There’s been a lot said and written about the newest Social Media craze, Twitter.
Particularly in the popular press, there’s also been a lot of misinformation. Sometimes the only way to get the real story is to try it yourself. I thought I’d give it a shot, and throw in my two cents on what Twitter’s really all about with respect to marketing.
I’ve been on Twitter for a few months now. As of today, I’m following around 45 people, and have about 45 following me as well. I think that at this point I’ve got a pretty good idea of what Twitter is and isn’t. So here’s my take:
WHAT TWITTER IS
Most fundamentally, it’s a micro-blogging platform with a limitation of 140 characters per post. Most of you have almost certainly seen a blog online by now. Just like blog postings come in many shapes, sizes and topics, so do “tweets”–the term for an individual message or post on Twitter. “Following” someone on Twitter is akin to subscribing to updates on a blog.
The 140 character limitation is very extreme, and forces even the most verbose writers to be very brief. This can be a good thing. This 140 character limitation also allows Twitter to be available on even platforms with very limited resources, such as cell phones. This wide platform availability extends the potential uses for Twitter, greatly adding to its utility as a one-to-many instant-communication tool. Twitter is actually pretty simple.
WHAT TWITTER ISN’T
It’s not robust–it’s very limited by the 140 characters. So it isn’t suitable for everything–certainly not anything that requires a lot of detail. You really can’t publish anything of note directly on Twitter. It’s not good for:
* Complex or lengthy communications
* Private communications, while possible, are probably best handled via other methods.
* It doesn’t replace a Blog or website
Contrary to what you see in the popular mass media, it’s not some weird cult of people who are inexplicably exchanging tweets on what they’re having for breakfast. It’s also not strictly an avenue for following the day to day minutiae of People Magazine’s list of 100 top celebrities (Aston Kutcher’s 1 million twitter followers notwithstanding) The biggest thing to remember about Twitter is that it’s just a horizontal communications medium–which by itself isn’t much of anything. Twitter is really what people decide to make of it.
WHAT TWITTER IS GOOD FOR
The uses for Twitter are almost as broad as the profile of its millions of users. It’s hard to classify best uses because of this. But in simple terms, I find that the major uses of Twitter falls into a few categories–at least with respect to what interests a marketer:
Personal Communications with friends
In this respect, Twitter is like a simpler, quicker version of Facebook in how it’s being used. This is where you see people broadcasting where they’re having breakfast–those messages are really intended for their circle of close friends.
An executive or professional using Twitter to increase awareness of his/her capabilities or work.
Similar to personal branding, but used by a business to provide exposure to the capabilities, products or services it offers.
This is the more tactical business use–restaurants broadcasting the specials of the day to their customer base, new product announcements, links to press releases, etc.
HOW BEST TO USE TWITTER
Have a strategy, and stay true to it
If you are using Twitter for business branding, don’t continuously talk about what you’re doing for fun that night. A more personal message occasionally which is of particular interest in fine, but remember your target audience. This is one of the biggest mistakes that a newbie Twitterer makes–they think being on Twitter means broadcasting their daily minutae. But for business conversations–who’s interested in that? It’s common sense. If you’re using Twitter for business/marketng purposes, stay on topic at least most of the time. If you want to use Twitter extensively for multiple purposes, it might be best to create multiple personas.
Use it to listen and learn–not just broadcast
If you pick the right people to follow, Twitter can be an extremely efficient source of information in your chosen topical interests. You have to be careful–you can easily become obsessed, and Twitter can become a real time sink. But if you’re judicious in your use, you can leverage the work of others to find things of interest to you. And by watching how other skilled Twitter users utilize the platform, you can learn how best to use the tool yourself.
Even though the 140 character limit won’t allow complex messages, links are allowed, and are very powerful in Twitter. Often Tweets are “teasers” or introductions to the linked document. For example, I broadcast the availability of new articles on my Blog by posting a Twitter message
One of the most powerful aspects of Twitter is the ability to easily “re-tweet” a message, or pass it along to your own Twitter network of followers. This makes Twitter a very powerful viral platform in getting the word out on your chosen topic. If you include keywords in your tweet that are relevant to your target audience, the viral aspect can really enhance the breadth of delivery of your marketing message.
That’s a take on Twitter after a few months of use. I’m sure many of you have different experiences with this exciting new platform–post a comment and let’s get the discussion going!