If you’re a twitter user, you’ll have noticed more and more brands jumping on to the band wagon lately, to varying degrees of success. To spare a few blushes, I’ve put together a few tips (twips?) to help out any brands who are joining twitter but aren’t quite sure how to interact. 

Credit: Via Flickr Creative Commons user anomalous4As a regular Twitter user, but more importantly an advocate of brands using social media sites to reach consumers, I’ve been watching the Twittersphere with great interest lately. More and more brands are taking up the gauntlet and jumping on Twitter – and they’re doing it in a variety of ways. Some are just listening, finding out what users are saying about their brands and ruminating on the consequences; some are snapping up their brand names and making sure the twitter-squatters (squitters?!) don’t get them; and some are being really brave and actively taking part in the conversation.

But what are the ‘rules’ for brands on Twitter – what boundaries should you work within?

Do the same rules apply to personal tweeting as to tweeting on behalf of a brand?

Here are some of the rules I use when advising clients about their Twitter strategies.

Don’t be a lecturer – join the debating society

This tip is summed up quite nicely by a quote from my (very) old friend Epictetus: “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Nobody likes the guy at the party who spends the entire evening talking about himself – you’ve got to listen to others as well. It’s called a *social* media for a reason – make sure you spend as much time taking part in conversations as you do talking, if not more.

Be a sheep, don’t just wait to be followed!

Many a marketing professional will probably brush twitter aside in the coming year, as a result of a failed twitter ‘experiment’ or test. Most of these will be as a result of not following people. Setting up an account is only the start of the battle – you’ve got to follow people to take part in the conversation (see the previous tip). There’s no point taking part in a car boot sale if you’re going to park your car in a different field to everyone else… Twitter is one of the few channels where there’s no shame in having a similar following:follower ratio. If it works for Stephen Fry (currently following 54,000 people), it can work for you…

Don’t be afraid to get personal

The rules for successful brand tweeting are no different to other forms of corporate blog – using it as a channel for stuffy business speak and pseudo-PR isn’t going to impress anybody. You’ve got to communicate in the same ‘language’ as other users, or you’ve got no hope of them interacting with you. Fine, tell consumers about your new product launch or big event, but don’t shy away from talking about the little things too – tell them how your day is going!

Reply to questions, and jump in to conversations

When you talk to big brands like Zappos and WholeFoods on Twitter, they reply to you – that should be a given for a brand on Twitter. But don’t stop there – get involved in other twitter ‘traditions’ too. Give some of your followers some love on #followfriday. Suggest your ideas for #creditcrunchtv when that hashtag starts trending. Especially if a topic comes up that’s relevant to your product or brand. One of my favourite examples of this is the guys at charity “Dogs Trust” – always getting involved in fun conversations and debates, and often starting them too.

Don’t be afraid to have multiple accounts if it’s relevant

Lots of the big brands who are doing well on Twitter have multiple accounts for different areas. Last time I checked on Dell, they had almost a dozen – one for their outlet store, one for their UK store… even one for ‘Alienware’, whatever that is. ASOS have loads too – as well as two or three corporate accounts, loads of their employees are encouraged to Twitter, and it’s really working well for them. If you’re worried about lumbering one person with all the tweeting you’re doing, don’t be – twitter clients like CoTweet are especially designed for updating multiple accounts, and even let users who share the same account mark items for their colleagues to follow up on.

“Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope”

Some of the best examples of good brand-consumer interaction on Twitter happen when a brand asks a question. Whether it be asking for input in to a new product idea, or even just a tech-support query (when I used the TamarUK account to ask for suggestions on Twitter clients I got a brilliant response) – consumers love to feel like they are helping to shape their favourite brands. Many a great brand advocate has been created by just the smallest interaction with a brand, and Twitter is the perfect way to do this!

I’m sure I’ve only touched the tip (twip?) of the proverbial iceberg here, and there are loads of great people and resources on the web who can help you to hone your tweeting strategy. But these few tips should at least act as a good starting point, so hopefully you might find them helpful while you’re finding your feet.