Social Media Working Knowledge

What’s Your Twitter Strategy?
Patrick Glinski

Social Media Working Knowledge What’s Your Twitter Strategy?

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Beyond Niche
Twitter has officially hit the digital mainstream. What was once a small community of insiders has exploded into a global phenomenon that has cracked the top 40 most visited sites on the Internet and is expected to reach 50 million visitors by the summer of 2009. Twitter has successfully achieved a network effect, and the result is a massive community that has sent over 2 billion tweets since launch. With this massive community comes significant opportunity for organizations. But success using Twitter requires a great deal more than just setting up an account and posting links to your corporate website. Twitter is a distinct cultural community with rules, social norms and pitfalls. Unless you have a strategy for using Twitter effectively, your initiative will almost certainly fail. This white paper is designed to help your managers successfully leverage Twitter as a platform to obtain customer insight and forge deeper, engaged relationships with your customers.

A Twitter Refresher
Twitter is everywhere these days, so we’re going to assume you have some familiarity with it and its messaging conventions. Here are a few important points about Twitter to consider while you’re building your strategy: Twitter is a hybrid between micro-blogging, forums and instant messenger. Twitter lets people post 140 character long messages to the Twitter social network. “Tweets”, as these messages are known, are shared with friends as part of an information stream. Tweets can be directed to a group, a specific person, or to no one in particular. Twitter is a form of ambient friending. A person’s Twitter stream is constantly receiving new information from their connections that is presented in a last-in, first-read manner. People choose to pay attention to their Twitter feed when they like. Twitter is an open community. That means tweets are sent to the public domain unless they are from a protected account or sent as a private (direct) message Twitter has a large development community. There are literally hundreds of tools to view, manage, aggregate and analyze tweets. A passionate user community created these tools. Twitter is “digital”, not “Web”. Part of the appeal of Twitter is that users can stay in touch with the network over the Internet or their mobile phones using text messages. While Twitter.com is a destination for some people, less than a third of all Twitter users use the site to send and receive tweets. Twitter is about person-to-person connections. People know that there is a person behind corporate tweets. The more you can do to personify the Twitter connections, the deeper the relationship between your brand and your customer.

Social Media Working Knowledge What’s Your Twitter Strategy?

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A New Way to Reach Your Customers
Chances are that if you’re reading this white paper, you’re either skeptical of the power of Twitter or you’ve launched your branded Twitter presence and are not seeing the results that you were expecting. The corporate uptake of Twitter seems a bit like the use of websites in the early 90’s. Back then, only a handful of companies had a website and very few of them were using the channel effectively. Eventually, organizations came to the realization that the website was an essential marketing and service channel and invested significant resources towards using it effectively. Companies started building websites when they realized that they were an effective way to reach customers. In a few years from now, we may well look back at Twitter in the same way. Twitter has become one of the most transparent, honest and inclusive means of communication available, which accounts for much of its cultural appeal. It is a purely democratized form of interaction where anyone can say what they like, have access to anyone they want, and pay attention to only the things they care about. Like the website of the late 90’s, Twitter is an effective way to reach your customers in 2009 and beyond. And if you need proof, type your brand or category name into http://search. Twitter.com. Chances are, you’ll find hundreds of people engaging in conversations that have meaning to your organization. Sure, it’s a place where people broadcast their thoughts impulsively, but it’s also a place where people learn, talk, share, promote ideas, and discuss your brand. In a democratized community, your organization has the right to do the same.

PHOTO BY KYLE BUZA

Social Media Working Knowledge What’s Your Twitter Strategy?

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Please Don’t Litter Twitter
By participating in Twitter, you are walking in on an established community. As such, you should treat it with respect. Your ability to contribute to this community successfully is the difference between 500,000 followers and being blocked. On Twitter, you are not the destination. If you approach Twitter like the broadcaster of your 30-spot, your audience will treat your interactions like a commercial and tune you out. Setting up an account on Twitter is like sending out an invitation to interact with your organization. It is also a commitment by your organization that says you will engage with consumers where and when they want to interact. With that account comes the responsibility to engage your friend base. You have successfully created a one-to-one relationship with your customer; there is nothing worse than building a community then abandoning it when it is no longer of value to your company. There are many ways to use Twitter effectively for your business, and it is important to define how you want to engage your audience before you litter the Twitter-sphere with abandoned corporate accounts.

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Modeling Twitter Usage
The use of Twitter for corporate purposes is constantly evolving, with new uses and techniques being developed daily. However, the foundation of using Twitter for business purposes is based on two dimensions – your role in the conversation, and your communication orientation. Roles on Twitter – Listening vs. Talking In its purest form, Twitter is a tool to engage in conversations. And as in any conversation, there are two primary roles on Twitter – a listener and a talker. A listener in the Twitter world is someone who chooses to pay attention to tweets from Twitter users, either by monitoring keywords or by receiving messages directed to their Twitter account. Listening on Twitter is a key skill for organizations – it makes a brand appear service-oriented, proactive and helpful. A talker in the Twitter world is someone who creates tweets, adding to the collective content created through Twitter. Talking is also an important skill for an organization as it projects authority and has the potential to build greater brand engagement. Communication Orientation on Twitter – One-Way vs. Two-Way Twitter can be used as a messaging tool or a micro-blogging tool. Depending on the orientation of your organization, you can choose to use Twitter from a broadcasting (one-way) paradigm or as a two-way communications tool. One-Way communications in the Twitter world are like a broadcast paradigm, with no direct dialog between the organization and the Twitter member-base taking place. Either party can initiate one-way messages – the consumer can talk without a brand responding, or the organization can push a message to consumers with no intention of using that tweet as the seed for a discussion. Two-Way communications in the Twitter world are analogous to a conversation happening on the street. They are interactions between the organization and customer. As an organization participating in Twitter, you will need to decide how you want to leverage the Twitterverse – are you a listener, are you a talker? Do you want to engage in discussions or just broadcast messages? There really is no right or wrong answer – all are effective ways to learn and promote using Twitter. But successful organizations are able to do a little bit of everything. This framework allows for four primary organizational activities using Twitter – observing, sharing, discussing and solving. Organizations that have mastered Twitter are able to manage all of these uses simultaneously. As a beginner, it is your job to understand these tactics and excel at the ones that most appropriate for your company. As a business, unless you pre-define what you want to accomplish using Twitter, there is a good chance that you will be underwhelmed by the results you generate. There are many false paths in the world of Twitter, and it is your job as an organization to define how and why this tool is useful to you.

Social Media Working Knowledge What’s Your Twitter Strategy?

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1. Observing (One-Way, Listening)
What is it? Messages generated by Twitter are ‘open’ to Internet users, meaning they can be seen by anyone as long as the messages aren’t sent from an account with protected updates. Observing is the process of monitoring messages sent via Twitter in order to gain consumer and competitive insight. Twitter is a vast and rich qualitative data destination, allowing you to see real-time market trends and eavesdrop on honest conversations about your brand. Planning to observe using Twitter. Many organizations get caught up in the sheer volume of information available through Twitter. While all tweets are valuable, they may not be valuable to your organization. Twitter, in many ways, is like a macro focus group. And like a focus group, you get better results when you define the types of information that you want. When preparing to listen using Twitter, you need to define what you are listening for. Whether you take a top-down or bottom-up approach to learning is up to you, but you shouldn’t expect to just plug in and walk away with insight. The level of knowledge you gain from Twitter is a direct function of how methodically you approach the tool, and like with any good research method, you will get the best results when you define a learning objective. I recommend starting by performing a simple, scheduled search for tweets about your brands. But after that, the sky is the limit. You can begin to search for your products, product categories, marketing catchphrases and information about your competitors. Once you identify the tweets that you care about, there are many different forms of analysis that can be performed, including: • Monitoring the topics being discussed • Understanding key sentiment drivers by examining positive and negative tweets • Identifying key topical trends in what is being said, particularly with regularly occurring negative topics • Flagging certain linguistic trends in order to proactively identify potential issues • Observing which marketing or PR initiatives promote conversation • Identifying trend-makers or Twitter influencers How you perform your analysis is a function of the tools available to you. If you’re just starting out with Twitter, http://search.Twitter.com is a great place to start. It allows you to search the Twitterverse for keywords, allows basic sentiment filtering through the use of emoticons, and provides basic geographic targeting. Once your comfort level with Twitter increases and your needs become more advanced, you have many choices for tools to use to analyze Twitter – from purchasing social media monitoring services from an organization like Radian6, to using a third party tool like www.twendz.com to building your own custom analysis tool using Twitter’s API. The bottom line on observing. If you’re skeptical about using Twitter, or are concerned about resourcing, observing is where to start. It requires no long-term commitment to the channel since you’re not building a following, and it’s a great way to build the business case for broader Twitter participation throughout your organization.

Social Media Working Knowledge What’s Your Twitter Strategy?

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2. Sharing (One-Way, Talking)
Twitter is a broadcast medium that allows a user to send messages to all of their followers, and anyone else who might be eavesdropping on the conversation. Sharing is a behavior where you push out content that your followers may find valuable. It is a means of delivering messages directly from your organization. Planning to share using Twitter. Sharing is how most organizations approach Twitter. Unfortunately many organizations treat tweets as the equivalent of text ads. The difference between classic broadcasting and marketing on Twitter is that your customers have opted in to receive your tweets. If you abuse your sharing privileges and over-message your followers or send them content of little value, it is just as easy for them to opt-out of receiving your messages. When planning to share using Twitter, it is important to start by determining who your target audiences are. Audience(s) is pluralized deliberately – just like there are different types of visitors to your organization’s website, there will also be different motivations for being interested in your organization’s presence on Twitter. After outlining who you think your Twitter audiences will be, you then need to plan what subject matter will be of value to them. Since these are your customers, there will be some natural synergies with what’s on your mind. Put together a plan around what types of content you feel will be of value to your followers – stories, offers, and insider information that you feel will break through the clutter of their Twitter stream. Hopefully, you’ll notice some trends in the type of content you’ve outlined. But one person’s valued content is another person’s spam. After you have a sense of the types of content that you’ll be sharing, cluster your message types into logical categories. These clusters will become the basis for your Twitter account schema. Setting up different Twitter accounts based on the types of content you plan on sharing is an important strategy to ensure you send appropriate messages. Finally, it’s time to get active and share some content. Here are a few examples of the types of content typically sent from corporate Twitter accounts: • Links to relevant stories, content, videos, etc. • Notification updates and links to your corporate blog • Product offers and deals (preferably Twitter-exclusive ones) • Announcements about your company or brand • Industry news The bottom line on sharing. No marketer aspires to send a boring message. When you’re broadcasting your messages out over Twitter, make sure your tweets are well-written and contain compelling content. With every message, you should aspire to write something compelling and worth sharing. Nothing will hurt your Twitter efforts more than the perception that your messages are spam.

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3. Discussing (Two-Way, Talking)
What is it? Your customers are using Twitter, which makes it a natural channel to engage in one-to-one conversations directly with them. Discussing is the process of initiating and carrying on a two-way dialog with your Twitter followers. Planning to talk using Twitter. The real power of Twitter is in engaging two-way communications. This type of one-to-one interaction is the dream of many marketers, and is a powerful strategy to humanize your organization. However, the messages you send are still a reflection of your brand, and as such, need to be managed appropriately. The process of having discussions with your customers introduces a significant challenge – how do you engage in one-to-one conversations with your customers while also making the dialog relevant to people who might be tuning in mid-way. When checking Twitter un-follow statistics, followers are often lost when a high volume of unrelated @ messages render your stream of updates irrelevant. While there is no perfect solution, it is important that you take advantage of the tools available to you. Find the right balance between public (@) discussions and hidden direct (D) discussions. Ultimately, the nature of the discussions that take place on Twitter will depend on your brand, but it is of course important to find an appropriate brand voice on Twitter. This applies to both your corporate presence, and your employees who use Twitter. Zappos, for example, has discussions led by both brand-centered accounts and employee accounts. In order to discuss effectively, there are a few important things to consider: • Find and internally communicate the voice that represents your organization and brand. • Determine exactly who does the discussing, and try to humanize the voice by having it come from the people behind your brand. • Don’t just engage in discussions about yourself; engage your customers in discussions around their interests. • Segment your accounts so that you aren’t forcing your followers to see irrelevant conversations. The bottom line on discussing. Holding discussions with your customers is what will really help you re-define the nature of your relationship with your audience. When done correctly, discussing humanizes your brand and gives your customers confidence that real people are behind that logo of yours. But when done incorrectly, you run the risk of alienating your audience or saying something that you regret. There are no undo buttons in the Twitterverse (well, technically there are, but they don’t work very well), and even the most mundane of corporate gaffes can go viral. Planning how your organization will discuss using Twitter can alleviate that concern.

Social Media Working Knowledge What’s Your Twitter Strategy?

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4. Solving (Two-Way, Listening)
What is it? Twitter is a great place to vent – it’s cathartic to publish your frustrations. Sadly, sometimes those frustrations are centered on your brand’s inability to deliver a great customer experience. Solving is the process of recognizing customer complaints and resolving their issues via Twitter. Planning to solve using Twitter. Many customers expect that a brand’s presence on Twitter is a direct line in to all departments of the organization. Just like you would never let a phone ring continually in your call center, you should make sure you’re managing angry tweets appropriately. Planning to solve using Twitter involves a culmination of the listening, talking, and discussing skills outlined previously. Solving is not that different than solving in other service channels. It just requires an articulate and well thought-out approach to resolving customer issues. First, put your listening skills to use. Identify situations when your customers are complaining using Twitter, and determine which ones are worth responding to. There are various forms of complaints through Twitter, and statements like “I hate @Dell” are very different from “I hate @Dell because the computer I just received won’t start”. Determine which types of messages you would like to act on. Next, think about how you would respond to service issues in 140 characters or less. There’s a strong chance that the issues you hear about over Twitter are no different than ones you hear about through your customer service lines, email inboxes, and focus groups. Pre-define your organization’s responses (in 140 characters or less) to simplify the response process for your team. Based on the nature of the complaint, choose whether that response should be public or private. Finally, consider your organization’s escalation plan. Twitter can be an excellent early warning system for emerging public relations disasters (think about the headache that Domino’s Pizza would have avoided if only they had been on Twitter). When an issue hits the radar, make sure that there is an appropriate plan to quickly address the issue. The bottom line on solving using Twitter. Solving customer problems proactively using Twitter can help turn a bad situation into a positive one, but there’s a fine line between being helpful and acting like Big Brother. Be helpful when the situation calls for it, but don’t try to respond to every brand mention on Twitter. Put together an actionable response plan, and manage each situation accordingly.

Social Media Working Knowledge What’s Your Twitter Strategy?

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“I’ve got a plan, now what?”
Now that you’ve decided exactly what you want to accomplish on Twitter, you need both a Twitter account and an audience to engage. If you haven’t set up your branded account(s) yet, I’d recommend doing it now. Your participation on Twitter is of little value if you have no followers. While some organizations build momentum just by showing up, you’ll most likely need to announce your presence in the Twittersphere. If you need some followers, I’d recommend first putting your listening skills to use and following some of the people who are already talking about you, your brands, and your categories. Be sure to promote your Twitter account in locations frequented by your customers who might be also be Twitter users – in particular on your website, in the press, and on your promotional material. Twitter is a great way to collect feedback, so include your account name in your marketing initiatives and ask people directly for their thoughts.

PHOTO BY LUC LEGAY

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Twitter’s Impact
Most importantly, you should define your own goals using Twitter as a personal or business broadcasting channel. CNN learned a lesson on the impact of social media when it made a deal to acquire the CNNbrk Twitter handle from a British web design firm that amassed 900,000 followers and subsequently faced a public challenge from actor Ashton Kutcher to race towards one million followers. Kutcher was victorious, and he described the moment as a ‘changing of the guard’ and added: “I think it’s a huge statement about social media for one person to actually have the ability to broadcast to as many people as a major media network.” The power of Twitter can impact behavior and effect changes in any political, business or social landscape. When Twitter is combined with a tribal structure, it can very quickly mobilize shared interests and become a powerful way to communicate. In effect, every tribe becomes a media channel. As Twitter evolves, there are strong possibilities that it will offer premium Twitter accounts for businesses that could include advance analytics support, campaign management and word-screening features for marketing compliances for certain industries. The question is: Will users allow that to happen? Only time will tell.

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Patrick Glinski Patrick is a Senior Strategist at Idea Couture specializing in planning, experience design, information systems and social media strategy. His current work focuses on crowdsourcing applications, play-based facilitation and business transformation through ubiquitous information models. Patrick holds a Bachelor of Commerce from Queen’s University.

Idea Couture Idea Couture Inc. is a strategic innovation, experience design and social technologies firm. The company brings together multi-disciplinary thinkers to fill a void in the marketplace between strategic consultants, interactive agencies and design firms. Because of our extensive experience at the cutting edge of the increasingly connected world, we understand the subtleties of how social technologies are changing the business landscape. IC engages in innovation programs and leverages deep customer insights and social technologies to radically challenge the status quo and create new business ideas that lead to economic value creation. Driven by a singular passion for understanding customer unmet needs and social technologies, our multi-disciplinary innovation process, a.k.a. Noodleplay, uncovers valuable consumer and market insights and inspires lasting, humanizing solutions. Learn more about Idea Couture’s innovation process at www.noodleplay.com. Copyright © 2009 Idea Couture Inc. All rights reserved. Idea Couture, its logo, and D-School + B-School are trademarks of Idea Couture Inc.