Twitter for Business Best Practices

October 04, 2011

Twitter is a feast-or-famine marketing tool. It can help you achieve important business goals, or it can be a monumental waste of time. This list of Twitter best practices for business will help you succeed. I've learned many of these the hard way, so hopefully these tips will help you avoid making the same mistakes.

This post is geared to firms that may be interested in team tweeting, multiple accounts, and who have moved past dabbling and are ready for a defined program for Twitter.

Long as this post is, I've tried to limit the guidelines to things that really matter - tips, concepts and practices I keep coming back to again and again that have a real impact on Twitter effectiveness. I'd also like to thank Kate Meyers, Straight North content specialist, for her invaluable assistance in putting this information together.

My credentials: Tweeting since 2008, more than 8,000 followers, manage multiple Twitter programs for clients and Straight North. If I know anything, it's that I don't know everything about Twitter. I welcome your comments and suggestions for this list.

Strategy

  1. Personalize your brand by using a real human avatar or associating the company/product brand with a real person. On Twitter, people like to talk to people, not entities.
  2. Determine the purpose(s) of your Twitter account by answering the question, "Why would people want to follow us?" There are several possible answers: To gain insight about and discuss your company/industry/products; to obtain customer service; to learn about special offers; to hear what your top executives are thinking; to experience the "human" side of your company; to be amused.
  3. If several purposes are to be pursued, it is often best to set up multiple Twitter accounts. A notable example of successful multiples is Zappos. The shoe e-tailer has several Twitter sites, including one for customer service, its CEO, and its employees.
  4. Next, define how success will be measured: number of engaged followers, number of retweets, referred traffic, etc. Specific metrics will be discussed towards the end of this post.
  5. Document the scope of activities your Twitter effort will encompass. (This post will be helpful in completing this task.)
  6. Ensure you have adequate resources - internal, external or both - to execute the activities. Avoid one of the most common mistakes of grossly underestimating the effort required to establish and maintain a business presence on Twitter.
  7. Establish milestones to gauge progress. Getting results takes time, so don't be surprised to see a slow ramp-up.

Setting Up Your Twitter Account

  1. Select a Name and Username. I recommend making these names identical for the sake of brand consistency. Usernames, which are entered on the Twitter "Account" page, are limited to 15 characters; Names, to 20. For punctuation, ours is a good model: @StraightNorth. Avoid underscores: they are hard to read and will obscure your brand identity.
  2. Select a location. Keep in mind locations are searchable. If you are in a small suburb, consider listing your location as the city, in order to get on the radar of more people. Alternately, you can add the larger location to your profile.
  3. Enter your full website URL. Most organizations link to their Home page, but linking to the Blog Home page or a special Twitter/social media landing page are also good options.
  4. Create your bio. Twitter imposes a 160-character limit, so profiles must be composed with great care. Factors to consider: Profiles are searchable in and outside of Twitter, so use keywords to attract your target community; convey who you are, what you do, and a key benefit you offer your target community; if possible, include a bit of personal information.
  5. Set up notifications. Most of these are a matter of preference, but always receive email notification of direct messages sent to you. Direct messages (DMs) from other Twitter users are private messages and can be important. Email notification helps ensure you don't overlook them.
  6. Custom background designs have limited value: Twitter's new format leaves only about 230 pixels on the margins; hyperlinking is not possible; and visits to Twitter profile pages are infrequent because of all the third-party interfaces and navigational options within the Twitter platform itself. If you create a custom background, use it to convey what you do, personalize your brand, convey a branding message, and provide contact options.

Helpful Twitter Tools

  1. Twitter interface platforms allow you to manage information and activity on Twitter far more easily and comprehensively than what can be achieved using the Twitter platform itself. My preference is HootSuite. Other popular platforms (as of this writing) include TweetDeck and Sprout Social. Among the important factors to consider when making a selection: Do you need a platform that supports multiple users; how long has the platform been around; how likely is the platform to stay around; is it popular; how do users rate it.
  2. Twitter follower-vetting tools enable you to automatically block or remove spam followers. My favorite removal tool is Twit Cleaner. Next to the top is Tweepi, which is good if you want to sort potential un-follows by a variety of attributes (e.g., number of followers, duration of inactivity).Twit Cleaner is focused on identifying potential spammers.TrueTwit is an exceptionally good service for blocking/vetting new followers. TrueTwit may not be an ideal tool for new Tweeps, as it may deter people from connecting.
  3. Assign someone to review and test Twitter tools on a regular basis. New tools come on the market regularly, and you don't want to be handicapped by outdated systems. In addition, many popular tools have disappeared overnight due to lack of funding, violation of Twitter policies and many other causes.

Types of Tweets

  1. Informational: Informing your community on relevant company, industry or personal topics.
  2. Conversational: Asking questions, seeking feedback, asking for help.
  3. Editorial: Offering an opinion on business-related issues.
  4. Promotional: Syndicating your content, including blog posts; important website pages and press releases; announcing and updating sales promotions; announcing, updating and managing contests and polls.
  5. Inspirational: Putting out famous quotes or original motivational tweets to fire up your community.
  • Replies: Responding to questions and inquiries, reacting to other tweets.
  • Retweets: Republishing tweets that you think would be of interest to your community.
  • Event updates: Publishing real-time tweets when attending seminars, presentations, conventions, etc.
  • Off topic tweets: Tweeting about something with low or no relevance to your business.

Twitter Writing Tips

    1. Mix up your types of tweets (see above). If you are monotonous - especially if all you do is promote yourself - nobody will pay attention to you.
    2. Use conversational language.
    3. Be polite.
    4. Don't feel compelled to always have the last tweet (word).
    5. Better to go short (100 characters or fewer) than max every tweet out to the 140 allowable characters. First, people are more likely to read shorter tweets. Second, if people retweet, the end of your message won't be truncated.
    6. Always use an URL shortener. Most interface platforms have one or two default shorteners built-in. Vanity URLs look spammy and full URLs chew up too many characters.
  • Avoid overusing abbreviations: they will make your tweets incomprehensible.
  • Avoid jargon: same reason as above.
  • DO NOT OVERUSE CAPITAL LETTERS: people will think you're a maniac.
  • Do not overuse exclamation points!!!!! Same reason as above.
  • Say "please" when you want your tweet to be retweeted.
  • Don't overuse hashtags, the symbols used on Twitter to tag topics.
  • Say thank you when someone retweets one of your tweets that contains a link to your content.

Managing Your Twitter Communication

[This section will refer to HootSuite functionality; other interface platforms will have similar capabilities.]

  1. Schedule promotional tweets in advance to save time and maintain publishing continuity. Repeating promotional tweets is OK, but not too often. Five times a day is probably too much, but once a day may not be enough for everyone in your community to pick up your message.
  • Check your Pending Tweets stream to make sure tweets have been published: occasionally API disconnects hang them up.
  • Use Keyword streams to track conversations around topics of interest.
  • Create a Twitter private list(s) for tweeps you want to keep track of, and add the list as a stream on Hootsuite. It's impossible to monitor conversations from your entire community of follows.
  • The most important stream for engagement is Mentions, which tracks any tweet that includes your @Name. Track it carefully.
  • Make anyone tweeting to your account a Member of your Organization and insist that they tweet via Hootsuite. This enables everyone to see who's responding to what, preventing duplicating responses (e.g., thanking a person five times for a retweet) or failing to respond altogether.

Building Your Twitter Community and Influence

  1. Many tweeps, I among them, dislike automated Direct Messages that are sent to new followers. Do not use them.
  2. Over tweeting is a turnoff. Spread tweets out over time rather than publish in bursts of, say, 10 tweets/minute. This floods people's streams and causes them to tune you out.
  3. Spin doctoring and gobbledygook are capital offenses on Twitter.
  4. Blatant self promotion is permissible, as long as it is not continuous, and frankly described as being such.
  5. If you tweet links to content you found via a tweep, acknowledge them as the source by using their @Name in your tweet.
  • Check out links before retweeting them! Your credibility hinges on the value of the information you share.
  • Contrary to what you might think, trivial tweets (e.g., what you had for breakfast) actually attract interest - provided you don't overdo it.
  • Tweeting at regular times of day helps build awareness and community because many people keep regular hours on Twitter. If you're engaging a different audience every session, you're spreading yourself too thin.
  • Take a personal interest. It's OK to have personal side conversations with tweeps and get to know them. Resist the temptation to always be "relevant."
  • Don't be a snob. Sure, you want to communicate with and retweet high influence tweeps to get on their radar, but be equally courteous and helpful to less influential folks. Besides just being the right thing to do, you never know who will become the next Steve Jobs.
  • Help people. If someone has a question, answer it. If you have valuable insight, share it. If it takes a little legwork to dig up a link that will solve somebody's problem, do it.
  • Selflessly promote other tweeps. I genuinely enjoy helping people show off their talents and get new clients; maybe this explains my success with Twitter and why I enjoy it so much. People remember nice gestures and are eager to reciprocate.
  • Ask for help. We tend to think that tweeting brilliantly is what attracts people, but asking for help is probably more effective when it comes to getting the attention of popular tweeps, prompting conversation and gaining insight at connections to further your business objectives.
  • How to find relevant followers. Twitter itself is a good platform for finding followers. If you have a good follower, it may work to follow their followers. Relevant followers may have public Lists that contain hundreds of relevant followers. Some people report success using Twellow, a kind of Yellow Pages for Twitter, as a useful community building tool. Follow people who mention you; follow people who are mentioned in tweets that mention you. Follow people in HootSuite Keyword streams that appear relevant.
  • Combine breadth and depth in your community. It's good to have a lot of followers, and its good to have a circle of strongly committed followers. Don't be overwhelmed by the magnitude of tweeps: shoot for having 5 tweeps in your inner circle after a month, 10 after two months, etc.
  • A large community is great as well, but it has to be a relevant community, one with shared interests. This is why it is important to use account maintenance tools such as Twit Cleaner, described earlier.

Marketing and Leveraging Your Twitter Presence

  1. Put links to your Twitter page on every page of your website.
  2. Publish your Twitter feed on your site's blog sidebar.
  3. Do not auto feed your Twitter stream into Facebook. Most people find this annoying.
  4. Insert hyperlinks such as Follow Straight North on Twitter in email blasts, online press release boiler, blog post footer text, literature PDFs, email signatures, and anywhere else you can think of.
  5. Implement Twitter-only promotions and talk about them on your website and in marketing materials.
  6. Solicit tweets about your products and services and publish them on your site or in marketing materials.
  7. Add a "Follow Us on Twitter" message to pens, t-shirts and other promotional items.
  8. SEO. Google and other search engines factor social mentions into their ranking algorithms. When your website pages are tweeted, or when website pages with links to your site are tweeted, you gain SEO value. Add "Tweet" buttons to your blog posts and socially important pages of your site, such as the About page, History page, etc.
  9. Reach out to firms you are connected with on Twitter. For instance, send an email explaining that your firms have exchanged tweets, there seems to be some common ground, and would it make sense to schedule a meeting.

Evaluating Your Twitter Results

  1. Referred traffic is an excellent indicator of the conversion power of your Twitter efforts. Unfortunately, referred traffic is difficult to track using Google Analytics and will generally be understated. Analytics packages within HootSuite and other interfaces, along with URL shortener services, can also be helpful in compiling data.
  2. Retweets are an excellent measure of influence and brand awareness.
  3. Mentions are another excellent measure of influence and brand awareness - possibly better because it takes more effort for a tweep to mention you than simply retweet one of your tweets.
  4. Klout is a service, somewhat controversial, that uses a number of metrics to establish a rating for Twitter reach, amplification and influence. Since Klout is integrated with HootSuite - and recently Google - it has become widely accepted despite its flaws and is a useful standard for benchmarking.
  5. To measure performance on a more granular level, several tools are available to help analyze such things as sentiment, influence of retweeters, what times of day tweeting is most effective and which tweets are most effective. However, unless you have a high volume of activity, the strategic value of this data is questionable.
  6. Campaign-specific data is very reliable but has limited application. For instance, if you launch a Twitter-only sales promotion that drives traffic to a landing page, you can track retweets and conversions with precision. However, this data will only capture a portion, and probably a small portion, of your overall Twitter activity.
  7. Adding a "Found You on Twitter" option to your website's Contact page may provide highly valuable, albeit incomplete, data.
  8. Careful tracking of direct Twitter lead generation is vital: capture any tweet or DM that is an inquiry or referral.

Twitter for Business FAQs

  1. What does DM mean? In Twitter lingo, DM means Direct Message, a private message sent from one tweep to another. Tweeps must be following each other to communicate via DMs.
  1. What does RT mean? Retweet. If you tweet something, and I republish it on my Twitter account, it's an RT.
  2. What is #FF? FF stands for Follow Friday, a social practice, somewhat falling by the wayside, where people recommend batches of people to follow my listing their @Names in a tweet. The hashtag prefix allows people to track FF mentions on Twitter globally.
  3. What is a hashtag? Hashtags are # prefixes to keywords that people use tag Twitter content and follow conversations around that topic on Twitter globally. There are various hashtag directories people use to monitor such conversations.
  4. How often should I change my avatar? Not often if brand awareness is important to you. It is OK to change up your avatar for a short time, especially for a special occasion or to promote a cause.
  5. What if someone already has the Username I want? On Twitter, Usernames are unique, so you either have to reach out to the user to work out a deal, or use a different name.
  6. How much time does Twitter take? Repetitive and routine tasks, such as loading scheduled tweets and reviewing analytics, take a modest amount of time. Account monitoring - checking for mentions, replying, etc, - takes a little more time, and is best done periodically throughout the day. Community building - finding the right followers and building relationships - takes the most time. In the early stages of a Twitter program, budgeting 4-8 hours a week would not be unreasonable. Results will determine how much effort to put in over time.
  7. How long does it take to implement a productive Twitter program? If you already have a strong brand following, Twitter could ramp up quickly. If you have a strong community around your blog, that could speed up the process. If you're starting more or less from scratch, give it 6-12 months of solid effort before thinking about passing judgement.
  8. How many followers do we need to be successful? Don't get caught up in a numbers game. It's the quality of your community, not the raw numbers, that determines your success. What you're ultimately looking for (probably) is for people to talk up your brand, refer business, discuss collaborations, etc. Better to connect with 500 people with shared business interests than 50,000 with no common ground.
  9. Can Twitter work for B2B? Yes. The strategies are usually more complex, and it may depend on the industry, but it's definitely possible to get results. On the downside, it may be hard to build a community; on the upside, a single sale generated by Twitter could pay for a year's worth of Twitter marketing - and then some. If lead generation isn't a practical goal, customer service support is often a very useful area for Twitter activity. Successful B2Bs on Twitter include Intel, Deloitte, Oracle, and thousands of smaller firms across every industry imaginable.
  10. Should I connect with competitors? Should I block them? Yes, and no. Taking the second question first, it's futile to try to cloak information in social media. If competitors want to know what you're saying on Twitter, they will. So, to address the first question, you might as well connect. Who knows - maybe it will lead to a collaboration.
  11. How do you handle negative tweets about your brand? First, consider the source. If the negative sentiment is from a non-influential tweep on a minor or frivolous issue, the best course is to ignore it. If the negative sentiment comes from a credible source, tackle it head-on. Judgment is always required: sometimes it is advisable to respond on Twitter publicly; other situations call for private discussion. However, ignoring negative sentiment from customers, stakeholders, brand evangelists and influencers can cause serious brand damage, so when in doubt, take action.
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