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Maximize the Twitter Presence of Your Small Business

While out to lunch with my 80 year old father last week, he informed me that he wanted my help setting up his Twitter account. As I tried to wrap my head around the utterly terrifying prospect that my father was likely to become my new #1 twitter fan, I gave him general information about the site, what it does, how it's used, etc... Needless to say, we had a very long lunch.

In reality, there are many people like my dad who have heard of twitter, tweeting (aka 'sending a twit' in Dad-speak), and most importantly, that they must incorporate the social networking giant in to every aspect of their lives. More specifically, they need to use it in business marketing.

Businesses use Twitter for a variety of reasons, from marketing to promotion to customer service. Some brands share only the occasional picture. Some live tweet events. Entertainment media including @EW gives peeks in to exclusive parties. While some hire social media command centers, others including mega-brand, @Audi have cultivated a staunchly loyal group of fans and followers thanks to a guy who frequently tweets from his living room. 

If you own a small business, chances are you're not only relatively new to the social media marketing world, you're also trying to determine how to incorporate the technology in to your day-to-day. With that in mind, here are a few tips.

Keep it purposeful and personal

Ultimately, you need to ask yourself why your business is on Twitter. I know, I know... it seems like a dumb question when it Twitter seems to be taking over the world. Here's the thing: if you're sole reasoning is that it will help drive more traffic to your website, you've already started digging your own grave. Of all the social networks used by businesses, the Twitter community highly values personal interaction. Although you certainly want to link to blog posts (hint, hint!) and helpful content, you need to approach Twitter as a way of building more of a personal relationship with your followers.

Your customers may be on Twitter, yes, but a good strategy is to do a company inventory of the business' strengths, weaknesses, etc. It may sound like a lot of work and irrelevant work at that, but bear with me... When you look at what other brands are doing, American Express has multiple accounts, one being @AskAmEx which they use specifically for customer service. By looking at your strengths & weaknesses, you will be better able to create a strategy aside from link building alone.

Look who's tweeting

When it comes to personal online interaction, who manages the account is key. A common social media mistake? Putting an 18 year old in charge of the company twitter account. Will the intern be able to up your number of followers by having her friends follow you? Probably; but here's the thing... for small businesses, the goal should be connecting with those who are interested in your industry, product/service, etc. A good way to look at Twitter is being a massive networking event. It's not about the number of business cards (followers), it's about the quality of the connections.

This is where your a company goals list will be highly beneficial. Once you've figured out what you want to achieve, you can begin to find the right employees to manage your Twitter account.

Ask yourself...

  • Is this person knowledgeable?

Again, remember you goals list. If you plan to use Twitter as a customer service tool, you don't want a php developer manning the account.

  • Does this person understand social media etiquette?

Social networks have their own unspoken rules and etiquette guidelines. On Twitter, this means you need someone who will reply and engage with your followers. They need not say much, but even a 'thank you for the follow!' or a lighthearted reply to a quip goes a long way.

  • Is this person trustworthy?

It should go without saying that anything you said on a social media account has the potential to go viral. All it takes is one ill-fated tweet from an employee who's having a rough day, and you and your company may find yourself internet famous for all the wrong reasons. Because a big part of successfully integrating Twitter with your business is being a real person and becoming a member of an online community, it's important that the person in charge be able to walk a natural balance between fun and professional.

(Not so) secret identity

With all the talk of community and real people, this is a good time to bring up the use of real names. While the person behind the screen represents your company, don't make the mistake of thinking of them being the voice... they have their own and people want them to use it! Some companies have employees sign their tweets with their initials. Others list the employees and their personal accounts. Yet again, @Audi is a great example:

Along the same lines, business-appropriate humor is sure to connect with an audience. You don't need to be a comedian (please don't try!) but lighthearted jokes and responses go a long way in lending a personal voice. To illustrate, here's a personal experience of mine. I've always driven (or been driven in) the same make of automobile from the time I was born. After purchasing my newest car, I jokingly tweeted that my relationship with them was the longest I've ever had with anyone.

A few minutes later I had a reply:

We promise we'll never cheat on you!

It was business-appropriate, clever & unexpected... and clearly it made a lasting impression since I'm sharing it with you months after the fact!

Court the right people

Cora: Are we to be friends then?
Lady Grantham: We are allies, my dear, which can often be a great deal more effective.

I can always count on Downton Abbey to help me make a point. Ultimately, you want to follow and be followed by those who are interesting and influential within the Twitter community. Because of the public nature of social networking, remember, the people you follow and those who follow you, can affect your credibility.

This means that if you get spammers tweeting you links and follow requests, block and report them. Users who are active and in or knowledgeable about your field are great resources. Developing a relationship with them may serve you both very well in the long run.


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