by Amy Armitage
Twitter is the latest web-centric communications service to explode onto the scene, and businesses have moved in rapidly. However, a little discretion goes a long way, as the users of "social" sites and services have demonstrated that they will stomach only so much commercialization of what they consider their personal space. As MySpace evolved from an upstart new kid on the block where everyone let everything "hang out" to a part of the Rupert Murdoch media empire, people who'd had enough began looking for other places. This influenced the rise of Facebook. Now that Facebook has begun acting like a "regular old corporation," too, folks are on the search again.
Your company can most definitely benefit from using Twitter. The primary use for it in business is to listen, because, as every top-performing salesman knows, listening is more important than talking most of the time. You want to hear from every customer, vendor, client, industry leader, journalist, activist, colleague and competitor who has anything to say about your product, service or business. Twitter has much in common with old-style networking, like early morning meetings at diners and water-cooler chats, except it's been "virtualized" for 21st century knowledge sharing. With that brief introduction, let's look at 10 great ways to use Twitter to your business's advantage.
1. Listen more, talk less: If you just think of Twitter as another way to "post" your messages and advertisements, you're missing the whole point and your following will probably be nonexistent. Spend more time listening to what others are "tweeting" (posting) about you and you will gather valuable information. When you do post a message, make it something people want to know, not something you want them to know.
2. Find your niche: Twitter's uses are limited only by your imagination, or someone else's if you're fresh out of ideas. Don't think of what you can get, but what you can offer and what you can learn. You may want to share knowledge, you may want to obtain it, or you may just want to assure customers, colleagues and others that you are available to them. You will benefit to the extent that you listen and stay engaged, which means referring back to #1 a lot.
3. Develop a personality (or a few): A number of business bloggers have commented on how well Twitter works to humanize an otherwise impersonal entity like a corporation. A fresh and interesting personality attracts followers, and some successful firms even allow numerous voices to reach out from within the company's offices and cubicles.
4. Eavesdrop: There are several good tools for monitoring what is being said, starting with Twitter's own search field. Search for your term(s) and when the results are displayed, you will also get a list of the current most-popular searches (to the right) so you always know what's hot at the moment. The site monitter.com, as the name implies, was developed specifically for use with Twitter, to allow simultaneous multiple searches.
5. Build your audience: The first thing to do is post a few tweets to get a handle on how it all works, of course, and dedicate some study time to see what your competitors and companies in the same industry are doing. Make use of the "Find People" function on the top of the Twitter page to find people in your own company, your current clients and colleagues, old classmates and friends, etc. Use the "@" reply to connect directly with people, to make sure they see your tweet, and discuss matters of interest to them. When they respond with the @ reply, other folks following them may notice you and choose to follow you, too.
6. Follow the followers: You should find out who else your followers are following, as that can give you fresh insight into the types of people to seek. Use the various search methods (see #4 above) to find subjects that relate to your industry, and pay attention to who's talking about these matters. Don't be a broadcaster, be a conversationalist, and if you do Twitter right, you will build a following daily.
7. Be human: Too many people, from firms both large and small, represent their firms poorly by appearing to be robots on a fixed schedule. They crank out PR verbiage and automated data and don't offer anything for followers to grab hold of. You have to "throw them a line" or you will sail right by everyone.
8. Be polite and respectful: This means that the rules for eating Thanksgiving dinner at the neighbor's house are in effect-no politics, no religion, unless you're a politician or a clergyman, of course. These subjects have no place in a business conversation, so leave them out.
9: Play nice: Don't get emotionally involved or rant about a person, place or product. One marketing blogger called Twitter "a ship we are all traveling on," so it's important to act appropriately-or be forced to "walk the plank."
10: Stay positive: Don't be pessimistic, and don't whine or complain about what's wrong with this or that industry or the world in general. People will follow people they like, who offer something of value, who are upbeat and who stay on an even keel. Of course, some situations require a serious, even solemn approach, but those are the exceptions and should be handled delicately. Anyone can bellyache, gripe, moan and groan. A leader, on the other hand, offers solutions.
Bottom line? Twitter is a tool, and a good one, for keeping conversations going with stakeholders, potential customers, colleagues and even competitors. It takes real-time management because it's a real-time tool, but when it's done right Twitter can be an important addition to your sales, marketing and business communications arsenal.