Getting Started on Twitter? Basic Guidelines

With 200 million users, Twitter plays a growing role as a tool in the communications mix for businesses worldwide, and its immediacy and interactive nature can have great impact.

However, Twitter also offers challenges. Management of a productive Twitter stream is time-consuming, and can include unexpected and controversial feedback from audiences due to its interactive nature. In managing a Twitter conversation stream, it is important to remember that as with any form of communication, the content of the message is the key.

My friend (and colleague) in Beijing just started on Twitter this week. Made me remember my first days. Below are outlined some suggested guidelines, to ensure a productive stream that engages and entertains your audiences.

In managing a Twitter conversation stream, it is important to remember that as with any form of communication, the content of the message is the key.

Getting Started on Twitter

–   Remember the technical basics. To run a Twitter stream, you need to first ensure that you understand the technical guidelines. The most essential are:

  1. Tweets cannot exceed 140 characters (Twitter counts this for you);
  2. Shorten URLs when sharing links, using services such as http://tinyurl.com and http://is.gd;
  3. Use hashtags. The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark a keyword or topic in a Tweet, helping them show up more easily in a search. Clicking on a hashtagged word also shows all other Tweets in that category. Hashtagged words that become very popular are often Trending Topics. Don’t over-tag – use no more than two hashtags per Tweet.

–   Always look professional. Ensure that your posts contain no spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. Everyone understands that sometimes spelling mistakes happen, but if they happen frequently it makes you or your company look unprofessional.

–   Finish what you start. If a person or a business is committed to starting a Twitter feed, it must be committed to managing it. This requires dedicated resources – if Twitter is an afterthought for you, your stream will be an afterthought for your audiences.

–   Stay on message. Remember, the Twitter stream is the your voice or that of your business. The same messages apply in communicating your business to your audiences via Twitter as through any other forum – whether it be your website, a press release or a public speech. The challenge is, finding new and interesting ways to express your messages, so that your audiences don’t feel that they are being told the same thing over and over again. Be authentic, genuine and real. In other words, be yourself.

–  Maintain your brand identity. Customize your Twitter account background and colors so that they match your brand identity – this ensures that people do not forget who you are, amidst the constant flow of information, and re-enforces that Twitter is a key aspect of your communications. Also, ensure that you have the right identity in place in setting up. The profile and bio are unique identifiers that describe the subject matter of the account, and the nature of the organization. Dump the default Twitter avatar use a photo of yourself or a suitable image.

–   Stay regular. A Twitter stream is described so because it offers a constant flow of new information and insight. To be effective, you must commit to Tweeting on average at least once but ideally between three to five times per day, as well as acknowledging and responding to feedback from your followers. Spread your tweets throughout the day, rather than posting the all at once, as people check Twitter at different times of the day.

–   Don’t just talk about yourself. Thought leadership is about showing that you understand your subject matter, not just about talking about yourself. Beyond feeding out press releases and other relevant announcements on your business, comment on the market overall and provide links to relevant insightful news article. Report industry, company, world and other news that’s related to your business, together with some commentary. You can link to articles and content posted elsewhere with a summary of why it’s valuable.

–   Interact, interact, interact. Twitter is a community, and you must maintain the relationships that form it. If someone follows you or asks a question, follow them. If they say something nice about you, re-Tweet it – positive testimonials from legitimate third parties are a great way to positively impact perceptions of your business. If they say something negative, follow them anyway so that you can see and possibly react to anything else they may be putting in the public domain about you. Participate in Twitter chats related to your industry or business on a regular basis.

–   Following is just as important as being followed. Twitter is a rich source of information. Media, clients, and a whole range of other influencers say things on Twitter that they could not in a more formal setting. As such, Twitter can offer great insight into who is doing what, among the movers and shakers in the international business community. Also, if your potential followers see that you don’t follow many people back, then they won’t be as willing to follow you in the first place. Follow experts, companies, competitors and leaders in your industry.

This post provides top-line suggestions only. For a thorough review of Twitter techniques, please see the course developed by Mashable, the largest independent online news site dedicated to covering digital culture, social media and technology. It is available here.

 

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