Make Twitter an Effective Business Tool in Four Steps

It is not uncommon for users contemplating Twitter to come to the conclusion that getting involved with yet another social media platform would be a frivolous waste of time. However, more and more professionals are finding Twitter to be a highly effective tool for a large number of business activities, including market research, business development, lead generation, customer support and recruiting. The key is in the right approach to the platform.

Despite lingering questions, corporate use of Twitter is growing dramatically. The platform is also touching more and more corporate departments, expanding from marketing and PR into customer service and HR, essentially reaching every corporate activity.

Case in point: Radian6, a social media monitoring firm, recently announced its platform now supports the integration with CRM and Web analytics systems, which also indicates that progress is being made in resolving one of the key questions that has been associated with social media activities from the beginning—the one about ROI.

While it is clear that organizations are beginning to jump on the Twitter bandwagon, it is equally clear that they are still primarily using it to distribute news from other sources, such as their own Web sites. Relatively few companies use it to engage with their audiences, which is where the most effective use of Twitter exists.

With that, here are four steps you can take to make the most effective use of Twitter for your company or client:

1. Monitor. Do not try to absorb the entire tweetstream; that would indeed be a frivolous waste of your time. Start with using Twitter Search to identify tweets that are relevant to your business. Find out what’s being said about your company, products, services and competitors, or look for discussions about trends relevant to your industry.

Advanced search options allow you to not only search by topic, but also by geographic region or language. You can also look into a large variety of vendors that provide online monitoring solutions. What’s most critical at this stage is to listen.

2. Follow. In your search of relevant tweets, you will have come across Twitterers who consistently tweet about topics of relevance or interest to you. Start to follow these people. See who they are following; you might want to follow them, too. You can also consult Twitter directories such as Twellow, which sorts people by industry.

Once you start following people on Twitter, a large percentage will return the favor and start following you, too. You are beginning to develop an audience, which is essential for the next step. At this stage, however, do not expand your list of followers too quickly; focus on quality, not quantity. Over time, your audience will grow organically.

3. Respond to Tweets/Re-Tweet. In your search of relevant tweets, you might have come across people who are in the market for the type of product or service you sell, or who have product questions or complaints. Here we come across one of the most powerful uses of Twitter—addressing customer service issues.

Beyond responding to customer or prospect inquiries, consider proposing questions to your audience (test a story idea), or get in touch with members of the media or bloggers.

Twitter is also increasingly used to announce events and to provide live coverage during events. You can use Twitter for promotional purposes, but be subtle—blatant commercialism is frowned upon in the Twittersphere, as it is in all social media environments. Focus on delivering content with a perceived value to your audience, such as white papers and industry trend analyses.

Also, consider re-tweeting those tweets you have found to be relevant and that might be interesting to your audience. Use the direct message function in Twitter to respond directly to specific members of your audience; chances are you will eventually meet those individuals outside of the Twittersphere.

4. Manage your activity on Twitter. Once you have built a number of followers, you’ll quickly find you’ll need a way to manage the tweetstream. Use tools such as TweetDeck, a dashboard that will help you organize your followers in groups and search for key terms.

So now we come full circle—we’re back to the monitoring function, finding tweets relevant to your brand, organization or client. Happy tweeting. PRN


Stephen Debruyn is a strategic marketing consultant based in the San Francisco area. He helps companies blend new media strategies with traditional marketing approaches. You can follow him on Twitter @stephendebruyn.