truly participate in this environment. NOTE: In a corporate setting, this doesn't mean you should break all corporate communications rules. In fact, many companies have policies in place to protect themselves online.
A last point to remember regarding Give / Take is that you may not always like what others say about you or your company. How you handle this is extremely important. For many, the initial reaction is to get defensive or fight back. But this may not always be the best course of action. It's important to realize that this is now a public forum, and it can be just as important to allow customers to vent frustrations ("product is poorly designed", "service was too slow") and learn from them, than to try and limit their ability to express an opinion.

Following and Followers: At a basic level, anyone can follow anyone on Twitter. Just like anyone can visit or to gather information. What you put on Twitter is an information feed about yourself or your company. How much you share, when you share it, or how you share it should reflect the image you're trying to get across. That might be formal or casual, fun-loving or serious, personal or business. And if you present something interesting, you can expect to have others want to "follow" you. These might be friends, business partners or complete strangers. For those concerned with security or privacy, Twitter does allow granular controls over who follows you, how they are allowed to request a "follow", and if you'd eventually like to "block" them. But I'd suggest that in order to truly get value from #1 (above), the more open you are, the more connections you'll be able to make. And you never know where that next great connection is going to come from. The next great partner, the next great job offer, the next great customer order. But it definitely won't come if you always have your "blockers" up.

Announcing Information: A simple way to get started with Twitter is to use it to announce information about your company (or personal interest). Product announcements, new blog posts, breaking news, or coupons/specials are all great ways to keep customers updated about what's happening that could be valuable to them. While this isn't necessarily a two-way conversation, it is a simple way for customers that love your brand or products to follow your latest activities.

Enhancing Customer Support: I've written about this before. Twitter in no way replaces a friendly voice, but it can augment the overall experience. Especially for those situations where people want immediate updates. Companies like Zappos and have embraced this community and are embedding it into their operations and products. And as more Gen-Y people join the workforce, they are going to be expecting the availability (and integration) of the tools that they use in their personal life, so getting ahead of this now is very important.

Solicit Feedback from Customers: What would you like to know about your customers, or products or service? Why not ask them? If you generate enough of a following (see #2 above), you'll start to get feedback. It may not all be positive, but that's OK. We learn more from problems than pats-on-the-back.

Create a New Image: Do you wish that people, customers, partners, media thought you were something different than they do today? This is an opportunity to help shape that new image, and get immediate feedback to the changes.

From a personal perspective, I use Twitter as a extension of my efforts to market our products and services, as well as connect with customers. We announce new products, events, and services. We have industry discussions. We listen to what our customers are saying about the company, as well as our competition. While I can't draw a complete correlation, we have found that the traffic to our content sources (website, blogs, online libraries) have been up 50-100% month over month since we began more actively using Twitter as a means of managing information. Obviously results will vary from company to company, but so far we've been happy with the return on a very small investment of resources and time.