7 Twitter Dos and Don'ts Every Startup Should Know

Twitter is the prototypical social network, the name on everybody's tongue, and the core of a successful social media presence. Knowing how to build your following -- and avoid the potential pitfalls -- is key to turning your tweets into traffic.

If there is one secret to Twitter success, it's be yourself. It's also the one that far too many businesses miss, much to their detriment. There are a multitude of places where being your business is the best way to make a good impression, but Twitter isn't one of them. Twitter is a lot like a small town, and has to be treated as such.

Many businesses treat Twitter as just one more place to broadcast. Like a website, a newsletter, or an ad in the local newspaper, business owners think of Twitter as somewhere to get their message out to as many people as possible. Twitter users aren't like website visitors or newspaper readers -- they are using Twitter to network, not receive one-way messages. Failing to interact is surefire suicide for your Twitter presence.

So what should you do?

First and foremost, interact. Don't just broadcast -- it's important to receive as well. Check what your followers are saying and engage them in conversation - and not just when it's to your advantage. Only tweeting when you have the opportunity to sell something is worse than not tweeting at all.

Reply to replies. Twitter provides an easy mechanism to direct tweets at specific users. Replies or @s -- so-called because they are indicated by @username at the beginning of a tweet - are tweets addressed at a particular account, and should be treated as direct contact. If someone takes the time to @ you, you should respond to them as though they were standing in front of you.

Follow with care. Many businesses make the mistake of following everyone, assuming that the more people you follow, the more people will follow you, and that the more followers you have, the more successful you are. Lots of followers are impressive, but if none are listening to you, then they aren't much use.

Target your following instead, so that the users you are following, and the ones who are following you back, are potential customers. Be careful, however, to be judicious in targeted following as well -- don't automatically follow anyone who uses a particular keyword, for example.

Don't focus on followers. In line with careful following, don't obsess over follower numbers. You'll gain more valuable followers through quality tweeting -- you'll also gain potential customers who don't necessarily follow, but do remember what they saw you saying. It's about quality over quantity.

Tweet for retweets. The easiest way to get what you're saying in front of the widest possible group, and with the most authority, is to make your tweets retweetable. Retweeting means a user who likes what you have said re-sends your tweet so that all of their followers see it as well. This has the added benefit of coming with their "seal-of-approval," since their followers know them and likely trust what they have to say. The easiest way to make your tweets retweetable is to tweet quality content that users will want to retweet.

Use direct messages with care. One of the worse offenses in following is to use automatic direct messages (DMs). Far too many businesses use services that automatically send a DM to everyone who follows them. While the practice in itself is frowned upon, these messages often commit the cardinal sin of being broadcast-only, directing followers to the company's website or otherwise pitching their product without making any attempt to engage. Many Twitter users automatically unfollow, and often will publicly denounce, anyone who uses auto-DMs.

Don't be a business. While your Twitter account may bear your business' name, and may have the purpose of driving sales, don't be the business. Twitter users want to get to know you, the person behind the business, and being yourself is crucial to building social capital with your followers.

Tweets about what may seem like mundane details -- that it's a slow afternoon, that you just had a weird phone call, what color your new marquee is -- are the kind of tweets that personalize your presence and help other users relate to you as a person, rather than a faceless business. While tweeting that the mail is late may not send you scores of sales, it may be the tweet that cements your place in the memory of a future customer with the same experience.

Properly using Twitter to build an engaged and loyal following takes time and care. A poorly executed presence can be difficult to remedy, and may be the only contact Twitter users ever have with your business. Taking the time to learn how to use the service, and not to run afoul of the social networking norms, is an important step in having a successful -- and ultimately profitable -- Twitter experience.

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