Micro-blogging website Twitter has become a phenomenon with consumer and business internet users alike in recent times. The site is used by subscribers to publish very short messages, or ‘tweets’, that are no more than 140 characters in length.
Part of the success of the website is down to its ease of use. Users can ‘follow’ other members’ tweets and add followers of their own, building an online community. The potential benefits for business are substantial. Twitter can enable fast interaction with an audience that is interested in what you have to say (because they’ve signed up to receive your tweets), and it can help you to network with other members who you find interesting.
“There are a number of reasons why companies should consider using Twitter. It serves as a broadcast tool to reach a large number of people, it is very useful for customer service and it can be used to monitor conversations about your organisation or relevant areas,” says Piaras Kelly, account director with public relations firm Edelman and a regular blogger.
But before you start ‘tweeting’, consider carefully how and why to use the service, and develop a strategy for making the most of it.
Twitter for business: Know what you want
Before you decide to start using Twitter, work out if the website is right for your business. There’s no point using any application if it offers no specific benefits for your firm.
“It really depends on the business, and what they want out of it. I think with social media in general, you should know what you want out of it before you get started,” says Kieran Murphy, director of Murphy’s Ice Cream and regular Twitter user. “If you have a clear goal, you’ll have a better idea of whether it’s working or not and how much resources to allocate to it. Twitter is no different. It’s a communication channel that can be quite effective.”
One of the big advantages Twitter offers is the speed at which information is delivered to and processed by customers. With only 140 characters per tweet at your disposal, there’s no time for jargon or waffle. Subscribers will therefore be more tuned in to the key information you are trying to communicate.
Kelly offers an example where a bakery might use Twitter to alert customers as to when their latest batch of goods is fresh. Twitter enables the company to reach out to their customer base in real time, for free.
There’s a range of other uses for Twitter that don’t rely on such an instant impact.
“SMEs can use Twitter for communicating everything and anything they feel is relevant to the people that want to hear about their company,” says Eamonn Grant, sales director at Flowers Made Easy. “We have posted jobs, asked for contacts in other companies, as well as marketed to our customers and communicated information on important days like Valentine’s Day.”
On 13 February this year, the firm posted around 100 tweets charting its progress on the day, so that subscribers were kept informed about the status of orders. “It reduced the incoming calls to our call centre, which meant we had more people available to take more orders over the phone,” says Grant.
Twitter for business: Potential drawbacks
While there are plenty of upsides to Twitter, the application is not without its faults. Some of the early adopters of the application have begun to question how the service is evolving. Earlier this year, Niall Harbison, chef and founder of Lookandtaste.com and regular Twitterer, briefly stopped using the site.
Harbison says he took a break from Twitter in part because of the distraction it presented. “It is a massively useful tool but I kept on getting distracted by it during work times. The move away from it didn’t last long but I now use it more carefully during work hours.”
Harbison’s actions echo the concerns some users have about the way in which the service is being used. Kelly says many new users misunderstand how to use the site. “Some 60 percent of Twitter accounts are abandoned because people simply don’t know what to do with them. As the saying goes, if you fail to prepare, then you prepare to fail,” he says.
Twitter for business: Baby steps
Businesspeople unsure of whether Twitter is for them can start off by signing up to follow the tweets of people and organisations relevant to them. SMEs wary of making a commitment to posting regular updates can still take advantage of the service through this initial step.
“Firstly start to listen. Watch out for who’s talking about your competitors,” says social media expert Krishna De. “What are your customers talking about? What are some of the trends you are noticing? [Ask yourself] how you can use that as research.”
De says firms can learn about what is going on in an industry just by following these tweets. “Even if you’re not ready to be active in Twitter, you can still use it in terms of good research,” she says. “I can’t imagine any business wouldn’t benefit from at least the research. Even if they don’t want to jump in they can start off [using Twitter] by listening.”
**In part two of our feature we’ll examine the impact Twitter is having on Irish businesses and take a look at how some SMEs are using the service. We’ll also provide a list of dos and don’ts for prospective Twitterers.
This article originally appeared in the eBusiness Live newsletter from Enterprise Ireland’s eMarketing Unit and was written by ENNclick.