Using Twitter For Business Requires Focus

Mark Busse – 2 Comments

“We need a Facebook page and a Twitter account, right?” ask many of our clients these days. Much like clients who want news sections or blogs as part of their websites, our answer is always “It really depends.”

If social media channels are where a majority of your audience is spending their time, then yes, you should probably consider making it part of your marketing and communications plan. But if you don’t formulate a strategy and stick to it, you could make a mess and even undermine your brand in the minds of that same audience.

Many of our clients have jumped into the “Twittersphere“, convinced there is benefit in engaging an audience using this new form of communication through micro-blogging. However, some take on this activity without the aid of a formal strategy to guide them and as a result get caught up in tweeting often instead of tweeting well, risking turning off the new audience they’ve attracted.

One of our clients recently engaged the services of two PR & communications professionals and challenged them to build their brand presence online using Twitter. They came out of the gate strong, using some clever posts to get the attention of dozens, then hundreds, of followers. But as they got more comfortable with this new voice, and others in the group joined in the publishing of tweets, they began to post too frequently (and at the wrong times) and the content of their posts were increasingly less relevant to their business and its audience.

Our advice? Focus. It was time to re-examine the strategic plan outlining why they were using social media in the first place. A social media plan is terribly important if you want a tool like Twitter to work for you.

One of the fundamental issues behind a decision to engage in social media with business has to be the goals and objectives. As with any marketing initiative, it is imperative to consider who your target audience is, how they are using social media and most importantly the core message you want to share with your audience. Lastly, some thought toward how success in this new realm will be measured is highly recommended to avoid endlessly investing time with no notion of what positive impact the effort is having

Our client stated that they were expanding their tweets beyond their niche focus to integrate others’ posts (retweets) and local events to establish community relations. This might be a smart strategy if used wisely, but could undermine the whole effort if it resulted in a drift away from the core message and numerous tweets which ultimately serve to annoy their audience.

As much as social media can be a fabulous way to create large ‘social’ networks, when used in the service of business, it works best when focused on expressing or reinforcing that ONE THING that a business does best.

For example, a restaurant may choose to use Twitter to foster a genuine relationship with an online community–especially if there is something unique about the restaurant that people may not know about from existing channels. This audience might be grateful to read posts about location openings, new dishes, special offers, contents, events, even customer polls, but that same audience might not appreciate being inundated by frequent, irrelevant or even confusing tweets.

Many social media experts will argue that using Twitter is about creating a conversation, which we agree with, and having a human tone and friendly interactions can be a good way to engage a community in a dialogue, but one should remember that this is still a business/consumer relationship. A corporate Twitter account isn’t probably the best place for chit chat with strangers, clogging others’ Twitter stream.

It’s a good idea to remember that you’re not buddies, and keep casual conversations to a minimum—just enough ton invite or welcome new members to your tribe. If tweets are meaningless gibberish without clicking on “In Reply To…”, or merely retweets of some local Twitterstar with little relevance to your core message, then you are risking annoying your audience and might suffer the dreaded “unfollow”.

Our experience has shown that personalized, original content wins over repurposed content every time, so when tempted to reply, quote or retweet anything, our advice is to pause to recall your strategy, asking yourself “Is this the right tone or relate to our core message?” or “Will our audience understand or even care about this?”

Another risk when tweeting for business is too frequent of posts, which is a common reason for users to unfollow an account. If you have a lot to say, stop to ask yourself “Have I tweeted too much today?” or “Should I schedule this for later?” knowing that there are spikes in Twitter activity in late morning with the peak actually between 3–4pm. Avoid posting a flurry of tweets in a row if you can help it.

Using the restaurant example, perhaps tweets about offers or specials could be scheduled for late afternoon or early evening, resulting in the highest revenue return as people consider where to dine that night.

One company who we think does a tremendous job of using social media to build their business is, a Vancouver-based online cooking school and recipe website. They know exactly who their audience is and what they are interested in, and they never stray from their core message.

They tweet original and relevant content just frequently enough to stay top of mind and at strategic times during the day. They also use a variety of online media tools such as Netvibes to track mentions of key words and phrases that appear in the Twittersphere so they can respond to them strategically. They’re cunning in fact.

When someone posts a tweet that says something like “I wish I new how to cook”, they engage them by following them, followed up with a short greeting along with appropriate links to pages on their online cooking school. If someone posts something specific, like “I’d love to learn how to make pad thai,” they respond with a direct link to that recipe with video instructions.

“We hope to do more on the social media side, and for me it’s all about providing a service to others—even if this just means reading, comment or contributing to others.” says Rouxbe founder Joe Girad. “What we try NOT to focus on is “pitching” Rouxbe too often.” This strategy is results in a quick, inoffensive and effective way of engaging people, and their social media efforts have not only helped create a large community, but more importantly a highly focused one that actually spends money on the  company’s website!

Going back to the restaurant example, perhaps the chef decides to do create a special dish? This is a terrific example of what to feature on their Twitter channel! Heck, they could even link to info on the qualities and characteristics of the ingredients and done well, this will compel people to engage in conversation, others to come to the restaurant to try it out.

Of course a restaurant doesn’t want to sound desperate, but some have even started using Twitter to offer special discounts to users and post information on waiting time for tables. Useful and relevant to that audience, making them feel like they have a genuine relationship with the business—like they are part of their tribe.

There are a couple key things to keep in mind when using Twitter. Twitter is just a tool—in fact, it’s a very easy thing to learn how to use—but it takes training and practice to become an effective Twitter user. Also, there is a huge difference between people AT a company and the way they tweet versus the way the company itself tweets to its audience. Forget that and things can backfire quickly.

To summarize, using Twitter can be a powerful business tool used to attract a broader audience when used cleverly as part of a social media strategy, but it can also be a risky proposition if not done well.  When focused and on message, Twitter can help build a business and increase the value of its brand, but used haphazardly and in an unfocused manner, a business runs the risk of annoying and even alienating consumers, causing potentially irreparable damage to the relationship. The key to success is a well-considered strategy resulting in a set of rules understood by all participating in social media outreach.

Now consider all the other social media tools you can use, such as Blogs (yours and others), Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Digg, Technorati, Tumblr, Foursquare, …the list goes on. The  reality is that unless you employ a dedicated, full-time  marketing person to create and maintain a comprehensive program, you’ll not likely want (or need) to engage in all of these channels—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go secure accounts in all of them before someone else does!