Ok, ok, so everyone says “you need to use Twitter to drive your business”. But is it true? I would vote for a resounding YES! While it did take time to mature, today Twitter is an extremely valuable channel, when properly used, to drive visibility of your brand, your site, and increase your web-based business among the 32 million active tweeters.
Twitter has finally grown up. It’s true that in its infancy, many people tweeted about inane things, such as where they drank their most recent cup of Starbucks. We now must recognize that these were baby steps that marketers were taking to develop their “Twitter voice”, kind of like HAL singing “Daisy, Daisy, give my your answer do…”. Unfortunately, there are still thousands of social media marketers who are still at this early phase. Why? Because to successfully leverage the Twitter channel requires the dedication of time and effort to mature and become a part, and ultimately a pillar, of the community.
Cartoon by Tony Gigov
You may have already learned that maintaining a meaningful blog requires an investment of time and continuous focus on your core proposition. Twitter, with its limit of 140 characters per tweet, requires an even more focused strategy. Unless you, (or a designated employee or writer) are prepared to dedicate a portion of your time each day to Twitter, your messages will quickly become lost in the noise.
So how should you drive this?
I believe there are 3 major evolutionary phases for effective use of Twitter for social networking:
1: Ensure that your own understanding of your message is crystal clear, and use it to drive thought leadership.
Twitter, more than any other channel, requires a clear, defined marketing message. With so few words in each message, you need to make every tweet count. What this message looks like depends on your business mission. For companies with defined products, your goal may be to share new ways that customers use your products. With dynamic market driven products, such as tickets, Twitter can be used constructively to broadcast out the latest deals, or ski areas can use tweets to broadcast slope conditions. For companies with less concrete product or service offerings, social networking may be best used to develop or elevate the recognition of your brand, both online and offline, or improve your credibility. With your goal in mind, start the conversation by generating your own content that is focused on your customers’ needs. Exhibit thought leadership that makes you unique. Learn what works! If you are new to social media marketing, I suggest you start with a blog, which still provides you with some editorial control. Begin commenting in other communities, such as forums, Digg and Yahoo Answers to develop your “voice”. Once you are comfortable with blogging and commenting, then expand to Twitter to build your own community and following. Eventually you will graduate to posting YouTube videos and using other channels as well.
2: Listen to your customers, competitors, fans and detractors.
You should already be listening to your customers with tools like Google Alerts and other monitoring services. Twitter is another place to hear their comments. Remember, good news travels fast, and bad news travels even faster. Set up an alert, using a tool like Tweetdeck, to watch for mentions of your brand, so you can react very quickly with your new-found voice and clarify any misunderstandings, or fix any perception issues.
3: Communicate and Participate!
You are now a member of the community. In addition to messages that you generate for your customer, like new deals, you will now have customers creating topics for you. Embrace them! When that happens, you’ve reached an important plateau. Respond to your community’s needs, their concerns, and help them use your product or service better. Build on the good news, and clarify the bad news by asking for elaboration or encouraging their participation in a solution to the problems. You now have a one-to-one relationship with customers who demand attention, backed by a whole universe who can see how well you handle their issues.
4: Be honest and sincere, and watch your community grow.
Credibility is key in social networking. While you must avoid being pushy, you still have a right to promote your products. People understand that you are in business to sell your products and services, and might find it odd if you don’t. The key to success is working that fine line between promotion and a sales pitch. As long as you truly believe that your product brings value to your customer (which we take as an assumption), then this should not be difficult for you. Just keep that message clear, and you’ll find that neither you nor your customers will be forced into the idle discussion of your latest cup of Starbucks, nor will you ever regress to singing “Daisy Daisy” again.