Unless you are living under a rock, you have most definitely heard of Twitter. According to Wikipedia, Twitter is "a social networking and micro-blogging service created by then Cornell student Jack Dorsey that enables its users to send and read other users' updates known as tweets." These tweets can only be up to 140 characters in length and show on the user's profile page and are delivered to others that have signed up to receive your updates. If you question that this service has exploded since its founding in 2006, look at the estimated number of users in 2008. In November 2008, there was an estimated 4-5 million people "tweeting" online.
You may ask, what does this have to do with me and my business? Well, businesses across numerous industries have been trying to leverage Twitter as a marketing tool for quite some time now. Companies such as Carnival Cruise Lines (http://twitter.com/CarnivalCruise), MGM Grand Hotel and Casino (http://twitter.com/Mgmgrand), Home Depot (http://twitter.com/thehomedepot) and Whole Foods (http://twitter.com/wholefoods) are actively participating on the social media/networking site. Other entities including universities and non-profit organizations are also getting their "tweet on". Some examples include the University of Kentucky (http://twitter.com/WildcatThursday) and the American Red Cross (http://twitter.com/RedCross). This goes to show that Twitter may be a useful tool for promotion, marketing and customer relations online.. if used correctly and with a concrete plan in place.
There are a few things that businesses need to consider before adding Twitter to their marketing mix. First, get familiar with Twitter before creating a business account. Set up a personal account and learn how the service works. In order for Twitter to be useful for business, you have to have a firm understanding about how to use it correctly, how the conversation grows and the best way to utilize all of the tools Twitter has to offer. Second, a business needs to fully commit to its usage of Twitter. Like any other major business decision, Twitter will only be successful if a well-laid plan is put in place. There has to be a long term commitment to content, frequency of updates and timeliness of tweets. A firm definition of success is also helpful. Unfortunately, "success" on Twitter is not immediate, predictable or even easily measured. Twitter is all about building relationships with customers, creating a dialogue with them and having an open source for communication. If customers already have a dedication to/interest in your brand- they will be likely to follow you on Twitter to keep up to date on important events and happenings.
So, without any further rambling, here are some useful tips on using Twitter for business.
- Claim your business name/brand/product, etc. on Twitter. Do this by creating an account with Twitter using your most recognizable business entity. You must claim these important user names before someone else, maybe even a competitior, decides to create an account with your company/brand name. This will limit the amount of confusion and make it easier for fans of your business to follow you since your user name will be easy to recognize.
- Don't confuse your customers/fans. Therefore it is important that your Twitter page aligns perfectly with your website. Use logos, brand standard colors, etc. to ensure that customers know that they have found you and not an imposter. Let them know they are in the right place.
- Make it simple for customers to follow you. Create a Twitter page on your offical site. That way, if a customer comes to your site and doesn't know that your a user of Twitter, this will make it easy for them to find out and begin to follow your updates.
- Answer questions. Once you have established a following on Twitter and you have commited to creating updates and being part of the conversation (which can take some time), your customers may start asking you questions (right there on Twitter). Answer these questions honestly and in a timely manner. Customers will respect you for it!
- Don't be a passive participant. Monitor brand names, company name and any other relevent keywords to keep on top of what is being said about you and/or your products in other people's "tweets". This is becoming an increasingly important part of online reputation management. People are using Twitter to communicate about their life and experiences. These experiences can be one that they had with your company, one of your employees, etc. And these may not always be positive, so it is essential to stay on top of the conversations on Twitter.
- Keep it professional. This isn't your favorite local pub or your family's holiday gathering- don't bring up sensitive subjects or debate issues on Twitter. It will not boost your company's image, just don't do it! It shouldn't take much more of an explanation.
- Don't be a robot - have fun and show some personality. It is important to continue tweeting as "you" even when you are using a Twitter business account. It is important that your followers get to know you as an individual. Most companies choose to have only one individual represent their brand on Twitter. Other employees can have their own accounts, but only one person should be the "face" of the company on Twitter. This will make the experience more real and not feel too forced or "corporate".
Twitter is a tool that is proving to be a feasible addition to a business's marketing plan. But like any social media endeavor, it is important to consider all aspects of the decision before jumping in. These factors would include, but are not limited to: the level of commitment necessary and the time to invest in updates, the impact for small/local businesses (targeting by location is possible in Twitter), how to measure success, the importance of ROI, the reality of using Twitter for promotion/marketing, etc.
Twitter may not be for all businesses, that is for each company to determine. But if Twitter is something that you would like to try, these tips should get you off on the right foot!