There are over 100 million active users on Twitter, over 300 million tweets are sent every day and on average it takes just five days for one billion tweets to be posted. Clearly we have a lot to share. But from a business perspective, should you be thinking of Twitter as an engagement tool or as a broadcast medium?
First of all, I should probably let you in on a secret. When I started my own business, I didn’t think that I was going to need to use social media at all. I have to admit that I thought I could grow a thriving business without sending a single tweet! As things turned out, it was a matter of days before I realised the error of my ways and I started to appreciate the potential role that social media sites can play in building a successful start-up business.
Everyone I came into contact with was talking about social media and in particular Twitter. So I started to look at it more closely and found some basic reasons why Twitter has such compelling potential for businesses:
- It works as a vehicle to get your message out and get it out fast.
- Both large multi-nationals at one end of the scale and solo entrepreneurs at the other, can use it to connect with their existing and potential customers.
- Twitter is an extremely responsive medium and it can be used publicly to communicate in real time.
- You can connect directly with people and other businesses all over the world.
- Businesses have a new way to promote their products and services, although some are more subtle and innovative than others in doing so.
When I first came to use Twitter, I was consistently being told that it was all about conversations and about engaging real world connections. And to a large extent, that is what Twitter is all about, certainly for celebrities and for casual users who only really use it for a bit of a giggle or to share a joke with their friends and followers. But as I got to understand Twitter more, a new school of thought emerged which seems to have been growing stronger in the past year.
In some quarters, business owners were viewing Twitter as a broadcast tool or as some like to refer to it, a ‘content distribution platform’. Now, this was beginning to get interesting. It appeared there were two distinct schools of thought emerging, with one leaning towards using Twitter to create conversations and the other keen to use it for broadcasting valuable information. So let’s take a look at the issues so you can decide whether Twitter is a social network for business or a distribution platform.
Twitter as a social network for creating conversations
The point to remember here is that Twitter is about creating a dialogue – you can’t just blast your followers with information about your business. It’s about creating meaningful conversations that can lead to strong connections.
So when it comes to being social on behalf of your business:
- Twitter gives your clients a voice so that they can tell you directly what they like and dislike about your business, products, services and brand.
- It allows your clients to share, within 140 characters, great experiences they’ve had as a result of interacting with you and your business.
- Twitter enables businesses to connect with an incredibly wide-range of people, many of whom you have never interacted with before. Look at the recent Super Bowl blackout and how effective social listening is when Oreo tweeted ‘No power – no problem – you can still dunk in the dark’. Being witty at a moment’s notice got the brand over 16,000 retweets and over 6,000 responses applauding them for the best tweet of the night. All of which amounts to brilliant free publicity and an association with one of the most popular sporting events on the planet.
- Once a conversation is started, the aim is to encourage your followers to go to your website where they can sign-up, via a feature box, to your regular daily, weekly, monthly communications. And getting email addresses and subscribers is a major benefit for businesses as you can look to turn conversations into clients and customers.
Twitter as a content distribution platform
The other way to look at Twitter is as a content distribution platform, and this school of thought is based on the idea that businesses should use it to deliver a variety of quality and highly relevant materials to their followers around the world.
During a presentation at Nokia World in 2010, the vice president of business and corporate development at Twitter, Kevin Thau, suggested that in fact Twitter was not a social network at all but a platform for delivering news, content and information.
Here are some of the basic reasons why Twitter is viewed as being such a powerful broadcast medium:
- 40% of Twitter followers do not actually tweet, they are on Twitter in receive mode. They favour tweets, click links, read news and follow accounts. They may not all be hyper-connected consumers but they chose for themselves who to follow and unfollow, and they will not be fobbed off with unimportant and inauthentic communications.
- Using Twitter as a distribution channel to share great content means that your followers can glean important and diverse information.
- Users want to share great content with other people – it says something about them and the value they are bringing to the table.
- Sticking to subjects you know about can pay dividends – over time you can become the ‘go-to’ source in a particular area, and this in turn can help build your brand awareness.
- Twitter is of course free to use and any benefits derived from its use tend to be enormously cost effective and outreach efforts are always potentially international in scope.
- Businesses can distil the essence of their own thought leadership values into statements and use these key concepts to support a broader content plan and business strategy.
Finding your own way to stand out
When I first started using Twitter I longed to create conversations with users but it just didn’t happen. I tried everything to get involved in some interesting discussions but I was struggling. Then when I stepped back and looked at some of those conversations going on I realised that I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about and trying to follow the thread just took too much time.
For me that’s when I stopped trying to use Twitter as a tool for creating conversations. Instead, I started paying more attention to the tweets that users favoured and retweeted. The more I gave my followers what they wanted in terms of great content, the more retweets and favourites I got and this had a knock-on effect of increasing my followers.
And delivering great content doesn’t always mean coming up with new and interesting blogs of your own. It’s also about highlighting and posting links to other bloggers, journalists and publications of interest to your audience. For example Women Unlimited has a fantastic selection of articles you can share on Twitter to keep your followers engaged. The real win for me, was when I met people who told me that they followed me because I provided really valuable insights that they could use in the context of their own business. That is always the biggest goal for me as a Twitter user but I also pride myself now on sourcing good materials and passing on it to my followers as an added bonus.
So what is Twitter?
So what is Twitter? – Is it a social network for creating conversations or is it purely a distribution platform? Personally, I think Twitter can be both and more besides. It’s clear to me that there are people who have the ‘magic’ for creating conversations and it works for their business. Others see it more as a broadcast tool to share great content and that is the main advantage that they perceive. Maybe it’s those users who can move effortlessly between using Twitter as both a broadcast and conversational tool that are the real winners in all this, but you certainly need patience and persistence to find out what really works for you.
In the words of Twitter co-founder, Biz Stone, ‘Twitter has only just begun and we, its users, redefine it every day’. So maybe the true power of Twitter is yet to be discovered.
And in the spirit of starting conversations – let me know what you think, how Twitter works for you and how you’re addressing the challenge of tweeting as a business.
* The image in this post is attributed to mkhmarketing.wordpress.com via Flickr