Tackling The Twitter Trend

Navigating the next big thing in social media

TwitterBy now you’ve undoubtedly heard of Twitter. It’s the latest social media phenomenon sweeping the Web. It allows users to communicate with their “followers” through 140-character posts or “tweets.” You’ve probably heard about people like Ashton Kutcher and Oprah who have amassed millions of followers that hang on their every word. Sports fans might have noticed that ESPN’s “SportsCenter” now regularly features updates on tweets from athletes like Gilbert Arenas and Chad Ochocinco.

What you might not realize is the impact Twitter is having on the business world. As marketing moves from talking to the consumer to talking with the consumer, tools like Twitter are blazing the way. From Skittles to Best Buy to Sprint and Time Warner, the biggest companies in the world are leveraging Twitter’s resources to engage in direct dialogue with their customer base. So are smaller companies. Twitter is an invaluable resource for driving traffic to your company’s blog and Web site. While the site certainly hasn’t developed to the point where you’ll be pulling order after order off of the site, there are conversations going on about your industry and potentially your company. You should be a part of that conversation.

Twitter 101
When starting out on Twitter, the first thing you should focus your efforts on is building a following. The idea is to build as large a community of followers (contacts) as you possibly can. What’s the point of talking if nobody is listening? This is most effectively done through following other users who will then return the favor. However, simply adding everyone you come across just to reach a high number is a foolish strategy and one that should be avoided. The key is to develop a specific target audience and then come up with ways to get its attention.

So now that you know what you have to do, the trick is how to do it. Start simple—use the Twitter “search feature” to find people who are talking about things in the industry. Searching terms like “welding,” “acetylene,” “propane” and “cylinder” will help you find out who is talking about the gases and welding business. Follow these people. Then, when one of the people you follow says something interesting, you can “retweet” or re-post what they said for the rest of your followers to see. You will benefit from this in two ways. Your followers will recognize you as someone who knows about the things that matter to them. Also, they may return the favor in the future and retweet you, exposing you to all of their followers. Another way to find quality followers is to look at who else your followers follow. If they’re already following people in your industry, you can easily find out. Twitter’s “list feature” is also helpful for this.

As convenient as the Twitter search feature is, it’s not comprehensive. To fully maximize your Twitter potential, you should look at the array of third-party platforms that are available. One such application is Tweet Deck. It allows you to manage your Twitter account from your desktop, eliminating the need to visit the Twitter Web site. You can organize your important followers into easily viewed categories so that the tweets that matter don’t get lost in the shuffle. Tweet Spinner is also very helpful. It allows you to search for a demographic based on keyword, company or ZIP code. The application also allows you to view follower “overlaps” with your competitors. Tweet Spinner will also tell you about the quality of each of your followers. Its configuration helps you bypass people who tweet too many URLs and who rarely @reply (respond) to other users. Ultimately, all these tools are going to help you build a following that is not just big, but also targeted and high-quality.

Making People Want to Follow You
Once you have found your target market on Twitter, the next, and perhaps most important, way to grow your following is to position yourself as a person that people in your target market need to follow. Sure, your brand already carries with it a certain amount of prestige, but you need to go beyond that. Below are a few strategies for accomplishing this.

• Write quality tweets. Many new Twitter users fall into the trap of only using the site to spam links to their Web site. Twitter, at its core, is a conversation. Treat it as such. A good rule of thumb is to limit links to one out of every five tweets.

• Be yourself. Use a real name and photograph on the site. As mentioned above, Twitter is a conversation. People don’t want to converse with a brand, they want a human. Put a name and a face on your company’s account and other users will be more inclined to trust it.

• Add value. Offer things that set you apart. Even something as small as a contest where the winner gets a small prize like a hat or some other piece of company merchandise is huge on Twitter. People love free stuff, and they appreciate those who provide it.

• Promote your page. It may sound obvious, but if you build it, it doesn’t mean that they will come. You have to promote your Twitter page to your existing customer base. Add a “follow us on Twitter” button to your company Web site as well as any other online newsletters or company communications.

• Be the expert. This step is critical. While it’s acceptable to tweet funny or interesting observations, your real focus should be engaging other users. Keep track of who is talking about the industry and seek them out. If they ask a question, answer it. If they make a comment, respond to it. Your followers will notice and they will look to you for answers in the future.

What It All Means
As mentioned earlier, Twitter isn’t a foolproof sales tool—yet. Companies aren’t necessarily receiving purchase orders specifically because of Twitter. What is quantifiable is the impact the site can have on driving traffic to a Web site or company blog, and the recognition you will get as an expert.

Plenty of people are still skeptical about Twitter and social media ventures in general, but it’s getting to the point where you really can’t afford to be. The conversation has already begun. Your customers are on the site talking about your industry and possibly even your company. As a forward-thinking company, you should be part of the conversation. At the very least, every company could benefit from having one corporate account. Larger organizations might even consider one for every department.

The social media train is at the station and it’s time for you to get onboard. Especially in trying times like these, you can’t afford to let any opportunity pass you by. Marketing through social media is the future, and the future is now.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association