Few terms polarise online opinion quite like social media. But love it or hate it, it’s clearly here to stay. In 2006, Twitter arrived unassumedly on the scene with barely a flutter; six years later it’s spread its wings and is flying high with over 500 million users busy producing over 340 million tweets and generating over 1.6 billion search queries daily. This upward trend is reflected across most, if not all, social platforms and continues to develop rapidly, particularly as advances in mobile technologies improve.
Social media has become a major component of the Internet as a whole, and with this have come misconceptions over what it is, what it can actually do for you, and, in particular, how it can help your business. In this blog post I’ll try and answer these questions with reference to one of the most misunderstood and controversial social networks: Twitter.
So, what is Twitter? I have lost count the amount of times I have heard ‘I don’t get Twitter’ or claims it is simply a vehicle for inane, worthless and banal chit-chat about what people are having for breakfast. Various press reports have also added to the pessimistic slant, highlighting celebrities, politicians and other notable people in the public light getting into awkward situations with comments they have made.
But I believe Twitter criticisms are often unfair. True, there may be a proportion of the 500 million users waffling on about their morning eating habits, but if you look at the wider picture, Twitter is an incredibly powerful tool. It is a form of communication not dissimilar to a chat-room; only you are limited to 140 characters, and potentially anyone with internet access can see what you post.
People across the world can sign up for an account that allows them a platform to express their thoughts via these small messages (known as tweets), and to access what others are saying. It is a hive of shared thoughts and useful information. Got a technical problem? Ask Twitter! More often than not, some kind techie expert can help you out.
For organisations, a more important question than how Twitter works is probably: Does it have a strong business value? Well, if done right a Twitter presence for your company or brand can bring great marketing and commercial benefits. Twitter has an overwhelmingly vast audience to put your brand or product to, enabling you to push your business to a mass market at a minimal cost. You can advertise on Twitter to millions for small overhead costs in comparison to traditional marketing channels. You may have to invest time in building up followers, but the result will be worth it. And even if you’re not interested in Twitter, your competitors probably are; without a presence or strategy you may find yourself playing virtual catch-up.
Once you’ve got a profile set up, it’s entirely in your control how useful Twitter can be. And that’s one of the great aspects of social media. Users can choose who they follow, and will usually look for people with similar interests. Business-wise, target your audience – utilise geotagging to find people nearby (great for physical shops, restaurants, bars etc.) or the search functions to see if people are asking questions you can help with or looking for products or services you provide.
A limitation to 140 characters may seem like a hindrance, but it actually makes you more creative with each tweet, while also making information succinct and digestible. Arguably, it is easier for the viewer to read and consume smaller pieces of information about your brand/product, rather than being confronted with a full page splurge or a flyer that may get thrown at them in the street (which will likely end up straight in the bin).
Recent developments in online retail and communication also mean that your customer will often expect a Twitter presence or online customer service for a business. Responding to customers via Twitter can help improve their whole experience with your company; unlike an email, a Twitter ‘conversation’ can feel like the customer is speaking to someone there at that time, and if there is a problem, they are more likely to feel they are being listened to. These two-way interactions create a positive feeling, improving the relationship you have with your customers.
Similarly, if customers or potential consumers are talking about your brand online, you can use Twitter to monitor what people are saying about you. Not much buzz about your product? Start ramping up promotions online. Use Twitter to bounce ideas off people, learn from them and create campaigns, resources and even new products based on their feedback. Negative comments? Respond to and deal with them quickly and turn the experience around to be positive. Good feedback? Spread the word and forward it on. Information can be relayed quickly and effectively
One negative aspect of Twitter that gets publicised is cases of people and businesses in the public eye misjudging the mood or even posting the wrong comments completely. Because Twitter is so easy to use, it can be easy to forget that what you say on it can be viewed by many, and that what you write can sometimes be misconstrued.
When interacting with customers on a business level, it is important to get the right tone. There’s no problem with posting personal-leaning posts to show the human behind the account (this could actually enhance the user’s interactive experience with your company), but get the right balance of professionalism. Some business accounts automate replies to their company account, which can have a negative impact. Customers want to be listened to by a real person, not a machine, so be sure to show that you’re not just an automated ‘tweetbot’. In the same way, users may get apathetic and unfollow you if your business only tweets promotional links.
Twitter (and social media as a whole) need not be looked at as simply a frivolous or even undesirable concept. Twitter leaps on the way the internet can bring people together and utilises it to the maximum, enabling your business to reach right across the globe. The applications are endless – to market your brand, to build fantastic customer relationships, to show the world how awesome you are. All you have to remember is to keep it simple: be aware of who you’re representing and who you’re talking to and you’ll find this can go a long way to social success. And you never know, you may even find a breakfast suggestion by one of the 500 million twitterers that you actually find rather appetising.