Can you really get business from Twitter?
(5th update May 2013)
“Yes you can, and this is how.”
Twitter can do what every business owner wants and needs: it can allow you to listen to what potential clients and customers are looking for, need and think and it can be the means by which you connect with them directly as individuals and create rewarding relationships. In Twitter terms you ‘follow’ the people you want to listen to and attract the people you want to talk to as your “followers” (more of this later).
Celebrities and news
Most of the reports you’ll hear about twitter in the media will be about celebrities or news reports. Twitter has become a major information channel for other media with real time, uncensored reports. You may or may not find these aspects interesting or useful. They have little to do with the way most people use Twitter for business.
Getting started is easy
If you haven’t already got a Twitter account go to www.twitter.com and follow the instructions. Do write down the password you use for your account as you’ll need this for all sorts of applications that come later. It is essential to personalize your profile. Use your own name rather than a company name but make it short, simple and memorable.
This is often the first thing people look at when they are deciding whether or not to follow you. First impressions count and you will be recognised both on-line and in face to face meetings from your avatar picture so its really important to use a good one (close up head shot is best) and don’t change it too often. People form relationships with people not companies so don’t use a company logo.
You will be found by people doing searches so include your nearest city location and the keywords that will make it easy to find you.
Include a link to your web site or blog but also some information that is not just about business. For the same reason make sure you turn off the “Protect Updates” option. There is no point in using any social networks if your aim is to be private. Lighting a beacon fire or using semaphore is likely to be more private than any communication via the internet.
Who to follow
Use the search facility or the ‘find friends’ option to start following people you are interested in.
You may find that some of the people you follow will follow you back or random people will find you. You will get an email to let you know who they are. If any of these look like spam accounts or have content that you find distasteful (remember Twitter is uncensored) you can use the “block” facility. No-one knows if they’ve been blocked or by whom. It just means that you won’t see their tweets and they won’t see yours. Even a blocked person can find your tweets with a bit of effort so always act as though all you tweets can be seen by anyone.
If you don’t enjoy your Twitter experience you can change it by following different people. Think of it as leaving one party and going to another one!
Sending your first tweet
To send your first tweet type something in the box at the top of the page – max 140 characters. This will go to all the people who have already decided to follow you. What you’ll see on your home page now is a stream of tweets for the people you are following. Underneath each message you will see options that let you ‘favourite, re-tweet or reply’. ’Favourite’ stores that tweet in the “favorites” on your Twitter homepage. ‘Re-tweet or RT’ sends the message on to your followers and ‘reply’ means you answer the person who sent the tweet – but publicly. This will put an @ symbol in the text box followed by the twittername of the person you are replying to. Type your message and send. Your tweet will be seen by that person and also by everyone else who is following both of you.
When you see a conversation or a comment that interests you, just join in. They are public not private and most people are happy to hear new comments. It’s sometimes hard to follow conversations because people dip in and out but don’t let that bother you. Anything really interesting will probably come round again. Think of it like a party in a big house – you can’t join in every conversation at the same time.
If you want to send a private message to someone (not often necessary) use the Direct Message (DM) option on the top menu bar. You can only do this to people you are following and who follow you back. You can see all the DMs you’ve sent and received on this page. You can also see all the replies that have your @twittername in them. Always try to reply to these as they’re from people who are talking to you or about you!
What to tweet about
Join in as many conversations as possible, establish relationships, be as interesting as possible and your number of followers will build. Unless you are really, really funny or the circumstances are exceptional please spare us weather reports, your tea making habits, ablutions and health reports. Think about standing in a room full of people where you can be overheard by anyone – would you spew out quotes or endlessly repeat everything that others are saying? I hope not!
Selling on Twitter
As with all networking you need to get to know people before you start selling. An intriguing link to a subject on your blog or website will start to build an interest in what you do but if you blast out sales messages or are just plain boring you’ll lose followers pretty quickly.
When you get a really interesting tweet or a request for help, for example: “anyone know a great packaging company/hotel/printer?” etc., you can re-tweet the message using the re-tweet button. You’ll build a lot of goodwill and friends by re-tweeting. A good strategy is to send as many tweets as possible that other people think are worthwhile re-tweeting. Some people seem to think that if they re-tweet the millions of inspirational quotes that come their way their name will get re-tweeted too but if they’re not original or really funny you’ll just bore and annoy your followers and lose them.
Remember that the people you are interacting with aren’t virtual people. They are real people in a virtual meeting place so behave as you would if they were in the same room as you.
Some people use a system called autofollow which means if someone follows you, you automatically follow them back and if they unfollow you, you automatically unfollow them. This is generally only used by people who care more about the numbers than the quality of the people they follow. It’s easy to get thousands of followers if you choose to follow thousands of people but you are probably following a lot of automated accounts that just spew out sales messages rather than having meaningful conversations with people. Its better to choose who you follow by looking at their profile. If I get an automated Direct Message (DM) I generally unfollow that account as I’m not interested in anyone who treats me like a number instead of an individual.
There are lots of scams offering ways to get more followers but these often link to automated systems that take over your account so treat anything like that with extreme caution.
That’s the basics covered and I’d recommend you spend a few minutes every day getting comfortable with those and build your followers before looking at what else is going on.
Beyond the basics
You’ll find that people on Twitter talk about the best way to use it, the various applications and options and send out links to guides and tips. This is the easiest way to learn about all the various ways that have developed, usually independently of Twitter, to make it even better. If you see someone doing something or using an application you’re interested in, just ask them how to do the same.
A couple of the most popular free applications to keep track of your account are TweetDeck www.tweetdeck.com and Hootsuite www.hootsuite.com which allows you to arrange your twitter stream into groups. You can group together people whose tweets you definitely don’t want to miss so that they all appear in one column. You can see all the tweets that mention you in a separate column. All remaining tweets will just stream past in another column and you can dip in and out of those conversations as you choose.
If you use Facebook and LinkedIn you can set these pages to appear on Hootsuite too and manage all your accounts from one place.
There are various other applications for PCs, Macs and mobile phones. You can use some mobile phones to tweet messages and photographs http://twitpic.com The best way to find out about these is to listen to others, experiment & play until you find what suits you.
One of the easiest and quickest ways to get more business using Twitter is to have a blog that is configured to update Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networks whenever you post a new entry. As long as the blog subjects are of interest to your followers they will RT these links and lots of people will visit your blog and help you to build a reputation as an expert in your field and make you easier to find on Google and other search engines.
There are lots of useful tools that allow you to set up scheduled tweets and numerous analytical tools. Again, use these with caution or your will either bore people or annoy them and lose followers.
How it works for me
I have been using Twitter since January 2008 and choose the people I follow very carefully. Because much of my business is local I started out by selecting local business owners and connecting with people I already know.
However, I quickly found and joined in some really interesting conversations about things that are nothing to do with my business and started following and being followed by a wide variety of people from different countries that include writers, artists, journalists, photographers, musicians and TV producers. I’ve learned a lot, expanded my interests, made friends and laughed so much that at times I couldn’t see to type.
I’ve built my business connections because all of these people are connected to others who have been drawn into the conversations. I’ve been invited to write for other people’s blogs and I’ve had blog posts re-tweeted by people who have no interest in my business but because they’ve grown to like me they promote me to their followers and I do the same for them.
As a result I’ve had more people attend my workshops, mastermind groups and other events and I am building a reputation that goes way beyond the local people that I regularly do business with. I’ve also been invited to join and contribute to a private international discussion group of people who value my business ideas.
As all this activity is free, the only investment is my time which is a lot less than any efforts I could have made to get my business known by so many people.
I use HootSuite to organise the people I follow into lists. I follow about 600 people (its too many really, I need to prune the list!) and am followed by about 3,000 people. However, the people who are following me have between them hundreds of thousands of followers so the number of people I am able to reach goes way beyond my own account. My account is a small one by many Twitter standards but it’s manageable and gives me great results.
This article was first published in Aug 09 and has had several updates.
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