Taking Twitter seriously: a primer for business

Taking Twitter Seriously

Where were you when you started taking Twitter seriously? For me, it was on the bright red couches by the fireplace at the food court in Metrotown, when my friend Zach Bulick took 20 minutes to spell it out for me. It was in September 2008, and I had a cold at the time.

“It just seems so frivolous,” I insisted between sniffles. “It’s like reading the Facebook status updates of strangers.”

“It seems like that at first,” Zach countered. “But start thinking outside the box and you’ll come up with some amazing ways to use it.”

Because Twitter is basically people blogging in under 140 characters, you can tap into a lot of information very quickly. Zach pointed out that CNN was using using it to gather instant feedback from viewers, and that Comcast (at least I think it was them) was using it to offer a new kind of customer service. They’d use search.twitter.com to find messages where users are complaining about their company or services, then get in touch with them instantly to see how they could help.

I realized then how Twitter could work for the organization I work for, a non-profit in Vancouver called Union Gospel Mission. We could educate people about homelessness. Give people an unprecedented glimpse into the street-level work we do. Network with other agencies like us to share resources. Build relationships with influential bloggers. Share progress towards fundraising goals. Offer admin support to donors who need it. And since that conversation with Zach, that’s exactly what we’ve been trying to do as @ugm on Twitter.

I have a feeling that Twitter could work for your business, too, and it’s just a matter of thinking it through and coming up with a good strategy.

1. Gather the tools and learn the terms

Compared with the familiar territory of blogging, Twitter is a whole new world. You’ll learn the lingo and lay-of-the-land quickly, but it’s always nice to have help. Once you set up your account, you should:

2. Find the key influencers in your area

In every industry and every geographic area, certain Twitter users have more influence than others. It might be because of their expertise, their personality, or just the number of people following them. As a businessperson, it’s a good idea to follow these key influencers — it’s good, old-fashioned networking. It keeps you in the know, and helps establish your presence as a fellow like-minded expert. (You can use a service called Twellow to identify who these individuals are.)

3. Listen to what people are saying

Leave the monologuing for the theatrical types — it’s your foremost priority to hear what other people are saying before adding to the noise. The better you understand the culture, the more effective you can be as a participant — that goes for life and for Twitter. If you can get a handle on the nuances of this communication style — the type of Tweets that plummet and the type that soar — you’ll be better equipped to contribute content that is valuable, unique and compelling (more on that in step 5).

4. Metrics and Monitoring

  • Monitor terms that pertain to your business or industry. It’s incredibly useful to see what Twitter users are saying about your business, your industry, your products or your work — consider it a free, unfiltered focus group. You can automatically monitor Twitter for specific updates in a few ways: TweetDeck can bet set up to constantly monitor up to 10 terms that you select. Or, if you use RSS, you can do a search on Twitter Search, then subscribe to the feed for that query. (Leave us a note in the comments if you need help with that step.)
  • Define what you will consider “success” as you venture into Twitter. Is it how many people are following you? How many replies you receive weekly? How many visitors Twitter sends to your website? By developing clear standards early, it will keep you focused. It will also act as an early warning system to let you know when you need to start adjusting your strategy.

5. Contribute content that counts

Don’t spam your Twitter followers with sales pitches and ad copy. Instead, try to mine your business for engaging stories, interesting angles and thoughtful approaches that you can share. This is easier than you think: nobody knows your business like you do. What are the “front lines” in your business? If it’s the guys in the shop, sit down with them weekly to find out more about a project they’re working on. If it’s a team of programmers, plumbers, pro soccer players or professors, tune into the day-to-day and discover the unique aspects of your organization that nobody else knows about. As you learned in step 3, this is a conversation, not a speech. When you enter Twitter as a business, you are being invited into someone’s living room. Do your best to add commentary and ideas that will add value, and you will be rewarded.

Got questions? Want to chime in with your own tips, tricks or tools for using Twitter? Comments are open 24/7, and we’re here to help.

  • http://www.zachbulick.com Zach

    Excellent article Mr. Gilbert!
    I’m using this article right now actually to explain twitter for a side business project. Awesome.

  • http://www.facetofacesolutions.org Dan

    Thanks for this wonderful artical. As a new twitter user it has been most helpful!