Is Twitter a waste of time?

This blog entry is also syndicated here

Some people have been asking this question since Day 2 A.T. (After Twitter), but it has come up again recently in several business networking groups—including one founded specifically to interact about all things Twitter—and many still don’t understand why you and your organization should do it. I answer this way:

  • For those who hate the task of having to write a blog, this puts you on the grid (the social media grid) with a microblog—and oh btw, arguably the hottest interactive venue on the planet right now. Low effort; high, potentially massive visibility.
  • About a year ago Twitter itself recognized that the service had crossed over from the original “Now I’m eating breakfast,” “Now I’m heading out the door” type of commentary to a more informative, synergistic sharing and interaction venue. So think of it as a vehicle to share useful info, interact with other interesting Twitter personas, make new business contacts and friends, and interest followers in learning more about you by then clicking to your core site and other places. Twitter is great of its own accord and can be the ultimate gateway to the rest of your web presence.
  • Twitter can be a great free news distribution service, not as your sole news release channel but as a capable complement to wherever else you distribute news. Post a 140-character item about your news with a link to the expanded news item.

Here are some research data points around interactive in general, some specifically about Twitter, to back up what many instinctively know we should do. U.S. Internet usage has now climbed to nearly 75%. Interactive marketing is not about sending more emails; only 28% of respondents say the commercial email they receive is relevant. More than two-thirds visit social networks and blogs, and the two have now combined to overtake email usage. More than 80% of web users post product reviews and/or blog about brands they love (or HATE), and about 20% have downloaded a podcast.* HubSpot, which has given us those great Grader apps such as Website, Twitter and Facebook graders, just put out a report indicating clearly that social media is not just for brand awareness; it can be used to directly generate leads that translate into customers. For example:

  • Businesses that spend 50% or more of their marketing budget on inbound (read: interactive) marketing are spending 60% less per lead than those who spend 50% or more on outbound (traditional/push) marketing, e.g., “All of you had better keep pounding those phones or else.”
  • More than 40% of those who use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIN and company blogs for marketing have acquired a customer through each of those channels.
  • Social media/blogs taken together constitute the fastest-growing category in lead generation budgets and continue to rank as the lowest-cost lead generation channel.

If you’re still not convinced, think of being on Twitter as the 2010 equivalent of hanging out your shingle or posting your business card to make sure everyone knows you and/or your firm are still relevant—or in today’s harrowing economic times, that you’re still around/alive.

Those are some of the WHYs. Here are just a few of the basic HOW-TOs:

  • Make your Twitter bio informative and keyword-rich. Help like-minded fellow tweeters find you by inserting keywords that effectively describe you. Some like to use phrases; I have a parade of functional and topical keywords that function like tags on a blog entry.
  • If you haven’t yet posted photos/graphics/files on Twitter, use YFrog, TwitPic or a similar service to post more media-rich tweets. If you’re wondering how to fit long URLs into your tweets, “there’s an app for that.” Actually there are many but for my money (OK, it’s free) is the best.
  • SocialOomph (formerly known as TweetLater) has many capabilities to automate your Twitter experience, including auto-following (and -unfollowing) those who follow/unfollow you. You can of course go back at any time and manually follow or unfollow anyone. That’s important especially for corporate Twitter personas, because Twitter, like any online venue, draws its share of scammers/spammers and those who launch normal-looking Twitter personas that are actually fronts for porn sites and other unsavory locales. Not to worry, Twitter does an outstanding job of cleansing the ranks of these—better than any social media site/service I’ve ever seen—but I’ve actually talked to corporate users who refuse to do Twitter because “We tried it once, our web person let us follow a porn site for 24 hours before we caught it and we’re never doing Twitter again.”
  • Apps like HootSuite, CoTweet, TweetDeck and others offer a multitude of capabilities that go well beyond all of that, such as not following those whose follower-to-following ratio dips below a certain percentage—the idea being that maybe they are great followers but as a valuable information hub, not so much—and provisions so multiple corporate users can post to the same Twitter persona. Much more under the hood with these but those are a couple of high points.
  • Use hashtags. Insert the hash/pound sign [#] before certain words—either company names or popular keywords—to ensure that your tweet is found by human eyes or automated apps that are searching Twitter for those names/terms. For example, “ADTRAN (copper, fiber and wireless solutions for enterprise and carrier networks) 4Q09 year-over-year revenues up 11% to >$124M” is fine, but @ADTRAN (#copper #fiber #wireless solutions for #enterprise + #carrier #networks) 4Q09 yr-over-yr rev$ up 11% to >$124M opens with a link to the company’s Twitter site, closes with a link to the news and ensures that my tweet just got picked up in multiple clickstreams: Copper, fiber, wireless, enterprise, carrier and networks.
  • Armed with the knowledge that Twitter users (or their automated apps) are viewing you partly with an eye toward follower ratios, play it smart: Don’t follow the world hoping they’ll all follow you. Many, especially superstars with tens of thousands of followers, won’t, and if other personas check out your page only to find “following: 2,000 – followers: 200,” that’s going to impact how they respond to you (or don’t). Focus on finding those with similar interests and/or who are in the same business as you, and build your follower base organically.
  • Dialogue with other interesting Twitter personas and retweet interesting items they’ve posted, e.g., “RT @mobimarketing #Mobile #web driving exponential growth; 10B mobile #Internet devices this year?” or use the new retweet tool on Twitter. Fine to retweet as is but I normally rewrite when I retweet to bring out a different angle or say it a different way.
  • If you spend any time at all on Twitter you’re going to interact with those who invite you to one of the get-followers-quick schemes that abound there, a la, “Check out our Twitter train below. Just pop your Twitter user name in the blank at the top of the train, hit Enter and you’ll have 2,000 new followers in a week.” Have at it if you like, but I’m going to echo what some pretty sharp people, such as those at Center of Influence, say about business networking: It’s not about quantity—in effect, thrusting your business card at 50 unwitting (unwilling) recipients at a social business mixer. It’s about quality, or more to the point, building quality relationships. It’s the same sort of reasoning that leads LinkedIN to restrict your account if you invite too many people to connect who don’t know you, and why Google dings your PageRank if it catches you engaging in “black hat” techniques such as so-called “link exchange farms.” It’s not a capital offense, but it devalues the dollar, so to speak, for everyone else in the market, in this case the Twitter ecosystem.

One of the great things about Twitter is that for every point I’ve shared with you today there are many more things to know, and that you can do with it. Put a little bit of work into Twitter and you just might make Twitter work for you.

* Sources: American Marketing Association (AMA); Bureau of the Census/POPClock; Burson-Marsteller; Compete Inc.; Internet WorldStats; Inside Facebook; MarketPOWER, LLC; Merkel Inc./Harris Interactive; Nielsen Media Research; Pew Internet & American Life Project; Technorati

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