My dear friend Susan Fox (aka @gagasgarden) sent me a very interesting email recently with several questions about her experiences with Twitter. She wondered if I could write up a post answering these questions in case other people would be interested too, so here we are. I actually thought Susan’s questions were broad enough to use this as an opportunity to kind of reflect on what Twitter is like on this first day of 2013. I’ve been using the platform for about three years now and have experienced ups and downs during that experience, as I think most of us have.
So, without further adieu, here are Susan’s questions and ponderings and my best effort at answering them.
“Most tweets are high level selling statements…” they make “a supposition the reader knows more about their business/company than we do…”
There are a lot of things that business accounts could improve on Twitter. Imagine how confusing these selling statements are if they are coming from an account with a bio that reads, “I have 3 kittens, 5 kids, 2 husbands, and I love hyenas!” A very significant disconnect there. This is not just a Twitter problem though. As marketing becomes something that is shuffled off to the sales team, you will find increasingly that statements about the product or service do not really seem geared towards the audience. This is a common human characteristic. When we know something really well, we assume everyone does. If we are really close to a project or a product, we assume everyone will “get it.” If you really want to sell something, you need to assume that the people you are talking to have no idea who you are, what you are selling, or why they would want it.
“Conversation is at a minimum, and not really invited. Really it’s just, buy my stuff.”
This is not entirely surprising to me. There were a lot of articles and posts during 2012 about social media as a marketing platform and whether or not social media should be used for those purposes (we actually wrote about this subject on our agency blog). There was also a lot of talk about social media ROI and how companies need to increase sales to get a return on all of the time spent tweeting and Facebooking. What we are ending up with, again because a lot of companies are strapped for time when it comes to marketing, is accounts accumulating on both radical ends of the spectrum. Some companies are doing absolutely no selling online because they believe that promotion of products should not be done online. Social Media is “not transactional.” On the other side you have accounts that are of the philosophy, “Oh man, we really need to do a hard sell to make this worth our time, money, and effort.” Factually, as is the case with most things in life, handling marketing or product promotion on social media platforms is not black-and-white or a this-or-that scenario. It is possible to be conversational and then mix in, on occasion, a promote of your own content, your own products, or your own services. This is the nuanced approach to social media that I learned when I started but that has since seemingly fallen to the wayside.
For about the first year I spent on Twitter, this pretty much summarized my entire experience. People would tweet out questions, I would tweet back a reply, and then my tweet would fall into the ether of darkness where no tweets are ever recovered — or responded to. Predominantly this seems to be a problem with accounts that have extremely large followings. They want to send out questions to make it look like they are willing to converse, but really there is a select group of tweeters these folks converse with. If you don’t fall into that select group you are not likely to get a response. It has always seemed extremely silly to me – I make an effort particularly to reply to people I haven’t “met’ yet.
My best advice on Twitter is to find people who are newer to the platform than you are. Take them under your wing, offer advice, walk them through the tricky dance of building a following and starting conversations. This accomplishes a lot of things. First, it introduces you to tons of great people who might be on the verge of quitting Twitter out of pure frustration. It enables you to converse more. It tests your own knowledge to see where you are in terms of your Twitter journey. And yes, there is even a slightly self-serving reason to hang with people newer than you – you can show other people who might see your tweets that you really know your stuff.
“I see a randomness in tweets…no consistency…”
I think a lot of this comes from the influence of Triberr, Buffer, and other sharing tools that automate a lot of your process. This is why I maintain vigorously that you need to read every post you end up sharing. If you don’t, you could end up tweeting live about something that completely contradicts a post that just got shared from your Triberr account. I also think people are tuning into the keywords Klout and Kred say they are influential on, so like any disreputable SEO company would suggest, they are trying to plug those words into tweets, kind of like a Mad Libs game. This creates a less “human” and less consistent stream of tweets.
“I noticed you are very brief on Twitter and keep your tweets to a bare minimum. Is there a reason?”
Well, honestly, a lot of the people I used to talk to aren’t doing much beyond tweeting posts, so having good interactive conversations is harder than it used to be. In the days when I first was getting used to Twitter, a person would tweet out a post and they would be there to answer any arguments or to answer any replies. Now, because of these scheduled tweets, a person might be sleeping while their tweets are going out. That means if I really disagree (or agree) with the post they tweeted, I won’t get a reply and my response will be buried by the time they return. I also struggle with how to acknowledge people who share my posts via Triberr. I know that a lot of those folks don’t really read the posts, and thanking every single person for tweeting out a post would get really boring, especially if they don’t really know what they are sharing. I still am pondering that whole scenario. I always wanted to thank people who shared my posts in the past because I wanted to show my appreciation for their taking the time to read AND share my words. Now things are different.
Ah yes, the great “unfollow” concept. The sad fact is that as I mentioned above, a lot of people who have become “twelebrities” are simply out of touch with what it’s like to be newer on the platform. They forget (or perhaps they never experienced) how valuable a mentor or a guide can be when you are just starting out.
The other sad fact is that platforms like Klout punish you for having a lot of dead weight amongst your Twitter followers. I was just reading about this in Marsha Collier’s new book, Social Commerce for Dummies. She went through a plot of platforms that allow you to find out who your inactive followers are, or they allow you to explore the demographics of your followers and determine who you should cut because they aren’t “relevant.” Again, this is function of losing nuance in the online world. You can talk about things relating to your business but you don’t have to do so ALL of the time. I enjoy talking about anything from The Princess Bride to SEO on Twitter, and I don’t really worry about whether that’s helping me be “influential.”
Folks are focusing on the wrong things, at least in my opinion. And if that misaligned focus influences them enough, they’ll just unfollow everyone and start again.
“What is the best tool to stay in touch with followers you would like to touch base with and know better?”
What I’ve done is create a couple of different lists that I keep as columns in Hootsuite. While I like monitoring replies better on Twitter.com, I use Hootsuite to keep track of what people I like are tweeting about. You could create a list of people tied to your business, a list of people you like to talk to for fun…whatever you want, and just track all of those as columns in Hootsuite, TweetDeck, or whatever other tool you use.
“What are best Twitter practices/etiquette?”
This would be a post unto itself, but I would say the most important things are to make sure you aren’t just broadcasting blog posts (yours or other people), try to talk to at least one new person a day, make sure you are following new people, stop chasing after “twelebrities,” offer help to others who might have questions, and be personable.
“What’s the best use of Twitter for bloggers/writers?”
I think there are two ways Twitter can come in handy for bloggers/writers. First, of course, it helps you expose your content to a wide open stream. However, there’s an understanding that if you want your posts shared, you should make sure you share other peoples’ content too. People will be more motivated to help you out that way. Also, conversing about the topics you’re interested in can be valuable. A lot of people use these conversations as an opportunity to spout out 5 links to their own blog. I’ve never been a fan of that approach. Would you mention a blog post while talking to a person at a coffee shop? You might mention it but you wouldn’t scream the URL into their ear, right? But talking knowledgeably about your subject will draw people of similar interests to you. You need to be consistent on your blog though. If you are engaging on Twitter, you also need to be responsive to comments on your posts.
“Why do followers just start dropping you?”
We mostly covered this already. Also, there are some Twitter accounts that are set up, I think, to follow for x number of days any account it tweets with, then it unfollows automatically when that time was up. I experienced some of that when I first started tweeting. I found it rather annoying!
Hopefully this is helpful. Of course I would love to hear what other people think about all of these issues too!
First image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/laughingsquid/5301633680/via Creative Commons
Second image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/striatic/2191408271/ via Creative Commons
Third image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/poper/29916517 via Creative Commons