The Right (and Wrong) Way to Use Twitter to Market Your Business

When Twitter first came out, a lot of skeptics wondered how a microblogging service could possibly be of any use to small business. After all, a whole lot of people used Twitter to talk about incredibly dull and personal topics like where they ate for lunch, or what movies were coming up in their Netflix queue. But as time has gone on, the utility of Twitter has become clear. It’s an easy way for small businesses to build relationships with their customers – at a very appealing price point (free). Twitter
Don’t think of Twitter as a branding device. It’s not the digital equivalent of a Super Bowl ad. It’s a way to be helpful to your customers by offering free advice or relevant news about your business. So, for example, a sushi restaurant in San Francisco uses Twitter to spread the word about its fresh fish of the day. A day spa in Cincinnati uses it to promote featured discounts on manicures and pedicures. In essence, Twitter does exactly what a sandwich board propped outside your physical office does.

Now, maybe you’re in a field where discounts or specials are difficult or even impossible to promote. Not to worry! You can still make Twitter work for you by using it to talk directly to your customers. Tell them what you’ve been reading (as long as it’s relevant to their interests!), an answer to a frequently asked question, whatever you think they need to know that only you can tell them. If you’re an accountant, point them to a site that has good tax tips. If you’re a doctor, tell them how they can increase their odds of staying healthy through flu season. In other words, be on Twitter as the same helpful, friendly community resource you are in person.

To recap, get started on Twitter by doing the following:

  1. Post about a time-sensitive promotion or event. This could be a “deal of the day” or an announcement that your mobile business will be in a particular area.
  2. Post a factoid or statistic that people might find useful.
  3. Post a link to a blog or a Web article that you found interesting.

And last, two areas of caution. First: you can promote yourself on Twitter, but be sparing and specific when providing relevant information about your industry or service.  Cite an item in the news or a relevant survey that backs up the value of what you offer.  Second: if you don’t have the time or the interest to really participate in Twitter – which means posting something fresh at least once a day – then just don’t promote it.  It’s worse to have a “dead” Twitter account that never gets updated than to have no account at all.

Find out more about how your small business can use Twitter and other popular social networking tools like LinkedIn and Facebook at our free Webinar, “Social Networking: Uncovering the Hype.” It will be held on Thursday, April 29 at 12pm Central Daylight Time.  Click here to register.

Think You Can Ignore Social Media? Bill Gates and The Pope Disagree.

Twitter was a buzz last week when news broke that Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates was joining the ranks of the micro-blogging community.  Some were surprised it had taken this long, others sent him welcome wishes and everyone was anxious to hear what the wealthiest man in the world had to say (mostly Thank You’s and information on Haiti relief efforts, thus far).  So what value does Gates see in being part of this community?  He says he’s using twitter to listen.  He wants to hear what people have to say about the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  And with nearly 350,000 followers in less than a week, he should get an earful.

Gates isn’t the only surprising new resident in our social media neighborhood.  Say hello to the Catholic Church.   Pope Benedict XVI has been a driving force behind the creation of a Vatican YouTube channel, applications for Facebook and iPhone and has recently encouraged priests to take up blogging.  So why is an institution often accused of being inflexible and outdated so anxious to hop on the social media bandwagon?  Simple.  The Pope knows where the people are.  They’re online.

Now maybe you’re thinking that the Pope and Bill Gates are in a bit of a different position than you, the small business owner.  While I don’t want you to sell yourself short, you’re probably right.  But there’s still a lesson to be learned here:  you have to listen to your community and reach out to them on their turf.

Listen by setting up social searches and taking to heart the feedback and information you get.   Take your message to your audience by being an an online resource for your community.  As a small business owner, you don’t need to set goals like having a wikipedia-grade resource center.  Stick with what you know.  Do you frequently get asked the same question by a bunch of different people? Write a blog post explaining the answer.  Keep it simple, but quit ignoring it.  The world is talking online and if you’re not listening, you’re putting your business at a disadvantage.