Having been asked lots and lots lately about Twitter and what it means for business, i thought i'd pull together a few ideas on the best way for businesses to use (not abuse) Twitter from recent conversations and client work.
Being the current Internet pin-up for the masses, it does make sense for every business to at least understand what it is all about, what it does and how it can be potentially used. Even if you conclude it is not the right for you and your brand, it's always best-practice to understand what the fuss is about before making any decison.
Given that the barrier to entry is nil (well ok, having regular news, an internet connection and a semi-literate tweeter perhaps) and the current volume of traffic on and around the site is spiralling; upwards of 10 Million users, then it's owrth knowing if this free online community is right for you and yours.
No doubt it will be superseded by the next great Internet hope, but for now it is important for all digital marketing folk to explore what it offers in relation to your business. This is a very healthily habit to get into - not so much jumping on the bandwagon for the sake of it, more harnessing a place where an awful lot of others, some who may be potential clients/prospects, are to be found. If radio, then TV and now the web are where the masses are to be found then any right-minded marketer would try and follow.
Ok, some ideas for how your business can use Twitter then...
What to talk about
A vital first question to ask yourself this; "do we have anything worth talking about?". If you don't generate Tweet-worthy news, can you start? Regularly enough to warrant a Twitter account? If not, don't bother.
Tweet-worth news being the likes of: Press releases, new forum posts, case studies, white papers, news, views, interviews, new products, events, reviews, competitions and so on.
Twitter versus email?
I was recently asked to debate the topic of email versus social media and I'm sure the contributors were no doubt looking for me scorn on one or other and proclaim would come out on top. Well, rather boringly, for me it's pretty simple as to who will come out on top, both.
Twitter serves a very different purposed to email, but they can compliment each other perfectly. Use Twitter to drive attention and push your followers to the deeper, more personalised email with time. Adding a link through to your email sign-up page on your Twitter account works well. Retweet your best email stories or articles of the week too. Don't rush to give too much too soon; just make it very easy for those that find what you have to say on Twitter engaging to find out ever more from you via email.
Befriend your friends.
If somebody starts to follow you, follow them back. As well as being able to see what they tweet or retweet, also actively retweet the stories about your industry they post - take the time to follow other industry brands, bodies and figures. When they say something interesting, retweet the story and pass it on - add value to your followers first or second hand.
You can also create an automated reply message for your followers. They will receive this automatically when they follow you; use this as a chance to tell them a little more about you and your brand, drive them to your website, email sign-up etc
keep an eye on direct and @ messages. A bit like company blogs for me this one. Ensure that you or your colleagues keep an eye on messages sent you. Not only does this help the sense of community build between, it is often the first place very angry or ecstatic customers will share their thoughts. Take a look at how @vodafoneuk do it. And Ok, you may not have the vast number of staff a brand like Vodafone has, but it really isn't that hard to keep an eye on and share this work out. Especially good for interns, graduates or new starters who are keen and want to learn the ropes.
Who's saying what
The web in general is littered with excellent trend and buzz tracking tools, and Twitter noise is no exception to this. Be it through the Twitter search page or via one of the myriad of free alert tools out there - my favourite being Twilerts via email, you can keep abreast of exactly who is talking about you and your brand.
Take a slightly wider look too. The excellent site WhosTalkin does much the same but across a number of social media and news websites and such sites can often uncover those bloggers or web users that have lots to say about you that may not have known existed.
Already Twitter has attracted its fair share of Spammers and unscrupulous users. It's inevitable really, but it does show it must be popular by volume of traffic at least, as spammers are always a sign of mass participation. Within a few days or weeks of starting you will no doubt pick up your share of followers who are promoting the endless "Get rich quick" schemes, "lifestyle enhancing" pharmaceuticals or the like, but whatever the urge, don't exploit the trends of the day on Twitter to try and drive more followers and traffic. Take a look at how Habitat recently fell foul of this very thing.
Try to make real money
Be it end of line clearance, reminders of events or the latest must-have product, use Twitter to drive traffic through to your website. Most web analytics reports should show how much traffic has come from the site, but using URL shortening sites like http://www.bit.ly/ mean you can also track click through on every story. If you can start to track these Twitter visitors all the way through their sites journeys (again using Web Analytics) it will quickly show you any ROI from your followers.
Persuade your followers to encourage others. Take a look at brands such as Moonfruit and how they have exploited the "Trending Topics" section of Twitter (oh, and used a prize draw for 10 free laptops too!) to boost your followers quickly.
Econsultancy are past masters at this too. Be it with #followfriday, running real-time feeds on their site of your Tweets about them, or by the constant self-promotion of their stable of excellent content, they have added 10k of followers in little time at all.
Twitter-only exclusives can work; my much-loved local radio station, @106jackfm, do this well with Twitter-only competitions (although Bryan Adam tickets don't appeal to all Jack!) from time-to-time.
Integrate with your website.
Take a web developer, a little bit of their time and your website real estate and add real-time feeds to the site. Show every tweet that mentioned your brand or your preferred topics on the feed and generate some excellent ever-changing content. Careful though, don't fall foul of pranksters like the Telegraph.
Benchmark your competitors
My much overused adage that "benchmarking is not theft" still applies in the Twittersphere. Seek out your competitors or partners or those that are best-of-breed; who really are creative and clever with how they use their Twitter account, then take all that learning back and use it yourself, easy!
Drive on to offline
A lot of business, especially B2B, will not be selling or transacting online. No matter, Twitter is still an excellent way to drive footfall or any other offline conversion in fact. Take a look at the Dell case study on the Twitter site for example.
Everybody loves a bargain and by tweeting coupons, offers, promotions or vouchers that can be printed out and used in-store can drive great uptake and start to spread the offer, if good enough, to the wider non-Twitter community too.