Twitter is a powerful social networking service that allows anyone to say anything about anybody in 140 characters or less – this includes spaces and all punctuation. The short posts, known as 'tweets' and are delivered to other users that have signed up to receive them. By default the messages are published publicly, but this can be changed by the user if they choose to restrict delivery to just their community.
What is unique about Twitter?
Twitter is unique because the text-based posts can be no longer than 140 characters. It was designed this way to work with mobile phone text messages (SMS), so users can update anytime, from anywhere. In a way, Twitter is used in a similar manner to instant messengers like MSN, but the majority of posts are published to the world and recorded for anybody to find at a later date.
So where does Twitter fit in the social networking landscape?
The public nature of Twitter means that it is less about family, and unlike LinkedIn, it is used more by regular people than businesses. It is “what are you doing right now” type of messaging but people are using it for a lot more than that. Twitter has become the way to instantly share links, reviews and comments about experiences people are having so it has become an information hub on a wide range of topics.
People are also using Twitter to research information that will help them with their jobs and to discuss and review services and products before buying them. Twitter is also being used to voice concerns and complaints in a public forum about individuals or companies. On the other hand, it is also used to share and inform the community about good experiences.
In fact, Twitter has become so popular for sharing experiences that on any given day, the average number of Tweets on twitter.com is now around 3,000,000!
An alternative to Google?
This has become a valid question because Twitter, like a Google search listing, is a directory of links. Twitter listings are also short and sharp, which is very similar to a Google search results page. In fact each post is like a personalised Metatitle. But it is different in that the links are personally recommended by friends, colleagues or simply like minded individuals.
Twitter is being used as an alternate method for finding information on the Internet. Twitter posts are timely, relevant, of good quality and not influenced by businesses or advertising. It is honest and transparent.
So what does this mean for business?
Twitter allows you to interact with public while increasing brand awareness. The primary objective of this medium is to manage a company's brand online. In a way it has revolutionised branding. For the first time, it allows companies to respond and discuss issues openly with their customers and potential customers.
This also means that you can get instant access to what people are saying about your brand, people and service and use that information to manage your online reputation.
It can also increase traffic. Social networks have taken over email in terms of popularity.
You can write articles and announce them with Twitter. Since you only have 140 characters to post a message, there is no way you can tell a story. All you can do is post a link to the information and provide a summary as to what the information is about. Twitter works really well with a blog. If you would like to broadcast a message to your followers, use your blog (or dedicated area on your website) to convey the message and use Twitter to broadcast it.
Users opt in by 'following' to be your friend and see your messages. This means your messages will be targeted specifically to people who are interested in your product or service. It's a great way to make announcements to loyal customers.
Twitter is also a great way to network with others in your industry or others who share your interests.
Tips for effective Twittering
Twitter is about networking, learning, helping and most importantly listening. Be active in the community and participate in discussions.
To get started
- Build an account and link your profile to your company's website. That will give you more chances to get visits to your site. And where possible, introduce your work colleagues to other twitter users. Likewise, post a link to your Twitter profile from your website – Twitter is all about building a community.
- Add a clear picture of yourself and personalise your page. Remember this is about a personal brand, users want to know you and see you.
- Set yourself objectives. What are you trying to achieve from this tool? For example, do you want to promote your brand or find out what people are saying about your brand or simply build a network?
- Find people to follow. Start with your friends, family and your work colleagues. Then find New Zealand’s 'most powerful tweeters'.
- Use Twitter Search to listen for your name, your competitors' names and words that relate to your space. By listening you will know if you are achieving your objectives.
What to Tweet?
- If you want to use Twitter effectively, don't make the mistake of answering the question, “What are you doing?”. Instead answer the question, “What has your attention at the moment?”
- Point out interesting things in your space, not just things about you.
- Commenting on other users’ tweets, and retweeting what others have posted is a great way to build a community. Learn the Twitter lingo to find out how you can do this.
- Talk about what other people are doing as well. This may not directly help your business but shows that you are human and that you are interested in events that not just 'work-related'.
- Share links to neat things in your space so you are actively contributing to the Twitter community. Remember to make every Tweet count.
- If someone says something negative about you or your brand, don't get defensive or just apologise. Offer help and useful tips instead.
- Steer clear of becoming a 'salesperson' on Twitter as most people will see through this and tune out. You will have a lot more success being a 'real person'.
- Promote your colleagues and employees, not just your business. Social media is about people connecting with people and your followers want to know hear about human-related things.
- When promoting a blog post, ask a question or explain what’s coming next, instead of just dumping a link. And make it useful.
- Ask questions. Twitter is a fantastic way to get opinions.
- Follow interesting people. If you find someone who tweets interesting things, see who they follow, and follow them. You can always 'unfollow' someone if their Tweets are not relevant to you.
Make it efficient
- Remember you don’t have to read every tweet and you don’t have to reply to every tweet directed to you (try to reply to some, but don’t feel guilty). Twitter can be time consuming and if you spend all your time on Twitter, your employer will surely find out!
- Use direct messages for one on one conversations if you feel there’s no value to the entire Twitter community.
- Use third party clients like Tweetdeck and Twhirl, which make it a lot easier to manage Twitter.
- Learn quickly to use the URL shortening tools like TinyURL. It helps tidy up your tweets. If you use a third party client like Tweetdeck, the URLs can be automatically shortened.
- If someone says you’re using Twitter wrong, forget it. It’s an opt out system. They can unfollow if they don’t like what you're saying.
Things not to do
- Make sure that you’re avoiding overly repetitive tweets (or too many RT’s).
- Remember this is your personal brand. Avoid creating arguments and flaming users.
- Be very careful what you announce and who you are announcing it too. Check out this famous case of a girl who Tweeted before she started her new job.