Twitter for small businesses: how to use it and why?

Twitter is the big internet phenomenon of the last two years. But what benefit does it hold for small businesses and how should marketers best use the service for their company?

22nd December 2009 at 1:00 pm

With a 40% drop out rate in the first month amongst first-time Twitter users a great deal of your following could be deadwood. Despite this, Time magazine believes that “Twitter will permanently change American business within the next two to three years.”

So, what does Twitter mean for you as a small business? What are the best practice guidelines?

Twitter in a Nutshell

Twitter, if you’re not familiar with it, is a service embraced by companies, individuals and celebrities which allows users to enter 140 characters of text with which to communicate, share information and chat publicly and privately.

The idea is to build up a following among users that interest you, and for companies of all sizes Twitter presents the opportunity to interact with existing and potential customers.

It’s also effectively a real-time search engine, with live updates on an infinite range of subjects, so typing a keyword in the search box will enable you to see what Twitter users – or ‘Tweeple’ around the world are saying about your brand, industry or geography.

Twitter presents challenges to small businesses as well as opportunities, so if you’re planning to use Twitter for your business, it’s best to do it properly or not at all.

From the outset it’s vital to remember that if you’re tweeting as a company it’s harder to gather a following. Also, be sure to make sure you have objectives clearly marked out. What do you want to achieve via Twitter? How and when are you going to measure it?

The Pros & Things To Do

Twitter enables you to see who in the world is talking about your product, industry or company and interact with them. You can build up a network of potential customers and partners, and promote your news, products, services and offers. Here are some practical tips on how your business could use Twitter

  • Make sure a real person is representing your business and don’t be too salesy in your profile or in your tweeting. Twitter’s about developing relationships online, like you would do for your business offline.
  • Leaving the default Twitter image is, again, impersonal and won’t encourage a follow back. It’s also best to use a photo of you or one of your team as opposed to a logo.
  • Remember if you use Twitter as a sales tool you’ll turn people off and prompt an unfollowing. Use the three Es – engage, entertain, enlighten. Marketing is about conversations nowadays.
  • Try using Tweetdeck to manage your tweets and to search for people to follow or “trend”. If using multiple Twitter accounts, Hootsuite is a great tool.
  • Never outsource Twitter to a third party, such as a PR firm or freelancer – you need to be authentic and tweet in your own voice.
  • Log on in spates during the day. It can become both addictive and a frustrating distraction as you get sucked into conversations. Be disciplined.
  • Use hashtags before keywords to help them be found more easily when others search for the topic or trend you’re tweeting about.
  • Play around with Twitter using a personal account before committing your company to the service. This will help you familiarise yourself with the platform and the way people use it.

The Cons & Things To Avoid

  • Never tweet in anger. It may be tempting if you see something infuriating that you want to respond to, but remember that whatever you type will be available online forever, even if you delete your comment, some traces can remain.
  • Don’t set an auto-follow thank you message. This is an option available to you to say “thanks for following” and add your message to all new followers, but this is seen as impersonal and defeats the object of Twitter as an open dialogue.
  • Put a policy in place to avoid any off-piste clumsiness from your staff. As with all things social media common sense is a prime currency. If you’ve got employees talking about where they’ve been for new business or what they really think of a customer then you’ve got some fires to fight.
  • Although Twitter could help you discover comments about your brand that you may not like, it also presents you with the opportunity to engage positively with the people making those comments. This is the essence of marketing in the Web 2.0 era – it’s no longer a monologue, it’s a dialogue between brands and consumers.

Twitter Impact Measurement

Once you’ve got Twitter up and running you want to know what people are saying about you. Not everyone will use the @ prefix when referring to your name or brand, so if you want to know what people are saying about your company – or industry – log onto sites like Addictomatic or Ubervu, enter your keyword, and you’ll see exactly who is saying what on a number of platforms, such as news and blog sites.

If you’ve embedded Google Analytics and are tracking your traffic, then you should be able to see what percentage comes from Twitter.

Even if it’s not substantial, it’s something which could lead to sales and partnership building, so Twitter is often worth the time investment. Try it on a personal level first before committing your brand to the service.

For more on using Twitter and social media for small business in general you might be interested in a podcast I recently recorded with Jenni Lloyd of social media agency NixonMcInnes.

If you’re using Twitter for your small business, do feel free to leave a comment to share any advice or tips you’ve learned that others might find useful when starting out.

Chris Lee

Chris Lee is a freelance public relations and digital media consultant. Having spent a decade straddling both sides of the technology media fence – within independent tech PR agencies and also as a journalist for IT Week, Computing and latterly New Media Knowledge. Chris is also the founder and editor of Run Marketing, a DIY marketing site dedicated to small businesses.

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