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Hey Businesses, You’re Doing Twitter Wrong!

By December 10, 2012February 1st, 2018Social 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!


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!

Join the discussion 34 Comments

  • I was doing almost everything you stated. Thank you for posting this very informative…

  • Hi Carol,

    Really great tips for tweepies 🙂

    Oops… I’m guilty for not following back followers on Twitter 🙂 Not on personal account, but the one I have for my blog. Now I gotta take 3000 seconds for that. I haven’t thought about much on how does it feels or being followed by trusted brand. You’re very true about that 🙂 AND yeah, only tweeps that matters not everyone.

    Well, I’m not posting so frequently though. Most of my Twitter followers follow both of my accounts. One to get updates and personal account to find what I’m sharing all the time.

    I always respond to queries via my personal account and the one for blog has only the updates related to my blog. From my personal view, I follow brands to get updates but not to flooded with other conversations going on. That’s why I wanted to have two separate accounts and once I’ve had a poll for it. As the user response were positive, I decide to stick with that. So far I haven’t seen a drop though it has no large follower base 🙂 What do you think about that Carol?

    Thanks for all the great tips you have shared dear 🙂


    • I have the same thing as you – a personal account for my updates, and a business account for blog updates and other stuff. I think it’s better to keep them separate because you can have friends and people you talk to on your personal account, and business prospects on the other. I have a list where I keep companies I follow so I don’t have to see them all the time. But it’s nice to know that if I have a question or want to talk to someone at a company, they’ll pay attention and answer me!

  • Adrienne says:

    Dang Carol, that’s quite a list. Now I know that this also goes for anyone building a business online so just because we may not be a “big company” doesn’t mean we shouldn’t follow what you’re sharing.

    I won’t go over everything you shared here but I am glad that you took the time to not only cover every area but how it can be improved too. I am just thinking that most of these businesses do not have a social media manager or at least someone taking the time to learn the right way to do social.

    Gosh, some of what you’re sharing here really chaps my you know what. Oh I don’t know, how about no one following anyone. What, you’re too good for us? Seriously! Oh yeah, I’ll definitely hang on to your ever word. Not!!!

    And then those that never say thank you when we share their stuff. I mean didn’t your mother ever teach you any manners. People like to be acknowledged so if you really think it’s a waste of time keep it up. You’ll see for yourself from your own lack of results.

    Okay, I won’t go on but I think you’re getting the drift here. Thanks for pointing these out and this is definitely a post worth sharing.


    • Adrienne, you make me laugh. I agree, there are some things that are very chapping! I think about it like this: why would someone (or I) talk to a business on Twitter? Sometimes to say “I love your stuff”, sometimes to ask a question. So why would they want to ignore me?? Doesn’t make sense.

      You made a good point about manners. If everyone just acted on Twitter with common sense and decency then I guess I wouldn’t have anything to write about 🙂

  • Andi-Roo says:

    Yikes! I’m only about half-n-half on this list. Altho I’m not sure how much of the tips you list pertain to a personal as opposed to business blog, I do try & follow the “rules” for proper discourse to SOME degree. I’ve found lately that I haven’t been doing my best though.

    We must have been thinking along similar lines, because today my blog post was on similar topic, with regard to cleaning up Twitter streams via Triberr. I’m guilty of having an effed up feed currently, & am in the process of unspamming it. Your advice herein will go nicely with the points I’ve already laid out for myself. Actually, I think I will point readers to this post in my follow-up (Part 2) post tomorrow!

    Thanks as always for great info, Carol Lynn!!! 🙂

    • Whoo, I love follow up posts. I think these “rules” can go for personal and business, but we would probably get a pass on the personal side a lot more for things like not answering people right away or not following people. The whole point of business is to get customers and build your brand, so one would think those businesses would be doing just that. Alas! Can’t wait to read your post.

  • Hey Carolyn. I work on building relationships on Twitter and have built up quite a following mainly through the efforts you mentioned in your blog. So funny, I also just did a Twitter article regarding ‘Following Back.’ Thought it was so appropriate that we mentioned the same thing. People don’t really know the importance of how to use Twitter. Not responding to mentions and mixing personal with business are two of my pet peeves. But what I’ve learned here and you’ve confirmed for me is that I’m doing it right. It’s nice to have confirmation that you’re doing it right. Thanks for sharing.



  • Pauline says:

    Hi Carol Lynn
    It can be such a learning curve when trying to use Twitter the right way for our business, you have laid out some great advice here.
    We have to build up relationships here like any Social Media platforms, I admit I used to follow everyone back that followed me in the beginning but like many I was following a few porn sites, bots etc so ended up having to go through and unfollow them which was very time consuming. Now I look at my new followers and see if they are someone I can connect with and build that relationship with.
    One of my pet hates is not responding to mentions & RT’s it is very bad manners in my opinion.
    Thanks for sharing this, hope you have a great day 🙂

    • I never understood companies that got on social media and then ignored everyone. Did they miss the part about it being SOCIAL? I tried out one of those auto follow programs for a while on my personal account and all I got was junk so I gave that up quickly. Sounds like you have a pretty good handle on things so keep going!

  • Ruth Zive says:

    Fabulous list Carol Lynn! I use a nifty little tool ( to keep track of who follows me back, who doesn’t, who I don’t follow, etc. It’s a quick and easy way to manage your audience, and I recommend to all my clients that once a month, they review their Twitter audience, purge and follow accordingly. I’m bookmarking, sharing and sending this to a host of clients…

    • Thanks Ruth, I appreciate that… and I will check out that tool. I use one of a few that I’ve collected over the years but it’s always good to try new things. I think it’s so important for small businesses to pay attention to what they’re doing and make it deliberate. Once a month is great timing!

  • Very well-written post, Carol Lynn. Couldn’t agree more: twitter is simple, but certainly not easy.

    I would add one thing to your first point about “not following back”. That is also something I monitor, not only about brands but also individuals. Seems like basic netiquette in social media, yet it becomes important on twitter if a brand wishes to DM someone about whatever topic, whether it’s customer service issue or personal matter. If you don’t follow back, there just won’t be any private DM conversation going on.

    But then again, there are so many brands out there who don’t even bother answering customer questions, I believe it’s something like 56% of all brands on twitter. Mind-boggling, hey?


    • Oh, I know, I’ve read those stats too. It’s pretty abysmal, how many people DON’T answer. I’m not sure if it’s stupidity or ignorance. Maybe they just see it as an advertising opportunity. Small businesses can’t get away with that, at any rate.

  • Hi Carol,

    I think it is important to be really social on Twitter and share not only your own posts but stuff of other people, too. I learned a lot from your post, thank you.

    I am no Twitter expert and will never be one, but maybe I can use some of your tips here.



    • i don’t think it’s as important to be an “expert” as it is to simply be a human – if people talk, answer! It’s about as simple as that. Common courtesy extends to online life, too.

  • What a great post Carol Lynn! I couldn’t agree more on each of your points. There’s certainly a fine line between too much and not enough on Twitter, but one thing is for certain – not doing anything kills your opportunity to earn new followers and eventual clients. This is a terrific guide for anyone wondering how to use Twitter to your advantage!

    • Thanks Rebekah, I agree, there is a line… nobody knows where it is yet! So it’s worth trying something, waiting, and see what happens. As long as we’re not just broadcasting spam, we’ll learn!

  • Here we go… Hi Carol,

    I’ve read your post this morning, but couldn’t comment from that other computer I was on.

    You know I’ve always been surprised and puzzled to see people with like 10,000 followers and 3 followings, but I thought that was the cool think to do on Twitter to show off. I am glad to read here and another post I just read as well that it’s not cool at all. I hate it, and I think that’s pretty arrogant, myself, but I didn’t know if I was right, if you know what I mean.

    I haven’t invested any time at all on Twitter yet, but I’ve got to save this post and follow your great tips.

    • People who don’t follow anyone don’t interest me because I know they are only going to send out whatever they want to say and probably never talk to me. I like to see what people say who follow me so I can answer back or say hello or just be SOCIAL! Isn’t that the point? Let me know if you like Twitter!

      • Not following people doesn’t mean not interacting. There are lots of other sources for interacting, namely:
        1. Replying to @messages
        2. Mentions of the brand
        3. Mentions of keywords / hashtags
        4. Lists (as mentioned above, you don’t have to follow people to put them on a list)

        Given how individuals can be all over the place topically on Twitter, it rarely makes sense for a brand to pay attention to everything most people say. Depending on the company, #1 and #2 may be more than enough conversation starters to be highly social.

        • There are definitely other ways of interacting and some brands do that well. Others leave the engagement part off entirely even when it would be in their best interests to pay attention. And while there is a lot of flotsam that isn’t worth paying attention to, there are also opportunities that could be missed. As an example, I’ve become interested in a number of companies who have followed and engaged me FIRST. Small retailers, service boutiques, local businesses I previously had overlooked. A local restaurant followed me, jumped into a conversation I was having about dessert and guess which restaurant I tried the next weekend? I may talk about dessert once every 2 months but that company noticed and it made a difference.

          As I mentioned, I’m not talking about brands like Sony and Skittles. I’m talking about people like me, and many who read this blog in small business who may never get noticed. I may never seek or find your business. But if you find me, grab my interest, and make me feel “important” I’m more inclined to do business with you. Depends of course on the business being relevant to me.

          As you mentioned, there are other ways of paying attention than following and you’re quite correct. This is my opinion and the opinion of at least a few people I speak with anecdotally. When a company follows back it creates a different kind of connection. It’s more personal, it’s more attentive and as an engagement gesture it goes further, especially for the small unknowns. It shows a level of interest in relationship building (that may or may not be true, but gives a good show!)

          All things being relatively equal, I would put a business that follows and engages over one that doesn’t every time.

  • Adi says:

    Do you need to follow folks back? Having run the Twitter accounts for several reasonable sized organisations, focus is key.

    I can follow particular people by putting them into a list, for which I don’t need to follow them.

    I can also monitor mentions of keywords or whatever, and interact with those people without following them.

    So do you really need to follow your followers?

    • I wouldn’t say “need”. There’s definitely a nuance to this one and a conversation that has come up before! I think in large part this depends on the size of the company. Small companies are better served by following people. Some of the best companies I engage with on Twitter are the ones who follow me back and act like a “person”. For solos, self-employed, local and small biz – the follow-back personal touch is good and shows a level of involvement. It also acts as a bit of a snowball. Following people accumulates more followers back. You can certainly list people to keep track of them and that’s a good alternative for engagement purposes. So while I’m not into absolutes and wouldn’t say there are any all-the-time requirements, I do feel that for small biz, following – selectively of course – is an important social cue. If my favorite local deli doesn’t follow me back, I’m kind of pissed. If Comcast doesn’t follow me back, well, that’s just expected.

      • I’d just point out that beyond a certain point (about 100-150), you really have to use lists to manage who you’re following, and you don’t actually have to follow someone to add them to a list. So I frequently find that I add people to a list, but don’t even really pay attention to whether I follow them or not, because that’s actually pretty meaningless — it’s really the list that counts.

        • Agree completely on lists – it’s impossible to manage people without them. I know I just filled your ear on that last comment so to speak, so I’ll leave you with this thought: a lot of this is psychological. People like their numbers – fans, followers, Klout. Not following may not prevent you from doing a better job of engaging than someone who does follow and ignores people, but it looks better on paper.

          I also appreciate your input here. Different perspectives are important. If everyone only cared about numbers and a certain method, we’d be in a sorry state. Much of this is trial, error, experimentation and strategy. What works for one person or business may not for another. I have an opinion on how I’d do something but that doesn’t mean you have to share it!

  • Great list, Carol.
    Sometimes I fail in sharing too many posts on Twitter.
    I guess it’s because the sharing tools connected to Twitter, like Triberr and Just Retweet.
    I guess for someone could be annoying, but I can see many benefits in terms of online visibility and increase of audience.

  • Marcel Spitz says:

    Is Twitter really effective? So many automated tools being used – wonder if Twitter works. Season’s Greetings to you and all on this awesome blog. Best wishes and regards.

    • It works and it doesn’t work, depending on who’s doing it, what they’re doing with it, and why! It all comes back to goals. Set a goal, test and then you can decide if it’s working or not. There’s definitely a lot of noise. Businesses that can get past it are going to have much better luck.

      Hope you’re enjoying the holiday season 🙂