Everybody is talking about Twitter. And what many of them are saying to businesses is: Get on Twitter or get left behind, as your competitors adopt the service and customers flock to their businesses, not yours.
Is it true? That depends on which of the many Twitter surveys you read. For example, a survey by Citibank/GfK Roper concluded that 76 percent of small business owners don’t use Twitter or any other social media and/or don’t find it helpful in attracting new customers. While a survey by Internet2Go and MerchantCircle says that nearly half of small businesses are using Twitter and Facebook to promote themselves.
The only survey that matters, of course, is your personal survey: Do you want to give Twitter a try? If so, then the answers to the following questions can help you make the most of your efforts in the Twittersphere.
What Is Twitter?
If you’ve been living in a cave for the past year, or if (more likely) you’ve had your head down while trying to keep your business moving forward, Twitter is a free service that lets you send short messages (140 characters or less) to anyone who has signed up as your follower. The messages (known as “tweets”) are displayed on your Twitter Web page. You can send tweets to your Twitter page with your PC or mobile phone.
How Do You Get started?
First, obviously, go to Twitter and sign up. It’s easy. Then spend some time familiarizing yourself with the service. Find out who your friends are following on Twitter and start following those members as well. Chances are they’ll reciprocate when you ask to follow them, and your community is off and flying. Also use the “Find People” search at the top of the Twitter page to find others in your industry and see which Twitter members they’re following. Or use Twitter Search to locate people in your area who are interested in topics related to your business. Then start posting tweets.
What Should Your Tweets Say?
Don’t post all marketing messages all the time. Think of Twitter as a conversation, a way to give your business a human face, engage potential customers on a personal level, and, hopefully, establish yourself as an authority in your field. If you own a bagel shop, post your thoughts on what makes a great bagel. Or post a link to an interesting bagel article you’ve read recently. Or start a “favorite bagel” poll. This way, any marketing messages you tweet will be viewed in an informational light. Occasionally you can slip in a “10 percent off our new escargot bagel” special and your loyal followers will show up to try it (or not).
What Should Your Tweets Not Say?
Again, Twitter isn’t a vehicle for marketing spam. And it isn’t a tool for you to bash your competitors or merchants in other fields with. Negativity is frowned upon in the Twittersphere; don’t use it to lament the woeful state of the bagel business or even the economy in general. Ditto religion and politics. If you want to air your world opinions, start a separate account.
What If Another Tweeter Criticizes You?
As Shakespeare once wrote, “Methinks he doth protest tweets too much.” Or words to that effect. Keep this in mind. Don’t reply directly to negative comments or you’ll look defensive. Instead, think of a clever new tweet to post, illustrating the positive aspects of your business and your upbeat outlook.
How Can You Keep Up with All the Chirping?
Twitter can quickly start to absorb more of your time than is good for you or your business. But there are shortcuts available. There’s a free desktop application called TweetDeck that lets you build a customizable page to tweet from. You can organize columns by friends, mentions, direct messages, and more. As new tweets come in, they display in the corner of your desktop for a few seconds. Another useful service you can use (free for now but only until early 2010) is called Marchex Reputation Management, which detects all mentions of your name in many places, not only on Twitter but on Yelp, CitySearch, and more, and tells you what people are saying about you. There are even companies that will do all your tweeting (and Facebooking) for you — so you can spend your time building a better bagel.
Tom Stein has contributed to leading business and general interest publications including Wired Magazine, Business 2.0, Venture Capital Journal, and Tennis Magazine. Previously, he held staff-writer positions at the San Francisco Chronicle, Red Herring, and InformationWeek. He also was a senior editor at Success Magazine, where he covered some of the most unusual and utterly unique entrepreneurial companies in the world.