A much loved client has asked me for some tips about using Twitter. He’s new to it.  Here are my thoughts:

Like a blog, you must define your intended usage for Twitter.

  • If you plan on using it for business, then keep your tone business-like and do not bring your home life/what you’re having for lunch/any other personal data into it.
  • When I started using Twitter, it was only a few early adopters.  For that reason, I use Twitter to engage with like minded souls.  It’s a valuable place for me to get people contact especially as I often work alone.  I don’t use it for business and therefore I don’t promote it on my marketing materials.

“The talking convention”. If you wish to promote the fact that you’re now on Twitter, first wait a while!  Spend the first couple of weeks finding people you wish to follow (some of them will follow you back).  Start talking to people.  That’s what it’s all about.

  • The way you talk directly to a person is by addressing them with an @ sign.  @maryrose means I’m going to listen.
  • Due to the huge numbers on Twitter, many people have now disabled the follower email notification, so it is unlikely that they will know you are following them.  The way to engage is to talk to them.  If you use the @ convention, they will probably pick that up, click the link to your Twitter page and decide whether or not to follow you.

How do people decide whether or not to follow you? I’ve chosen a random Irish Twitterer that I found by selecting the 20th follower on one of the ones I follow.  It’s Barry Hand.

  • I look at the profile details on the right hand side. His bio is marketing, so I’m interested.  There’s a little glitch with the use of ampersand – he should fix this.  Often if you copy and paste text directly from Word into web tools these kind of coding errors can occur.  So the lesson here is to always check your work!  He’s got a healthy number of followers/following.  If you see ‘someone’ who’s following thousands and has not many following back, they’re generally a spam account so ignore them.
  • Next I click the link provided in the profile.  He’s got a nice blog, with content that would interest me.  *Benefit of Twitter 1* If I see a really interesting blog at this point, I will add it to my RSS.  So simply following someone on Twitter can lead to a more sustained relationship where they subscribe to your blog.
  • Now I look at their recent Twitterings.  Things I watch out for:
    • If someone is only posting out and not engaging in chat, I’m not interested.  Politicians like Deirdre de Burca from the Greens have jumped on the bandwagon and not only do they not engage in chat and answer questions they are asked directly, but they also get quite snotty about how much time it takes them to manage their electronic communications and how they can’t possibly respond to everything.
    • Worse, if someone is only posting links to their blog or website, I’m not interested and a bit annoyed that my time has been wasted in this way.  Business Twitterers beware – you are not here to simply post a link farm to your website.
    • Barry Hand is posting a lot about rugby, not my subject, but he’s chatting to a few people I ‘know’ (ie. I know them on Twitter, but have never met them in the flesh!) so I”ll follow him.
  • Other things to look out for is frequency of posting.  I don’t really want to follow someone who’s on once a month.

The real secret to making Twitter work for you, I believe, it to choose a good application for making it work. Similar to ‘favourites’ on browsers, we simply don’t remember to go back into the web version and see what’s going on.  Therefore you’ve got to get yourself a good Twitter app. The following are some of the popular Twitter tools – there are literally hundreds out there, so this list is not exhaustive:

  • Tweetdeck – what I’m currently using.  Stylishly designed, I like it because it enables me to set up searches by keyword, then it delivers to me every single tweet that’s made with that keyword.
    • You download Tweetdeck as an application and open it on your computer when you come in in the morning.  It’s got a tiny notification box that appears discreetly on top of your screen whenever someone you follow tweets.  It also shows you when you’ve got a direct message, or a reply.
    • I use it to manage followers.  I have a search with my name and anytime someone addresses me directly I can see it.  If someone talks to me, I follow them back.  This simple method has freed my inbox from hundreds of follow notifications.
    • Set up searches using hashtags.  Whenever there’s an event on, hash tags evolve.  These are the characters that delegates will use at the end of any tweets they’re making about an event.  This week the Future of Web Design is taking place in London, I will most definitely be setting up a search using #FOWD
    • The real time saving power of Tweetdeck is that it gives you all the functions you need in 1 click: reply, direct message, retweet, follow, unfollow, and some more that I never use.  This is better than previous apps I used to use because you had to log in to the web version to follow or unfollow people which seems kind of archaic now.
  • Twitterific – I used to use this. It’s an application for mac users.  Open it, resize the box to your preference, and drag it to somewhere on the edge of your screen.  It’s like an old school news ticker, except the news is controlled by you and who you choose to follow.
  • Thwirl – the PC equivalent of Twitterific.
  • Tweetie – lots of people are waxing lyrical about this one.  It’s fairly new, I haven’t tested it yet.

If you’re interested in how you rank in the Twitterverse, there are plenty of tools out there.  I’ve never been interested in that kind of thing; in fact I think it’s a rather male way of looking at things.  How big is yours?  Ranking I mean.  Like Technoratti of old, I never paid much heed.  But here’s an article you can read if you’re interested in it.

Anecdotes

These are just some of the basic facts being passed on by an old hand!  If you’re serious about using Twitter for business, you must ensure that you allocate the resource to it.  Ideally you need one person in your organisation who is going to sit on Twitter, track searches about your company and your competitors and respond to them.  If you do it well, it can be extremely powerful.  Recently I tweeted something about Vodafone and within an hour Vodafone Ireland tweeted to me asking if they could help me.  They did.  I was impressed.  It’s an extremely low cost way of ramping up customer service.  In these fiercely competitive days, being the first in your industry to use Twitter properly has amazing customer service, brand reputation, and marketing advantages.

I’ve found that I’ve gotten to know the leading Irish technology journalists through Twitter.  Of course they’re on there twittering away themselves.  When award-winning Irish Independent journalist, Marie Boran, is looking for inspiration on blogs to cover in her column, she asks the Twitterverse.  And we respond!   I’ve found I’ve been asked for more quotes for traditional media since being on Twitters and getting to know some of the journalists in this country.  That’s PR, but I haven’t paid for it!

And here’s the original and best Twitter good news story from earlier this year.

UPDATE : here’s a great post to read that reinforces what I’ve just said and includes more great ideas.