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Social Media 101: Use Twitter to Attract Prospects and Engage Customers

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According to conventional business wisdom, companies should abandon efforts to acquire new customers during an economic downturn and focus instead on their best customers. The primary benefits of doing so are cost reduction and improved customer loyalty, we are told.

The problem with this approach is that we are not in conventional times.

Customer loyalty is fickle

Before Google, most people shopped with catalogs and in local stores. Today, the world is at shoppers' fingertips. Anything that you sell can be found somewhere else, probably at a lower price. Even if you have delivered perfect service, your customers will occasionally stray. They may test the waters and quickly return, but your revenue is still reduced. Ignoring opportunities to acquire new customers during these turbulent times is suicidal.

Fortunately, the same technology that expands your customers' horizons works for you, too. The Internet has evolved into a social network filled with opportunities to attract new customers and engage the ones you already have.


Of course, risk comes with every opportunity. Since the entry fee is minimal, using social media to grow your business doesn't require a significant financial investment. But don't be misled by the perception that it is risk-free. The risk is customer and brand alienation. If you make a major misstep, your company could suffer irreparable harm.

Before you enter the relatively new frontier of social media, you need an action plan. Although the costs are low, social media tools require extensive maintenance to be effective. Your strategy needs to fit your corporate culture, resources, and customer expectations.

Twitter is probably the best place to test the social-media waters to see if it is right for your company.

What is Twitter?

If you haven't seen one of the thousands of stories about Twitter, here is a short description: Twitter is a micro-blogging site that allows you to post mini-messages called tweets.

The heading on the message-entry form in Twitter is "What are you doing?" That question is deceptive. No one really cares what you are doing unless it is really interesting. Instead, use Twitter as a communication and conversation tool.

And remember that Twitter is not an advertising medium. Posting one marketing message after another isn't effective. It doesn't attract prospects or engage customers. If you are not going to use it to establish relationships, stay away—far, far, away.

Why should you use it?

Twitter is the fastest-growing social-media site, with an estimated 14 million unique visitors in March 2009, compared with 2.6 million when I joined, in August 2008. (Source: Compete, Inc.) Wouldn't you love to have that growth rate? Most of the users are age 25-54, with the largest segment the 45-54 age group. (Source: comScore Media Metrix)

Twitter is a media darling today. People join it out of curiosity. Most stay because it is informative and fun. The growth and activity provide an opportunity for you to get your message out to customers and prospects. In a year or two, Twitter may follow MySpace and lose some popularity. Until then (if it happens), use it to grow your business and customer loyalty.

How do you use it?

You need a plan, because building a following requires a consistent message and continual updates. If you are not actively tweeting, your base won't grow. You'll be talking to yourself.

Start by defining your purpose for tweeting. You are not creating your mission statement or value proposition here. It doesn't have to be perfect or transcend generations, because it will evolve as you proceed.

For example, a gardening-supply company might define its purpose for tweeting as "providing tips and tactics for people to improve their gardening skills." Notice that there is no mention of sales, customer acquisition, corporate growth, or profitability. Those are all side effects of using Twitter.

What are the steps?

After you have defined your purpose, follow these 13 steps:

1. Create 50-100 tweets that fit your brand and objective. Keep them to approximately 120 characters so they can be easily retweeted (re-posted by others). In the case of the gardening example, tweets could range from planting times to frost warnings.

2. Open your user account with your business name as your user ID. Complete the profile, including the bio, and include the names of all those who post. People connect with people best. You want a personal connection. (Don't panic. This doesn't mean that you will be having tea with your followers... unless you want to.)

3. Add an avatar. Some choose to use their corporate logo, whereas others use their own photo. Choose what feels right to you and fits your brand.

4. Create a unique background that represents your company. There are services available to do this, but you can do it in-house. You want it to have the same look and feel as your corporate website. Make sure that the background-text details are visible on different types of monitors. Not everyone has the latest and greatest technology.

5. Determine the best days to tweet. These would be the days that your customers or prospects are most likely to be online. Select a scheduler to post your tweets. Remember that the world is open 24/7. As Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett remind us, it's five o'clock somewhere. Running the tweets for an 8-12-hour cycle and then repeating them expands your coverage.

6. Make sure that some of your tweets have links back to your website. Make it easy for people to find you. Don't expect them to go to your profile for your link, and don't overdo it. If every tweet has a link, people resist following you.

7. Start the Twitter test. Consistently tweet for a minimum of 30 days (90 is better). Watch your traffic and sales to ensure that you're receiving a return on your investment. At the end of the trial period, decide whether to continue or quit.

8. Don't be a hit-and-run tweeter. Check in periodically on the days that your messages appear for comments, retweets, and new followers. Respond when appropriate. The idea is engagement, not blasting.

9. Resist becoming addicted to Twitter. Your objective is to create and enhance relationships, not be tethered to an electronic device.

10. Always remember that your tweets are a reflection on your brand, and they are permanent. Twitter has a delete option, but the tweets still show up in a search.

11. Don't worry about the number of people following you. Think about the quality. When I first started acquiring followers, most were "get rich quick, let me tell you how for the low price of" marketers. I noticed that if I didn't respond to their tweets, they stopped following me within a week. I'm sure that those who follow me will always include similar folks, but my focus is on the people who read my tweets and connect with me.

12. Have fun. You are meeting new people, broadening your horizons, and hopefully gaining new customers. If that isn't fun, you are in the wrong business.

13. Ask for help if you are unsure how to proceed. There are people available to guide you.


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Debra Ellis is a speaker, consultant, and author of the integrated marketing guide Social Media 4 Direct Marketers. She is the founder of Wilson & Ellis Consulting (www.wilsonellisconsulting.com) and can be reached via dellis@wilsonellisconsulting.com.

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  • by Susan Tue Jul 7, 2009 via web

    I'm fairly new to Twitter and thought I had an understanding of what to do but this article made me rethink some things.

  • by Anjanette Tue Jul 7, 2009 via web

    Great article. Simple, to the point, and doable.

  • by Ruth Ann Barrett Tue Jul 7, 2009 via web

    Articles says, "You want it to have the same look and feel as your corporate website."

    Or, you may not. Think of it more as a landing page or micro-site. And keep it fresh, rather than static.

  • by Megan Tue Jul 7, 2009 via web

    Twitter to me is all about selling yourself and your company, but it's also about how people are breaking down the barriers that used to "safely enclose" a reputation's of businesses (or governments: ie: Iran) . Anybody can use Twitter, a company can't FORBID you from using your cell phone at lunch and tweet something like:

    @namewithheld :is entertained by the fact that my company sent out an email to everyone forbidding them from watching the #MJ Memorial online

    So it gives you a good idea of reality vs. not. Plus, it gives you an opportunity to speak your mind. As a gen Y/late Gen Xer...honesty and being genuine is key. Yes, you can work your business edge, but be personal too, be a real person, not a corporate face. If you have problems as a company, they are going to come out...plus addressing issues or responding (ie: caring about an individual's opinion) is really important, because that message, about your company, could possibly be re-tweeted to thousands of people by the end of the day.

    I'm a 29 year old female starting a wedding invitation/stationary business. I use twitter from setting up a "couple's night out" here in Charlotte, with my other friends (using codes like #CLTCNO), I've been part of a marketing "round circle" discussion in regards to "what/how is social media making its place in the corporate world"--what labels should these new jobs be given, the problems with people not understanding what social media is, etc.--it's amazing to see how people are now actually organizing social "meetings" within the Twitter platform...I am now cross-marketing my blog/facebook page/bridaltweet page all through twitter...but, you have to do it in a way that is "helpful" to others. So mix in helpful articles along WITH your self-promotional tweets.

    Plus, you're getting into contact with people you may have never met and realizing trends as they are happening in London, Australia, and all over the states.

    I tweet about what I'm doing with my kids, I cross-market my husband (who is an executive chef and also on Twitter), I let people know about my new blog posts, what's happening with my business. I spend about 30 minutes, 3 times a day on Twitter: once in the morning, once when my kids are napping (afternoon), and at night. You can check and see if anyone has mentioned your name by clicking the @username in the right hand column of your Twitter page...even if it was 7 hours past.

    Days/Specific times that are important on Twitter: FollowFriday (also known as #FF) You compile a list of either your followers/or ppl you follow that you think are worthy of other people following and tweet their names. This allows other's to link to you and others based on YOUR reputation.

    Morning's are great, everyone is in a good mood and this is when I notice the best article links and information about what everyone is doing, etc.

    Have any more Q's: I'm on Twitter listed as: @mbattistella

    If you haven't joined, you're missing out! ;D

  • by Debra Ellis Tue Jul 7, 2009 via web

    Thank you for your comments. Ruth Ann's comment about keeping your look fresh is a great point. You don't want to become stagnant. You also don't want to confuse your customers by presenting a completely different appearance.

    Keeping a consistent brand appearance increases recognition. Some folks frequently change their avatars.

  • by Piper DM Wed Jul 8, 2009 via web

    Great article!

  • by Stacy Lukas Wed Jul 8, 2009 via web

    I mostly agree with Megan on this. Sure, "build your brand," "engage customers," blah blah blah, but frankly, it's not rocket science. Be human, be yourself, incorporate it into your everyday life and don't worry if you tweet a random thought or activity that has nothing to do with your company. People want to see the human side of both people and businesses. When I see all these articles and webinars about how to use twitter, I'm sorry but it looks like people are trying WAAAAAY too hard.

    I just got an email from Ragan advertising a "One Day Total Immersion Workshop" webcast for $595 (but only $495 if you're a Ragan member). I about fell out of my chair and said out loud, "You've got to be kidding me." A friend of mine is even presenting at it, but seriously . . . it seems like people are getting away with robbery teaching people to just be human online.

    I understand the "keep a consistent brand appearance for increased recognition," but I frequently change my avatar because I get tired of looking at the same picture of myself, and it hasn't hurt me any. Then again, my screen name (@damnredhead) is memorable enough and has even HELPED me gain recognition, so that might have something to do with it.

    #FollowFriday isn't all it's cracked up to be, though. It's turned into nothing but an irrelevant numbers game and after someone actually got mad at me for not promoting them back, I threw in the towel and wrote a big ranting blog post about why I wasn't playing anymore. People still promote me on #FF, though, and I can't stop them, but I'm a big believer in quality over quantity any day.

  • by Mack Collier Thu Jul 9, 2009 via web

    "Start by defining your purpose for tweeting. You are not creating your mission statement or value proposition here. It doesn't have to be perfect or transcend generations, because it will evolve as you proceed."

    THIS is truth. How you use Twitter WILL evolve as your understand of how the site functions and how others use it, grows. Great point, the strategy should be a guide, not something set in stone.

    And I love this....

    "For example, a gardening-supply company might define its purpose for tweeting as "providing tips and tactics for people to improve their gardening skills." Notice that there is no mention of sales, customer acquisition, corporate growth, or profitability. Those are all side effects of using Twitter."

    BINGO! I call this tapping into the 'bigger idea' that your customers care about. Your customers don't care that you make the best tiller on the market, they want to know how you can show them to be a better gardener. If you can do that in the context of selling your fancy tiller, that's fine, but the end problem they are wanting to solve is having a better garden. Not buying a better tiller.

  • by victorseo Thu Jul 9, 2009 via web

    Overall this is good info for businesses exploring internet strategies to grow their business. I am not in favor of scheduled posting (setting an app to deliver your posts at various times, automatically). When your twitter ID posts a tweet people like to think that you are "there" at that time. If they reply or comment and you are not there to respond it can make people feel as if you are ignoring them. Dangerous waters, in my opinion.

  • by Megan Thu Jul 9, 2009 via web

    The comment about the avatar that Stacey made is dead on! I agree with her comment about changing avatars, keeping things fresh is important. If you tweet often, people generally know your name, and your avatar doesn't have just be your corporate logo.

    I understand the "old" idea of branding. Locking down your image to create a concrete brand...but on Twitter, for example, if your company sells different products like garden tools, then for a month, when you're trying to promote a specific tool...have your avatar be that tool. If you are having a clearance sale--have your avatar say: SALE: TOOLS 50% off.

    People's first response to something new on Twitter is: Who's that? Oh! It's the "such and such" tool company!...people usually comment when you have an avatar change, they may even click on your avatar to see your background change. Here is another touch-point for advertising.

    I do agree about Stacey's comment about #FF: So to help cut down on my lists, I pick my #1 national and #1 international people that I like and think do a good job with their tweeting. I create a tiny bio about why I like them and give them a referral. Sometimes I do more...but it's really up to what kind of time you have!

    Mack is totally dead-on too with the idea of problem solving. Twitter is not about talking AT people, it's about talking WITH people.

    Victorseo had a good comment in regards to the automatic posts. Those suck. Don't do them. LOL :)

  • by JimWithers Thu Jul 9, 2009 via web

    Tips for running a staff motivation programme
    Many philosophers and management experts agree that it’s impossible to change the nature of human beings. But if you can understand people’s motivational turn-ons, then it’s possible to build a organisation where people work harder and achieve better results.

    Putting together a successful motivation programme is part of this effort. We recommend that organisations begin by profiling their employee audience, factoring in participants’ ages, gender, marital status, religion, socio-economic grouping and interests. When it comes to choosing a reward, what might appeal to a 25-year-old single man may not be as attractive to a 45-year-old mother of three. And someone’s religion or personal beliefs may preclude them from accepting certain rewards, such as a case of champagne.
    Anyone involved in the motivation scheme will need to know just what they need to do, how they should do it and what the rewards are. But there are other things to bear in mind to ensure the scheme is successful.
    Involve senior personnel
    Getting buy-in from department managers is instrumental in driving forward any motivation scheme. Listen to their advice about how feasible the project is from an operational point of view. Elect a project leader to co-ordinate activity and answer queries. This type of involvement covers many areas of management and changes.

    Keep people updated
    Participants will require regular updates on their progress; full and frequent communication is vital to convey every detail.
    Invest in communication
    Don’t rely on just one medium to tell people about the scheme: use posters, newsletters and monthly meetings for greater impact. Launch the scheme with ceremony.
    Avoid misunderstandings
    Whether the reward is a holiday, gift vouchers or a hot-air balloon ride, ensure that people understand exactly what is included and whether there are any additional expenses not covered by the scheme.
    Measure performance
    Use reports, production records and customer service feedback to gauge the effectiveness of the programme.
    Recognise top achievers
    Publicise the stories of your best performers, both internally and externally where possible. People need recognition by others as well as a private pat on the back.
    As a rule, well-motivated staff provide better customer service and are more likely to stay with a company, reducing recruitment costs. A well-structured motivation programme can help to achieve that.

    www.medi-scot.co.uk

  • by Debra Ellis Thu Jul 9, 2009 via web

    I want to thank everyone for their comments. Your participation improves my article.

    I think that “to schedule” or “not to schedule” depends on your audience, content, and presentation. If you schedule posts with the idea of creating an illusion that you are present, then you will alienate more than you engage.

    There isn’t any danger if you use a scheduler to provide valuable content, tell everyone that it is scheduled, and tweet for a specific audience. For example, I use one to provide tips for my clients. Every scheduled tweet has the hashtag #wec-etip or #wec-clients. My first scheduled post every day has a link that explains the hashtag and notes that the tweets are scheduled.

    When I log into twitter, I respond to any questions or comments. I’ve found that a lot of people who are not clients like my tips. But, if they didn’t, I wouldn’t care. I know who my audience is and create content for them. As long as my clients find it valuable, I’m accomplishing my objective. If it happens to increase my audience, it's a bonus.

  • by Peter Thu Jan 7, 2010 via web

    great read, thank you!!!

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