A bug bear I keep coming across recently is organisations that don’t understand Twitter, but think that think they do. While it’s sort of endearing to see a business start-up or underfunded charity completely missing the point (they will learn, I always tell myself) when I see an SME or, worse, a large corporate throwing their weight around, making up their own rules, it makes want to tear my hair out.
So, on the off-chance you’re one of the latter, and you want the perspective of your average twitter user, here are my five top tips for improving your Twitter business strategy (if it helps, I also have four years’ experience in marketing):
1. Don’t simply try and drive traffic to your own website
This is the most common (and boring) mistake people make on Twitter. Before you start tweeting, define your strategy. What’s your reason for being on here? Is it for marketing purposes? Customer service? Or just to build brand awareness? Whatever the reason, nothing smacks of the amateur tweeter like an organisation who solely uses Twitter to drive traffic to their own website. What makes this even worse is an unimaginative call to action such as ‘Click here to see our products and services’. This isn’t going to drive engagement. I want a good reason to click through.
Of course, content is crucial, and you need to encourage website traffic, but not exclusively. Twitter is about engaging with people and building loyalty. Share other people’s content, demonstrate that you actually know what you’re talking about and you will start to gain people’s trust. And if you post links to blog or articles, make sure you’ve actually read what you’re tweeting and are prepared to discuss it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve tweeted a response to a link a company has posted, and had a lacklustre response, or no response at all. If you’re not interested in your own tweets, then why should I be? What’s coming? You know it. Unfollow.
2. Don’t get your intern to do it
Another thing I often come across is when the person managing the social media, though well intentioned, has absolutely no idea what they’re talking about. Just because the youth of today are ‘digital natives’ doesn’t mean they automatically know what they’re doing. Twitter is about communication and strategy, not just technical savvy and it’s important that whoever is tweeting for you understands this. The temptation is to get your intern or new-hire to start tweeting because it requires little skill, but if they lack understanding or interest in your objectives, it shows.
A prime example: I recently tweeted a popular sports drinks manufacturer (I won’t point fingers just in case they were having an off day) to find out where I could buy their products. The response I received, though well-meaning, demonstrated a total lack of understanding; not just of their products, but of the point of social media. Rather than taking the time to engage with me properly, or asking more questions about what I was after, an uninterested tweeter at said drinks manufacturer directed me to a broken link on their website. I would have been better off doing a Google search.
The lesson? Your intern might spend all day on Facebook, but that doesn’t make them an expert (seriously, when’s the last time you looked at a teenager’s Facebook profile? They miss the point more than most, trust).
My response? Unfollow.
3. Be social
The clue’s in the name. While Twitter for business is of course a form of self-promotion, it requires an element of shrewdness. People increasingly understand the psychology behind marketing, so organisations simply won’t succeed if they treat Twitter as a channel for direct marketing. It’s 2013 now. Nobody on Twitter wants to follow a corporate drone. Whether it’s an individual or a company, people want to know they’re talking to a person. Have a sense of humour, respond to your @ replies and do so in a helpful manner.
Most importantly: follow people. Nothing turns me off more than seeing a corporate Twitter account with thousands of followers, none of whom have been followed back. It tells me that the company in question doesn’t see what their followers are saying, because – it’s hard to believe, I know – they don’t care what their followers have to say. Shouting messages into an abyss and hoping for a retweet isn’t social media. You’re missing the point, and I won’t be missing you when I unfollow.
4. Expect to be challenged and respond accordingly
This might seem to counter my previous points but if you’re using Twitter, expect to be challenged. This applies particularly if you provide a product or a service. If people are disgruntled with their experience they will often use Twitter to vent their frustrations. Equally, you will encounter users who like to stir up a bit of controversy, but in both cases; turn this chore into a challenge.
A company I once worked had a follower on Twitter who would argue with every blog post and promotion they tweeted. Rather than engage with him, the marketing team decided to ignore him. What they didn’t realise was that, despite seeming innocuous, this particular tweeter was in fact very influential and had thousands of followers, many of whom were the company’s target audience. By ignoring him, we not only rubbed him up the wrong way, but showed him (and subsequently his followers) that we were uninterested in engagement.
If the company had replied to his tweets, been helpful where possible, or even challenged him (albeit carefully), it would have showed other tweeters that we knew our stuff. Instead, we lost an opportunity. This is a lesson you don’t have to learn the hard way; don’t see contentious tweeters as troublesome – turn them into a PR opportunity.
5. Be informed and have a process in place
Don’t just be informed about why you’re tweeting, but what you’re tweeting about. Of course, this isn’t always possible, but if the person in charge of your Twitter account doesn’t have the knowledge required to answer queries or post meaningful information, recruit contributors from within the organisation who know more about your selected subject matter. Maybe even consider having multiple tweeters. Again, this isn’t always practical, so if resources are tight (budget and time are always factors), make sure you have a process in place for dealing with difficult queries quickly.
People often won’t mind if you don’t have an answer to their question right away, but sending them a tweet to tell them you’re looking into it is better than no tweet at all. We Twitter users are a forgiving bunch really. Just keep your followers informed of your progress and make sure you help your colleagues see the importance of engaging with customers and interested parties via Twitter.
These are just guidelines. Of course, be prepared to constantly amend your strategy – if something isn’t working: change it. But many organisations out there still use Twitter so poorly that, even if you’re inexperienced, you can easily outshine them and tweet up a storm!