Earlier this year, Twitter celebrated its 5th anniversary. The social platform now has 200m users, generates over 200m tweets and handles over 1.6bn search queries per day. 

Twitter is now undoubtedly popular and many businesses use the site as a tool for marketing, PR, branding, engagement, customer service, and much more.

Despite this, companies still face barriers to getting the most value from the microblogging site, which is why Econsultancy has produced its first guide to Twitter for Business

If your business isn’t using Twitter yet, it’s worth considering the value it offers for your organisation. I’ve been talking to a number of experts about best practice on the platform, including business benefits, tips and pitfalls, and how to measure success. 

Why should organisations be on Twitter?

Katy Howell, Immediate Future:

In truth, like any social media platform, there is no compulsion for brands to have a Twitter profile. There are only two reasons for being on Twitter: your audience is there, engaged and active AND you have something to say. For those brands that meet these criteria, Twitter can deliver genuine business value. From supporting online marketing by driving website visits to helping brands nurture buyers through a lengthy sales process. Having a clear goal for Twitter activity has proven to deliver return on investment through either generating income as a sales outlet, or reducing costs as a customer service tool.

Ultimately though, if Twitter is where your customers are, then Twitter is essential to your reputation management. If it is where audiences chat and complain about your brand, and recommend your products and services, then you need to be there too.”

Michelle Goodall, Independent Online PR Consultant and Econsultancy Trainer:

I believe that Twitter is not optional for brands and organisations in countries where Twitter is used by journalists, customers and other stakeholders. A successful Twitter presence is a combination of a listening post and a connector between a brand and customers, partners, investors, analysts, staff, online correspondents etc.

It’s a place to highlight your successes and news, a place to provide a human face to your organisation and provide relevant, useful, real-time information.

Stephen Waddington, Speed Communications

There are plenty of reasons why brands should be on Twitter. The social network can be a powerful channel for organisations to take control of their brand. It allows brands to become their own media outlet, to interact with customers cost effectively, broadcast messages to a huge audience and engage with users on a one-to-one basis.

What are some of the potential benefits of using Twitter?

Ged Carroll, Ruder Finn: 

  • Direct response mechanism – sales, offers etc.
  • Customer service – especially when compared to typical cost-per-call numbers
  • Real-time brand monitoring
  • Post-purchase customer engagement
  • Status updates: web services, mass transit networks etc.

Kate Hartley, Carrot Communications: 

It’s a great way of getting a feel for the mood of your customers if you monitor it properly. It also lets you spot problems and sort them out quickly. It allows you to have the kind of conversations with customers you’d never be able to have on email or over the phone.

Stephen Waddington, Speed Communications: 

Sales, customer service, audience engagement, employee engagement, media relations, recruitment, research & development, SEO benefits, you name it

What advice do you have for organisations that are starting out on Twitter?

Kate Hartley, Carrot Communications: 

Start by listening to what people are saying about you before you join in the conversation. Don’t shout at people. Imagine you’re at a party – who would you rather talk to, the person who talks endlessly about themselves, or the person who listens and contributes to what you’re saying?

Rebecca Hirst, First Direct: 

Take it slowly and decide what you’re trying to achieve, who you’re trying to reach, with what messages and how you’re going to make your content engaging. It’s also worth taking a look at other streams and best practice. The tone needs to be conversational and reflect the brand and remember it should be all about individuals chatting and not large corporations laying down the law.

Stephen Waddington, Speed Communications: 

Success won’t happen overnight, and marketers should be wary of any guru, expert or witch doctor offering guarantees. For valuable, authentic engagement with targeted communities, brands should take their time, listen to the community and see how best to fit themselves into the conversations.

What are the potential pitfalls of Twitter and how can companies avoid them?

Stephen Waddington: Speed Communications:

There are hundreds of potential pitfalls. To avoid them, companies should be authentic, open and honest in their approach to Twitter. Trying too hard to avoid pitfalls will also prevent a brand from doing anything original and creative. If a company makes a mistake: realise it, rectify it, learn from it and move on.

Katy Howell, Immediate Future:

The most common pitfall is to broadcast only. Engaging audiences takes time and effort. It requires a skill less like marketing and more like community management. You spend more effort on connecting with your followers and encouraging further discussion than posting your own comments.
“The second pitfall follows hot on the heels of broadcasting and that is excessively tweeting. Especially when you pick up the pace on broadcast tweets, you quickly find you get unfollowed. Be careful not to bombard your audiences with your own chatter!

Kate Hartley, Carrot Communications: 

If you’re going to set up a customer service feed on Twitter, make sure you can staff it properly. It takes time and resource to manage Twitter properly. There’s nothing worse than asking a company a question on Twitter, just to be ignored.

What can you measure on Twitter?

Ged Carroll, Ruder Finn: 

  • Directly attributable sales through link tracking
  • Reduced cost of customer services (lower call handling costs)
  • Improved empty basket figures where Twitter is used as a pre-sales tool (a la @vodafoneukdeals)

Stephen Waddingtom, Speed Communications:

 Going into Twitter hoping to prove ROI with sales can lead you to failure. Engagement is likely a better metric, but it all depends on why the brand is on Twitter in the first place. However, for a brand that defines success, measuring is also beneficial for finding out what Twitter activity works best with your audience.

Michelle Goodall, Independent Online PR Consultant and Econsultancy Trainer:

Success should not be measured by the number of followers or followers to following ratios. It’s important to define success metrics based on business objectives, whether they are hard or soft ones:

  • How many of your followers are your key stakeholders (customers, partners, journalists, investors, analysts etc.)?
  • The effect of Twitter presence and messages on sales, customer acquisition, Net Promoter Score (or NPS), quality of traffic, inbound links, effect on SERPs and visibility, customer service based metrics – response times, resolution times, cost savings, reputational metrics such as potential reach (what percentage of stakeholders have engaged), outtakes/response to tweets (sentiment, retweets, meta data added etc.), outcomes (sales, contacts, footfall to events etc.)

Image credit: eldh on Flickr