February 4, 2013

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal listed some statistics about small businesses and their Social Media usage. Based on the article, 60% of small businesses feel that Social Media is important to their business but only 3% said that Twitter was the most important platform. LinkedIn, YouTube, and Facebook were ranked as the most advantageous platforms by those interviewed. These results don't particularly surprise me, though they do remind me that so many people still need to learn the value of different Social Media platforms.

Twitter is such a great networking tool that, when used correctly, can create vast amounts of brand awareness in a short period of time. And for those businesses that love YouTube, Twitter is a great way to share videos and drastically increase views. Twitter is a great resource for industry trends and information - scrolling through the feed can find 10 relevant industry articles in a matter of minutes. Twitter also provides an easy way to generate lots of traffic back to a company's website.

I have nothing against LinkedIn, YouTube, or Facebook. In fact I spend just as much time (if not more) on these platforms as I do on Twitter. The problem for most small businesses, I believe, is their lack of education on the different platforms and the ways in which they can be used to maximize their online traffic. I think it's going to take a lot of additional education and information from both Twitter and Social Media advocates to bring awareness on the benefits of using Twitter properly. According to the article, Twitter says "it is just beginning to court small businesses." In a lot of ways, I think this just further purports the problem. Twitter has spent so much time and money courting large brands, celebrities, and individual usage, that they have neglected a large portion of the population.

Small businesses often don't have the resources to implement a full-time Social Media Manager that fully understands the ways in which each platform should be used. According the WSJ article, only 40% of businesses utilize a dedicated Social Media employee, though I've seen other statistics that indicate it's as low as 22%. (See here why I believe all companies should utilize a SM Manager) This leads to a major problem - using each platform in the same manner.

There are so many things about Twitter that make it completely different from other common platforms. Twitter needs to be used differently but many don't know how to do this. Here are some of the ways in which businesses misuse Twitter and some suggestions on how to improve.

Trying to Make Twitter Posts Look Like Other Posts

Twitter content is unlike the other popular platforms'. Posts are restricted to 140 characters. And this includes the characters in links for websites and photos. Many small businesses are used to typing up descriptive comments, full of information, and posting these to Facebook and LinkedIn. These just don't work on Twitter and when businesses try to achieve this, the content won't resonate with followers. Twitter posts need to be consise and unique. They can link to another webpage or article to share the relevant content. Facebook and other sites encourage photo sharing and studies actually show that photos generate the highest levels of engagement. Images on Facebook can often stand alone as a post. Twitter, however, is a text-based feed. Photos can be included in posts but they are hidden from the feed - the user must click to open an image. Therefore, when using images, the description in the post needs to be engaging enough to encourage a reader to open the image.

Creating One Piece of Content for all Platforms

Each platform has a unique type of audience and people use each site for different reasons. Therefore, businesses can't post the same information to each site. Posts should be tailored to the audience and the purpose of the platform. If someone is following a company on Facebook and the information shared on Facebook is the same as Twitter, why would they choose to follow the Twitter page as well? Businesses need to provide unique or exclusive posts on each platform, giving followers a reason to follow each different platform.

Linking Social Media Platforms

This is really a continuation of the issue listed above. It's lazy and disrespectful for companies to link their Social Media platforms. Linking is where generating a post on one site automatically shares the post with other predetermined sites. This just reiterates the issue of not creating unique content for each platform.

Posting to Each Platform at the Same Time

Even if businesses are generating unique content for each platform, they often post all of them at the same time. This is usually because the person moderating the Social Media platforms only has a limited time in the day to devote to Social Media activities. So, they go online, post something to Facebook, then switch over to LinkedIn, then jump onto Twitter. Twitter is a very global interaction and people are online at every hour of the day. If audiences aren't online around the time of posting on Twitter, they won't see the post. Mixing up the time of the posts and creating multiple posts a day ensures that the message will be seen by more of the audience.

Not Committing Enough Time

The WSJ article mentioned one business owner that spends time two days a week posting online. Facebook and LinkedIn posts can easily be done a couple times a week and be completely efficient. Their posts stay in viewers feeds for a longer period of time. Twitter is in real time. People and businesses post to Twitter multiple times a day. People that follow 200 others on Twitter will have a news feed with 1000s of tweets every day. That one single post that a small business posted at 10:00 am will generally not be seen by their followers after noon. It is imperative that small businesses post to Twitter multiple times a day - and different content each time! This shouldn't scare people off either. Committing 10-15 minutes 3 times a day is more than sufficient for small businesses to succeed on Twitter.

Only Engaging With People that Initiate It

Facebook and LinkedIn allow small businesses to post information of value to their followers and receive engagement from the audience in the form of likes or comments on the post. The person who generated the post receives a notification and then they can respond directly, actively engaging with the audience. This makes it "easy" for small businesses to generate an online conversation. Twitter acts differently though. There aren't "likes", although a post can be favorited, and engagement is often a retweet. Many small businesses don't understand how to engage with these responses so they ignore them. Twitter is about reciprocation and requires us to start up our own engagement. To get followers, small businesses need to follow others. And unlike other platforms, it's ok to follow other people and companies that are in the same industry. To get retweets, small businesses need to retweet others. To get conversations started, small businesses need to reach out to others. Offer a thank you for following or for mentioning the business or retweeting a post. Give a shout-out to a partner or customer that provided a service or compliment. Starting the dialogue with others will get them engaging back.

Using Twitter for Self-Promotion

Many small businesses don't feel like they have enough valuable content to post multiple times every day so they post self-promotional tweets: follow me on Facebook, visit our website, call us for information, etc. Businesses that self-promote frequently will not maintain a solid audience. Remember the 80/20 rule - 80% conversation, 20% promotion. With only 140 characters, posts don't need to be overly complicated. And the best part about retweeting, is that someone else has done the hard work already. Just make sure that the information retweeted is a respectable reflection of the business.

Giving up on Twitter Because It Doesn't Work

A lot of small businesses that make the mistakes above don't think Twitter works for them. So they give up, they stop posting, they stop using it. This is detrimental to an online community. If someone finds the Twitter account for a small business and there are no recent posts or activity, it reflects poorly on the business. I personally rarely follow companies that show this type of activity. Businesses can actually lose potential clients by falling into this trap.

It can take time to learn how to generate quality Twitter posts and to generate a successful community. Like any Social Media platform, learning what the audience is looking for and generating an engaged audience will take trial and error. The important thing is to stay active and listen to what's going on. Who do you follow? Who do your followers follow? What are they saying on Twitter? A little extra time and research can do wonders for developing a strong Twitter profile that will continue to generate business and sales.

Learning to love Twitter and its benefits is possible. I used to think Twitter was a waste of time. I didn't get it and didn't want to be on it. But I decided to join one day because I needed to learn to use it for work. Within a short time, I was a convert! The company I needed to use it for is a B2B company and has had great success building brand awareness through Twitter. They actually generate equal engagement on both Twitter and Facebook. So it can be done. A little education and practice goes a long way!

Please share this article! The more awareness we can bring to the online community about using different platforms effectively, the more likely we all are to succeed.

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  1. I’m not sure I agree with this one – Creating One Piece of Content for all Platforms – it’s far more likely a user will follow one platform only – and if this is the case, then that particular user will not be able to gain access to all content.

    1. I definitely think companies can share the same information across multiple platforms but the content needs to be tailored to the different platforms. For example, a new product could be posted on Facebook with a photo or video and a lengthy description. Whereas on Twitter, the same product could be introduced with a short teaser and a link to the website or video. Each platform is unique in its style and representation and my suggestion is to avoid taking one single generated piece of content and slapping the identical post on each site.

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