How to use Twitter: a beginner’s guide to microblogging for your business

PlumCommsPR on TwitterIt’s hard to believe, but Twitter has recently celebrated its seventh birthday. While many may still consider it to be a very new technology, the first tweet sent was actually sent by co-founder Jack Dorsey way back on 21 March, 2006. From very humble beginnings, it quickly developed into the hugely popular micro-blogging site that now boasts over 200 million active users around the world. Along the way, it has changed the way in which we communicate with one another and receive real-time news.

Twitter is a platform that divides users and business owners; some consider it to be an exercise in time-wasting and self-promotion, whereas many others use it as a key marketing tool for identifying new business opportunities, driving sales and encouraging brand engagement. Here at Plum Communications & PR, we have helped both small and medium sized business in the south west, particularly in Somerset and Wiltshire, to incorporate Twitter into their existing marketing activity.

Depending on the client, we have either got the ball rolling initially and then given them the tools to run with it themselves, or we have undertaken social media management on their behalf on a longer-term basis. We’ve also delivered Twitter training sessions to groups of business owners locally, many of whom have then gone on to become active ‘tweeters’ themselves!

If you’re just considering getting into Twitter to raise either your business or personal profile, or if you’re looking to increase engagement with your existing account, here are our top 10 tips for Twitter success:

1. Develop a strong profile using a striking image

First impressions count, especially when it comes to Twitter! In a very crowded and competitive marketplace, your profile is vying for attention with potentially millions of other very similar profiles – so regardless of the industry that you work in, you need to make sure that your profile stands out from the crowd.

Use your Twitter profile to really showcase your brand by choosing a striking picture that will look great in timelines – this is especially important if you happen to be retweeted by an influential user with a wide reach.

You have 160 characters (not words!) to explain who you are in your bio, so use them wisely. Twitter is all about being punchy and succinct, so your bio should explain who you are, what you do and also what you will tweet about (if it’s not obvious by the type of company that you are).

Support your picture with a strong cover image that offers insight into who you are (this could be a team shot, your office/premises, or your product, for example), as this will enable mobile users to gain a quick overview of you without having to head to your website. Indeed, as Gerry Moran recently noted: “Creating the perfect Twitter profile is much like creating the best curbside impression for your home. Like a home, you want to impress visitors with your outside view”.

There is also the option to add a custom desktop background to your account, which is a great marketing opportunity for you to reach users viewing Twitter on a desktop. We use ours to promote our contact details and the range of services that we offer as an integrated communications agency – take a look and see for yourself.

2. Be clear what you’re using it for

As with any marketing tactic, it’s vital that you have a clear understanding at the start of why you are using it and what you are hoping to achieve. Are you looking to primarily increase awareness of a brand, network with other businesses, deal with customer service issues or promote a new product to the market?

Whatever your reason for being on Twitter, make sure that your activity reflects this, and that you remain consistent. If you are a business that specialises in a particular industry, focus your tweets on providing industry insight and stay on topic. Likewise, if you are using Twitter to address and resolve customer service issues, don’t then use the same account to promote your latest deals and accomplishments as a business.

It may take a bit of time, but you will achieve success on Twitter if you remain focused on a particular topic and demonstrate expertise, and a interesting point of view, on that same topic.

3. Use hashtags to maximise your visibility

Even if you’re not a Twitter user currently, chances are you’ll know what hashtags are by now. These days they are hard to miss as they are literally everywhere: your favourite TV show, newspaper or radio station will frequently use them to get you talking about their topic.

In its most basic sense, a hashtag is used to get users talking around a central topic. By including a hashtag in your tweets, you are allowing other users that may be interested in the same topic to search for you using it. The majority of business conferences, networking evemts and award ceremonies will now have their own hashtag, which can serve as a terrific opportunity to network with others going to the same event, either in the run up to or at the event itself. Another way to use hashtags is to highlight an element of your tweet that you want people to find you by – for example, as an agency we will often highlight #southwest, #PR and #marketing in our tweets to find other Twitter users both locally and working within the industry. It’s a very useful tool, but do use it in moderation and beware of hashtag overload!

4. Follow people you’re interested in

It sounds obvious, but one of the most important things that you can do at the outset is to find people relevant to you (and your business objectives) to follow and engage with – avoid following too many users, as otherwise your timeline will end up being full of tweets from users that you have little or no interest in. Don’t follow simply to get a follow back and boost your numbers; it’s not a numbers game, after all. Instead, follow users that you plan to engage in conversation with, either through adding value by providing advice, or just in general conversation.

5. Engage with your followers – don’t just broadcast

Linked closely to the point above, it’s vital that you engage with your followers, and look for opportunities to join in conversations with other relevant users – after all, how are people going to find about you and the great product/service that you offer if they aren’t aware of you in the first place?

Resist the urge to solely broadcast your accomplishments and marketing messages – rather, use Twitter to create online relationships with others that can grow into long-term offline relationships.

6. Add value

By being careful to only follow relevant users, and by paying close attention to their conversations and content, it should be possible for you to identify conversational openings where you can get involved and add value. This can be done in a number of ways, such as answering a question that another user has posted, providing a link to a relevant piece of online content (it doesn’t have to be your own), or by referring others (we’ll come to that in a moment). It pays to be helpful without an agenda, so look for opportunities to help others and you will reap the rewards over time.

7. Recommend people

One of the nicest aspects of Twitter is that there is a real community spirit, and as such users often recommend other users – after all, at its heart, it’s all social networking. You can use Twitter to recommend users and accounts that you find particularly helpful – and one of the easiest ways to do this is on Fridays where, funnily enough, there is a ‘Follow Friday’ hashtag (or #FF for short). Each week, users will recommend individuals to their followers as an online thank you. It’s a good idea to get into the habit of doing this – it can be a bit time consuming, but it’s definitely worth doing. Keep a note throughout the week of users/accounts that you have had interactions with, or that have provided you with advice and/or useful content, and then get ready to sing their praises! A word of caution though: don’t just tweet a bunch of names without any thought – instead, take the time to give your followers the reason behind each and every recommendation that you make. It makes all the difference, and can actually make for interesting reading too.

8. Share content – but always attribute the original author

Sharing relevant industry content, otherwise known as content curation, is a great way of being recognised as a useful source on Twitter. If you come across a relevant news item, article or blog post (such as this one!) that you feel may be of interest to your followers, then be sure to share it on Twitter – but be sure to attribute the original author where possible. Not only is it polite, but it also may help you to build a relationship with the author, which could prove to be very useful down the line.

9. Understand who can see what – the difference between @mentions and @replies

A crucial area of misunderstanding in the past, there have been many instances of celebrities, politicians and other influential figures falling foul of not being clear as to who can see what on their Twitter profiles.

An @mention, which is when you mention another Twitter user within the body of a tweet, will appear in the timeline of all of your followers – whereas an @reply, which is when you begin a tweet with a Twitter user (and no other characters beforehand), will only appear in the timeline of users that follow both parties. Crucially, however, both of these are still in the public domain, and can be viewed by anyone that chooses to look at your profile – so under no circumstances use either of these methods to discuss commercially-sensitive or confidential information. If you need to send something privately, Twitter allows users to ‘direct message’ one another, but both parties must be following one another first to enable this to happen. Better still, if you need to discuss something in private, this may well be the time to take the conversation offline and pick up the phone.

10. Be genuine and transparent – but cautious too

One more area that some businesses and individuals struggle with is grasping how guarded they should be with their use of the site. At its heart, Twitter is a transparent medium – it becomes very clear, very quickly, if you are using the site with a clear agenda in mind and are not being truthful. By being such an open channel, the key advantage of Twitter is that it provides tremendous opportunities to have direct conversations with your customers and to create brand advocates in the process.

Be genuine with both the language that you use and the way in which you interact with people – however, at all times, be professional, and remember that any tweets that you send out are in the public domain. The recent unfortunate case of Britain’s first youth police and crime commissioner Paris Brown should serve as a cautionary tale to frivolous tweeters – be transparent and open, yes, but remember to keep up a professional front at all times.

The potential benefits of using Twitter for your business are significant – and are only going to increase as more users join the site. The above points should serve as a solid foundation to get you started, but each user’s experience of the site will be different and unique. If you feel that Twitter would be beneficial to your business, but would like some further assistance or training, then please do get in touch. We offer a range of services, from initial account set-up to full social media management, and would be happy to chat with you over a cuppa to work out which option would work best for you, with no obligation, of course. That’s just how we do things here at Plum.

Ben Veal MCIPRThis article was written by Ben Veal, Senior Account Manager at Plum Communications & PR. Ben joined Plum in April 2012, and works with our clients at a strategic level to co-ordinate and deliver consumer and business projects and campaigns for a diverse range of businesses in both the public and private sectors. A finalist for the prestigious ‘Outstanding Young Communicator’ award at the 2012 CIPR West of England PRide Awards, Ben specialises in social media marketing and helping businesses engage directly with their customers through the use of robust and strategic digital campaigns. Read more about Ben and follow him on Twitter @BenVealPR.