According to Sandy Carter of IBM, 77% of Fortune 500 companies are on social media in some form, whether just to listen, or getting their feet wet. If you’re not on board, you’re getting left behind. When you bring up social media, people-in-the-know keep mentioning Twitter, and you’re not sure why – what makes Twitter different from Facebook?
When people start considering social media for their business, they tend to have at least some familiarity with Facebook, which is generally about connecting with people you already know. On Twitter, that’s a good starting point. But Twitter is more useful for connecting with people you may not already know personally, but share common interests with.
On social media, your username is your brand. If you’re creating a Twitter account specifically for your business, use the name of your business. If you’re creating a Twitter account for your professional self, use your name. Sometimes, though, you may find that you’re unable to do this – your name may be too long (more than 15 characters), or it’s a popular name that’s already been taken. In this case, consider variations that incorporate useful information. Include your industry: Andrew Borg of e3C Consulting, a mobility consultant, goes by @TheMobileBorg on Twitter. (@andrewborg is a different person.) Another example would be to include your business’ location, such as @ArtBarCambridge for the ArtBar restaurant in Cambridge. (@ArtBar belongs to an unrelated person.)
Fill out your bio and add a userpic. If your profile looks incomplete, especially if it still has that egg picture, people tend to not take you seriously (at best), or assume you’re a spammer (at worst). With a business account, use your corporate logo; for a personal account, a headshot is fine. Don’t forget to customize your profile design to coordinate with any existing websites for your business. And send out that first “Hello, world!” tweet! You’re here to engage.
Follow your colleagues and others in your industry, including competitors. At IBM’s recent Entrepreneur Day in Cambridge, Bobbie Carlton of Mass Innovation Nights put it this way: “Where is your audience? Where are your influencers?” I would add: where are your peers? Following others is key; when you don’t, you’re perceived as being on social media solely to broadcast announcements, not to have conversations. That’s not what social media is best used for, and others will think you’re out of touch. On Twitter, you can follow and reply to anyone you’d like. This is a great way to keep up with current discussions and breaking news in your industry, as well as networking and starting conversations with people who share your interests. It’s fairly common now for people to even list their Twitter accounts on their business cards; you can look at their tweets before deciding to follow them. At DataHive Consulting, we put our Twitter usernames on our business cards, as seen below:
Share relevant things that you create. Whether that’s blog posts, software, pottery (assuming you run a pottery business), you can share links and images and video of these things. Even short-form thoughts can be conversation starters. If you’ve got a sneak preview for an upcoming project, share it and get feedback. If you want to offer a discount on something you’re selling, share that! Something special on tonight’s menu at your food truck or restaurant? Share a picture and get hungry people lining up to eat it.
Share relevant things that others create. One of the people you follow wrote a really thought-provoking blog post about an issue in your industry. Tweet about it! Somebody made a tool that’s changed your everyday workflow for the better. Tweet about it and tell people why. Your colleague tweeted something smart and succinct. Retweet it!
Keep up with your interactions and mentions.. In the “Connect” tab of your Twitter account, you can see replies to your tweets, as well as tweets that mention you; who has starred a specific tweet of yours as a “favorite;” and who has retweeted one of your tweets. Also, you can use Twitter’s search function to find out who’s talking about you or your business that might not necessarily know you have a Twitter handle. All of these are invitations to further conversation with these people – strike while the iron is hot! Being responsive to people who’ve shown an interest in you on Twitter encourages them to connect further with you.
Use hashtags properly. Hashtags are a powerful tool. They assign a label to a specific tweet, which makes it easier to find in Twitter search. A hashtag can be as generic as #socialmedia, or as specific as #datastorm14. At conferences or in webinars, the organizer will often suggest that you tweet using a specific hashtag. You can use tools like TweetChat and Twubs to track the hashtag of your choice in a chatroom-like environment with near-realtime updates.
Sort who you follow on Twitter into lists. Once you’re following a number of people, it can feel like you’re trying to drink from a firehose just to keep up. Lists can help filter who you follow into useful categories – a list of your webdev compatriots, a list of your information architecture colleagues, a list of all the Twitter accounts of the software you use. This filtering makes it easier to focus on one subject at a time.
Use Twitter on the go. 75% of Twitter users visit Twitter via a mobile device. Download a Twitter app to your phone, whether the official one, or a third-party offering like Tweetbot or Hootsuite. Check up on your replies or mentions in a quiet moment and respond, or just see what people are talking about. You can fit Twitter into interstitial moments without being tied to your laptop! Just be consistent – check in for a few minutes every day.
So that’s our beginner’s guide to using Twitter. Once you’ve mastered these tips, there’s a world of useful tools beyond the basic Twitter website and mobile app: third-party clients that enable more advanced actions like scheduling tweets, analyzing social data, and better brand and hashtag tracking, among dozens of other use cases. We cover some of this in our Social Media Primer series. If you’d like to learn best practices for using these tools, or have further questions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a free consultation.