If you are still looking for a reason to join Twitter, then you’ve already missed the boat. With an estimated 5 million users (and growing), nearly $60 million in secured funding and interest from big-time corporate buyers, the microblogging platform has, at least for now, secured its role as lead actor on the social media stage. The companies with the sharpest foresight got on board ages ago, and they are currently reaping the benefits of what many are calling the world’s biggest cocktail party. For everyone else, the time to integrate Twitter into communications strategies was yesterday. So without further ado, here are some key best practices from those who have gone before you.
â–¶ Build a community. Central to an effective Twitter strategy is having an audience of followers who can directly impact your brand, be they consumers, media or fans. However, true to social media, the only effective way to get followers is to be a conversation starter, so the first thing you should do after creating a Twitter account is to find the users you want to follow based on mutual interests. Luckily, there are a number of resources designed to help, including Twitter Search, Twitter Public Timeline, TweeterTags and TweetWorks
“Start with the people you know,” says Kelley Cooper, Internet marketing manager of the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Listen to your natural partners, whether or not you do business with them.”
Once you choose to follow someone, pay attention to their tweets and engage in conversations. If they pose a question, provide an answer. See who else replies to their tweets and follow them, too. Then, to grow your own audience organically, focus on populating your own account with interesting and relevant information.
“There’s no room for commercials,” Cooper says. “Be interesting to your followers—period.”
â–¶ Make Twitter a customer service tool. “Be prepared to help your customers, who will find and follow you on Twitter,” says Brian Gluckman, media relations manager of AutoTrader.com. “When they have a problem, they will expect you to help.”
Likewise, execs must be on the lookout for the unhappy customers who aren’t among your followers, as these are the ones that could do the most damage. Using the various Twitter search tools available, scan for conversations happening about your brand. When you see an opportunity to add value, speak up.
“Identify your customers’ pain points,” says Esther Steinfeld, PR director of Blinds.com. “Then, give them solutions.”
In terms of using Twitter to push products on customers—don’t. “You can’t post links to products and expect people to click them,” Steinfeld says. “It’s all about having conversations.”
â–¶ When using Twitter for media outreach, tread carefully. More and more media are signing onto Twitter, but communications execs might want to reconsider using the platform as a vehicle for pitching story ideas. “This is not the place for a hard pitch,” Cooper says. “Twitter is a conversation starter.”
Beyond pitching, Twitter is good for cultivating relationships with media and for observing reporters’ interests, personalities and interactions with their audiences.
â–¶ Remember that the time commitment is all relative. One of the biggest questions for Twitter newbies: “How much time should I spend doing it?”
The short answer: It depends. “No two organizations use Twitter the same way,” says Chris Brown, managing editor of AMW.com. “What works for me won’t necessarily work for you.”
Sure, there are people who tweet so often that is seems like they have nothing else to do, but they should not be establishing your own standard. Rather, you should set your own standard in the context of your industry, your followers and their expectations. Once a day may be enough for some, while once an hour may be required for others. Brown recommends setting your schedule according to the times when your followers are most active. If you can be present and active at those times, then going hours and hours without tweeting at all isn’t a problem.
Another approach to time management: Make it a matter of math. According to Catherine Merritt, PR coordinator for Morton’s Steakhouse, her team manages the time they do spend on Twitter by dividing it into thirds: one-third for general conversation, one-third for engaging users via searches and one-third for disseminating general messages.
â–¶ Re-tweet to build relationships. A re-tweet—or re-posting—of someone else’s original tweet is a great vehicle for getting on the radar of influential Twitter users. That said, re-tweets are not to be used flippantly; each re-posting must have a specific purpose.
“Re-tweet items others have tweeted that are either of interest or useful to your own followers,” Gluckman says. “When you re-tweet, always give credit to where you found it, even if it came from a competitor.”
Re-tweeting is also a way to build relationships with media. Re-tweet links to their articles, but only when they are relevant to your own audience of followers.
â–¶ Track Twitter activity. As is the case with most social media platforms, Twitter has a number of built-in metrics that are so simple, communications executives often don’t realize what they have to offer.
“Twitter makes it easy to see what the competition is doing to lure your customers, and vice versa,” Gluckman says. To take advantage of this capability and to measure the ROI of the time you spend tweeting, tap into these tools and tricks:
• Bit.ly: URL-shortening service that can track click-through rates of tweeted links.
• RetweetRank.com: Tracks the number of Twitter users who re-tweet your posts.
• TweetDeck.com: Aggregation service that conducts automated Twitter searches based on your chosen keywords.
• Followers vs. Followees: “The ratio of the number of people who follow you to the number of people you follow is a key metric of success,” Steinfeld says, urging execs to tweet information that is interesting or useful to their target audience.
â–¶ Link Twitter activity to other means of quantifying ROI. In the case of Morton’s Steakhouse, Twitter is another tool for driving traffic to the corporate Web site.
“The objective is to build awareness, but to also build business,” Merritt says. “We use promotions and incorporate a data-capture site to monitor how many people click through from Twitter to Mortons.com. Doing these giveaways builds our follower base and increases our overall presence.”
Twitter’s longevity may still be debatable, but one thing is certain: The smartest execs are riding its current wave of popularity for all it’s worth, and they are definitely coming out on the winning side. For those who are still weighing the costs, consider Brown’s advice: “Do it before you talk about it, because the conversation will happen whether you’re participating or not.” PRN
( Editor’s Note: Follow PR News on Twitter @prnewsonline.)
Esther Steinfeld, firstname.lastname@example.org; Kelley Cooper, email@example.com; Chris Brown, firstname.lastname@example.org; Brian Gluckman; email@example.com; Catherine Merritt, firstname.lastname@example.org