When I speak with local merchants about Social Media, I find that they have surprisingly similar levels of awareness, interest and understanding: Almost everyone is familiar with Facebook and YouTube, although they don’t always see the business opportunities, and very few seem to have even heard of LinkedIn. In between is Twitter, which many merchants seem to have heard of but not that many seem to be interested in. The comment I’ve gotten from more than one local merchant is, “I don’t have time for everything and I have to draw the line somewhere.”
The Greater Delray Beach (FL) Chamber of Commerce has been kind enough to ask me to speak about how businesses can use Twitter – and why they should. My presentation, which is part of a “Tech Talk and Coffee” about Social Media for Business, is scheduled for Tuesday, May 18 at 7:30am. Other speakers will cover Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn. The session is open to the public as well as to Chamber members and every local business should find it useful, even businesses that haven’t considered adding Social Media to their marketing mix.
By now most people have heard of Twitter. Oprah uses it. So does the White House. It’s a free micro-blogging service that lets users publish short notes (called “tweets”) of up to 140 characters in real time. There are smartphone applications for Twitter, so it is a fully mobile service. Users can “follow” other users and see their tweets in their Twitter stream. Following and being followed is how users build a community on Twitter. Users also can search by keywords or topics to find relevant tweets. Users can reply to tweets, forward (“retweet”) them, and include links to web sites or other media. Engaging in these conversations is a good way to attract followers.
Broadly speaking, there are at least four ways businesses can use Twitter.
Listening Post. Twitter’s most significant benefit to business is its immediacy. When US Airways Flight 1549 landed in the Hudson River in January 2009 there were posts, including photos, on Twitter within minutes. If you want to know what your customers, competitors, vendors, etc. are thinking right now, Twitter is a great way to find out. Listening on Twitter is also a great source of ideas and information. Using Twitter’s search functions can widen any business’ horizons.
Brand Builder. Tweeting regularly with timely, relevant information creates interest in you and your brand. This works best when most of the tweets are on a subject that relates to your business but does not overtly promote the business itself. For example, if your restaurant wants to be known for its fresh produce, you could tweet about sustainable farming, its local purveyors, and even the weather. You will attract followers on Twitter who might become customers themselves or retweet your posts to others. Media outlets have become big Twitter users and you could find your restaurant covered in the newspaper just by using Twitter adeptly.
Lead Generator. Twitter lets users form, and join, communities. Twitter’s search functions make it easy to identify other users with similar interests or in similar businesses. Mutual following puts a business’ tweets in its followers’ streams and vice versa. You can get leads from Twitter communities built on common interests both by reading relevant tweets and simply by asking for help.
Help Desk. Twitter is an outstanding platform for providing customer service. Responding in near real time to a tweet that asks for assistance – or jumping in to solve a problem you see on a tweet from a customer even if it isn’t directed to you – not only helps your customer, it helps cement (or improve) your reputation as a business that cares about its customers. One of the earliest business adopters of Twitter was Comcast, a company not known for the quality of its customer service. Comcast now has a full-time staff that monitors Twitter for customer complaints and responds almost immediately. When you ask your customers to follow you on Twitter you are not just gaining access to them, you are providing access to yourself. Since all of your followers will see these interactions the potential benefits of using Twitter to help your customers quickly are huge.
At Zavee we try to use Twitter for all of these functions, and we continue to learn as we go. Here are a few suggestions for getting started with Twitter:
- If you don’t feel comfortable putting your business name out there right away, start with a personal Twitter account.
- Listen first, then start asking questions, make suggestions, and in no time you will be part of the action.
- Pass along stuff, including links and retweets, that’s timely, relevant and interesting, but don’t overdo it. Original material is more useful and will result in more followers.
- Most important of all, be yourself.