Twitter is a great tool to market your business in today's tough marketplace.
1. Do your research before engaging customers
Know how your customers use Twitter. It takes only a minute to go to Twitter Search () and find out if there are any conversations happening about your brand, product, service or industry. Know what your customers are saying about you.
If your search yields zero results, don’t worry: there may still be an opportunity for you and your brand to establish a presence and start a conversation on the service. However, Twitter may or may not be the right tool for you to engage your consumers.
2. Determine organizational goals
Not all brands utilize Twitter in the same way. Some, like @ComcastCares, use Twitter to provide customers with support. Other branded Twitter accounts, such as @DellOutlet, have utilized the service to sell products.
It’s important to think about what you are trying to achieve using Twitter before devoting your time and resources to it. You’re likely to get more out of it that way.
3. Utilize either a branded or personal profile
You have two options: you can either use a branded profile with your company’s logo, or you can opt to create a more personal profile that unites your own personal brand with that of the company.
If employees are using Twitter to primarily engage with people on behalf of the company, they should have a branded profile. A branded profile is one that clearly identifies the user as an employee of the company; usually through a username (i.e. @Intel_Eric, @synopsys_roy, @MelfromSymantec, @AMDOpteronPhil, @RichardatDELL to name a few) or has a branded background picture and bio.
4. Build your Twitter equity and credibility
To be a successful brand on Twitter, you have to build credibility and equity. That doesn’t necessarily refer to the number of followers, tweets, or retweets you may have, although these are important factors. Rather, it’s more about developing a reputation as a trusted source of information or being seen as an expert in a particular subject.
You won’t succeed in building your Twitter equity by pushing out one way marketing messages about your product. Instead ask questions, be personal, and engage people naturally within the Twitter community. Otherwise, customers won’t listen to what you have to say.
I usually follow the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of my tweets are conversational and personal, 20 percent are about the company I work for. I’ve found that this has really helped build customer engagement and link click-through rates.
5. Track metrics and conversation trends
Any enterprise or medium sized business should invest in a paid tracking service like Radian6 () or Nielsen to better track Twitter conversations, identify trends, measure sentiment, and to get a quantifiable picture of what is going on in the social web.
One metric you absolutely must track: how much money Twitter has saved your brand. How many issues did you solve, leads did you create, and dollars did you save through Twitter engagement versus traditional resources?
If your goal is to handle customer support issues via Twitter, it’s wise to check if there is any decrease in the call volume to your support center. And if you are selling products via Twitter (as Dell is doing), you should of course measure your sales via that channel.
6. Don’t go overboard; less structure is better
Your Twitter use can appear disingenuous and inhuman if you’re too structured with your approach, to the point where your community may be turned off. Treat your Twitter relationships the same way you would any other relationship. Honestly, how much planning or structure is needed before spending the evening out with friends?
Your Twitter experience will change and evolve over time, because the community that follows you will help shape what you say and how you respond. Remember to always use the 80/20 rule, but be flexible with your approach.
I’m not saying that you should let your employees run wild on Twitter, though. Planning, training, coordination and integration with social tools is imperative — just don’t go overboard and create a social media policy that is too restrictive.
7. Listen and observe before engaging
Don’t just start tweeting assuming that the Twitter community is going to accept you with open arms. It’s important that you spend some time just listening and observing the behavior of those who are talking about you or your company. Understand how your customers behave and adjust accordingly.
You don’t have to follow everyone that mentions your company to listen in on the conversation. In fact, this may irritate some people. Instead, when you’re ready to start answering questions, @reply them. In my experience, nine times out of ten, they’ll end up following you. Let the relationship grow from there.
8. Be authentic & believable
Authenticity is the golden rule in social media. We’ve known this for years, but there is another, related rule that is just as important: you and your brand need to be believable. This means spending time listening to your community, observing it, and learning about the dynamics of that community.
Your will become believable only after you have established trust among those in your community. Because I am trusted by my followers, if I tweet that my new netbook is amazing and fits my mobile lifestyle, people will believe me and perhaps even buy one (it is amazing, by the way).
9. Track, measure, and iterate
If there’s one thing that bugs me about working in the corporate environment, it’s the amount of time needed to execute. Sometimes it’s better just to launch a product or initiative, track it, measure the results and then iterate.
I learned this concept working at Yahoo for Mike Speiser, who was the VP of Community Products (and founded ePinions and Bix). This was his philosophy at Yahoo, and it worked, especially in the competitive landscape of social networks.
The great thing about the social web is that it’s not difficult to track the results of Twitter engagement, assuming you have determined what your organization’s goals are. It’s even easier to change course if you find that your efforts aren’t working according to plan.
10. Don’t just strategize: execute!
Multiple daily conference calls are the norm in corporate America. Strategy sessions and meetings to plan strategy sessions are also constants. While this may be fine when planning a new product launch or corporate initiative, it is the wrong approach to using Twitter.
We spend too much time strategizing with little to no execution. When you have too many ideas and not enough people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get stuff done, you are going to find yourself late to the game. Or, in the case of Twitter, late to the conversation.
By spending too much time trying to think of the best strategy, you are going to miss priceless opportunities to fix problems, answer questions, turn sour situations around, and create brand affinity with customers. With Twitter your mantra should be: just get out there and try it.