Twitter is one of the most rapidly adopted social media outlets on the Internet, and it's growing by leaps and bounds each day. There is enormous value in just being a part of the conversations that are happening on Twitter, regardless of what your goals are for the channel.

However, if you are on Twitter to represent your company, your boss will probably soon ask you to prove the value that your tweets have to your business, if he or she hasn't already asked.

So how do you know whether your followers are listening or whether you're just tweeting in the wind? How do you know whether tweets about topic X have more or less value than tweets about topic Y?

There are several tools for measuring engagement on Twitter, and even some homemade algorithms.

But the first step is always to define your goals. Then, as with any channel that is part of your overall marketing strategy, you'll be able to make smarter decisions about your Twitter content stream, the types of "following" behavior, how you represent yourself and your brand, and more.

For marketers, Twitter is an extension of everything you do from a branding and PR perspective. To supplement your blog posts, you might tweet about today's topic and post a tinyURL back to your corporate site. To generate more eyeballs and potential sales, you could tweet about the special deal you just sent to your email subscribers. To make more personal connections and network with influencers, you can even live-tweet your whereabouts or provide real-time feedback at industry events.

None of these will aid your marketing plans, however, if you're not speaking to the right people.

To grow your network on Twitter, start by using the site's own search function and use keywords that are relevant to your overall business's target audiences.

If you want to get a little more granular in your search, you can use a service like TweetGrid or Twilert to search under multiple keywords and get email alerts when someone in the Twitosphere is talking about your brand or related subjects.

Follow people who like you, hate you, or don't yet know about you but might be interested. Then listen to what they say, and join in the conversation when it makes sense. As long as what you say has value, you will start to build a solid following.

While gaining a targeted group of listeners on Twitter is the first big hurdle, your "following"-to-"number of followers" ratio should not be your only measurement of success. Your Twitter influence is calculated on various factors, including the following:

  • How many of your posts are being retweeted? Retweets are viral marketing at its best. It happens when one of your followers found your tweet so interesting or insightful that he or she wanted to share the same tweet with all of his or her followers, opening up the stream of conversation to new audiences and potential customers/partners/friends.
  • Do you pay attention to @replies and direct messages? Do you respond? Don't overlook Twitter's potential for true one-to-one marketing. Incidentally, the number of people @replying to you is a good indication of how influential you are on Twitter.
  • Is what you are saying valuable to your followers? Yes, it's difficult to condense earth-shattering insights and bits of wisdom into 140 characters, but the limitation forces you to get to the point, leaving no room for fluff. Make use of hash tags (#) to easily reference a more general subject being discussed. Link to URLs for followers who want to dive a little deeper.

If Twitter is a part of your marketing or branding strategy, it would be wise to keep an eye on how you are stacking up against competitors as well as how your Twitter influence is progressing over time.

Twitalyzer is great new tool that calculates your influence based on your signal-to-noise ratio, generosity, velocity and clout, and it also allows you to calculate a score for any other Twitter user you want to keep tabs on. Since it displays increases and decreases to your influence over time, it is also a way to test the positive or negative impact of new Twitter strategies.

As Twitter gains an increasingly strong following in the marketing and business worlds, we will see even more tools and gadgets popping up to help us measure our success.

Omniture is already leading the way by incorporating Twitter data into its analytics platform, used by many of the top brands in the industry, and others are sure to follow. The important thing for companies right now is to take those 140 steps and join the conversation.

In other words—and in 140 characters:

Tweets are sweet with purpose and measurable outcomes. Different tweets for different peeps. Find your voice and join in. Retweet me please!

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image of Jim Sterne

Jim Sterne founded the Marketing Analytics Summit in 2002 and co-founded the Digital Analytics Association in 2004. He now advises companies on analytics strategy planning at Data Driven Leaders Studio and teaches AI and machine-learning to marketers.