Do you tweet? How many tweeps do you have? When something good happens to you, do you suddenly exclaim, “woot”? If you’re one of the six million people worldwide who use the social media service Twitter, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Twitter, a microblogging service, is suddenly the talk of the town. Senators and congressional representatives were tweeting (sending messages of up to 140 characters, including spaces) during President Obama’s unofficial State of the Union speech. Some of the first reports from the scene of the U.S. Airways jet that landed safely in the Hudson River came from eyewitnesses tweeting what they’d seen. And almost all the anchors on MSNBC (and some from CNN) tweet daily. I’ve exchanged tweets with MSNBC’s David Shuster (Twitter name Shuster1600) about the SBA.
You might be thinking, “That sounds interesting, but what does it have to do with business?” Plenty, actually. In fact, an increasing number of big brand corporations tweet regularly, including Zappos, JetBlue, HP, Microsoft, Starbucks, Advanta, Dunkin’ Donuts, American Express, and Dell, just to name a few. But Twitter has also become the go-to place for entrepreneurs to learn, educate, connect, and market their businesses.
I just started seriously using Twitter about three months ago. As I write this I have 850 followers. Some are longtime friends and former co-workers, one is a relative, several are people I currently have business relationships with, others are new friends or business associates, and some are even total strangers.
At first I found Twitter to be a time-sucker. I would sit in front of the computer and just read everything people were saying. Now I know better. Everyone has their own method of tackling Twitter. To give you some insight, I turned to Rodney Rumford (Twitter name Rumford), a Web entrepreneur, Twitter advocate (he has over 5,600 followers), and author of Twitter as a Business Tool: Building Your Business 140 Characters at a Time (available at www.twitterbusinessbook.com). Rumford says Twitter “gives you the ability to be a fly on the wall at a party and listen to everyone talking and when you hear something interesting, you just jump in and join the conversation.”
Rumford says many people who join Twitter make the mistake of using it as a public chat. And while you certainly can do that, it’s smarter to use it as a forum to engage with others. “Use a business casual tone,” Rumford advises, “and you can’t go wrong.” For Rumford the key to Twitter is education. Rumford’s goal on Twitter is “to educate and inform,” a method that has helped him to attract a large number followers.
But Rumford cautions that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the Twitter conversations (he likens it to a river that often turns into rapids). He says, “If you let it, Twitter can drown you. So focus on who matters most to your business and nurture those relationships.”
Of course, there are the mandatory Twitter do’s and don’ts. Rumford shared some of what he calls the “deadly sins”: First, don’t use Twitter to hard sell. “Every conversation can’t be about you. Don’t push market.” He also warns against following everyone who follows you. Some people, he said, view the number of followers they have as a sort of popularity contest. Rumford says he’d rather be “smart and influential on Twitter” than popular. And don’t worry if someone you’re following doesn’t follow you back. “Sometimes I follow people just to listen,” adds Rumford.
Another one of Rumford’s “deadly sins” is to not have a profile and picture on your Twitter page. And he insists you must link to your Web site or blog for the best results.
An easy way to start listening on Twitter is to import contacts from your e-mail address book and start following those individuals. See who they follow and decide if you want to follow those folks as well. There are numerous Twitter search apps you can use to find people or topics that matter to you. Twitter asks users, “What are you doing?” Rather, Rumford says the real value is to share what you are thinking.
When I first started tweeting I was a bit overwhelmed. Rumford says most people find their comfort zone when they hit the 100/100 mark (followers and those following them). Rumford believes that if you have a Web site (and of course all businesses need Web sites) you should be on Twitter. He calls it the “ultimate word-of-mouth” marketing vehicle, partly because the platform is so dynamic and using it drives awareness. But like all marketing endeavors, Rumford says you need to “understand your end game, measure your ROI, and use social media to meet your business and revenue objectives.”
Twitter is only a starting point. There are lots of applications that can help you manage how you use the site. Finding Tweetdeck helped me get more comfortable using the site. For me, the real key to Twitter success is almost karmic: Give and you shall receive. Offer advice and assistance to others and it will come back to you. If you’re a Twitter newbie, you can find me on Twitter at Rieva. Let me know you’re on and I’ll be happy to share the names of some great people to follow.
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