Last week I was speaking with a small business owner who asked me if I really thought Twitter or Facebook was a worthwhile investment in time for his business. Although for his business it was very easy for me to say yes, I don’t know if a Twitter account is really right for everyone. I do believe there are four very compelling things you can do with Twitter that might make it a valuable tool for your business.
The Internet generally, and Twitter particularly, was developed for sharing information. Although it’s tempting to think of Twitter as another channel to distribute traditional marketing messages, if that’s the approach you take your efforts will likely fall flat. I’ve seen many people (including competitors) over the year struggle to build an audience and gain traction on social media because their only message was a sales message. On the other hand, I’ve seen other brands do incredibly well sharing information, best practices, and the occasional marketing message. Here are my suggestions:
- Share best practices and ideas: Several years ago, before I entered the social media space generally, and Twitter specifically, I spent a lot of time just “listening.” I wish I could take credit for this, but it was a former colleague, Cindi Smith, who deserves the credit. We spent several months exploring where our customers hung out on Twitter, what hashtags they followed, what type of information they were searching for, and determined whether or not we could share information they would find relevant and interesting. We observed that content deemed too “salesy” by the Twitter users we were interested in connecting with, was largely ignored. This informed our approach and has been validated over and over again the last several years. First at AtTask, and now at Lendio. The key takeaway is this: you have information about your industry that your customers and potential customers are looking for, if you freely share it, they will reward you with their business. For example, this blog will be posted to Twitter and will hopefully be interesting enough that small business owners will click on the link and spend time reading. The goal is to share information, not close a sale—however there are people who become customers as a result of reading our blog. Nevertheless, that likely wouldn’t happen if that was the focus of our blog. It might sound counter-intuitive, but it works.
- Learn best practices: One of the incredible things I’ve experienced over the years is meeting some really smart people on Twitter. There are communities online where some of the best and brightest hang out to socialize, share information, and actually help each other. I’ve seen consultants that normally charge hundreds of dollars per hour take time to answer questions and give advice. Social media like Twitter makes it possible for people like us to learn from the very best. And, if you want more information or would like to engage in some formal consulting, you have a chance to meet first—kind of like dating before you marry. I’ve got several friends I’ve met over the years this way. Some of them we’ve had the chance to meet personally, but there are others with whom I only have online relationships. Nevertheless, I’ve been able to reach out to them with questions, to ask for advice or opinions, and have never been castigated for doing so.
- Provide customer service: I don’t think it matters what business you’re in, not everyone that does business with you is always happy with you. Whether you spend time on Twitter or not, you have customers there. What’s more, whether you’re online to hear the complaints that are shared about you and your business on Twitter or not, they are being made. Much better to be there so you can respond, in my opinion. We once had someone complain about a specific feature in our product at AtTask. I responded to the complaint and asked if they’d like to meet with one of our product managers to contribute to making the product better. They did and became an advocate because we listened to their comments and made them a part of future updates. Most of the time, when complaints get out of control and companies struggle to do damage control, it’s because people feel like nobody is listening. Being available on Twitter to answer problems or deal with customer service issues just makes sense to me. Although Twitter isn’t a customer service tool and shouldn’t be your first and only vehicle for addressing customer service issues, sometimes it’s where people reach out first.
- Share an occasional special offer: If you balance the number of marketing messages you share vs. the amount of information you share, the occasional special offer doesn’t generate too much ire. This is particularly true if you share relevant offers that might be meaningful to your audience. For example, if I owned a restaurant, I would probably reach out to my Twitter followers around 11:45 to offer them a lunch special. If most people are like me and my colleagues, that’s about when we start asking, “What should we do for lunch today?” A timely offer from one of our favorite restaurants might really hit the spot about that time.
Is Twitter a good place for every small business to spend time? It depends on your Twitter strategy and how you execute. As a general rule, remember that Twitter is a community and if you don’t participate with others, it’s likely they won’t participate with you. I don’t spend a lot of time on Twitter, but I do spend time there. I have a good friend who would chastise me for not spending enough time because he believes that social networks are for being … social, and I’m not social enough.
I’d love to hear what you have done to be successful with Twitter.