These days everyone, from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd with his 1.2 million followers to your neighbour’s pet dog, is on Twitter.
Pet dogs actually can tweet thanks to Mattel’s invention, ‘Puppy Tweets’, which allows dogs to tweet via a plastic collar which has an inbuilt motion and sound detector, that determines their emotions and decides on which pre-recorded tweet is the most relevant.
So the million-dollar question is: with all this going on, how do you gain followers on Twitter for your business and how do you get your tweets noticed? Are the most controversial tweets the most read and retweeted?
Should you use outlandish language to engage fellow tweeters? If you are a small business owner who is trying to develop a public profile, being fluent in social media can be a very useful tool.
Equally, if you lack understanding of social media and are unsure of how to use it effectively, then poor use of social media can be worse than not using it at all.
New research strives for a holistic understanding of Twitter
Until now, there has been no data-driven research which can be used to assist small business owners and Twitter users who are interested in growing and maintaining their base of followers. To try and help people make sense of the Twittersphere, a group of researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology completed a longitudinal study, looking at what aspects of tweets draw the most followers.
The research was conducted over five months, and 500 Twitter users had their tweets analysed over this period. During this time the group sent a combined total of 500,000 tweets. Research scientist Clayton Hutto says the team were interested in understanding the factors that contributed to audience growth and retention on Twitter. Hutto says that while a plethora of anecdotal evidence was available, the research tended to focus on looking at specific aspects of tweets “such as content, frequency and quality” in isolation to each other.
“Very few of these studies ever look at how these factors interact and compare with each other,” he says. Hutto and his fellow researchers looked at these different aspects in relation to each other, in an attempt to garner a more holistic understanding of how Twitter can be used to its greatest potential. “It may help organisations to have more effective social media communication strategies,” he says. The report came up with nine recommendations that simplify how Twitter can be used to the highest standard.
Nine tips for using Twitter
1. Don’t whine online
Tweeting positively and refraining from using negative and offensive language helps engage fellow tweeters. People are more likely to respond to positive information.
2. Talk to people, rather than talking at people
Engaging with people is key. Talking directly to people and clients in a conversational manner makes the information appear more genuine and less like an advertisement.
3. Be informative, rather than ‘meformative’
Most of the people you are connecting with through the Twitter platform, especially for business use, are people that you either don’t know very well or who are complete strangers. Tweeting about mundane activities and personal things are not of particular interest to other people. Make sure the information is novel or interesting. Make your followers feel that they are gaining something from following you on Twitter.
4. Don’t abuse hashtags
Hashtags are useful if they are used as signal keywords to relate the tweet to a broader topic, community or group. They should not be used for long sentences or on every single word.
5. Use more sophisticated writing
Write well and clearly. People are interested in following people who have a clear contention. As there are no contextual clues in Twitter, there is less room for ambiguity. Make sure the message you are trying to convey is easy to understand.
6. Be clear about who you are, and what you’re about
The virtual environment means that people cannot look at you and find out things about you through your body language. You need to be absolutely clear about who you are. Your profile should contain a picture and state your genuine interests, indicating what it is you are going to be tweeting about. The more your profile reveals about you and your business, the more likely you are to gain and retain followers.
7. Tweet more, and don’t go too long between updates
The purpose of Twitter is to communicate and engage with your followers. If you tweet regularly you are more visible to your followers and consequently develop a strong presence. Hutto says users in the sample group tweeted less than eight times per day, while some went days and weeks between tweets. Hutto says long period of no tweeting makes the user less attractive to follow as the account becomes stagnant.
Following the people who follow you will make them more likely to keep following you.
9. Stay on topic
Focusing on a particular topic or idea helps tweeters build a reputation for knowledge in certain areas.
How to apply those tips to your business
Founder and director of digital agency AndMine, Michael Simonetti, told SmartCompany he believes small businesses owners should take note of the tips from the Georgia Institute of Technology study.
“It’s a good framework, a blueprint, but it’s not everything, you feel this out yourself, it’s a platform that has a narrative, how you fit within that blueprint varies,” he says. Telsyte senior research and consulting manager, Sam Yip, agrees with Simonetti, but warns Twitter is not the only social media platform businesses should be employing.
“We work with businesses that understand the online landscape and we look at better ways to market to consumers, Twitter is just one part of the puzzle, the aim is to actually connect Twitter to purchasing,” he says. The aim of Twitter communication is to attract people to the brand, the key is to be able to mobilise that communication into positive growth and sales, Yip says.
“Most businesses use Twitter as a broadcast tool and as a way to speak to wider audiences, we want to see the broadcast translated into actual sales.” Using Twitter and social media without having a clear goal in mind as to what the social media presence will achieve can be detrimental to a brand, Yip says.
“Once it’s decided what’s to be targeted, treat every tweet as if it was being printed in a newspaper.” Simonetti says it is important for brands and businesses to have a strong and consistent character present in their tweets.
“It all comes back to your character and your voice and a topic, even with your personal Twitter, that character needs to come through, I would recommend you be strongly comfortable with the character that you put forward,” he says.