Getting Started in Social Media: Twitter for Business

01/15/2010

After one of our clients recently set up a twitter account for her company and we connected, she sent me an email that read “OK, seriously – how did you manage to get 439 people to follow you?  I mean, I’m sure you’re an interesting guy, but 439?  The race is on!”

I had to admit that 400 wasn’t really that many compared to a lot of the people I follow, and we continued a conversation about how twitter and other social networks could fit into their marketing plan. In keeping with my new years resolution to blog more for clients than creatives, I thought this topic would make a good blog post – so here we go: how to use social media for your business (an introduction).

For my personal account, I’m not obsessed with growing my followers or think that my follower count gives me magic Whuffie points. I feel like I’ve found a pretty good network size for me personally – not so many people that’s I’m overwhelmed and it’s useless, not so few that it’s ever boring. I’ve built my list with quality in mind over quantity, and I frequently trim off people whose posts become meaningless or excessive. It’s a good resource for me as a creative professional to keep a good pulse on what’s going on in the world that’s relative to me.

If you’re doing this for your business, however, different rules apply. You want as many followers as possible, and you want to engage with as many people as possible, even those you don’t follow. So how do you get started?

Note: There are already tons of sites out there with the “how to’s” and “twitter etiquette” rules, so I’m going to focus on the business aspect.

The Tools

Twitter search for 'CloudProfile'

Twitter search for 'CloudProfile'

Think of Twitter like you think of email – its simply a communication technology. Like email, it derives a lot of it’s value from the services built on top of it which add functionality and make it easy to use. There are lots of twitter clients out there, such as Seesmic and TweetDeck, and even some targeted for business use like Cotweet (and CloudProfile too, as an aside). I like TweetDeck and CloudProfile, but they all share the big important feature that you really need: search.

The key thing that these tools give you is the ability to setup persistent searches that will turn up tweets about your business, your industry, or other key words that you want to monitor.

This week I was looking around for a better time tracking solution for our team, so I sent out a tweet asking for recommendations. In addition to friends providing recommendations, 4 companies that make time tracking tools responded to me within an hour, prompting me to check out their products. How did they find me? They had searches set up and someone keeping an eye out for anyone who mentioned “time tracking”. One of those companies now has my business.

If your business is local, and you want to cast a narrower net to find people who are geographically near you, then you will want to check out the tools in CloudProfile (disclosure – I have an interest in CloudProfile, but it really is a great tool for this!). One of the features of CloudProfile is searching for your business or keywords within a geographical radius of your location. For me personally, I’ve found lots of like-minded creative types around my city with this tool, and if you’re a small local business I think CP is worth the monthly fee for the ‘radar’ features alone.

Local Twitter 'radar' in CloudProfile

Local Twitter 'radar' in CloudProfile

Engagement

So now you’ve found a bunch of people who are talking about your business or industry – how do you join the conversation? Authentically. Be aware that people are very sensitive these days to spam (aren’t you?), so when you engage with people on social networks, make sure you do so in a constructive way. Add value to the conversation, don’t just send everyone a boilerplate sales message. If they had a specific concern or question, give them a real answer. If they haven’t specifically asked for a product recommendation, skip the sales pitch and just be the expert who can answer their questions on the topic. Your goal here is not to link spam, but to build relationships. You want to establish yourself/your business as the expert in the field, and be helpful. People will figure out who you are and what you do, don’t worry so much about that. If they choose to follow you, consider that a victory.

Find the pulse of your industry and follow it

In the spirit of conversation, you want to be listening as much as you are talking. Use your twitter account to follow other thought leaders in your industry, high profile potential customers, as well as your customers themselves. Twitter is not just a marketing tool for businesses to broadcast to, but also a powerful listening device. You’re likely to hear breaking industry news on Twitter before anywhere else. Twitter is the biggest focus group ever, and it’s free, so take advantage of that.

There are lots of twitter directories out there that can help you get started, such as WeFollow.com. Do a search for job titles of people that are related to your business, and start following them; not just in the hopes that they will follow you back, but for the information they are sharing as well. Add your twitter account to these directories too with relevant tags.

So those are the basics – find relevant people, make it easy for interested people to find you, and have authentic conversations. With that you’ll be way ahead of most businesses when it comes to taking advantage of social media. Oh yeah, and the last thing you should do if you’re reading this is follow me 🙂