When we create new websites for our clients, we frequently need to help get them started with social media accounts. Twitter is one of the accounts we almost always recommend.

To a lot of people, this may sound shocking in the era of content marketing. But the truth is that there are still many businesses and nonprofits that are so busy getting things done that they haven’t made the time for social media yet. They should: Gary Vaynerchuk and other marketers have shown that the ROI can be nothing short of astounding.

For most organizations, Twitter is a good bet. Are you one of those hard-working people who’s ready to go on Twitter but are not sure what to do? If so, here are some pointers to help you join the thousands of organizations that are making Twitter work for them.

Do…

  1. Put in the time – or hire someone who will. You can establish a basic presence on Twitter for about an hour a day, but like most things it’s all about time on the clock if you really want results. Ideally you’ll have someone dedicated to this full time, but if needed it can become part of your customer service activities.
  2. Engage with people: answer their questions, be useful.  It’s about them and their needs, not about blasting them with your message. You need to get out there and find people with problems and help them out. If you’re sent a tweet, answer right away. As with face to face conversations, you need to listen and respond as well as talk. As Brian Solis said, “…your brand isn’t just created, it’s co-created.”
  3. Know Your Goals. Are you trying to increase awareness about your brand? Drive more traffic to your website? What you’re trying to accomplish will influence your Twitter content, like a subtle underlying flavour.
  4. Understand your audience and share quality content. Know who you’re trying to attract, and create content that they will enjoy and find useful. Don’t waste your time or theirs with shares with wildly off-topic things unless there’s something special about it. That being said, don’t be so focused you get boring – more on that next.
  5. Keep things fresh with variety in content and format. Don’t just poop out the same kind of stuff all the time – mix it up. Share links to your content and others’ (even – gasp! – your competitors’), but also share quotes, ask questions, make people laugh. This post from the gang at Buffer explains this really well.
  6. Plan your content. Knowing your audience is part of getting good results, but you also need to have a plan, and know where your Twitter shares fit in. You can use our free content planning calendar to help you do this.
  7. Use tools to help schedule content like interesting articles in advance. This leaves you more free during the day to reach out to people in your feed spontaneously. I love Buffer and Hootsuite, for example, and there a lots of others out there.
  8. Make use of hash tags to attract more attention. There are tools like Hashtags.org that can help you find trending hash tags (searchable terms that start with a #). You can even find ones that are relevant to your business.
  9. Use lots of images. They’ll attract much more attention in your followers’ feeds. Just don’t steal images without giving a link or credit.
  10. Reward your followers with special thank yous just for them. Deals, discount codes or contests that are only shared with them will make your followers feel good about you, and less likely to unfollow. These should tie in with your other business goals as well – and don’t forget to mention that it’s a “Twitter only” event.
  11. Turn complaints into loyalty. If a customer makes the effort to tweet a complaint, they’re still willing to be won over. Apologize sincerely and fix it – and make sure your entire following knows that if there’s ever a problem, you’re going to own it until everything’s been put right.
    (Keep in mind that if you start a tweet with a handle – @username – it’s a message that will not be seen by everyone, just people who follow both of you. If you have other words before the handle everyone who follows you will see it.)
  12. Participate in tweet chats. These are pre-arranged online gatherings connected by a hash tag. They’re a great way to meet interesting new people and talk shop.
  13. Measure your results and make changes for better results. Tools like TweetreachFollowerWonk, and Google Analytics will help you monitor things like unfollows, retweets, favourites and website conversions. With a good report you will be able to find patterns and make better use of them.

Don’t…

  1. Worry about how many followers you have. Just get out there and talk to people – the rest will come. It’s about quality engagement that will work towards your goals, not quantity.
  2. Treat Twitter like a hard-sell medium. Gary Vaynerchuk spent hours a day answering people’s questions about wine. Only when the relationship was well developed would he reveal that he had an online wine store. By then, he had built up credibility because of his great recommendations, so the follower would often check it out out of gratitude or trust.
  3. Over-tag and hashtag your messages so that it’s unreadable. If your messages are a soup of @s and #s, they’re boring and spammy. Hat tip for this one: Deborah Lee.
  4. Be afraid of showing your human side. Go ahead and share entertaining behind the scenes moments. The key here is to keep it fun, not to make sure we know you brushed your teeth this morning – unless you’re a celebrity, these details don’t work. (“OMG Justin Bieber is brushing his teeth! I’m brushing my teeth too! It’s like we’re brushing our teeth together!!!!”)
  5. Go negative. If someone is trying to start an argument, you can only lose if you go negative – even if you’re right. Keep to the high road, and remember that we’re all human and have different perspectives. People with personal accounts can be negative (and they certainly do when they have a complaint) – for most brands it’s poison.

To make Twitter work, you need to understand that it’s a party, not a radio commercial (read a guide to using Twitter). The good news is that Twitter is actually a lot of fun – even if the snacks are not supplied.

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