In this instalment of Words that Bite, I investigate how to use Twitter to market your small business.
If you’re famous, I don’t—for the life of me—I don’t understand why any famous person would ever be on Twitter. Why on God’s green earth would you be on Twitter? … So one drunken night, you come home and you’ve had two too many drinks and you’re watching TV and somebody pisses you off, and you go ‘Ehhhhh’ and fight back. And you go to sleep, and you wake up in the morning and your career is over. Or you’re an asshole. Or all the things you might think in the quiet of your drunken evening are suddenly blasted around the entire world before you wake up.
When Twitter arrived on the social media scene, I, like George Clooney, was sceptical. I saw it as nothing more than a vehicle for celebrities to feed our insatiable appetite for the trivial and tedious details of their lives. After all, the most popular tweeter is currently Katy Perry, with close to 50 million followers. Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga are not far behind. The US President, Barack Obama, currently sits in fourth place. That cheered me up … a bit. However, after President Obama, we have Taylor Swift, Britney Spears and Rihanna. I was, however, pleased to see Justin Timberlake scraping into number ten.
My doubts about Twitter increased whenever I saw some poor famous person, even if I didn’t particularly like them, crucified for some Twitter gaffe. Both Ashton Kutcher and Alec Baldwin have found themselves in hot water because of something they tweeted. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has stumbled a couple of times. Closer to home, in Australia, both Catherine Deveny and Larissa Behrendt have found themselves burned by something they said on Twitter.
When he made his comment, George Clooney only seemed worried about celebrities, but if Twitter is such a potential minefield, why would any sane person use it to promote his or her business? After all, aren’t celebrities, when it comes down to it, simply selling a product (themselves)? If they can get into trouble, why would the humble small business owner (who doesn’t have a team of advisers and publicists telling them what to say) risk disaster by tweeting?
Of course, it is a question of scale – no small business is going to amass millions of followers, so any damage will be limited. However, isn’t it easy for a business owner to alienate loyal customers by accidentally saying the wrong thing in a rush of blood to the head, or after one too many glasses of champagne?
Despite the possible pitfalls, I am now convinced that Twitter is a platform with an extraordinary ability to connect people. Not only does the micro-blogging site allow people around the globe to converse in real time, it allows them to have mini-conversations about things that interest them.
Twitter is also a wonderful way of sharing links to high-quality content elsewhere on the web. In an era where everything seems to be about images, photographs and videos, Twitter (even if you can attach photos and videos) is mainly about what you can say in very few words, and there is something delightful about a vehicle that encourages people to say or ask things in an extremely concise way. Furthermore, it is quite an achievement to say something hilarious, wise or profound in fewer than 140 characters.
Obviously, this ability to connect people has huge implications for businesses, especially small businesses. Twitter allows people to chat with people they don’t know, and who may even be located on the other side of the world, about the products or services that they need or want. Some companies use Twitter to find their staff. It is a very clever way of recruiting the people that will be the ‘right fit’ for your business.
Now I’ve outlined the good, the bad and the ugly of Twitter, I want to go back and provide a brief overview of how the platform operates.
Twitter is a micro-blogging site that enables people to share small amounts of information very quickly. As I’ve mentioned, these messages or ‘tweets’ are short – up to 140 characters. They are public by default, although there is the option to ‘lock’ your tweets, so that only your approved followers can see them.
Twitter also enables you to follow users you are interested in, so that you’ll see their updates on your home page. In this way, it can evolve into a conversation. It is a place where you can talk to people who have similar interests.
From a business point of view, not only can it be used to persuade people to buy your product or service, it also enables you to conduct market research and get feedback from customers or clients. Twitter can be used as a networking, information and search engine tool. Need some help or advice? Tweet your question and see what people come back with.
At the end of September 2013, Twitter reported it had 232 million active users (those who use the platform at least once a month). Apparently, these people tweet 400 million times each day.
Sounds impressive, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, Twitter has one major weakness. It has a fairly high attrition rate compared with other social media platforms, such as Facebook. According to a poll by Reuters/Ipsos in October 2013, 36 per cent of the 1,067 people surveyed didn’t use their accounts and 7 per cent said they had shut their accounts. This contrasts with Facebook, which (according to a poll of 2,449 members) has an attrition rate of about 7 per cent. Other studies show that about 60 per cent of people who try Twitter quit after the first week.
The problem with Twitter is that a lot of people find it hard to understand and, therefore, give up after dabbling in it only briefly. Nevertheless, people who join Twitter and have the patience to see exactly how it works often become infatuated with the joys of navigating a conversation within a 140-character space. In some way, it is strange that George Clooney, with his directing and producing credits, and who seems one of the more cerebral actors in Hollywood, hasn’t embraced Twitter, as he might enjoy playing around within its limitations.
Despite its restricted framework, Twitter has the potential to help your business through:
In his book The Tao of Twitter: changing your life and business 140 characters at a time (which is an excellent introduction to how Twitter can work as a networking and marketing tool), Mark W. Schaefer claims that business benefits on Twitter are created through three key strategies:
It isn’t about getting on Twitter and aggressively marketing your widgets, or whatever you have to sell, by yelling about how great your product or service is and then expecting customers to knock the door down. Rather, Twitter is about people who have interests in common following each other and chatting. It works best when it also has a ‘human’ component and people discuss the normal kinds of things they might chat about with friends.
Basically, you need to:
In short, Twitter is about having a conversation. From that conversation, you might learn something, or even make a friend. There is even a chance that friend will become a customer or client, or even a trusted colleague or a mentor.
Rather than my going into the practicalities of how Twitter operates, the best way for any small business owner to get a grasp of how to actually use Twitter is to download the guide Twitter for Small Business. The people at Twitter explain how to use the platform much better than I ever could (and they even include nice illustrations). The guide explains how to do all the basic things, like attach subjects to your tweets by using the hash tag, or how to tweet particular people.
In order to work out whether Twitter will be a suitable tool for your business, I suggest you ask yourself the following questions:
Finally, read Mark W. Schaefer’s The Tao of Twitter: changing your life and business 140 characters at a time. He does an excellent job of explaining how Twitter can work for businesses, and especially small businesses.
I think Twitter, of all the social media platforms out there, may be the most interesting, and it has a huge amount of potential for business owners. It is particularly exciting, and even inspiring, when people work cleverly within its restrictive structure.
One final observation: if you decide to use Twitter (whether for business or pleasure), allow the words of George Clooney to hover in the back of your mind and always think before you tweet.
Are you a small business that needs advice on whether to start using Twitter? If so, call the Pink Rottweiler on +61 (0)409 609 903 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.