Should every business Twitter?

I have been monitoring the use of micro-blogging tool Twitter as a B2B communication tool for the past year or so. Popular take-up has exploded – up 1689% says the BBC. While there has also been a corresponding increase in the number of sniffy comments about Twitter (“full of egocentric bores … useless fools … nauseating creatures,” wrote a particularly vitriolic PR Week reader!), initially sceptical Twitter users and later adopters have now become firm fans (see recent posts by Architects’ Journal‘s Kieran Long and my fellow construction PR person Liz Male, for example).

Research from O2 has also found that small and medium-sized businesses – of which there are a vast number in the construction sector – are quickly adopting Twitter too; 42% saw the medium as useful for staying in contact with customers and suppliers, and 34% felt they could use it monitor their competitors, with about a quarter starting to use Twitter within the past 28 days. How long they remain users, however, will, I’m sure, depend on how good they are at using Twitter and on what business benefits they get from using it.

Last week, I wrote Should every business have a blog, suggesting 13 things to think about before blogging. This is a similar checklist, but focused on micro-blogging.

13 things to think about

  1. Why should your business Twitter? – Twitter is not a magic bullet, the single social media tool you should use. You need to integrate it with traditional communications (see no.8 below) as part of your overall strategy. Essentially, Twitter is used to talk and to listen (hopefully, a good mix of both – at one recent social media event I attended, participants were told they all had one mouth and two ears, and were told to use them in roughly the same proportion!). In ‘talking’ mode, you can use it as a PR or marketing platform, maintain links with suppliers, and use it in customer service. In ‘listening’ mode, for example, you can use Twitter to monitor chatter about your company  or products, to keep updated about news in your market sector, and to see what your competitors  are doing (and what people are saying about them). Fundamentally, Twitter is about dialogue not one-way broadcasting.
  2. Have you registered your Twitter identity? – Just like the early days of websites, some people have set themselves up with Twitter identities to which they they are not entitled (there was a short-lived spoof Daily Mail Twitter feed last year, for example). You don’t want to get ‘frittered’ (fraudulently twittered) or brand-jacked, so register your company name or brand on Twitter. Link it to your website – or, better still, your company blog – so that content can easily be linked.
  3. Who is going to Tweet for your company? – Linked to the previous point, you need to decide whether you will be the ‘face’ and ‘voice’ of your organisation or if you will Twitter behind a brand name. Many organisations have several individuals using Twitter. Some make their company role explicit – some staff at UK property magazine Estates Gazette have EG at the front of their IDs, eg: @EGStaceyM – others are more flexible. To make your company role more transparent, give some professional details in your Twitter profile (and maybe expand on this at Twellow); many users will check your profile before deciding whether to follow you or not.
  4. Face, logo or avatar? – Twitter associates an image with each Twitter account. You can put in a photo, a company logo or maybe a computer-generated likeness. A company logo may be conveniently anonymous (for example, if Twitter is used by a team to give customer service updates), but I know some Twitter users who prefer to know that they are following a single human being.
  5. Who do you follow? – As a B2B marketer, you must go to where the conversation is happening; you must listen, understand how Twitter works, and get ready to participate. Use Twitter to find out if your customers are talking about you, your brand, products, services or competitors on Twitter. You might identify people from relevant trade associations, journalists from your industry publications or influential bloggers. Follow these people, monitor their output and respond relevantly to some of their comments. With luck, they will follow you back – effectively, introducing you to other people in their networks.
  6. Will you limit what you Twitter about? – As with other social media, you should create some ‘light touch’ usage policies: stay honest, stay ‘on message’ (while occasional personal or off-topic asides can help reinforce that you are, indeed, a human being, keep them to a small minority – and, especially in business, avoid religion, politics, etc); don’t say anything, or link to anything, that might adversely affect your reputation or market position – or your own role. Keep the tone conversational and don’t lapse into ‘text-speak’. Be useful. Tweet links to relevant industry news or white papers, blog articles (and not just from your own website or blog, please), case studies, job openings, hints and tips; these may earn ‘retweets’ – powerful online ‘word-of-mouse’ marketing. Few people will care that you’ve just made a cup of tea.
  7. Can you be authoritative? – Be an expert in something. Thought leaders aren’t self-created, they emerge due to the respect that others offer them. If you have useful knowledge or ideas to impart, social media tools like blogs and Twitter are a powerful way to raise your business profile, to extend your knowledge to a wider community, and to use the wisdom of that wider group to improve your knowledge and ideas still further. Wise and clever use of the 140-character limit can also help reinforce your online credentials.
  8. How much time will you devote to Twitter? – There is no point in signing up to Twitter unless you’re going to use it. Just as you must set aside some time for blogging, you must also allow time to Tweet. An occasional status update may take only a few seconds. You may sometimes be too busy to monitor everything that is happening among your Twitter network, but it takes only a minute or so to drop into a conversation and offer a nugget of information, support another person’s opinion or maybe ask a question. But beware of over-Tweeting: for me, it’s quality not quantity that matters among the people I follow. It also takes time to build up a Twitter following. As with blogs, potential followers may wait to see how often you Tweet, about what and who, before following you.
  9. Is Twitter integrated with other PR and marketing communications? – Honesty and consistency of messages across all communications is vital. Your core Twitter themes should ideally reflect the same niche areas in your company literature, advertising, media relations, website, intranet, blog, etc. Link your channels: display a Twitter feed on your website and blog; write about Twitter in your company magazine or newsletter; and add your Twitter ID to your email footer – maybe even your business card?
  10. How conversational will you be? – Many conversations are information exchanges. People ask questions and others respond. Twitter can be a quick and convenient way to find the answer to a question that’s been bugging you all afternoon. Don’t be afraid to challenge, speculate or ask a question – sometimes just asking for help shows you trust and value your network. And (again) retweet useful information. This shows you value other people’s contributions too, and by adding a useful comment of your own, you may well be adding further value.
  11. How emotional will you be? – In a B2B social media world, it pays to keep it professional and not to get involved in public slanging matches (take difficult conversations offline by using Twitter’s direct message feature). Do not say anything too outrageous, or insult or offend – it can backfire horribly. However, a tactful or diplomatic challenge can show you have an opinion – and it may be one that others share. Remember: think before you Tweet. Stop, think (check links are relevant and that they work!), send.
  12. Will you listen? – For me, this is a key requirement of effective business use of Twitter (see also no.1 above). Some new users sometimes set up accounts simply to send automatic updates from their blogs or websites, and forget to listen to replies from followers (last year, for instance, New Civil Engineer magazine began to fire out a steady stream of repetitive posts from its website; initially useful updates soon became annoying spam, prompting me and other followers to stop following – see EE post @NCEmagazine over-Tweets – Note, NCE has since mended its ways). If people follow you, do you reciprocate and listen and respond to what they are saying? If not, you may be missing useful feedback and influential followers.
  13. Will you measure? As with blogs, what gets measured, gets managed. Set up an RSS feed from a Twitter search to track mentions of you, your brand, company, product, services, etc. See if Twitter is boosting traffic to your website or blog. Are more people following you on Twitter? Are more people re-tweeting your updates? Monitor the numbers and react accordingly, but don’t get completely hung-up about the numbers. To reiterate a point I also made in relation to blogging: it’s about building a conversation with 100 people who do care, rather than broadcasting to 100,000 readers who don’t.

I still like the alliteration of “13 things to think about”, but does this list cover most key points about business Tweeting? Do you think I have missed something? Let me know.

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  1. Nice summary. All good issues to think about when embarking on the Tweet-o-sphere.

    I’m still not sure we’ve nailed point 8 yet. Might be spending a bit too much time on there, some days.

    We did a deck on Slideshare on Twitter for B2B is you’re interested. The 7 ways we use it today:

    • DARK APEX - Kenneth Lim » Blog Archive » Twitter Today: March 23, 2009 on 23 March 2009 at 8:48 pm

    […] Wilkinson breaks down 13 things to think about before a business starts using Twitter. (From: […]

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