For many individuals, Twitter allows us to manage our multiple circles of friends and contacts. However, In what seems like a very short amount of time, Twitter has become one of the most talked about social networks around. While it has a relatively small base of users compared to other networks such as My Space and Facebook—brands and organizations from Starbucks to Dell to Nike, Southwest and many more seem to be rushing into it for one reason or another. Back in 2007 when I wrote about in in BusinessWeek, I called Twitter a "Conversation Ecosystem"—that's because it's a platform that supports multiple conversations and interactions across multiple platforms. If you are a brand manager, agency or even employee and you are considering diving into Twitter, here's a few things you might want to consider:
When the CEO of Zappos, whose Twitter presence boasts around 10k "followers" started using Twitter, the first thing he did was to start giving away stuff. Some of it was products—but much of it was customer service related. The employees at Zappos use Twitter as part of their customer experience. They are generous with time and resources and fairly responsive. If you are trying to extend your influence in a social network like Twitter, you have to be willing to give something of value away without expecting anything in return. If you do it right, you'll get get a following.
When Dell gradually empowered what is now dozens of employees to engage with customers, consumers and industry people—they obviously put in a policy of transparency where it's immediately clear that this is a Dell sanctioned employee. Brands and organizations who want to build trust on social networks like Twitter are best served by revealing who their people are—or at lest being transparent about when asked. Individuals power social networks—not faceless corporations.
When Frank, a Comcast employee started using Twitter, he began helping people as best he could. Comcasts presence on Twitter is now a "micro customer service" platform. Small in size, but generating positive buzz, PR, and word of mouth for the organization. If you want to leverage a platform like this, you can't come in talking about your brand—you have to add value from day one. If you're not ready to do this, you may want to try something else.
Listen, Before Talking
Following conversations on Twitter is like following conversations at a lively social event. But you can still be a good listener. Search.twitter.com allows you to find out what people are saying about your brand—but even more importantly it's worth finding the people on Twitter who are NOT talking about your brand but ARE talking about the passion behind it. For example, if you are an sportwear company, see who's talking about running or baseball. If you are a food brand, see who's talking about diet and/or exercise. Talk about the things people care about—not yourself.
Context, Context, Context
Context in social networks is everything. If you come out of the gate talking about your products out of context, you'll come across as self serving and get tuned out. Offer value first—prove that you are listening and do something that no-one else is doing. Then you can talk about products, if it makes sense in the right context. You'll be surprised at how we'll be willing to hear you out. But it takes a serious investment to soften the ground before inserting the product.
These are just a few guidelines that I'm offering from my perspective. I didn't get them from Forrester or any other analyst firm—they are what I think works as a frequent user of the service. I've used Twitter as an extension of my "personal brand". I share links, talk to people and in general be myself. In return, I've built relationships which transcend digital limitations and get insights into human behavior. If you want to see how I use Twitter, you can follow me here. If you are thinking about putting your brand or company into this space, I hope this information helps.