Getting Started with Twitter

Twitter is a fast growing social media tool that is widely used by businesses in a variety of ways.  Despite its popularity the B2B Centre’s experience is that lots of people have found some of Twitters quirks and jargon a barrier to setting up or using it properly.

This article by Gareth Edwards, Associate Digital Marketing Specialist at the B2B Centre, seeks to provide some clear guidelines to getting started with Twitter.

Introduction

Twitter is a social media site that allows you to send and receive text based posts (Tweets) up to a maximum of 140 characters. Around 175 million people worldwide have Twitter accounts and upwards of 200 million tweets are being sent every day.

Some people are a bit put off by the notion that Twitter consists of people telling you that they have just made a cup of coffee. In fact businesses of all types are using Twitter to reach out to customers, partners, suppliers and their peers to make all kinds of business connections.

Big brands such as Dell, The North Face and Virgin (Atlantic and Media) have used it as a sales channel or increased and enhanced their brand profile. More importantly smaller businesses have been able to identify their target audiences becoming Twitter users and have used the tool to reach out them.

This article is intended to help you get started if Twitter is still a mystery to you or to improve your success rate if you set up a profile but didn’t get any further than that.

1. Set up an account.

If you haven’t got a Twitter profile then it could be a good idea to set up one now to reserve your name, your company name or your brand even if you don’t start Tweeting straight away.

There aren’t many rules about setting up on Twitter and profile names are open season. So if you don’t grab the name you want, somebody else will. Try and keep it easy to remember, not too long (15 characters limit) and don’t simply add some numbers to a name to make it unique (@gareth12345678 is a bit lame).

Goto http://www.twitter.com to start the process.

2. Effective use of your profile

It’s important to add a picture and best to make a headshot if possible because people are more likely to connect when they see a face.

You have the opportunity to add a 160 character bio of yourself or your company and it is important to use it. Whether it’s business or personal it’s a good idea to say something of interest that will encourage people to follow you. Mention your key strengths, your areas of expertise and what you are going to Tweet about.

Add a link to your website or if you don’t have one to your LinkedIn profile, Facebook profile or Facebook page.

3. Personalise your profile background

Twitter provides some basic colour themes and backgrounds for you to use and a link to more advanced colour management tools, which are good for creating funky designs on personal profiles.

4. First tweets

It’s now worth putting some Tweets out to test out how to express yourself in 140 characters and build upon what you said in your profile.

What should you say? At this stage you can introduce yourself or your business, highlight some interesting things you are involved in or flag up somebody else interesting content.

Whilst you can just stick to creating an interesting Tweet it may be more effective if you provide a link to a web page, blog, Facebook post etc. so that people can found out more.

Remember two things. One, Tweets are meant to be short and sweet so don’t agonise too much over creating them. Two, they disappear off people’s timelines very quickly, which means that once you are comfortable with the process then more than one Tweet a week will be required.

As you start to Tweet people will start to find you and follow you. Mostly because you are saying something that interests them. Sometimes because Twitter has started to attract the spammers…more in a moment.

5. Build up your network

Twitter provides a number of ways to help you build up a follower base (people who choose to see your Tweets).

The method that will build the number up the fastest is to allow Twitter to search through your online email service to see which of your contacts is already signed up. Twitter gives you the option to follow anybody you already know.

There is a simple search facility that will let you use any search term to try and identify suitable contacts. Search by name (personal or business), industry sector, location or topic of interest to get a list of relevant Twitter profiles.

Twitter provides a list of possible contacts under the “View Suggestions” tab, which uses information about your profile, your network and from Twitter’s own secretive suggested list.

There is also a tab called “Browse Interests” that displays a list of topics that you can click on to reveal a further list of Twitter profile suggestions.

The gist of all of these options is that a proportion of people that you follow will reciprocate and follow you back.  Why don’t you start by following @b2b_centre – we are friendly people and we like to promote the activities of our network.

The next question is how can we start to meet more people on Twitter?

6. RT, @, DM and #hashtags

Twitter has a number of mechanisms to try and make it easier for you to communicate with other people. They are called Retweets (RTs), Direct Messaging (DM) and Hashtags (#).

Retweets are used to share Tweets and links from other people to your followers. You’ll be seen to be providing valuable relevant content (and saving people the effort of looking for it themselves) and endorsing the original provider, which might result in retweets of your posts.

Twitter provides an inbuilt facility to retweet (look out for the symbol) but you can prefix your Tweet with the letters “rt” to achieve the same effect.

An @reply allows you to respond to someone else’s Tweet so that any followers that you share will see the conversation. You can also use it simply to tell your followers about a great Twitter profile that you recommend.

Twitter provides an inbuilt “reply” facility or you can simply include the appropriate @twitterprofile in your Tweet.

Direct Messages (DMs) allow you to communicate privately with other Twitter users. This only works with people that you follow or who follow you. Direct messaging allows you to engage more closely with your network and it can even be used for interviews and meetings with multiple people.

#hashtags are used to mark specific topics in Tweets to categorise them and make them easier to find in searches. Clicking on a hashtag in a Tweet displays all of the other Tweets that include that hashtag.

If you find hashtags related to topics that you are interested in then include them in your Tweets because it allows you to participate in wider conversations. It is also easy to create your own hashtags. If you are organising an event for instance and you want to get people talking about it then you might add a hashtag such as” #event2012” to your Tweets.

7. Watch out for Spammers

Unfortunately Twitter has attracted the attention of people who are using it for nefarious purposes. The best advice we can give is that if something doesn’t look right then it probably isn’t.

So if you find that you suddenly get a number of new followers, they are represented by pictures of attractive young women or no picture at all, and the profile names are something like “Juliette189”, then you have been followed by a spam-bot. These have been set up to try and get you to follow back which starts the process of giving people access to your information and maybe hijacking your account.

To get rid of these spam accounts then click the follower’s link to display the partial profile on the right side of the screen. You’ll see a grey button on the right hand side, which will display several options when you click it. One option is to “Block” the follower and another is to ”Report for Spam”. People who simply irritate you can simply be blocked but spammers should be both blocked and reported.

The other approach that may fool you is when you get a DM from people you know with messages that refer to strange products or secret recipes plus a link. Do not click on the link because these DMs have been sent from hijacked accounts. If you do click on a link your own account may be compromised so you should immediately change your account password and let the person who sent the spam message that they should do so too.

8. Promote your activity

Apart from the work that you are doing on post Tweets and searching for new followers it is really important that other promotional work takes place.

  •  Send out an email to your contacts to tell them you are using Twitter
  •  Add an icon to your Twitter profile on the bottom of your email signature
  • Use Twitter buttons on your website to allow visitors to share a link or follow you
  • Consider adding widgets to your website to display Twitter activity
  • Connect Twitter with LinkedIn so that your Tweets appear on your status update. This can be a powerful way of keeping your business contacts up to date with your activities.
  • Think carefully about displaying Tweets on your Facebook account. If you don’t post much on Facebook directly a constant stream of messages from Tweeter can be irritating.

9. Use the tools

There are a lot of free or low cost tools available to help you manage your Twitter activity. Two of the best known ones are;
·         Tweetdeck (www.tweetdeck.com)
·         Hootsuite (www.hootsuite.com)

Broadly speaking these tools make it easier to see what’s going on with your Twitter account by, for instance displaying different aspects of your Twitter activity (home view, sent tweets, mentions etc.) on a single screen.

For business users in particular the benefits of the tools is that they also allow you to manage multiple Twitter accounts (and frequently other Social Media sites like Facebook) from a single dashboard and have advanced features such as scheduling. Scheduling is very powerful because it means that you can plan a lot of Twitter activity in one go and then have everything work over the period of a day, a week or even longer.

It shouldn’t be a replacement for genuine on-going interaction with people but it certainly helps to create a core output. Some people really don’t let scheduling but in small companies or busy marketing departments it may be the only way to actually make Twitter work.

10. Engage with your audience

Success with Twitter doesn’t come overnight and it requires a lot of effort to make it work. The B2B Centre has spent a couple of years building up its follower base and we have had to manage the time we spend on it carefully.

We use it to highlight the availability of articles on our website, to promote our range of training courses and to help our clients get to a wider audience. We take the trouble to thank people when they have retweeted us and we are constantly on the look out for helpful items on Twitter or on the rest of the web that we can bring people’s attention too.

Some of our consultancy and training clients have taken to Twitter in a big way and achieved useful results. What these people have done is to find an audience in the ways described in this article and use the ability to connect with people and find areas of common interest. They describe interesting aspects of what they do and then follow up by communicating directly with people.

As we have talked about in other articles every person and every business has something interesting to say. The challenge is draw out those interesting stories and then find the audience for them.

Get Tweeting today.

If you need further help then we have a one-day Social Media training course that will explain how to use Twitter within a defined strategy and make it work in practice.