Many small business owners have told me they understand how Facebook is a good fit for business, but have difficulty drawing a similar conclusion when it comes to Twitter.
According to a report from GlobalWebIndex, an analysis firm, Twitter increased its user base by more than 288 million people in 2012, making it the fastest growing social network, exceeding Facebook, Pinterest, and Google+. Of that number, Twitter became most popular among older users. The over 55 age group grew 115 percent, while those in the 45 to 54 age range grew 81 percent.
If for no other reason than its brisk adoption rate, businesses need to make effective use of Twitter, not just have a presence there.
This article addresses Twitter's value and describes six effective practices for using it.
Ways to Use Twitter
I often refer to Twitter as a "social media Swiss Army knife" in that it is a simple tool that has many uses, as follows.
Community building. Create a strong community of followers who will help raise awareness, visibility, and affinity for your business.
Media relations. Share updates, events, ideas, and relevant stories in which the media may find interest.
Customer relations. Use Twitter to engage with customers who may have questions or issues;
Event promotion. Drive attendance to events you sponsor or in which you take part.
Special alerts. Alert customers to new products, special sales and exclusive offers.
Branding and awareness. Use Twitter to increase awareness about your business and its products.
Influence building. Share information that your followers value and they will look to you as an essential resource.
6 Effective Twitter Practices for Ecommerce Merchants
1. Tie to specific marketing goals. Like any other social network, Twitter should serve specific marketing goals. For example, if increasing sales is the goal, launch a Twitter campaign using unique URLs, along with calls-to-action focused on driving sales.
If the goal is to improve customer service, set up a dedicated Twitter account for customers to ask questions, similar to what Comcast (@comcastcares), Zappos (@zappos_service) and Ford (@FordCustService) have done.
2. Use hashtags to find conversations. Use hashtags — #keyword — with events, topics, brands, products, special campaigns, and sales promotions (or just about anything you choose) to find and track conversations in Twitter.
Here are some helpful tips for using hashtags:
- Determine a specific reason for using a hashtag;
- Don’t overuse hashtags — 1 or 2 per tweet is best;
- Keep hashtags concise to use fewer characters;
- Promote the hashtag both online and offline;
- Integrate hashtags into sentences rather than just appending them to tweets.
3. Establish a Twitter schedule. Use a social media management application like HootSuite or Buffer to create a series of tweets and schedule them for posting a various times throughout the week. This helps keep Twitter messages on target and your account active.
Such tweets can include helpful tips, observations about your industry, product recommendations, inspirational quotes, and links to relevant resources. The key is that they add value to your followers. Scheduled tweets can be interspersed among real-time tweets.
It's important to establish a pattern of consistency with your tweeting strategy and scheduled tweets help ensure that you do.
4. Monitor relevant keywords. One of the best ways to use Twitter is to monitor conversations about your brand, products, industry, and competition, as follows.
Define a set of keywords. Search for your business name, Twitter handle, product names, industry terms, and competitors' brand names, Twitter handles, and products.
Make a schedule. Monitoring Twitter works best when you set a schedule. Spend a few minutes — daily or weekly — searching for your keywords to see what people are talking about.
If you share links on Twitter and use the URL shortener bit.ly, you can copy the link into your browser and add a "+" at the end to see how many people clicked on it and the types of conversations it generated.
5. Grow your following. Make it a practice to consistently grow a community of relevant followers. This can include current and prospective customers, vendors and product suppliers, employees, or anyone who has expressed interest in what you sell.
One of the best ways to get followers is to follow others first. Mention them in "shout outs" and retweet their content to gain their attention. Also, follow and proactively engage when they mention or retweet you.
6. Use the right tools. You can use Twitter directly, without third-party tools. However, it's much better to use more robust management tools such as HootSuite, TweetDeck, or SproutSocial.
Not only do these tools allow you to engage via Twitter, they enable you to add other social network accounts, as well. Some provide detailed analytics on your social media engagement activities.
The best way to understand Twitter is by using it. Whether you choose to leverage Twitter for sales promotions, media or customer relations, branding, or influence building, these six effective practices should help you get started.