If you missed Online Marketing with RSS Ray on WS Radio this week, I did a segment on Twitter for Business. Listen now at:
2) On iTunes
If you ever needed a clear example of how fast social media evolves, note that on the Wednesday we recorded the show, Twitter was still feeding Google the full firehose. Two days later, Twitter pulled the firehose access to immediate tweet indexing by allowing the Google deal to expire, meaning that Google search results for tweets are now just as useless as, well, Twitter searches for tweets or Bing searches for… well, anything.
It wouldn’t be such a big deal for Twitter to kill the access (I’m betting in either bid for more money from Google’s deep pockets or as a preemptive strike against the very slick Google +), if Twitter’s own search worked well. But it really doesn’t, and hasn’t for some time. It will certainly be interesting to see how this plays out, especially in light of some of out other favorite tools, like Twellow, also revamping themselves to be less useful lately.
Many have mastered the basic “figuring out there is a thing called Twitter, signing up, fumbling through some tweets and making some connections” thing. If so, here are some tips to carry you past the beginning of your Twitter story:
Learning To Work In An Environment In Flux
Twitter is not static. Twitter HQ makes great sweeping changes to the service, the user interface and the API all the time. When they aren’t making great sweeping changes, they are making small, annoying changes, or just generally buckling under the weight of so many people talking about Charlie Sheen, the unrest in the Middle East, the latest major weather event, #breakingnews, or Donald Trump’s Bad Hair. Regardless, the sooner you learn that Twitter can be wonky, sometimes is down, and isn’t meant to be worked like a 9-5 cubicle job on a one way track to nowhere, the happier you will be there.
Just Because They Connect With You Doesn’t Mean You Can Sell To Them
Twitter is a la carte. Not only do you not HAVE to follow people back, or even follow your mom if you don’t want to, a follow from someone new doesn’t mean “please auto DM me a suspicious short link to your latest self help video”. Auto DMs are evil. You’d think that would be in Twitter 101 and not Level Up Twitter, but you’d be surprised how many people still do this. Stop it.
We Hate The Word ‘Curating’ As Applied To Twitter, But Learn To Work Your Lists Anyway
Twitter introduced a new feature that is quite handy: the List. The list was a user generated idea that first began on clients like Seesmic and Tweetdeck as groups. It was such a good idea, Twitter “borrowed” it. Use lists well. They keep your Twitter noise levels manageable as you grow, and help you do a variety of things, from not losing people you care about in the static to tracking competitors and staying in touch with your industry.
You get 20 lists. Each list gets to have
500 unlimited Twitter users in it. Use them wisely – you’ll be surprised how fast you use them up once you get in the habit.
People use lists in so many ways – I use public lists on @leslie in a very personal way, to sort incoming information or share people I think are valuable, and private lists for clients and such, but here is how a company might use them:
• Private Lists: To do competitive intel on the competition or on former employees, to keep an eye on future hires and see their work in action without tipping them that they are in the running, to keep an eye on current employees (yes, that one is a little evil), to sort out your real life family and friends so you don’t lose them in the business noise, to research and track future clients, or keep a list of current clients for monitoring.
• Public Lists: To track people and companies based on industry, to sort by usefulness, to keep track of news on certain topics or regions, research on areas for business expansion or vacations, tracking the housing market, tracking the stock market, getting in touch with VCs (venture capitalists), learning new information from thought leaders in an industry, tracking events, learning about new music or film, learning about food and wine or whiskey, becoming an expert in your favorite hobby topic, connecting with non profits, helping others connect, job searching, job sharing and more.
It’s not enough just to have a list. You need to use it. Schedule your list interactions so you can manage your time, but interact with at least some of your lists every day, whether you read them or engage or just take notes. Start using your lists to shorten your sales funnel and broaden your competitive reach. Use them to make connections outside of your sphere of influence.
Maximizing the Retweet, the Old School Way
Before Twitter got fancy and grabbed yet another user generated idea, the retweet, and turned it into a button that made it look like someone else was talking on your account to your followers, there was the old-style retweet. This allowed you to shorten a user’s tweet (careful to keep the context the same as their original, of course), credit their handle with a RT in front (e.g. [@username I agree! RT @leslie “old style RTs are so much more effective”]), and insert a short comment in front of the RT (which let your followers know why the heck you were sharing it in the first place). [Update: Twitter has brought back the “comment with RT” feature as of 2015]
This is still the best way to RT someone, as it gives the RT context to your followers. You can still use this in several ways: the old fashioned “copy/paste/edit/post” method, or by using a button function called “quote” in several Twitter clients such as CoTweet, Seesmic, and others. The use of shortened URL programs like Bit.ly takes care of the issue of metrics, since Twitter selfishly only tracks their own RT button on Twitter.com’s new Retweets tab for users.
How The Heck Do I Know It’s Working?
Have you been on Twitter for longer than 6 months? Have you engaged in a genuine two-way discourse with a good mix of news, talking, sharing and promotion for the entire time, on a consistent basis, and not been using it just as a “Me! Me! Me!” megaphone to shout at people about your latest special or deal? Have you seen your followers grow in number, organically (sometimes this can be slower, but it is infinitely more valuable than follower-getting programs and cheating)? If the answer to all of those questions is yes, then the answer to “Have you seen your sales or sales leads (or bookings, etc – whatever your cash measurement is) increase?” should be yes also.
That’s the simplistic way to tell, without analytics. However, you should have Twitter analytics in place by now! With the hundreds of applications, web sites and start ups that want to rate influence and other mumbo jumbo there is no excuse not to be using something to track how you are doing, in some way, other than hoping for sales with no real way to measure.
Some free ways to track Twitter effectiveness:
Hashtags: The little gibberish words and phrases you see go by on Twitter that look like this: #smbnh are called hashtags. Another user driven invention that Twitter appropriated, those little tags can be clicked on, and take you to a page of all tweets using the hashtag. You can then use tools like Twapper Keeper to keep a running diary of hashtag use for each one.
You make your own hashtags as you need them. I recommend choosing something short, easy to remember and that no one else is using. You can quickly use the search bar in Twitter to plug in your chosen hashtag and see if it pops up as being used elsewhere – if so, pick another hashtag instead of corrupting someone else’s tracking. Tell people what the official hashtag is for your event or marketing campaign! This will prevent them generating a hashtag of their own and having an issue of confusion.
Put the hashtag on your slides, web site, blog posts, uploaded pictures, uploaded videos and print collateral – this will enable you track your event or project’s impact around the web, not just on Twitter, via search engine and web site analytics.
Google Analytics: This tool goes on your website (please tell me you have a web site, and don’t just use Facebook). It’s free, it’s customizable, it’s comprehensive. There are paid tools out there that make this a bit easier, but if you don’t have the funds, or just want to experiment, start here. Use hashtags, keyword searches, group, campaigns, landing pages and other tools to make analytics work for you. If you have a social media consultant or staffer, a good one will insist on this or another tool of your choosing to measure the impact of your social presence. A great one will be giving you solid measurements, analytics and reports ongoing throughout your project(s). Analytics help you track success, and more importantly, help you shift away from tactics that are not working to spend more time (after all, time is money) on things that are.
URL Shorteners like Bit.ly, HootSuite and others offer statistics on URL traction, including click throughs and shares, and are a simple and free way to see if what you are sharing is making the rounds.
The worst way to track success is follower count. So many people game the system out of impatience or a desire to look better than they are that it renders this metric moot. As general rule, where unequal follower count (following more people than follow back by a great margin) was once a simple way to find a spammer, now it is often simply someone who erroneously clicked the suggested follows link when signing up for Twitter, or got excited and followed too many too fast, just as often as it is a spammer. Now you have to look at their tweets and decide on your own if they bring value to you (or if, conversely, your tweets would reflect you bringing value to others).
Free Metrics that don’t matter as much as people would like them to include Klout, Twinfluence, Twitter Grader and others. Mostly, these encourage people to tweet at high volume instead of high quality, and penalize you for taking a break from engaging. I’d rather go for quality, and would rather see you do the same. However, some shortsighted people and companies give Klout and other scores weight, so try to keep yours at 40 or 50 or over if you can do it without alienating your audience.
Paid Twitter Tools for Metrics and Engagement
One of the best things you can do for your brand on Twitter is stop using Twitter.com as an interface to talk to your followers – use tool instead. In spite of several recent overhauls, it is simply not an effective way to engage, monitor or listen as yet, though I know the folks at Twitter are working hard on that.
There are many tools for Twitter that you can buy. In the spirit of buying local, two NH companies: JitterJam (engagement dashboard, distributed teams, brand statistics, social measurement, more profiles than just Twitter) and CustomScoop (brand tracking and measurement, no engagement feature) offer a paid solution to the issue of metrics. Not local to NH, but effective: HootSuite, CoTweet, Tap11, PeopleBrowsr and others also offer paid versions for in depth tracking. All of the tools mentioned here have varying price points, from $9 per month to $1500 and sometimes more. They all also offer free trials and/or free versions with less features that may work well for you. Of the ones listed, I could do an entire post just on the pros and cons (or you can come to one of my classes or workshops for an even more in depth dive into twitter than I’m offering in this excessively long post).
You Need To Live In Search on Twitter
Live in search. By using search and lists on Twitter more often than any other tool, your return on time invested in the service will triple if not quadruple. Twitter Search is not the only search to live in now, and that’s a good thing since it is frequently “under construction” and currently doesn’t go back in time very far.
By spending more time listening than you would think you need to, you will gather information you didn’t even know was out there for the taking, and be leagues ahead of other in your field. Learn to use the save search functions in your favorite Twitter client (some listed above, though we can’t count out Seesmic or TweetDeck, the granddaddies of them all) – have searches that you check daily, update them regularly. Use Google Search and boolean operators in search terms with instant search turned on to get up to the minute tweets about your favorite keywords and topics. You would be surprised what people and companies put out there into the public sphere. Knowledge you can then take and use to your advantage.
Increase the value of who you follow
Last but not least – you control your Twitter environment. Follow people who are good at what you need, have useful things to say, are fun to engage with, or who are in parallel industries. Learn from them. They are out there sharing their knowledge every day, in hopes that this Twitter place and the online profiles that touch upon it will be better and more useful for everyone. Some (but definitely not all) of my personal favorites:
Jeremiah Owyang (Analysis)
Stowe Boyd (Future Thinking)
Jessie Newburn (Generational Theory)
Ethan Zuckerman (Global Impacts)
John Herman (Media Literacy)
Alex Howard (Government 2.0)
Andy Carvin (Politics and News)
Tara Hunt (Women in Business)
Chris Penn (Measurement, World of Warcraft as a business metaphor, Finances, Idea Curation, Email Marketing)
KD Paine (Measurement)
Note: The awesome Hasthag Ninja graphic in this post is from a cool shirt by Josh Fisher of Secret Supr-Hero Gear and links to the web site, where you can purchase it and several other cool shirts. Happy shopping! (not an affiliate link)
While on a call with members of The Community Roundtable recently, I spoke about the concept of social media curves, or social media arcs. This is something I encourage my clients to consider as they embark on their first social media forays, or revamp an existing social media presence. It requires a shift in thinking that encourages patience – something in short supply in this always-on world.
What I mean by a social media curve is the time frame from when you first start to create and nurture your social media efforts and when you see your first success. In working with clients in all industries, the time frames I tend to see average out to 3 month and 6 month curves of time. This is strictly “anecdata”, as they say, based on the work I’ve done – I’d love to see the information compiled from others in the industry to see if this curve holds true across the board.
We’ve already covered the need for businesses, filmmakers, musicians, artists, etc. to have purposeful engagement on social media platforms. We’ve covered the need for being human, balancing personal and professional and other basics. So now that you’ve been in the social media trenches for a while and established your basic identity, presence and reason for being there (or re-established, if you are repairing a poorly done campaign or repopulating a social media ghost town), what comes next?
Once you’ve laid a foundation, it’s time to work from goals on the front end and set appropriate expectations on the back end. Map out what you hope to achieve through social media, then break it down into reasonable, bite sized goals. Each of these goals will become part of a social media curve. Prioritize the goals, then associate them with concrete offline benchmarks (after all, the “ROI” of social media is not an arbitrary number of followers or fans, but actual offline results: sales, referrals, leads, foot traffic, event attendance, restaurant bookings, collaborators on projects, better customer service, etc).
What do I mean by appropriate expectations? This is really where the social media curve idea comes in. Depending on the size of your goal, and how long and how well you’ve been maintaining your social identity and engagement, you will see results on a social media curve. A shallow response, followed by an arc of positive results and more attention and engagement from others, tapering off and becoming steady as the weeks go by. This means that for a small goal, you should see measurable and steady results after about 3 months, and for a larger goal, expect 6 months. (And keep in mind that “I want more business” is not a goal, it’s a hope – and hope is not a business model. A goal would be “I want to increase restaurant bookings by x% a week”)
Many are disappointed that the results are not immediate, since the internet seems to move so quickly. If you have built an outstanding (and I do mean outstanding as in extraordinary, fully engaged, interesting, interested, helpful and aware) social presence and have the social leverage that comes from that, you can achieve a slightly faster response, but too many think outstanding presence means numbers on a page. It does not. Take Chris Brogan for example. People do not listen to Chris because he has a gazillion followers, great hair and a huge blog following. People listen to Chris because he listens to them, and has spent years being helpful, aware, interesting, interested, and otherwise fully engaged. In the beginning of his social media curve, he could not have released Trust Agents and gotten it to reach the sales levels it did simply by using his social leverage to let people know he had a book out. At this point in his curve, he can (and did), and he can do it much more quickly than the average person, thanks to years of time and investment in his social media “family”.
For the average person or business online, however – expect 3 – 6 months before you see real results. Take your time and really cultivate your own social media family. Measure your success by how your offline goals are met, not by whether you have as much of a following as someone else. And above all else, slow down and handle your online presence with care.
[UPDATE: writing editions 1 in 2009 and 2 in 2012 was a blast, but I had to hang it up for the 2015 3rd edition. Look for new co-authors with Laura in the new edition!]
I’m excited that the group project I worked on all winter, Twitter for Dummies, hits
stores warehouses next week and stores first week in July (correction from Wiley). I can hardly believe it is finally wrapped, after months of working with awesome co-authors Laura Fitton of Pistachio Consulting and OneForty and Michael Gruen of We Are Nom to bring this major project to your doors.
I didn’t talk much about the book while we were writing it, on purpose. Having three authors plus feedback from Wiley on a project was a fun, sprawling process. Toss in a few “minor” Twitter changes over the course of writing it and you have some added challenging components to the mix.
I am very excited to have the book in stores, finally. We will each be (and in fact, have been) doing some promotion for the book individually and together when possible (we are spread out over three states). If you want to order the book, please feel free to click the link in the side bar, this link here or visit your local book store. If you want to talk to one or all of us about doing events or promotion around the book, you can contact us individually. Find the spearhead for the project, Laura Fitton, @pistachio on Twitter. Find Leslie Poston (me), co-author, @leslie on Twitter, and find Michael Gruen, co-author @gruen on Twitter. You can also drop me an email for promotional activities.
What have we done to promote the book so far? Laura is speaking at Jeff Pulver‘s #140conf today, and has several promotional and speaking events planned around the country. Michael has spoken at the NYC Book Expo recently. I’ve just been filmed for a new TV show in Maine which will air July 1 or thereabouts (most likely on WPXT, but stay tuned), and will also be on another station here in NH soon (project not wrapped yet, will announce here once I can). You can also hear me speak at the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce on June 18th. I also have some blog and print interviews lined up that I will link here as they happen.
Also, many, many thanks to Laura Fitton for wanting me on her co-author team with Michael Gruen. It was a blast to write a whole book about my favorite tool and favorite toy. It was even more fun merging our very different uses into one book to help YOU, the reader. If you look at our Twitter accounts, you can see that you are getting the blended best out of three ways you can use Twitter for yourself and your business – I think that ended up making the book a richer, more comprehensive guide (and proved a point I make often about Twitter use being a la carte).
Since Twitter has been reaching the mainstream in a big way lately, there are more and more ways people are trying to “game” the system. The most popular method for this is the follower/following count scam.
There are a variety of ways to pull this off. There are several “programs” and “systems” that promise thousands of followers in a short amount of time. Some even promise fame and wealth as well. (No, I still maintain I won’t link to these or post their names as my small way of not helping them along.) There is the follow/unfollow repetition game which is designed to annoy people into following you back so you will stop popping up in their inbox (there is a block button on Twitter, people – learn to love it for the spammers).
Then, when all else fails, there is the “I am doing an experiment on [following more people] [following less people] [following no people] [adding xx number of people] [insert other favorite here]” announcement. This usually precludes someone who is trying to get more followers or to gain more pseudo-credibility when they have little experience to back it up by thinly disguising a stunt as an experiment. I see this all the time on Twitter. Generally, I tend to stop listening to people who pull repeated stunts, though I just mute the user if it is their first time. There is also the “Help me get to XX number of followers” request, but I think this is more about not “getting” Twitter as a trust network and cutting corners, and less about scamming in most cases.
How do you make sure these stunt-pullers and follower-gamers aren’t polluting your stream with their hot air and dirty pool tactics? It’s all about using the tools you have at your disposal. Tools I recommend becoming familiar with:
Common Sense: It seems basic to some, but there are a few people who think that there is a requirement to follow all who follow you. Twitter is a la carte – you do not have to reciprocate! If you get your notification email, and it says “@username has 27,000 followers and is following 27,000 people with 100 updates” – that’s a person to not follow. If you have been on Twitter a long time, have organically built a trust network of thousands, and are not a bot, that ratio will look more like “@username has 27,000 followers and is following 27,000 people with 47,000 updates”. The updates indicate participation and conversation. If you still aren’t sure, go to their profile and read their tweets – you can tell if they are a link baiting bot, a spammer, a scammer or just someone you flat our don’t want to hear in your stream (or maybe you do, but check). Another red flag for your common sense: Following thousands, but only 10 follow back.
Twitterholic: this tool is valuable for telling you how long someone has been on Twitter, and graphing their interaction. For me you can see I started in the second wave of early(ish) adopters in May 2007, and you can watch my follower and following numbers organically grow as I tweeted more and more and interacted with more people, building my trust network. The scammers and spammers show as short bursts and spikes after little involvement.
Twalala: If you already follow someone who doesn’t always “get” Twitter, and who does sometimes pull a stunt, but occasionally has interesting things to say in spite of that, you may not want to block them outright. For these people, try using Twalala to surf Twitter while they are monkeying around with their stunt. This is also handy for muting people or hashtags during conferences and bitchmemes.
TweetDeck: This desktop client is based in Adobe Air and lets you sort people using columns, groups and more. It listens to a variety of your social networks, including FaceBook and 12 Seconds. Most importantly for this discussion, it allows filtering in each column. Those buttons at the bottom of the column let you add hashtags, keywords or user names to filter In or OUT of your stream. Very handy for temporarily shutting a stunt-puller down in your valuable brain space.
Block Button: This feature of Twitter serves several functions. It blocks scammers and spammers from being able to add you and remove you repeatedly to game their numbers. It blocks unsavory stalker types. It blocks bots. It blocks whoever you tell it to. Also, Twitter tracks blocked accounts. If an account receives massive amounts of blocks? They are booted for being spam.
@Spam: Follow Twitter’s official spam channel, @spam. You can use it to report spammers as well as to receive updates from Twitter on how they are handling site wide issues.
Patience: Often, you can spot a spammer or scammer or stunt puller before the trouble begins. Give yourself a day delay, minimum, in follow back decisions for new follows. You’ll see the scammers and spammers bounce in and our of your inbox like pin balls if they are trying to game you. In the same vein, before you go blocking or yelling at someone you already follow for starting to pull this kind of stunt, give them a day. Chances are they will figure out how transparent their attempt is and stop on their own. If that fails, then unfollow, block or otherwise mute the issue.
I adore Twitter. I spend a great of time on Twitter. I have made lasting, valuable connections on Twitter. I’m one of the biggest Twitter cheerleaders you will hear (heck, I just wrote a book about Twitter with Laura Fitton and Michael Gruen called Twitter for Dummies). So why, then, do I not automatically include it in every client strategy, or promote it as “the answer” to all business issues? Because it isn’t.
Twitter is a valuable piece in your social media puzzle, but it is only a segment of your larger plan. (You do have a larger plan, don’t you? If not, go back to the drawing board until you do.) What’s more, it is a segment that can fail on occasion, in spite of your best efforts to use it wisely and well. In fact, there are some companies out there who are using Twitter well, and in innovative ways, but still failing at their overall business model.
Today’s case in point is Comcast. The formerly beleaguered telecommunications company found that Twitter was an effective customer service channel when they started an account called @ComcastCares. People flocked to it for “real time” customer service support and the more personal feeling you get from quick response to your issues, because you knew it was manned by a real person (Frank) – it gave Comcast a human face. I adore the folks that man the various Comcast accounts (ComcastBill, ComcastGeorge, ComcastBonnie, and so on). They listen, they monitor, they respond.
In spite of all the inroads the Comcast reps have made by using Twitter as a channel to improve Comcast’s image and provide better support, in the end they are fighting against their own company’s continuing inability to provide good service offline. Customers use the phrase “it’s Comcastic” sarcastically when something isn’t working for a reason (“What happened?” “Oh, my car stopped working for no reason – it’s Comcastic!”). Comcast has an infrastructure that, in many parts of the country, is woefully inadequate and fails repeatedly. This is not the representatives’ fault, but it affects their jobs online. Too often, I’m sure, they get customers like myself who are forced to use Comcast for lack of any other option, which would be fine if it worked, but who are then faced with problem after problem, outage after outage, service call after service call.
If you are going to open your customer service channel (or any other business channel or feedback channel) to the public, your company needs to back the people manning the account(s) up. Comcast proves that if you can’t put your money where your mouth is, your work toward brand perception improvement or better customer care can still be damaged, even when people interacting with your company on that platform appreciate what you’re trying to do. There comes a time when being responded to and told it will be fixed for the umpteenth time just isn’t enough. Customers love the human contact, sure, but at the end of the day they want results, and not to have to come to your brand representative with the same problem over and over.
The moral of this anecdotal analogy is simple. Any social media campaign needs not only more than one facet online, but a strong backbone at the company level offline. Make sure your company is ready to stand tall under the strain of more attention, and ready to truly fix the underlying main issues or problems, not just what’s on the surface. If you aren’t ready to make real changes if needed, then you may want to rethink your engagement strategy until you are.
On occasion people ask me why I don’t post more here. It isn’t that I don’t have valuable information to share with you, I do. In fact, I have so many post ideas and things I want to share with you in my head it gets a bit crowded sometimes. I tend to wander around muttering to myself or jotting things in my HTC Mogul using Evernote‘s Voice Note, Ink Note or Photo Note features so I don’t forget, which can get me more than a few funny looks until people figure out I’m just making mental notes.
I don’t post more often because I like to put most of my ideas into action instead. I am a woman of big ideas, a connector, and I try to enact as many as possible, as quickly and as well as I can. I don’t like a good idea to die on the vine. A lot of these big ideas involve connecting the real world with the online world. The value of social media to people and businesses is in the connectivity it brings, and the doors that opens. This means I believe just as much in the value of face time as I do in the value of online time, and I try to instill that belief in others by building powerful real life networks.
I’ve been putting these thoughts into practice with Social Media Breakfast NH, Podcamp NH, in-person relationship building, client coaching and strategizing, writing books to make the concept easier for others like Twitter for Dummies (co-author with Laura Fitton and Michael Gruen), investigating co-working spaces like the upcoming Port Forward, real life networking whenever possible at events like NH and Boston Media Makers, local off-web events like Chamber meetings or last night’s Extreme Website Makeover event, one-on-one time with my colleagues and friends whose minds inspire me, and more. There is something about translating connections between the tangible and the intangible that makes the ideas much more vibrant and that makes the connection adhere more fully.
How is face time important for your business? Simple: it brings the human element into your brand. You can attempt to engage people online until you are blue in the face. You can throw money and resources at social media until you go broke. But if you can’t translate that rapport and effort into time off the screen somehow, you’re missing a key component to your overall social media and business development strategy. It’s not your 100 or 100,000 or more followers on various platforms that counts, it’s the number that come to your movie, attend your event, support your cause in person, talk about you to their friends, go to your concert, use your service in their homes or businesses, drink your wine in real life… you get the idea.
Never underestimate the value of face time. How do you employ face time in your business or life?
My quick recap of the week in conferences and events, plus a planned pre-show tweetup for Sunday’s Pete Yorn show. My apologies to the fantastic speakers like Mike Langford, Chris Penn and others who I loved hearing from and forgot to mention!
Updated to add the video from this Social Media Jungle Boston, March 2009: