What companies can learn from my five years on Twitter

As of next month I will have been on Twitter for five years. In social media terms, that’s an eternity.

Of all the social web technologies out there, Twitter continues to astound (and confound). For many large companies and organisations, Twitter still seems to be a source of worry and angst for senior executives. That’s generally because they’re not on it personally and haven’t got a practical knowledge of how it works and the nuances of the Twitter community in action.

Indeed, late last year digital analytics firm comScore reported that “microblogging (ie the key platforms Twitter and Tumblr) had emerged as a disruptive new force in social networking”. That wasn’t news, of course, merely validation of what we all suspected.

According to comScore, in October last year Twitter had reached one in 10 internet users worldwide, and had grown 59% in that year.

In terms of Australia, SocialMediaNews.com.au estimates Twitter has about 2.11 million users. While this figure is dwarfed by Facebook’s user base of 11+ million Aussies, we need to remember that Twitter is public, real-time – and its users tend to be more connected and influential online than most.

Here are some things I’ve learned from being on Twitter these past five years.

Twitter is nothing like the media says it is

If your view of Twitter is shaped by the mainstream media, then it’s likely to be a narrow one. If you believe what you read in the tabloid press, then you probably think Twitter is out of control – a place where everyone is out to hurt everyone else.

I can say without hesitation my experience has been exactly the opposite. I’m not saying nasty things don’t happen online – social media is reflective of the real world, after all – but my number one observation is that Twitter has a disproportionate number of ‘inhabitants’ who are smart, witty, generous and respectful. In other words, they’re great people to hang out with!

Twitter is the ‘digital coalface’

More than any other social network, Twitter truly is the ‘digital coalface’ of what’s going on out there in the connected marketplace.

If you want to find out what’s going on in your industry, or the world generally, if you want to get a real ‘feel’ for what’s happening in social media, then regularly spend a bit of time on Twitter listening, exchanging views and adding your voice to the conversation that swirls around in 140-character bursts.

Twitter takes time, and persistence

Twitter is all about relationships, thus to be successful and build a following and a reputation in the space it’s important to do the same things on Twitter that you would do in real life to build relationships.

That means adding value, giving back, being interesting… and interested! Show up, get involved, have fun and help people. And don’t tell me companies can’t do this: they’re made up of people, after all.

Twitter teaches humility

On Twitter (and social media generally), you’re not going to make any headway as a brand if your company acts like it does in traditional media channels.

From my experience, observations and what I hear anecdotally from others, too many major organisations are very inward-looking; it’s all about them, not the customer (despite what the ‘mission statement’ on the reception wall says). On Twitter, it’s not about you at all – it’s about THEM (the people).

Many companies probably don’t like Twitter because they join up and discover the world doesn’t revolve around them. Take this onboard and your experience in the Twitterverse will be a lot happier and more productive.

Twitter is for leaders

If senior company executives want to know what all the fuss is about in terms of social media, you could do worse for yourself (personally and professionally) and your organisation than throwing caution to the wind, joining Twitter and participating.

Saying you haven’t got the time doesn’t cut it. Nor does the “I’m a private person”-type argument. The world has changed, and we’ve all had to move with it.

Having a CEO or several senior executives actively participating on Twitter (and other social media channels) says more about a company than any million-dollar TV advertising campaign.

It shows you’re an open organisation that’s part of the community (or at least trying to be); it indicates a willingness to connect and collaborate with people and listen to others’ views – these are all important things for a company’s reputation.

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