March 13, 2013

Twitter is quite possibly one of the best networking tools available to small businesses. Unfortunately, many small business owners either don't recognize the value or they don't know how to use Twitter to best maximize results. I am constantly confronted with comments like "I don't like it," "It doesn't work for me," "None of my clients are on Twitter," "I don't see results," and so on and so on.

One of the reasons I love to tell others how great Twitter can be is because I'm a converted skeptic myself. Yes, there was a time when I didn't get it either. Now to be clear, I've been well aware of Twitter from the early days when it was based on text messaging and mobile connections. I just never jumped on the bandwagon. I felt like most of the people I knew on Twitter were merely posting what they were eating for lunch or where they were headed "right now". This didn't seem like information that I cared to know about.

Fast forward a few years and I had to start using Twitter for work. I was in charge of Social Media marketing and while I was well versed in other platforms, I couldn't possibly do my job without Twitter. So I learned everything I could as quickly as I could. I used Twitter effectively at work and garnered great success - but I still wasn't doing much with my personal account. Well, if you couldn't guess, this has changed dramatically.

Here's why I LOVE Twitter: in two months I have grown my Twitter following from 67 followers to over 800 followers. I did not purchase a single follower and I can promise you that I have made many great connections through this platform. I continually increase traffic to my blog, I have found mentors to aid me on my journey, and I have helped others on their journeys.

So how can YOU use Twitter effectively? Here are 5 ways:

1. Follow Industry Leaders

Many people who are not familiar with Twitter think that this is counter-intuitive. But the reality is that Twitter is a very reciprocal platform and people like to share valuable information. By following other leaders in your industry, you are privy to some of the best information out there and it makes it easy for you to share this relevant information with your followers (literally one click will do it!). Also, if you follow them, chances are they will follow you. And if they're following you, they may just retweet your posts, thereby sharing your post with thousands more people than you could reach alone.

It is also important to think about your professional network, and not just growing your customer base. Connecting with  industry leaders on Twitter often leads to developing connections through other Social Media platforms, including LinkedIn. These often lead to referrals, recommendations, and other network rewards. These connections can be extremely valuable as your business grows.

2. Follow Potential Customers

You probably have two questions about following potential customers - why and how? Let's look at why first. This is a great way for you to see what your customers are talking about and what they're looking for. Using this information, you can tailor your posts and content to give them exactly what they want. Also, as I said above, Twitter is reciprocal. If you follow them, chances are they will follow you. What better way to engage potential customers than to have conversations with them every day? If they are potential clients, with a vested interest in the information you are sharing, they will be likely to share that information with their followers as well. As they get to know you, they will come to know you as an expert or a go-to resource for them. When it comes time for them to pull the trigger on partnering with a business in your industry, you will be at the top of their list.

How do you find potential customers? There are a couple good ways. First, go into the profiles of the industry leaders you're now following and go to their list of followers. Scan through the list and find people that are relevant to you as potential clients. If they're already following your competitors and the industry leaders, they'll probably follow you as well. Second, use the search tool for keywords related to your industry. Find people who are using similar products/services or who are asking questions about these topics. Follow them and grow your network of potential and viable customers.

3. Engage and Personalize

Just like other Social Media sites, the key to long term success is to engage your audience. This means responding to tweets, retweeting others, and reaching out to your followers on a personal level. If someone mentions you directly in a tweet - reply with a personalized response or thank you. Continue the conversation! If someone gives you a compliment, favorite the post and retweet it for your followers to see. If someone retweets one of your posts, thank them for doing so. Use keyword searches to find people who have tweeted about your industry or related products and retweet or favorite these posts. Find ways in which you can connect with new followers - are you from the same city, do you have similar interests, do you like their profile photo? Commenting on these personal traits show that you actually value your new followers. When someone new follows you and they share relevant industry posts, make sure you retweet one of their posts. This shows that you have reviewed their profile and that you care enough to share their information.

Another great way to engage with other Tweeps is to participate in Twitter Chats. These are group conversations that happen at the same time every week and use a hashtag to participate. Find relevant chats in your industry and join in the conversation. You'll get to know more contacts and establish yourself as a presence in the industry.

A very key point about Twitter is to keep it personal, authetic, and REAL. Write your tweets individually to each person. Do not use generic, copied posts and don't use auto DMs (see here why I despise using auto DMs). Do NOT spam your followers with repeated posts about your latest blog or product. Keep your tone conversational and engage with your audience so that they will visit your website for more information.

4. Share Relevant Posts

Share information that your customers and followers want to see. This includes leading industry news, relevant blog postings, tips and advice for your industry, photos or your products/service, and behind-the-scenes posts of your company. You only have 140 characters to work with so keep your posts concise and pertinent. Including photos in your posts is a good way to encourage people to click on your post and will increase engagement. Mix a combination of your own unique content and posts with a variety of posts from other sources. You can retweet people that you follow or share an article that you read on an external site. Just make sure that these are posts that your audience wants to see. If your demographic is blue-collar men, posts about baking holiday treats may not be a good fit.

5. Manage Your Time

Twitter happens in real-time. Posts scroll down your feed quickly and fall into the past easily. As such, you cannot post to Twitter once a day and think you'll be a success. You should be posting multiple times a day - the perfect number will depend on your audience and industry. This doesn't mean you need to sit on Twitter all day long but you do need to visit the site more than once a day. I recommend setting aside 15 minutes 3-4 times a day to manage posts, responses, and adding new followers.

You should be adding new followers to your profile every day. Whether it's following back people that followed you or finding new people, determine a fair number to aim for every day. This may be as low as 10 or as many as 100 per day depending on the size of your audience and the goals you have set for your Social Media strategy.

As your number of followers grows you will find that it's nearly impossible to keep up with your home feed. If you're only on Twitter for an hour a day, you'll likely miss 90% of posts. I highly recommend using lists to help navigate this challenge. You can set up lists as private or public. I use private lists to organize my followers into groups that make it easy for me to find them. For example, here are some of useful lists to consider: People who share my posts; Other Industry Leaders; Competitors; Customers; Chat Participants; New and Media Sources. When you follow someone, add them to the relevant list. Each time you log on to Twitter, scroll through one (or more) of the lists to find the most pressing tweets to respond to or retweet.

Remember that Twitter is unlike the other Social Media platforms. You can't use Twitter like you use Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn. Twitter is its own beast and once you figure out the techniques, you will be successful. Like anything, it takes time to get the hang of it and be truly successful. Twitter is such a great resource for small businesses and I highly recommend you take the time to learn how to use it effectively.

Do you have any other tips on how small businesses can use Twitter? I'd love to hear them in the comments!

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