Hey Businesses, You’re Doing Twitter Wrong!

By December 10, 2012 Social Marketing
Hey Businesses, You’re Doing Twitter Wrong!

I’ve been on Twitter long enough to see many companies doing the same dumb things, and though I’m not the one measuring their ROI (hey, maybe it’s fantastic and I should eat my hat), I can tell you one thing with certainty: they’re not getting a dime of business from me!

And that’s not me being crabby. There are just some things that will prevent me from doing business with someone, whether it’s a literal obstruction (like a malfunctioning shopping cart) or an emotional one (like crummy service).

These are some of the things I’ve seen businesses do on Twitter so that if you’re thinking of taking your business there (or if you’re already there and wondering why nobody seems to be paying attention) then you’ll have some dos-and-don’ts to check against.

Not Following Anyone Back

We can debate this until the cows come home, but in my rather strong opinion, businesses who don’t follow any of their followers back (or who follow nobody except their three friends and the CEO) are sending a very anti-social message.

Whenever I manage a Twitter account for a client, I check in on their new followers and make a point of following back anyone who looks like a good prospect.

If I’m managing an account for a dog walker and a pet lover follows them, I’m going to follow that person back. Maybe I won’t follow the person who tweets all day about iPad sales.

The point is to pay attention and seek opportunities.

Following people makes them feel good. It shows interest. And in a social business, if you’re not making your customers feel good and taking every opportunity to show interest in them, then you’re just doing it wrong.

Better idea: when someone follows you, take fifteen seconds to look at their Twitter profile and scan their tweets. If you get a sense that they may be interesting or a potential customer, then follow back.

Addendum: After a lovely and enlightening conversation with a couple of folks who totally get Twitter, I realized this point needs some nuance. Not every company necessarily needs to follow back. As with all good marketing, there are no “rules”, only guidelines, and your business goals will drive your strategy.

Large companies, such as those in energy, healthcare and utilities, even government organizations, may want to share information in a strictly “push” sense. Other companies (think Comcast) use Twitter as a customer service platform. In fact, they are better served by only temporarily and selectively following people, only to address people privately via Direct Message. Otherwise, they may be bombarded with DMs in a rather unhelpful way.

Thanks to Jeannie Walters and Ike Pigott for the conversation! They’re good eggs if you’re looking for some Twitter love!

Following Anyone And Everyone

On the other end of the spectrum are companies who follow everybody.

More than being “interested” this is just lazy.

Choosing to follow (or not) takes effort. Clicking (or automating) a follow takes no time at all.

The problem with the “you follow me, I’ll follow you” approach is that it’s a little like covering your company in glue and then rolling down a hill.

Who knows what will stick?

There are a lot of bots, porn and otherwise spammy accounts out there. Do you simply want to mass-associate your brand with those?

Before I began managing a Twitter account for one client, he took this type of follow/follow back approach. All I could see for pages and pages were spam bots and photos of boobs. Lots and lots of boobs.

Beyond the obvious, those accounts aren’t doing you any favors. Don’t get sucked into a false sense of elation at seeing your follower count go up if none of those people are ever going to buy, evangelize or even converse with you.

Better idea: follow people who you would be happy to associate with in real life. If you can’t imagine the person behind that account walking into your store or sitting in your office then don’t pretend to like them online.

Long Lags Between Posts

Twitter moves at lightning speed. If you’re not posting regularly then you might as well not exist.

But more than simply missing opportunities to get in front of customers, a stagnant account can speak ill of your company. Are you boring? Do people not like your products or services that much? Have you gone out of business?

Anything more than a few days is “a long lag”.

Better idea: aim to post at least once per day, and on a regular schedule. Don’t be afraid to automate your posts so that you can be in front of people consistently even when you’re not in front of your computer.

Too Many Posts

And what’s “too many”? Alas, that is the million dollar question!

Too many is any number that seems like too many to your audience.

One of the best ways to determine whether you’re stepping outside that Goldilocks zone is to track your unfollows.

You may be posting 46 times per day and getting more followers and more engagement. But if you post 47 and suddenly start to notice a drop off in followers, chances are you’re giving them a reason to leave.

Then again, unless you’re posting something really unique, useful or entertaining, you probably don’t need to be posting 46 times per day. And by posting, I mean original content – not just replying to or conversing with people.

Better idea: start by testing anywhere from 1 to 5 posts of original content per day. You could post more but you’d probably burn yourself out pretty quickly and end up with too many posts on one day and a long lag until the next time you could muster some inspiration to post again. And feel free to reply or converse with as many people as you like!

Failing To Respond To @ Mentions

I once followed a company that sold products made from bamboo. This was right up my alley and one day they tweeted about bamboo towels. I popped on over to their website and was ready to make a purchase, but I had one question first. So I tweeted to the company.

A day went by.

The company continued to tweet about the bamboo towels as I waited for my answer.

A second day went by. On Twitter, this is the equivalent of waiting about a month before returning a hot prospect’s phone call.

By the third time my question went unanswered, I unfollowed them and shopped somewhere else.

Clearly this company was broadcasting its products without paying attention to anyone who might be listening.

I don’t know how this translated to sales but I bet I’m not the only person who got frustrated with their lack of “social” and just went away.

Better idea: use a monitoring tool like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to track @ mentions. If someone asks a question, answer it. If someone talks about you, respond to them. If someone says something nice, thank them. Above all, be aware of when you’re being mentioned so that you can act appropriately.

Doing Nothing But Respond To @ Mentions

In contrast to companies who never respond to people are those who do nothing but respond. And that means no creative or original content whatsoever.

Now, some companies use Twitter as a customer service channel in which case they spend the vast majority of their time responding to customer questions, comments and complaints. That’s perfectly ok if that’s aligned with the reason you’re on Twitter.

But most companies, especially small businesses, use Twitter as a marketing tool, which means that you need to give people content that will interest them and compel them to want to do business with you.

I don’t want to see your Twitter stream full of things like:

@joesmith Thanks!

@bobbysue Cool!

@jimmyjo Thank you!

@susieq Nice!

Snore.

That doesn’t make me want to follow you. It doesn’t make me want to do business with you. It’s engagement, but it’s not very meaningful.

Better idea: intersperse thoughtful mentions with original content including useful links, questions, product information or comments. By providing people with content they can use or enjoy, you’ll be adding value and increasing your chances of stimulating conversation (and business) with more people.

Selling All The Time

People do not join social networks to see advertising. They do not join social networks to shop. Unless it’s LinkedIn, they don’t join social networks to do business.

I follow a tea company that rarely tries to sell anything directly. No coupons, no tea of the week or “you have to check out this new flavor omg!!!”

But they do ask their followers fun questions, share photos and jump into conversations about food and beverages even if they weren’t actually mentioned.

Once, when I did mention trying one of their teas and enjoying it, they sent me a free box of samples so I could try other flavors. And I didn’t even ask.

That’s how you do social. If you try to turn it into a selling tool, people will tune you out along with the rest of the miasma of advertising they’re bombarded with every day.

Better idea: share content with your followers that they’ll enjoy, whether it’s informational or just fun. Choose a couple of keywords that relate to your business and use your social monitoring tool to track mentions of those keywords. Jump into conversations that relate to your product or service even when you’re not responding to a direct mention or even to a follower.

Mixing Business And Personal

There is a fine line between being personable and being personal. In the quest for authenticity, people sometimes take it too far to mean “saying anything and everything you think and feel at all times.”

Even if you have a separate personal account, berating the last customer service rep you dealt with or wooting over a particularly drunken Friday at the bar can reflect on your business and brand. If it’s not your business, it can even get you fired.

The web is a public place. Never forget that.

As a businessperson, you can be honest and genuine while maintaining good sense, decency and diplomacy.

Better idea: keep your business account strictly business and remember that your personal account represents you and you represent your business. Before you post something, ask yourself if you’d be completely comfortable saying it in a room with your spouse, mother, respected colleague and best customer. If not, rethink your phrasing or perhaps decide that it’s not something that needs saying in public.

Jumping On Trends

Lots of companies follow trending topics and capitalize by tweeting something related. The benefit is that you can get in front of a larger audience of people who are also following those topics.

The down side is twofold.

First, trending topics move just as fast as Twitter does. If you don’t jump on one immediately, you lose the opportunity. This results in a lot of stupid things being done in the name of a trend.

Responding to split-second trends doesn’t give you time to think about what you’re saying. It doesn’t give you time to understand why a topic is trending. You may catch an intriguing keyword or phrase, but if you don’t stop long to enough to realize it’s related to a tragedy and you try to capitalize by selling your product… it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how that can go very wrong.

Second, responding to trends is guesswork at best. You never know what’s going to happen or how people are going to react. That doesn’t exactly give you a solid foundation for your marketing plan.

Better idea: leave the trends alone and choose a strategy of listening for keywords that are relevant to your business. Don’t make snap-posts, but respond thoughtfully instead. Just because you can shoot off a response in 6 seconds doesn’t mean you should! Even in a fast-moving social world you should still take time to stop, think, edit and put your best response forward.

Forgetting To Listen

I touched on this in some of the other tips, but it’s worth mentioning on its own because if you’re not listening then you’re missing out on a huge opportunity.

Part of the problem is broadcasting – using Twitter to sell and forgetting to be social.

The other part of the problem is confining yourself to your followers and forgetting that there is a whole world of potential followers out there, too.

By sitting around waiting for those mentions (which if your business is small enough may rarely or never happen), you’re missing opportunities to find out what people are saying about your industry and your types of products or services. You’re missing the chance to be the one hearing what people’s problems, complaints and frustrations are and offering the solutions.

In short, you’re missing the chance to learn.

You don’t need to wait for someone to mention or retweet you before you engage them. You can be part of the conversation and make a proactive effort to put your business in front of people.

Better idea: as I’ve mentioned earlier, set up a few keyword searches to see what people are saying – not about your business (because as a small business there’s a good chance nobody has heard of you) – but around your business. If people ask questions, be helpful and answer. If people complain, think about how you can offer a solution. If people are frustrated or fearful, use that knowledge to better craft your messages.

Marketing On Twitter Is Simple, But That Doesn’t Make It Easy.

You need to make time to build your following, post content, engage with and respond to people and seek opportunities. There’s no “set it and forget it” approach that will suddenly start bringing in customers and cash.

Before your next post, spend some time figuring out why you’re on Twitter, what you hope to achieve and how you’ll get there. Outline your plan and designate some time each day for the different tasks that will keep your presence strong and yield return on your efforts.

And whatever you do, don’t Auto-Direct-Message new followers and ask them to Like you on Facebook!

But that’s a whole other conversation…

Got any other tips for making Twitter more effective for business? Or have you seen any other egregious errors? Share them with me in the comments!