How to Approach Twitter

By Nathan Eddy  |  Posted 2008-11-24

Masters of the Twitterverse: Social Media for SMBs

The advent of social media has changed the nature of relationships forever, be they personal, professional or commercial. Twitter, the product of a research and development project at Odeo, has become a valuable communication platform for enterprise-level companies and mom-and-pop shops alike. Twitter is currently the fastest growing social-networking site in the United States.

Julio Ojeda-Zapata, author of "Twitter Means Business: How Microblogging Can Help or Hurt Your Company," said Twitter offers businesses of all sizes the opportunity to interact with their clients in new way. "Companies in this day and age need to regard customers as people they're going to have interactions with," he said. "It's a medium that encourages interactions and genuine relationships."

Twitter allows different companies to approach customer-building in a variety of ways, Ojeda-Zapata said. Each company needs to consider how Twitter best suits its needs and employ the platform from that perspective. He cited Comcast, Whole Foods and JumpTech (Jump Technologies) as three examples of Twitter's unique impact on businesses' customer relationships.

"Comcast uses Twitter very specifically for customer service by monitoring Twitter for signs of customer discontent; if they see it, they can pounce right then and find out if anything is wrong." Ojeda-Zapata said. "That happened to me one day while I was at home, on Twitter, griping about my [Internet] connection. Fifteen minutes later someone from Comcast had called me."

The grocery chain Whole Foods, on the other hand, has found success in building online communities with its real-word neighbors across the United States. "Whole Foods was already famous for developing neighborhood relationships," Ojeda-Zapata said. "Their strategy is more about, 'Let's move this over to the virtual world and translate our offline strategy to an online strategy.'"

JumpTech, developer of a technology that allows users to tag songs they hear on the radio and television with a mobile phone, found success with Twitter did not come from the expected quarters.

"Their initial attitude was, 'Yeah, this could be good for promoting ourselves on Twitter,' and they very quickly found out that did not work," Ojeda-Zapata said. "A more effective strategy for them was to develop relations with online movers and shakers and have those important people follow them back." By cultivating supporters like tech journalists and music critics, JumpTech developed a following that had a platform from which to send users to it.

How to Approach Twitter

Ojeda-Zapata recommends that business owners unfamiliar with Twitter take a step-by-step approach when considering joining the "Twitterverse." Figure out what sort of relationships your business wants to cultivate, and search for mentions of the products you sell, as well as your company name, he said. "Companies of any kind can get on Twitter and discover to their amazement that people are talking about them on it," he said. "If so, they need to monitor that."

Twitter is a universe where honest voices and genuine relationships will forever trump the daily scream of press releases and product announcements. "You have the option of using it as a bullhorn or an intercom," he said. "For those who use it as a bullhorn, it's a quick way to turn people off and have them 'un-follow' you right away."

Another important point to remember, he said, is tone of voice. If your small or midsize business has a quirky or unconventional relationship with customers, mold that to fit your Twitter account. There's a risk of going too cutesy or informal for the sake of "fitting in," so stick with the voice that expresses your company's culture.

"The lesson I kept running into is companies that are used to it are companies that don't preach, don't oversell, don't bash users over the head with promotions, but instead get into the Twitterverse in a genuine way," Ojeda-Zapata said. "They figure out how they can have direct interactions with their customers, be it through customer service or developing relationships that don't have a concrete purpose but generate goodwill."

Twitter's extremely low barrier to entry also levels the playing field for companies of any size. A hip startup with a sophisticated social media strategy could easily have as large a network as a multimillion-dollar corporation. To become Masters of the Twitterverse, SMBs need only dedication to the community and an honest voice.

"It takes hard work and a lot of effort to build a following, but as any Twitter user can tell you, it pays off," Ojeda-Zapata said. "Every company, regardless of size, location or purpose, really has a chance to succeed."

Rocket Fuel