I’ve been using Twitter for a couple of years now. I’ve turned a lot of people into Twitter users -- enough to know that simply saying “175 million people are on Twitter, so you should be too” doesn’t carry particular weight. Though usage by our peers is compelling and a good business reason to start, it still doesn’t give new folks the confidence they need to begin.
I don’t believe the business implications of Twitter really came to light until about a year ago. But what I was taught then still holds true today: It’s not Twitter that makes Twitter work. Instead, I believe there are three things business users should do to make Twitter work for them.
- Get aggregated: Aggregator tools (or social media management tools) like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, and Seesmic help you to focus on what you really want to get out of Twitter by allowing you to set up columns dedicated to search terms. I rarely open, and have scarcely used, the actual Twitter Inc. Website since I started, though I will say that the new design of Twitter does allow for more flexibility than the old, as shown by a Mashable’s 2010 Award for Best New Web Design. But the aggregator tools are still the best way to get your arms around what can be an overwhelming medium.
Though Hootsuite was voted Best Social Media Management Tool by Mashable users, I prefer Tweetdeck during the workday. I have columns set up to update me when someone mentions my name, or is talking to me using Twitter. I have search columns on keywords for the electronics industry, keywords for local groups with which I am active, such as the Social Media Clubs of Fort Worth and Dallas, and tradeshow terms for electronics industry conferences like CES and EDS. The search columns especially let me cut through the clutter as they are set up to allow AND, OR, and other clarifying search logic. In addition, they recently made it possible for me to monitor our Facebook (Nasdaq: FB) and LinkedIn Corp. pages as well. Personally, I feel the flexibility and focus these tools provide make a good business case for Twitter.
- Understand the power of the #: “What’s a hashtag?” I get this question a lot. And it’s a very important one to answer correctly. Why? Because as management tools make the case for Twitter for business monitoring, hashtags are the RosettaStone to Twitter for business engagement. A hashtag is a pound sign -- a simple #. Hashtags are notifications to your reader that you are speaking, with that post, about a particular topic, like #electronics or #CES. But the hashtags also serve as subjects or search terms that are regularly perused by an interested audience. Hashtags are the key to "real reach" with Twitter. Whether you have two followers or 2,000, the hashtag allows you to reach a larger audience -- a more engaged and qualified audience that has an interest in the same things you do.
Pound the Hashtag
I’m always researching new hashtags, new tradeshows in my industry, and new "chats" happening on Twitter. Sites like wthashtag.com show timely activity information about hashtags that are being used on a large scale. The hashtag is often overlooked by the new Twitter user. But don’t let the size of the # fool you… it's got really long arms.
- Go mobile: Twitter wouldn’t be the tool it is today without the anywhere/anytime applicability afforded it by smartphones and the apps that give you the ability to take your computer with you. Unfortunately (or fortunately), business and networking opportunities don’t always happen when we are sitting at our desk waiting for them. They happen whenever and wherever we happen to be.
Twitter and its aggregators all produce apps and mobile versions that allow you to keep pace, at whatever pace that may be. Each app offers options for notifying you when you get messages, mentions, or when a particular search produces a positive result. I have these set up on my phone and never get so many as to be annoyed, but I can turn them off whenever I like. More than one time, I have been thankful for these notifications. They can save business, give you the jump on the competition, or simply keep you informed.
With so many people joining, it just makes good business sense to get your feet wet and understand this fast-moving communication medium. Getting started with Twitter is easy, but when faced with making sense of it all, it can easily become overwhelming and make you want to abandon the chase. I hope these three tips will help you better prepare and focus on the messages that mean the most to you, and make Twitter less a gathering of pointless updates and more a powerful research and communication tool.
Still on the fence? Let me know what you think. Already do these things and still aren’t finding Twitter useful? Maybe I’ll have some thoughts to help.