Within the past 12 months, Twitter has moved from a curious time waster to a serious business tool. To some consumers, that's a problem - another user-oriented tool being invaded by business. To others, it's a way to connect to businesses like never before. And to businesses of all sizes, it's an opportunity that cannot be missed. And as more consumers join Twitter and the service gains visibility in the public eye, people will not only accept businesses, but expect to find and actively search for them (you) just like in the blogosphere.
Of course, there are pitfalls too. A fake business Twitter account can cause severe backlash. "Janet," a fake Exxon employee Twitterer caused some problems, even if the intentions were good. Because of its relative anonymity, it's important to monitor your company on Twitter. Try TweetBeep - you can enter keywords and URLs and be alerted every time someone tweets about it, even if they use a shortened URL. TweetScan is another good one.
There are some good examples too. Whole Foods uses Twitter to answer customer service questions, post news about the industry and their products and share recipes. They have 7,940* followers, as of this writing. But here's the thing - they follow 8,489 other people on Twitter. They're not just responding to people because they "have" to, they are actively seeking connections. Southwest Airlines is another active Twitter user. One of the ways they use the site is post special deals and savings.
Connecting successfully with consumers on Twitter follows much the same pattern as other forms of social media.
- Be transparent. Coming right out and telling consumers that you are a business, but you're there to help, not to pester is the best way to gain acceptance. And it starts with your Twitter account name. ComcastCares is a good example of using the brand name and stating purpose.
- Provide value. One of the great things about Twitter is the 140 character limit. You can alert consumers of industry news, new products or special deals without needing to author a long blog post.
- Be vigilant, but not overbearing. You want to update regularly, but you don't want to be a burden - it's easy for users to get overwhelmed with an influx of tweets. Choose your postings wisely.
- Be prompt. Twitter users expect immediate gratification - it's one of the reasons to use Twitter. If you get a query from one of your consumers, reply quickly, even if you don't have a complete answer for them yet. Twitter conversations flow quickly and you want to make sure you don't let something like a minor complaint get out of hand. Therefore, it's a good idea to have a dedicated person to handle your company twittering.
Of course, to be successful, you need to build a loyal following. Check out Twellow. You can search for Twitter users by industry and category. Target users with lots of followers and high activity rates and start making friends. TwitScoop shows a cloud-based view of activity on Twitter and you can also use it to find and track conversations by keywords - another good way to find active users in your industry. Just Tweet It is another good tool to find like-minded people. Once you start following some people and have some followers, Twubble can make friend suggestions based on those people. And since you likely already have a blog with some loyal readers, make sure they know about your Twitter account. WordPress bloggers can install a Twitter widget.
Finally, just because Twitter is a phenomenon without borders, that doesn't mean it's not useful for local services and businesses. TwitterLocal provides a feed of Tweets when you enter your location and range you want to search. The TwitterLocal Leader Board identifies the top twittered locations (Tokyo is first, followed by New York) and top twitterers in those locations - a good way to find local influencers.
* Whole Foods gained another five followers on Twitter by the time I finished writing this article. See what I mean?
Unique visitors to Twitter.com over the past 12 months has grown more than 570%
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