Democratic uprisings. Social accountability for multinational corporations. Presidential campaigns. Dispatches from space. Natural disasters halfway across the world.
What do all of these things have in common? They've all been events, causes, and stories that unfolded in real time across the digital landscape of Twitter.
In our present age, Twitter has become an essential communications tool for everyone from activists and reporters to pop culture fanatics and brand ambassadors. Social scientists have analyzed its value as a primary source, Donald Trump uses it to fight with everyone, and the platform averages a staggering 5,787 tweets per second. In short: Twitter is a point of entry into almost any audience demographic you can dream up (and some you'd rather not).
That being said, we realize asking you to push your own brand into this cluttered, buzzing environment can feel a bit like we're asking you to cast your family pet into a churning river as it races past. (For the record, we'd never do that. Have you seen all of our cat pictures?) But, like a kid dipping her toe into the shallow end of the pool for the first time, you've got to learn to swim at some point.
Just consider this blog your blow up floaty wings. Let's get started.
1) Why Should I Care About Twitter?
Good question. Let's discuss.
With 320 million active monthly users tweeting about literally anything you can think of, Twitter is a robust, complex engagement channel that deserves a thoughtful approach. It's hard to believe the social juggernaut will be celebrating its 10th birthday next month, but what's even harder to believe is that so many businesses are still using the 'fave and a prayer' approach to creating a communications strategy for Twitter.
(And if by some digital anomaly you're reading this and have never used Twitter before or don't even know what it is, we offer the following helpful tips: (1) no, it's not a character in the newest Star Wars movie, but we like where your head's at; (2) you can read the really fascinating company story right here, all laid out in a friendly timeline.)
Twitter, as defined by Twitter, is a service for friends, families, and coworkers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent messages. It's like a constant stream of micro-FB status updates, loosed from the cluttered trappings of FB (thanks to the 140 character limit). And instead of "friends" you have "followers", which gives the platform a more expansive feeling and facilitates conversations between people who have common interests but might never cross paths IRL.
We like to tell clients that Facebook is a channel you use to post a message in hopes of your audience seeing it, but Twitter is a place where you go to start or join conversations directly. It's a powerful tool that is sadly underutilized in the small business world -- or at least misunderstood.
Sure, Twitter can be completely overwhelming. It's a communications superhighway where information speeds past you like it's running late, but it's one of the best ways to connect with people near and far instantly.
2) Who Should My Business Follow on Twitter Anyways?
We hate to be that person -- you know, the one who answers a question with a question -- but with so many people frequenting Twitter on a regular basis, it can be difficult to know who's worth following and who's going to just end up being noise in your feed.
So, here are a few homework questions to answer before you start following with abandon:
1. What causes, interests and trends are important to your business?
2. What causes, interests and trends are important to your followers?
3. Who's already on Twitter that you know? (And do you want to communicate with them on another channel?)
4. What blogs and websites do your employees read every day?
5. What Twitter accounts are favorites among people around the office?
OK great! Now that we've got you thinking about how you want to use Twitter, it's time to start populating that new account of yours (or cleaning up your existing one).
Paragraph on building Twitter lists here
Before we roll up our sleeves and dive deeper, we want to make one thing really clear: you should not be on Twitter for your business if your only goal is making money. Social media is about community building - making relationships online with your client base, as well as potential customers. Awareness is the name of the game, so your top priority is engaging with people in a meaningful, helpful way. If you play your cards right, your business will be the first thing that pops into people's heads when they need a product or service you offer. If you play your cards wrong, your account will be dismissed as spam, and you'll lose people's attention (and business).
That being said, let's talk about money -- specifically, can you make money directly off Twitter? Sure! Especially if your business involves ecommerce. In fact, many people who make a habit of following brands do so just to keep up with special offers, discount announcements, contests, etc. So if you're all about trying to sell items in 140 characters or less, we totally encourage you to do so. Just make that's not all you're doing.
To be truly successful in the Twitter for business game, you need to post about more than just your business, which brings us to our next section...
3) What Am I Supposed to Tweet?
Looking for information on the internet is like trick or treating in space. There's more places than you'll ever be able to visit, the variety of treats is limitless, and there's no way you're gonna fit everything into one plastic pumpkin.
And to further complicate things? In this scenario, you are both the interstellar trick-or-treater AND one of the places offering up treats. Whooaa.
Obviously, your goal is to get the most tasty things in the fewest stops possible because efficiency, right? You could spend all day going to every planet that pops up on Google, but at the end of the day you might still end up with a bucket full of Smarties and those orange and black taffy things. Beyond this strategy feeling like a really big time-suck with very little reward, you have to remember that the 'treats' you collect and share are also what keeps others coming back to your own little corner of the galaxy. And those folks don't want Smarties or generic taffy either. (Our metaphor's still holding up, right? *fist pump*)
You should always be on the lookout for tasty morsels to add to your content arsenal, taking care to find a mixture of timely topics for immediate sharing and evergreen bits that can be saved for later. Not sure what kinds of content is appropriate for your account? Refer back to the answers you gave to the questions in Section 2. Not sure how to find all this content? Quit hyperventilating and read on, silly.
One of our favorite tools to comb through the taffy and find the mini Snickers bars is Feedly. It's basically a RSS feed on steroids. You tell it what publications you like to follow/are relevant to your industry, and then it collects anything those sites publish and puts it in one feed for easy consumption. It can also suggest publications to you based on whatver topic you type in the search bar. You can build different feeds for different topics, and even build feeds of Google Alerts so you can keep track of media mentions of people/things/events you care about.
Let's say you are an education non-profit. You can use Feedly to build a feed of education publications, a feed of other non-profit blogs, a feed of teacher resource websites, etc. Then when you need to find something to post, take it to the feeds. Copy the link, write a caption, and voilà! - instant content.
Remember those Twitter lists we talked about earlier? Those are also great "feeds" to find content in. And with Twitter's retweet with comment feature, it's easy to build on someone else's tweet to make your own piece of content while still giving credit where it's due for the original post.
Finding and posting all this content sounds pretty exhausting, huh?
Unfortunately, the internet never sleeps (thanks, Al Gore!), but you do. Instead of letting FOMO fever glue you to your screens at all times, you can take advantage of one of the many awesome software solutions that can send your tweets out for you at the times you tell it so you can sleep off your high fructose corn syrup buzz, steal your sister's Twizzlers, or feed all of your Sugar Babies to the dog (or do literally anything else you want to do with your time).
Here are just a few to check out that allow you to both schedule and optimize your posts:
- Perennial favorites Hootsuite and Tweetdeck that cater to the desktop experience (though HS does have an app option too)
- Analytical powerhouses like Sprout Social and Buffer that give stat nerds feedback on content performance and ROI on ad spends. Sprout Social even let's you integrate your Twitter lists AND Feedly account so you can access it all in one place. *heart eyes*
Be strategic about where you look online for information, don't share EVERYTHING you find at all times, and let technology do the heavy lifting so you can focus on the bigger picture.
So you're saying just post other people's stuff & not your own? That sounds simple!
Lol yeah no. The type of content we were just talking about is the stuff you tweet in-between your own content, unless of course your business is a content museum and your official title is 'Other People's Stuff Curator.'
We'd use this space to talk about what to post for yourself and how to create your own content, but we only have so much blog space, you know? Plus, we've already written about it here, here, and here. Oh yeah and here too.
4) When Should I Post on Twitter?
Here’s the thing - there’s really no best time to post on Twitter that works for everyone on every day at every time. There are a lot of factors to consider and analytics to look at before you have set times that will get you the most interaction. Every account is different.
At the end of the day, finding your perfect posting time schedule is one giant experiment. There are so many factors that can affect what content does best at which times. But before you get all sad emoticon on us, there ARE ways you can make educated guesses that will produce solid results for your Twitter account.
Our method for picking the best time to schedule tweets (besides looking at analytics of course) is to keep the audience in mind and consider what you think their habits would be.
- What kind of people are the majority of your followers?
- What are their daily activities?
- When would you be on Twitter if you were them?
For example, if you were someone with a job that requires sitting at a desk all day, you'd probably check social media in the morning, at lunch when you need a break, and at the end of the day when you're ready to go home. If you spend your days constantly on the go, your phone is probably in your hand and online throughout the day whenever you get a free minute. You get the point.
Combining these types of hypotheses with analytics from your account is a great start to figuring out a basic set of posting times, but here’s the thing you should keep in mind: those times will change, and frequently. Posting schedule optimization is not an exact science, especially with new accounts, which means you need to EXPERIMENT A LOT to figure out what works and what doesn't. Isn’t #science fun?!
Want a faster method?
Many of the programs and platforms we mentioned in the last section have tools that will do the guess work for you, compiling metrics like post engagement and peak online times to come up with an idea of when the sweet spots are for your specific followers. Just a friendly heads up though -- it has been our experience that the data you find with these programs isn't always accurate for certain audiences. For best results, we suggest getting to know your audience and their habits on your own first, then combining your developed knowledge with the badass best practices research you might find online (like this Buffer report), and then weighing all of that information alongside the data generated by your scheduling tool.
Essentially, whether you personally track your ongoing stats or use a program to help in the process, even data-driven strategies still need that human touch.
Now if you really, REALLY wanna get lazy with it, you could just go by the infographic below that Buffer put together. But this blog is all about growing engagement for your business, so a one-size-fits-most approach is not what we'd advise. If you go this route and aren't getting the best results, we promise not to say we told you so.
(At least not to your face.)
5) How Can I Gain More Followers on Twitter for my Business?
You buy them, of course!
If you're looking for a bad time, go ahead and put your credit card information into one of the many websites out there guaranteeing you 7,000,000,000,000 new followers for just one low payment of $9.99. Not only will every single one of the followers not care about your tweets AT ALL, but many of them won't even speak English.
Don't buy into follower farming. It's lazy, it has zero ROI value, and you just end up muddying your own audience pool.
First and foremost -- and we say this a lot, we know -- the most essential weapon in your audience development arsenal is content. Have a perspective, and articulate it in a thoughtful way: varied media offerings, varied source links, holistic approaches to relevant topics. Cross promote as often as possible, but DO NOT CROSS POST. (And if you don't know the difference between the two, please enjoy this succinct explanation from the fine folks at CBD Marketing.)
Next, think before you post. Whether you're trying to market an event, product or service, you should always start with a campaign-level approach.
- Have you identified primary phases in the promotional and/or sales cycle?
- What are your benchmark dates (i.e. sales quarters, deadlines to apply, product launch, etc.)?
- What is your call to action, and how are you integrating it?
- Are there crucial pieces of information your audience needs to know?
- Have you involved your corporate and/or community partners in the communications plan?
- Is there a designated hashtag for curating content and conversations? (Hint: there almost always should be.)
- Are you planning ahead (good) or just 'winging it' (bad)?
Last, and maybe most important of all, remember that you're talking to human beings on the other end of all of those @ signs. When they tweet at you with questions or repost something you shared, answer them and interact with them. Fave their tweets, and follow them if you think they could become a brand ambassador or even if you just dig what they're putting out into the world. Never forget that word-of-mouth advertising has gone digital, and every Twitter handle is an opportunity for a first impression.
Additional Twitter Resources
Want to know more about how your business can harness Twitter to find new customers or reconnect with existing ones? Get in touch with us. Whether it's training your team or helping you with content strategy, RocketFuel has a social media solution we can tailor just for you.