I love watching the mighty Cesar Millan go to work on problematic dogs on his show The Dog Whisperer. He really understands how to get the best out of a dog. I need at least a two hour fix of this show on an average weekend.

I was thrilled to discover that Cesar is using Twitter to communicate with his fans. I mean, he’s too busy being the pack leader for me to really believe he has time to tweet, but I was almost giddy with delight after Cesar sent me a direct message once I started following him. It read: “Thanks for the follow! Stay calm and assertive!”

Anyway, I started wondering whether some of Cesar’s advice could be applied to Twitter (and social media more broadly). So, at the risk of making a bunch of bad analogies, here’s 10 tips for Twitter with a nod towards – and a wag of the tail at – the Dog Whisperer.

The importance of commitment

What’s the point of signing up to Twitter unless you’re really going to start using it? There’s no point being half-hearted about this. A dog is for life, dammit! 

You have to set aside time for social media, and Twitter is no exception. It is mainly an investment in time, just like blogging and content creation.

Commit to Twitter and also to the sorts of things you are going to use it for…

Rules, boundaries and limitations!

Don’t go talking rubbish! Figure out your boundaries on Twitter. Try not to tweet about too much ‘off-topic’ stuff. What will you write about? A framework doesn’t have to be restrictive, but can be used as a guide for what you should mainly be tweeting about.

For example, I try not to use it for content not related to the internet industry. Most of my followers are not following me because I’ve mentioned Captain Beefheart or The Fall in an occasional tweet. They’re following me because for at least 95% of the time I tweet about things relating to the industry in which I work. 

Other rules might make sense, especially for brands. No swearing, no typos, no religious comment, no bad jokes. That sort of thing.

Exercise!

Hey, lazybones, you need to regularly tweet in order to generate and maintain interest. This has two distinct benefits on Twitter:

  1. Your network of followers are more likely to retweet you if you tweet frequently. It’s a numbers game, and the network effect can pay off handsomely if you produce good content.
  2. The improved integration of Twitter Search means that your tweets can be picked up by people outside of your extended network (unless you have a private account). 

There are benefits outside of Twitter too, such as third party blog posts, or visibility of your Twitter activity on your own website (check out widgets and supercool plug-ins such as Tweetbacks)

Of course too much exercise is a bad thing… it’s about quality, not quantity

Discipline!

There are a range of tweets that you can choose from. Broadly speaking, there are five types of tweet, and it is useful to be relatively disciplined in your approach to mixing them up.

Aim for a healthy balance between:

  1. Tweets with links, and not just to your own website
  2. Tweets without links
  3. Conversational tweets (too many @ tweets can turn followers off)
  4. Retweets
  5. Autotweets (as powered by apps like Twitfeed)

There’s no need to worry about the balance here, only to be aware of it, and of the fact that too much of any one of the above might be a bad thing.

Affection!

Remember to share the love from time to time. I’ve benefited from this at first hand, and it’s great (when people say nice things). It’s also remarkably effective, and as such we’re about to lose our Digg button in favour of a ‘retweet this’ button.

One of my recent posts on measuring social media was retweeted more than 600 times, with the likes of Pete Cashmore (@mashable) and Robert Scoble (@scobleizer) picking it up, guaranteeing exposure to almost 300,000 people.

As such I really benefited from the network effect. It spread beyond Twitter, to sites like Delicious, where it was bookmarked 400+ times. The post has been read by almost 20,000 people to date. 

The retweet factor is something that many third party Twitter apps now measure. For example, Eric Peterson’s ‘Twitalyzer’ refers to this as ‘Generosity’. 

Be an authority figure

Pack status is important when you’re a dog. It’s also important for professionals on Twitter. 

Over the years we have seen many companies and individuals benefit from adopting a thought-leadership approach, with white papers and blog posts helping to raise profiles. For agencies and consultants Twitter offers a fantastic opportunity to extend your knowledge into the wider community. 

As such, it might be a good idea to pick a subject / topic and stick with it. Be an expert in something, and focus on it. Become a pack leader to gain new followers!

Leave the emotions behind!

Personally I like a bit of emotion, but it’s horses for courses really. Brands in particular need to consider the merits of being overly emotional in public. 

A platform like Twitter is basically a huge echo chamber, and as such it isn’t the best place for a brand outburst of one sort or another. The ease in which something can be retweeted, coupled with the network effect, means that things can go very wrong very quickly

When compared to the blogosphere – where many brands became shipwrecked in recent years – Twitter can be like a televised bad acid trip in a disused mental asylum, should things go wrong for you. 

Think before you tweet!

Energy is communication!

On the one hand you don’t want to publicly do anything to kill your brand, but for the love of God, have some passion! With this in mind, there’s further food for thought in Katie Moffat’s recent post from SXSW titled ‘Be More Interesting’

And since this social media thing is a two-way street you should (and please stop me before I get all L.A. on you here) let the community give energy back to you. 

Learn how to tune into the community, and embrace feedback. 

Correct and follow through!

We often see flat, restricted, marketing-driven attempts to control social media and social networks, through a combination of fear, the need for control (and demands for censorship), and spending too much money with big agencies that don’t yet understand this space as well as the smaller specialists.

While innovation in the organisation is to be applauded, simply using social media sites to jump on a bandwagon isn’t enough. Sometimes, even after toes have been dipped into the water, there is a need to readjust your strategy.

There’s a need for a cultural shift within many organisations. It is no longer possible to have any kind of control what people are thinking and saying about your brand. Give in to it. Get closer to the action. Get to know your enemy, if that’s how you want to perceive your customers!

People training

More often than not Cesar helps the person more than he does the pooch. His mantra is that he ‘rehabilitates dogs, and trains people’, because nine times out of ten the dog isn’t really the problem. Social media then, is the dog!

You should consider that many people in your organisation might not be massively familiar with all facets of social media. It is therefore a great idea to create some training assets to help people see the light, and to figure out how to participate. It isn’t rocket science… you don’t need to employ legions of social media experts to make it work.

As I pointed out recently, this whole social media lark is great for customer engagement, and we know that an engaged customer is a highly valuable one. Zappos, the number one example of how to embrace social media, encourages all of its staff to get involved in Twitter. Around 75% of Zappos orders are placed by repeat customers. 

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh told me that: “Twitter has been great for developing a more personal connection with both employees and customers. We introduce employees to Twitter during their new hire orientation, and we also offer Twitter classes at Zappos for whoever wants to take them.”

He added that the Zappos Twitter policy for employees fits one line: “Be real and use your best judgement”.

I like that a lot. 

[Image via Flickr by Emery Way, some rights reserved]