Twitter for business—Are you using it
the right way?
A primer on Twitter etiquette and expectations
By Heather Lockwood
In terms of the social media space, it's easy to lump Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc., all together. They all do the same thing, right? Connect you and your business to the rest of the world in a social way. They are more personal and interactive than a Web site. And they are a great way to reach people who might not normally go looking for you, but are interested in your content or are recommended by a friend.
To some degree, that is correct, but if you dig deeper, you will find that there are different rules of engagement and different expectations that users have when they see your business in this space. It's important to know what users are really looking for to ensure that you are using the space in a way that truly engages your audience.
One mistake that many businesses make when they get into social media is that they think they can use the same content for their Facebook post, Twitter and their blog. It's easy enough to schedule posts ahead of time and let the automated posting process take over. In reality, all of these platforms should be treated differently.
Aside from the basic rules, like the number of characters per post, there are additional considerations to be made when using social media. There are varying degrees of interaction expected with these different social media outlets. You should evaluate your level of commitment in terms of time and resources before you jump into this space.
Low interaction—YouTube probably has the lowest interaction of the three in terms of expectation for follow-up or additional interaction past the initial post. On YouTube, once you post a video, it is out there for people to search, view and share, but they are not expecting you to follow up on that platform asking what they thought or establishing communication. That first point of contact is the only real expectation. Then it becomes the user's conversation through sharing or posting.
Medium interaction—Facebook has the next higher degree of interaction from a conversational perspective. If you post something on Facebook and someone comments or likes your post, it's expected that you will comment back or thank them for liking your post. You are expected to carry on the conversation in some way. In most cases, a single post has a limited life span and after a while, you no longer need to comment on that post; but the people who are following you are expecting you to continue the conversation by posting something new that they can share and comment on. It is a cycle and both parties expect the other to be an active participant.
How often you should post should be driven by what you have to say. It's the quality of your content that matters, and once someone already "likes" you, they aren't checking your page every day to see if you've posted anything new. They get e-mails alerting them when you do. Post content that matters and will be shared to ensure you are reaching beyond the people who already like you. It is a good rule of thumb to post a couple of times a week at the beginning and see what drives the conversation. Then respond to comments to keep the conversation going.
High interaction—Twitter is probably the biggest commitment in terms of the social media space, not because of content but because of frequency. People who are using Twitter expect a real, personal, back-and-forth conversation. They want to know that the person on the other end is real and they want the interaction to act like a real conversation that a group of people would engage in.
According to the Best Practices on Twitter's site, it is made very clear that you need to regularly monitor comments and respond in real time. That is what Twitter users expect. Imagine if you are talking to someone face-to-face and you ask a question and they don't respond. Not immediately, not in one minute, not in five minutes. The same rules apply to Twitter. If you are not out there regularly and responding almost immediately, you are creating a gap in the conversation and your followers are going to go elsewhere. You have to be committed to being part of the conversation not once or twice a week, but regularly and consistently to stay relevant.
Twitter users know when they are getting canned content or when there isn't a real person at the other end. It's great if you have already developed content to start the conversation, but it's just the start. After you post, you need to be readily available to monitor and comment on the feedback. It is also proper Twitter etiquette to thank people when they re-tweet your content.
You need to establish a voice for your business on Twitter if you are going to successfully use it as part of your marketing strategy. Even though you are representing your business, you still have to present yourself on Twitter as a real person. Customers don't want to talk to a brand or a brick building; they want to talk to a real person who will listen to them and share in conversation.
If your only purpose on Twitter is to try to push people to link to your Web site or sell them something, that conversation is not going to last long. If you are actively engaged in the conversation both in terms of the business and also a real person who lives in a real community and enjoys pizza or skateboarding or reading, you will gain credibility and trust for both yourself and your business. Talk as if you are talking to a friend.
So, if you are committed to using Twitter and understand the time commitment that is needed to do it the right way, here are some dos and don'ts that might help you along the way:
DON'T post something and expect the conversation to happen by itself.
DO be part of the conversation in real time.
DON'T use the same rules as Facebook and only post once or twice a week.
DO comment, re-tweet and post as much as you can to stay active in the conversation.
And DO thank people for re-tweeting your content.
DON'T give a sales pitch.
DO talk about yourself as a real person and a representative of the business, making sure to follow your company's social media guidelines.
DON'T automate posts and not respond.
DO keep the conversation going by actively responding and commenting.
DON'T make all of your comments and posts about the business.
DO talk about yourself (again within your company's guidelines). Talk about your community, where you like to eat, what your favorite carnival ride is.
DON'T talk as a brand or a building.
DO talk as a real person who happens to also be in business.
At the end of the day, selling is the goal of all marketing, but to get there with Twitter, you need to put in the time to create a real conversation as if you are talking to your friends, and you need to put the personal first to gain trust and build a reputation for your business. When you do that, you will build faithful followers who will be advocates for you and your business.
Heather Lockwood is advertising manager for Foremost Insurance Group. For more information, visit ForemostAgent.com.