The verdict is still out for me on Twitter as a business tool – can it be used as an effective marketing tool or is it just another platform for spammers to exploit. Although I am by no means an expert or avid Twitter user (you can follow me if you’d like), I have noticed a few methods that have helped me and some of my clients gain more followers. This article will quickly outline a few techniques that have been useful from my experiences.
Don’t Try To Sell Anything
Like other online social platforms, un-established businesses can’t help but look at Twitter as a means to promote a product or business. While the use of Twitter as a tool for social awareness (as we’ve recently seen in Tunisia and Egypt) is a refreshing change from the norm, Twitter is mainly just another platform where businesses with small budgets try to solicit potential clientele through discrete and overt advertisements. If you are trying to gain a loyal and interactive following, offer helpful tidbits of advice without seeking anything in return. Make an inquisitive observation about your life that people can relate to. Make an objective statement about your business that will begin a discussion with your followers. If links are included in your Tweets, link to helpful articles or advice columns – not to a landing page filled with gimmicky advertising copy or free offers. If you’re like me, you’ll take one look and immediately unfollow this person.
Focus On Quality, Not Quantity
Some of the dodgy so-called “experts” might advise you to post Tweets in blocks, so that your messages stand out easier. I’m sure you’ve all seen what I’m talking about – a series of 8 or 9 Tweets in a row by the same person, as an attempt to capture a large segment of your Tweet feed. This is outright annoying and an unethical approach to gaining notoriety (if that’s what you would like to call it). I immediately delete anybody who implements this strategy. If you really want to gain a following that is worthwhile rather than spamming Tweet feeds, make quality posts that engage your audience. One quality daily post is worth much more than 20 useless posts per day. Also try to post a few times per week. This will give your Tweets a better chance of being viewed. You can also track the performance of your posts throughout the day. A free service like Bitly can help shorten URL links and track clickthrough rates. Not using links in your Tweets? You can try to track the effectiveness of your posts by the responses you receive. While posting between 12-1pm EST may be a good idea – since people are on lunch break – you will experience more competition during this timeframe. So it might be more worthwhile to post at 8:30pm, when everyone is done with dinner and more relaxed. Experiment with scheduling and find out when you receive the most responses.
Utilize Hash Tags
Keywords or key phrases that are preceded by the poundsign (#) are called hashtags. By utilizing hashtags in your Tweets, your posts become easier to find – which can attract more followers. Hashtags are essentially subcategories – much like “tags” function as micro-categories in the Blog-o-sphere. For example, say you want to Tweet about your business. You might be inclined to post something like: “Having fun today with my business development strategy session.” If you were to do a search on Twitter for the word “Business”, you would see results from people who either: recently mentioned the word business in a post, have the word business posted in their profile bio, or benefit randomly from Twitter’s current search algorithm. On the other hand, if you Tweet something like “Having fun today with my #business development strategy session”, you will perform better in search results – because your business tag is more specific. Now when someone does a search for #business, only the posts that utilized the #business hashtag will show up in the search results. This is a much more specific method of searching on Twitter – regular users are very familiar with hashtags. This also shows you which users are using that same hashtag. You can then choose to follow them and hope they follow you back. Hashtags are also a great way to Tweet about events. If you have a large group of users who want to use Twitter before, during, or after an event, just have everyone use the same hashtag.
Utilize Twitter Lists
At first I wasn’t too sure about what to do with Twitter lists. However, I quickly became a huge fan. Twitter lists are a great way for finding topic-specific people to follow. I often search lists that include influential people in my field, then follow the other Twitter users on that list. Searching through lists eliminates most of the hard work – finding industry-specific users. If you begin to create popular lists that attract many followers, you are more likely to gain additional interest – due to the fact they are hoping to get added to your list(s).
Tracking Who Stops Following You
I’m a huge fan of Twunfollow, a free tool that lets you track those users who stop following you. Following someone who follows you is a general good karma approach to using Twitter – unless the user in question is an obvious sham. However many peoples use a sneaky technique to re-balance their “following” to “followers” ratio. Within a day or two after first following you, these users will unfollow you – so now their amount of followers is +1 while the people they follow is now -1. Repeat this process and you can see that the following:followers ratio can quickly be manipulated. The theory behind this tactic: having more followers and following less people is an attractive Twitter quality. Supposedly the imbalance with this ratio implies you are a popular Twitter figure and worth a follow request. This in turn (again according to some people) makes you a more attractive target for people to follow. In my opinion, this is a high school approach to viewing the following:followers ratio. I pay very little attention to this ratio. But I digress. Regardless of my viewpoint on this manipulation, Twunfollow is a great tool that sends you daily email updates on who stops following you. You can then in turn unfollow those dishonest users who are trying to tip the Twitter ratios.
Get Listed In Twitter Directories
Although you can directly search Twitter (improvements are constantly being made to their internal search engine) there are many other free tools available to find industry-specific users. My favorite online tool is Twellow, the Yellow Pages for Twitter users. On Twellow you can search by category or by location. Twellow also allows you to manage your followers. For example, you can view all your non-mutual followers and one-way followers. While there are some other Twitter directories out there, this one is by far my favorite.
Retweet and Check Your Direct Messages
A lot of people forget that you can send direct messages (DM) through Twitter. While most of the messages I get through DMs are automated responses to follows – you know, the “Thank you for following me” and “Here is my Free Book for following me” messages we all get – some of them are genuine. I actually managed to garner some new leads through direct messages on Twitter, so don’t forget to utilize them appropriately. Also be sure to Retweet posts that you particularly like. Do you have favorite Twitter users that you follow religiously? We all do – mine is currently @smashingmag. Then spread the love and utilize Twitter’s Retweet function. You can also Tweet at certain user by including the ampersand symbol (@) before their username. For example, if you wanted to send me a Tweet about this article, your message might look like this: @Davalign – thanks for the #Twitter article.
Have Some Fun With It
If you are not having any inkling of fun with Twitter, what is the point? Gaining a large Twitter following is not going to make your business thrive. Its not going to completely change your life. While you may gain some business leads through the relationships you build, the effort you put in will seem more worthwhile if you simply have some fun with it. Every once in a while, send a Tweet out about a joke you just heard. Retweet a humorous post you came across. Don’t take yourself or Twitter too seriously.