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13 June 2012

A common sense guide to Twitter

Do you need a helping hand with Twitter?

Rachel Knight, Maxim’s social media expert, provides a few helpful hints for businesses entering the twittersphere.

Firstly, I don’t think there is any such thing as a ‘social media expert’. To an extent, social media is fairly subjective and what one ‘expert’ tells you may be completely different to what you’ve heard elsewhere.

That said, I am a social media enthusiast and very much enjoy running Maxim’s TwitterFacebookLinkedIn and Google+ accounts. Personally, I found there was a lot more initial investment in Facebook and Google+ as I didn’t want to direct people to a page without any content.

Twitter bird.jpg

Why should I tweet? What should I tweet? Who should I follow and why would people follow me? These are all questions I get asked fairly frequently by clients – so below are my thoughts on these and much more. 

There are lots of guides to Twitter already on the internet, many of them far more comprehensive, but if you’re just starting out or you’re a little unsure of what you’re doing, I hope this will help you out. If you find it useful, please tweet @Maxim_PR and let us know.

Maxim’s guide to Twitter for businesses

General points

  • Whichever social media platform you choose – it’s about engagement. It is not simply a sales tool.

  • Be aware that most social media is very public and traceable – unless you’re sending private/direct messages.

  • If there is someone within your organisation who is passionate about social media, make use of them. As long as they are trustworthy and can spell – they may well be the best person to take charge of any social media accounts.

  • Keep an eye on the latest developments in social media – it changes fairly regularly.

Why use Twitter?

  • Twitter is what you make of it – you can follow the news sources that are of interest to you. News often breaks first on Twitter with ‘report to follow’ on a website.

  • Twitter provides an opportunity to demonstrate expertise, knowledge and the range of work that a company does.

  • It allows a company to demonstrate its personality.

  • It’s called ‘social networking’ for a reason. It’s no different to going to a networking event purely to get your name out there. The same is true of Twitter – it might not provide immediate measurable results but it should raise your profile.

  • Some people will look at Twitter and only see what they deem to be irrelevant small talk but again, think of it as you would face-to-face networking. Would you walk up to someone and discuss business straight away before asking how their day has been or if they saw the match last night?

  • Clients or suppliers might recommend you.

  • You can look for potential clients - people with problems you might be able to help with. Provide advice, engage with them.

  • Twitter can be useful for recruitment – Maxim recruited a member of staff purely through social media. Responses were far more targeted than those we normally receive when advertising in the traditional way.

  • Stats suggest Twitter does not drive a huge amount of traffic to websites so if that’s all you want to do then look for another way to do it.

Getting started with Twitter

You can view Twitter on a computer or a smartphone on many different programmes/apps but if you’re just starting out, the easiest option is probably www.twitter.comwww.hootsuite.com has useful features such as the ability to schedule tweets for the future and setting up a column for permanent searches.

On an iPhone, Echofon is a good app to use. TweetDeck or Ubersocial should work on most Smartphones. There is a wide choice of apps – choose one you feel comfortable with.

Each tweet is limited to 140 characters. You can shorten links to other websites to make the most of the space available. Hootsuite and Twitter do this automatically but www.bit.ly also works well. You can also upload pictures and documents.

If you have something specific you want to say, draft the tweet and then change or remove words until it fits the character limit but still makes sense. The programme you’re using should tell you how many characters over/under the limit you are.

Following others/gaining followers on Twitter

If you don’t have any followers, then there’s little point to tweeting but the account holder needs to decide if quality is more important than quantity. If you follow thousands of people, you can’t possibly keep up with what everyone is saying but it will probably mean you’ll gain more followers as some people automatically follow back.

Think about your interests and choose people to follow. e.g. clients, journalists, potential clients, media, local interest, councils etc. Look at user’s profiles and their recent tweets to decide if you want to follow them.

Look at who others are following – it’s a good way of finding accounts that might be of interest to you.

If you’re looking for a specific name or company, type it into Google with ‘twitter’. www.twitter.com also has a search facility but it is not always effective.

Use hashtags (#) to get involved in topical debates and encourage people to follow you. Your tweet may get retweeted which exposes you to potential new followers.

Add your twitter name to your emails, website, LinkedIn profile and anywhere else potential followers may find it.

People will only follow you if they want to – never ask someone to follow you. If someone unfollows, don’t take it personally as it’s a natural part of Twitter. Likewise, don’t be afraid of unfollowing someone if none of their tweets are of interest to you. You can find out who has unfollowed using who.unfollowed.me

Tweepi allows you to automatically follow users, unfollow people who aren’t following you and generally manage your account. Think carefully though, if you followed someone in the first place there must have been a reason ¬– don’t unfollow someone just because they’re not following you.

Twellowhood allows you to search geographically so you can find local tweeters – or perhaps those in an area you wish to target.

What is an RT, HT, MT, DM etc?

  •  RT or a ‘retweet’ – If you ‘RT’ a tweet, it means it will appear in the timeline of everyone who follows you. Think about what you RT – is it something your followers will be interested in? If one of your tweets gets RT’d, it gives an indication that it’s of interest to other users.

    Depending on the software you’re using, you can also RT and comment at the same time. Some people claim the ideal length of a tweet is 120 characters to allow space for a comment to be added. Giving credit on Twitter is important – nobody likes to see their tweets passed off as another user’s. You can also use ‘via’ and the user’s name.

  • MT or a modified tweet – some people believe that anything following an RT should be the original tweet in its entirety. If you change the tweet, perhaps by shortening it and then adding your own comment, it is good practice to use MT rather than RT.

  • HT or hat tip / heard through – this is similar to ‘via’ and allows you to acknowledge where you first heard about an idea. Neither MT or HT are used frequently at the moment.

  • DM or Direct Message – a DM is a private message between two users that follow each other. You can’t DM someone that isn’t following you and vice versa.

  • @ - If you use ‘@’ before someone’s name (e.g. @Maxim_PR), it ensures that person will see the tweet – it’s essentially a message to that user. Remember it is still public as anyone viewing all your tweets on your profile would be able to see it, as well as users that follow both people. If you want to mention someone at the beginning of a tweet and want all your followers to see it, put a full stop before the name.

  • #Hashtags – if you put a # before a word, it makes it easier for people to search particular topics. ‘Trending topics’ show the top ten subjects people are discussing at any one time and can often be broken down geographically to make them more relevant to you. Hashtags can be rather superficial (e.g. #xfactor) but also very useful and are a good way to keep up with breaking news. You can’t use punctuation in a hashtag so avoid apostrophes etc.

  • #ff or Follow Friday – less popular than it used to be and considered by some to be verging on spam, Follow Friday is a way to encourage other tweeters to follow people you are following. If you are going to take part, it might be better to recommend just a couple of people with a reason, rather than long lists of twitter accounts that don’t mean anything to anyone.

What to tweet?

  • Latest news relevant to the industry – preferably with a link to the full story.

  • Advice/tips – with links to the company website or another. Links that are relevant to your industry and will be of interest to your followers.

  • Details of what’s going on the office – who the company works for and the kind of work done.

  • Something that gives the company a personality – it can be amusing and also include pictures.

  • It’s also nice to include recommendations of others (e.g. suppliers).

Twitter - points to remember

  • Twitter is a public forum. Think before you tweet. You can delete tweets but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are gone forever. They could have been retweeted or someone could have taken a screen shot.

  • If you’re tweeting on behalf of a company, remember you are representing the organisation as a whole and opinions cannot be your own. That said, it’s important to give some form of opinion – perhaps just nothing too controversial or political unless you are 100% sure it’s company policy.

  • Engage with people. Twitter is not purely a selling tool. If your tweets are all about how great the company is and you never talk to people, you won’t keep your followers for long. If people ask you questions then it is generally best to respond in some way.

  • Don’t be too scared of negative feedback – Twitter is generally a friendly place. If you feel a conversation is becoming too negative for a public forum, offer an alternative way of communicating with someone such as an email address.

  • Don’t be afraid to tweet something you want to be seen (especially a link) more than once. People look at Twitter at different times of the day so may miss it.

  • Don’t worry about the odd typo (unless you’re Ed Miliband) A lot of people use Twitter on mobile devices and in a rush to get tweets out, errors are made. That said, ‘text speak’ is not appreciated and a string of errors is not acceptable.

  • Twitter doesn't have to take up hours of your time - it can be as little as five minutes a day - but the more effort you put into it, the more you get out.

  • You can link your tweets to other social networks. For example, Facebook or LinkedIn. This can save time but people have different opinions on whether it’s a good idea or not. It can be annoying to see half a sentence in Twitter and have to click on a link, only to be taken to Facebook where you can read the rest of the update.

  • The best way to understand Twitter is to try it. The Maxim account was set up a year before anything was tweeted; set up an account and start to follow people. Get an idea for how the social network works before diving in head first.

  • Twitter can be a lot of fun - enjoy it. 

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