In the last twelve months, Econsultancy has started to get more involved in the social media space, with a presence now on several social networking sites, including Slideshare, Twitter, and YouTube. Here, we share learnings and best practices from twelve months of tweeting.  

It’s true that there is an awful lot of hype and some scepticism about using Twitter for business, but here at Econsultancy, we’ve definitely got a lot out of using the channel. It’s clear that the immediacy and ease of contact can provide tremendous benefits for companies looking to form closer relationships with customers, partners, and other key stakeholders.

1. Monitor Twitter first

For companies who aren’t yet ready to dip their social media toe into the Twitter stream, monitoring for your brand name is essential. Just as companies should be monitoring what the blogosphere is saying about you, understanding what the Twitterati are saying is also highly important. There are several tools to monitor tweets, including Twitter Search and Tweetscan. Econsultancy has a dedicated member of staff monitoring tweets, but alternatively, an RSS feed can be set up on Twitter Search to manage the process. Tweet Scan also allows users to download tweets as a CSV file for further analysis and set up email alerts.

Using services such as Tweet Scan in combination with Twitter can provide a powerful additional customer service tool, as companies can see if someone is complaining about their product or service, and resolve their issue accordingly.

2. Don’t get “brand-jacked” online

It is surprising how many companies do not own the Twitter URL for their brand name, and if you don’t get there quickly enough, then inevitably, someone else will. Even if your company is not using Twitter yet, it’s likely that they may do so at some point later on. For example, something tells me that HMV’s Twitter account is unlikely to be owned by the music retailer.

Earlier this year, “Janet” (supposedly from Exxon Mobil) aptly demonstrated what could happen when companies don’t secure their Twitter domain name. Perhaps your company might not be ready to start using Twitter, but unless you want a third party talking to your customers as you, register your brand name on Twitter as soon as possible.

3. Understand your audience

Twelve months ago, Twitter was right at the beginning of the adoption curve, with the average user base consisting of technologists, social media strategists and early adopters. However, with an increasing number of politicians, celebrities, and musicians on Twitter, the channel is gradually crossing over to the mainstream. Despite this, it is important to understand that the majority of people on Twitter are technology savvy and sceptical of traditional marketing messages. Therefore, it is important for companies to be as open, transparent and honest on Twitter as possible.

4. Follow and be followed

It is important to strike a balance between the number of people you are following and the number of Twitter users following you. A good rule of thumb is roughly follow the same number of people who are following you: if you follow too many people, you may be accused of spamming or trying to accelerate your network too quickly, given that a higher number of followers usually indicates influence. Sites such as Twitterati.Alltop are a good guide for beginners in terms of understanding who to follow, whilst Econsultancy usually follow users who mention us or our products and services in their tweets.  It is also worth occasionally doing a bit of “house-keeping” using sites such as Twitter Karma to make sure you’re roughly maintaining a 1:1 ratio. However, while it’s usually a good idea to follow everyone who follows you, beware of rogue Twitter accounts and spammers, which have begun to spring more frequently in recent months.

5. Don’t auto-Tweet

Tools such as Tweet Later allow users to automatically send a direct message welcoming new followers. Opinion is divided over the effectiveness of these tools: some say it is courtesy to welcome each new follower, but given that the Twitter is about the ease of individual communication, such methods seem slightly redundant. In addition, auto-DMs could be perceived as spam.

6. Company or individuals?

An important question for companies is whether they microblog using their own branded Twitter account or whether their employees tweet on their behalf, but in general it is important to strike a balance between both approaches. Here at Econsultancy, we have our branded Twitter account, but our editor-in-chief, Chris Lake, Senior Reporter, Graham Charlton, and our Head of Research, Linus Gregoriadis also have their own individual Twitter accounts. It is important to remember that employees may leave the company, so having a branded Twitter account is essential for representing the company in the long-term, whilst individuals provide a “human face,” and add a greater degree of personalisation.

7. Understand when (and when not) to respond

Having senior people in the organisation using Twitter will increase the influence of the channel for your customers. Given that Twitter is about increasing the ease of individual communication, it is important to respond to each tweet directed at the company. Savvy companies can use this as an extra customer service channel in addition to traditional lines of communication. Econsultancy’s subscribers have used Twitter to get in touch with us regarding customer service, questions and other issues.

On the other hand, whilst it is important for companies to monitor what their customers are saying about them, organisations must be careful not to be perceived as too intrusive, or as a corporate “Big Brother.” Identifying personalities is helpful in this, as it reduces the “creep factor.”

8. Don’t appear be too opportunistic

It is important to think of Twitter as another means of PR networking: if you’re engaging anyway and creating conversations, then the opportunities will emerge naturally, whereas appearing opportunistic in the first place can create mistrust amongst your followers.

9. Use to analyse traffic

If you use Twitterfeed to tweet your blog through Twitter, it is worth using the URL shortening tool,  Using will allow you to gain visibility on how many people clicked on your link, their geographical location, as well as additional Twitter conversations around your tweet.

10. Add value

Twitter is about creating mutual value for you and for people following you, so use links and additional resources to create insights for your followers. It’s also important to remember that Twitter is ultimately a social tool, so use the channel to connect, create dialogue and conversation, and reach out to the wider community.

In summary, whilst more companies have incorporated social channels into their online strategy, 2009 will be more about establishing best practices, understanding the sources of ROI and tangibly measuring success using metrics. Econsultancy will be hosting the first MeasurementCamp of 2009, on 15th January at BSG House, which is essential to attend for anyone hoping to learn more about measuring social media success.

Follow Econsultancy on Twitter and we’ll follow you back. Aliya Zaidi can be found Twittering on her personal account here.