Finding The Value In Twitter
I distinctly remember my first experience with Twitter when I noticed someone casually mentioning they were “putting lipstick on at a redlight”. My first thought was “this is totally worthless”. My how times have changed. Not only has the growth of Twitter been off the charts (1382% to be exact), but I’ve actually started using Twitter on a regular basis and find it extremely helpful and useful in my job.
Twitter can be tough to understand at first and there’s good reason for it; its a different communication model than most are used to. How many times have you gone out on the street and starting talking to yourself and hoped that someone else would stop and listen? Not many I’m guessing, but that’s more or less what Twitter allows you to do. You say your piece and if someone’s there to hear great, if not, oh well.
On the surface this just seems silly (at least to me it did), however what you notice over time is that this model is very useful for discovering and developing new relationships if you use some basic principals to help you get started. Using Twitter has helped me find Thought Leaders in different subject areas, kept me better informed about hot topics, and helped me develop a peer network with similar interests. All this from a messaging system with a 140 character limit. Wow!
How It Works?
Even though I’ve had an account on Twitter since 2007 I have only recently started using it in earnest and what a difference it’s made. My blog traffic is up 50% over the last couple of months and I contribute much of the increase to my participation in Twitter. What I think really helped me see the value in Twitter were #hashtags and retweets. Hashtags are tags applied to a message with a prepended # marker (ie. #community, #opensource, #management). These can be searched and allow you to find relevant subjects across all the Twitter postings. Hashtags have enabled me to find pockets of information that I didn’t know existed by searching for a particular #term. Retweets (RT) are when a user pushes a post from someone they follow into their network of followers. Thereby giving their stamp of approval on the material.
I recently wrote a post entitled What Really Matters? which discussed the overabundance of information and our current lack of tools to help sift through that information. Believe it or not Twitter is helping me sift through the voluminous amount of data that gets delivered to me daily. While I don’t think it’s quite what I had in mind in my post, it is a good start. In the post I discuss how RSS Feeds have become too time consuming to manage and keep current with without some form of relevancy. Twitter adds relevancy to the mix through the concept of retweeting (RT). I’d guesstimate that about ~15-25% of the tweets I receive are article links with summaries. Many of these articles are retweets. When someone RTs an article, it usually means they’ve found it to be interesting and informative, and want to share it with their followers. This means someone else has already reviewed the article for me and is telling me I should check it out. Instant relevance.
All of this is well and good but how can you use Twitter to help you stay informed or build relationships with new people? …
Tip 1: Find People That Share Your Passion
Now, just following random people is not going to get you the kind of relevant material or people you’ll want to connect with, but that’s where #hashtags come in. When I began to use Twitter in earnest, the first thing I did was to search for hashtags of interest to me. Tags like #opensource, #collaboration, #e20, #linux, etc. I then reviewed the tweets of people using these hashtags to find the most interesting Tweeters and followed them. After a few weeks of this I’d assembled a list of people that were providing me with high quality information. The bonus is that about 20-30% of these people follow me back. So not only do I have access to a higher quality of info than my RSS Feeds, but I also have begun to establish a group of followers that I send messages to.
Tip 2: Be Authentic and Contribute
So getting back to my original question “have you ever gone into the street and talked to yourself?”, the answer in most cases is “no” (well maybe, but don’t tell anyone). But from what I’ve just outlined it seems to work as long as you’re willing to listen first and be authentic with the community. I think this is the key to making Twitter useful, even though the model for Twitter is individually blasting messages out. It really only works when you are participating in the Twitter community in a genuine and useful way. If you constantly post messages about your product or company, or that you’re applying lipstick while at a red light, you’re unlikely to see any success on Twitter (unless of course you are a company that’s trying to keep customers informed). You are ‘noise’ and will be treated as such. However, if you are posting useful information and retweeting good stuff you’ll have far greater success because you’ll build trust amongst your followers. I’m not suggesting that you can’t post information about products or companies, just that if that’s all you post you will quickly alienate your followers. Twitter users are looking for people to follow, not marketing departments. I think a good rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t have over 20% of your posts directly related to a single product or company.
Tip 3: Use Hashtags
“What about using #hashtags?” you ask. Just as I found people to follow via #hashtags, you should use #hashtags with your outgoing messages so that others can find you. Hashtags are a great way to quickly identify users who share common interests with you. If you’ve written a cool blog post with some tips for community managers , tag it with #community. This way other Twitter users interested in that topic can find you. Note that these #hashtags sometimes change so you should do a quick search to make sure the tag is still relevant before using it in a post.
Another benefit of hashtags is that there are automated processes (bots) associated with some tags so that if you use the #hashtag it will be retweeted to other groups of users. A few that I’m aware of are #linux, #techcrunch and #opensource. If you use one of these tags your post will get pushed into a much larger network. BEWARE you don’t want to abuse this privilege, in fact there are rumblings that Twitter will soon ban this practice so it may not be around much longer.
Tip 4: Get Help
If you’re trying to figure Twitter out for your company and you’re new to social media, find the people around you who understand it. This will probably not be your SVP of Marketing, but instead a younger, more connected member of the staff. I can’t tell you how many times I wandered onto the Twitter homepage of a senior marketing professional and seen nothing useful at all. All their tweets are about their company or products, that is, if they have any at all. This is not how you embrace the Twitter community.
Find your experienced users and have them help you define a plan. You may even want to empower them to help with your company’s branding through Twitter and other social media outlets. They’ll at least be able to tell you what to do, and more importantly what NOT TO DO.
Tip 5: Open Up and Let People In
This particular tip is aimed at companies trying to use Twitter to promote their products or services and doesn’t apply just to Twitter. The salad days of product management traveling to large customers to get feedback for the next iteration of the product roadmap are over. If you want to have people embrace and extend your brand, you have to listen and stop spewing marketing diarrhea from your orifices. We are long past the days when people build a marginally good product, put tons of money into a marketing campaign, and see great results. Word of mouth is just too fast to make this model viable any longer. Current data shows that 78% of consumers trust peer recommendations, whereas only 14% trust advertisers. If you think you can market your way out of a crummy product today you have no idea just how wrong you are.
Twitter and other similar social media tools are your salvation. You can actually find, and converse with the most important people you can imagine – your users. Not just the CIO but real users. I know what you’re thinking, “But the CIO is the one that makes all the decisions”. You and I both know that this model is quickly dying too. CIOs that implement crappy technology find the door pretty quickly today. Users are the ones that hold the real power and that’s because they’re the ones that converse. Conversation is the key to Web 2.0, Web 3.0, and Web 4.0. If you’re not conversing with your users, you’re dead!
Hope this helps. I’ve found great value in Twitter and other social outlets since my initial reluctance. My advice to you is to dive in, be AUTHENTIC, and try to learn. If you’re not afraid to be honest and help other people along the way, you’ll do just fine .
P.S., I’m at @emcconne if you’d like to follow along