Twitter: 140 reasons it’s worth your time

twitterrific-icon If someone at your company is not watching your brand on Twitter (website: Twitter.com wikipedia: Twitter) you could be missing out on valuable market intelligence and an opportunity to interact with your customers in a way that makes your brand more personal. Plugging into twitter a little each day is a good way to “listen” to what is happening: in the news; in your industry; and with your customers and to the web. The web is changing fast and changing society as it does. Ideas are generated in small sub-cultures and explode outward in viral waves that influence consumer behavior, innovation, even language.

If you have not heard of Twitter, heard of but never tried it, tried it but didn’t “get it”, or seen the value but weren’t sure how to extract it, then this article is written for you.

What is Twitter?

Twitter is a website and service that let’s people “text” each other short messages. Unlike almost every other social network on the internet, Twitter is focused completely on this one feature. Each “Tweet” has a limit of 140 characters and looks like this on the website:

algore

Let’s look at this tweet. First, Al Gore has an objective with this Tweet, he has taken a position and he wants as many people as possible to be aware of it. He is promoting his point of view. He used 136 characters in that tweet which probably meant he spent some time carefully choosing his words to make sure it fit.

twittermultiplierWhen he pressed “send” some of the 26,000+ people that “follow” him saw it on their twitter page, got it on their phone, or on some other device. Some of them then ReTweeted (RT) the message or replied to it. This in return exposed the message to their audiences. As the message was repeated the number of people exposed was multiplied. Even if they did not repeat it, but just replied to it their followers saw the response and may have clicked to see the original post.

Twitter is also a social network, but for ideas…not people.

Each user has a very simple profile, consisting of a single photo, a one sentence description, a single link, and their location. But people follow each other because of what they say, not who they are.

Of coarse you can follow your friends or influencers but unlike other social networks, you don’t need their permission to listen to what they tweet (there is an option to keep your tweets private but most people don’t). If your like me, you quickly realize that you don’t really care about following your friends on Twitter, you already know what they think and have other ways of communicating with them. You use twitter to find the things you don’t know anything about and to do that you need a diverse network. 

Who is on Twitter?

Besides Barack Obama, Britney Spears, Karl Rove, Shaquille O’Neil, Lance Armstrong, everyone in Silicon Valley, almost every journalist, journalism professor, public relations professional, and executive of a internet company is on twitter. As well as lots of authors, comedians, TV personalities, thousands of web consultants (like myself @benshoemate), “gurus” , self promoters, bloggers, and million and millions of young people.

Will they actually reply to you?

Yes, if you say something worth replying to and not just “OMG I’m your biggest fan”. It’s like at a party, if you say something intelligent, they react. In fact, if I were trying to get on the Today show, or Oprah, I think I’d start on Twitter by reaching out to their people or even the stars themselves.

Why are these people on Twitter?

Same reason you need to be. Here they are:

  • 140 char limit gives you an excuse for brevity. That which would be rude in an email or face to face is required by Twitter. I think busy people find this  liberating. I *wish* email had a character limit. I would love to put a filter on an email server that you could turn on that would only allow people 100 words per email. Because then they would have to think about what they are sending. They would have to get to the point. And no attachments. That would be a good experiment, no attachment friday’s. Use the wiki instead… #productidea
  • 140 char limit makes twitter scanable. When you are following 50 conversations at once this is very important.
  • Some smart interesting people are on twitter, if I lived in ancient Greece, I would be following Aristotle around, hanging on his every word (as long as it didn’t interfere with my job) because pearls of wisdom fall from his mouth every time he speaks. If I could, I would follow every interesting person on the planet (I made a list at the bottom to get you started)
  • Influential people are on twitter
  • Your customers are on twitter and you have an unprecedented opportunity to listen to them and learn about them (more about this later)
  • and the number one reason – People are talking about you, your company, your industry, your products and services, your future, and your brand on Twitter.

listen to customers

Listen to your customers

Twitter is a way to listen to what other people are saying about you, your company, your products and services, your industry,  your brand.

What are the people saying about your company right now? Most big companies spend lots of money conducting focus groups, surveys, and interviews to understand what people think about their products and services. This is great and necessary. But their is also something to be said for listening to the word on the street. The unsolicited feedback  that arises spontaneously. In a world where these opinions are broadcast to 100s or 1000s or people and sometimes more, bad news travels faster than ever and good news is still just as slow.

Getting Started – Search and listen first

The best way to get started with Twitter is with search. Go to http://search.twitter.com/ 

Here are some samples:

Search term: UPS
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This is unsolicited feedback. No matter how big or small your company is, you can’t afford to not listen to your customers.

 

Search term: I love UPS
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I had to be careful selecting these tweets – some may get some UPS drivers in trouble…

 

Search term: I wish UPS
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If you are looking for product ideas, listen to your customers.

 

Search term: UPS help me
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Of coarse UPS is a big company with over 300,000 people working for them so there are already people providing help.  The great thing about this is when they do, they are overheard doing it by others. This increases UPS’s reputation as a company that cares.  But is anyone doing it for your company?

 

Be overheard at your best

When you help a customer through phone or email you help exactly 1 person. When you do it on the web you create a piece of knowledge that can help many. When you do it on Twitter, you also build a reputation of being helpful in realtime, one on one personal way that is overheard by others. This makes your brand instantly more personal, more responsive, and builds loyalty. Companies spend the 20th century creating unresponsive industrial giants that customers tolerated but openly despised. They jumped to the first viable competition that didn’t treat them like a number. The 21st century will be about using technology to return to our person to person roots.

Be selective of who you follow

It is tempting to follow everyone, but look for people you enjoy talking to and don’t be afraid to thin the herd if you get people who post a lot of non-sense.

Some tools you need

Twitscoop.com – See what is buzzing. When something happens in the world, it shows up in twitter first. As it is tweeted, retweeted, and discussed, that term used a lot. Below is a live feed from TwitScope. The larger a term is, the more it appears in recent tweets. The website itself is better because it shows those actual tweets when you hover over it. 

 

Tweetchat.com – On Monday nights at 7-10pm CST if your watching Twitscoop you’ll see word #journchat get really big. This is a  weekly conversation between journalists, bloggers and PR folks (http://journchat.info/about/) Twitter users use #topic to tag conversations that are all related. They do this for 2 reasons. First, they know lots of people have open searches for that word #topic. Second, other services like tweetchat create chat rooms out of these. I strongly suggest you try tweetchat during the Monday, 7-10pm CST time. Other #topics – #gaza, #haiku, and if there is any conference, concert or other large public event like #inaug09 then there will be a # for it. This is a great way to see the real power of twitter.

Tweetdeck.com – A tool that lets you keep several searches open at once as well as twitscoop. If your only going to spend a small amount of time in Twitter each day, install Tweetdeck, open some searches, and join in the conversation. @tweetdeck

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