Top 7 tips for small businesses using Twitter

Social media in a hotly debated topic in the world of sales and marketing for small business. Is it worth investing all that time keeping the tweets pumping out? Twitter, the micro-blogging sensation that lets people posts updates to their Twitter followers in up to 140 characters, is one of the key pieces in social media.

So, should small businesses use Twitter? And if so, how?

Lucidica TwitterWe were slow to get onto the social media band wagon. We really only got tweeting seriously in early 2011, although we actually won our first client through social media on Twitter in mid-2009.

Even though we didn’t have a Twitter account, 2 clients generously replied to a tweet by a firm asking if there was a good IT support company in London. The glowing replies from our clients meant we made the short-list, and we went on to win the account.

Twitter should be looked at not only as a sales or marketing tool, but as importantly, a way to keep in touch with your existing clients. These all-important clients (the ones you already have) are often neglected and forgotten about, in the hungry pursuit to get more clients.

By using Twitter you add value to your existing clients by keeping them informed of your industry and company updates. Twitter can also be used as a marketing tool (reinforcing your brand in the minds of existing clients, while getting your brand into the ether to prospective clients) and sales (some prospective clients who do research you when making a purchasing decision will see you are actively keeping up-to-date with your industry, and add value to your existing clients through this use of simple technology).

We think small businesses should use Twitter as a sales, marketing and client relations tool.

How a small business should use Twitter

Here are our recommendations on how a small business – the ‘S’ in SME – should use Twitter effectively, based on our own experience and that of our clients.

1. Be selfless – it’s not about you

Key to an effective Twitter campaign is to be selfless and aware – the tweets you send are not for you, they’re for your audience.  Some businesses make the mistake of issuing useless tweets, not keeping in the forefront of their mind the question “will my audience get value from this?”

Before you begin your Twitter campaign brainstorm the topics and themes you think your audience would value. Write down a short positioning statement on what your tweets should cover.  Put this down somewhere you can be reminded of what you should be publishing each time you sit down to tweet.

For us it is “technology news for small business, those with 1-50 staff”.

2. Follow other people and reciprocate

Lucidica HootsuiteIn your Twitter account, add people and companies that will provide you industry insight and news. Set up a column in your social media tool (we use HootSuite – see an example on the right) dedicated to that list’s feed, so you don’t miss their tweets. Invest some time and go back and follow the top people from the list so you can start to build direct connections. Be sure to re-tweet interesting tweets so your community shares the value, and you “give back” to those you follow (they often return the favour).

Use a site like Listorious to search for other people’s lists by topic.

3. Send 3-7 Tweets a day

Kelvin Newman from the awesome Internet Marketing podcast down in Brighton UK recommends sending at least 3 tweets a day for your Twitter strategy to be effective. From our experience we agree with this but also add the cap should be no more than 7 a day. Otherwise, you find yourself clutching at straws for relevant info to Tweet (the key word here being relevant) and/or drowning your followers with useless crappy information (they’ll soon un-follow).

For us we’ve found the optimal number is 3-5 a day. As a minimum we have one out at 7am-8am; one between 12pm-2pm and one between 5pm-6pm and only weekdays.  Weekends see less people viewing tweets, so stick with Monday-Friday unless you feel your business/industry can do it 7 days a week. The time of the day is also important as a lot of people check their Twitter stream in transit to and from work, and use the middle of the day around lunch time to often catch up on news.

With this strategy we don’t see many drop-offs and our numbers steadily increase (as some of our tweets are re-tweeted, and we gain more exposure in the Twittersphere).

4. Have your fingers on multiple pulses

Find 5-9 great resources to get your news and goss from. These should be industry sources that your audience wouldn’t normally keep tabs on.

By monitoring these sources you are becoming a consolidator of knowledge and identifying trends for your audience, bringing them timely and relevant news.

We monitor technology sites like The Register, BBC Technology, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, The Guardian Technology, NY Times Technology etc.  We have to filter these sources carefully as not all tech news that breaks will have an impact on the average small business, so be sure to again keep in mind your audience. By setting your topic/theme parameters upfront (see point 1) you can remain more relevant and valuable.

5. Plan and schedule ahead

To help you focus, improve the quality of your tweets and get the most from your time we recommend you only tweet once a day. Either first or last thing of the day, but do it in one hit and use the schedule tool in your Tweeting application to get your 3-7 tweets out. This stops you from being distracted by, and chained to, news sites and sources all day and gives you the routine and discipline to get valuable tweets out every day.

As tweets need to be timely it does also mean you need to send tweets each day – you can’t really schedule them for a few days or a week ahead. If the tweet relates to a company event that you can easily schedule for release on Twitter a week or so in advance, then go for it (as we do when reminding our community of the SEO and other technology seminars we run at the British Library).

Here are the steps we follow when we sit down to batch our tweets:

  1. Open up Word or similar
  2. Open your browser and 9-12 tabs, with:
  3. Your Twitter application (we use HootSuite);
    1. A URL shortener site (we use Bit.ly); and
    2. Each resource/site you use (bookmark them so they are easy to open in one hit)
    3. Find relevant articles/topics on your resources and open each one in a new tab
  4. When you’ve finished scanning all the resources, close them
  5. Go through the article tabs you opened and whittle these down to the 3-7 you will tweet about that day, close the others (this is great if several sources are talking about the same topic – you can quickly and easily identify which source is most relevant for your audience and use that)
  6. For each article you’ve now selected to tweet about:
    1. Read through it and look for catchy nuggets and phrases
    2. Copy or re-word those words into the Word document (up to around 115 characters)
    3. Copy the article URL and shorten using your shortener site (again, we use Bit.ly)
    4. Paste the shortened URL into the Word doc, at the end of the tweet
    5. Select the tweet text in Word and see how many characters there are, including spaces (in Word click on Review then Word Count, see image on the right).  If there is more than 140 characters, tweak your tweet so it fits
    6. Close the article tab
  7. Repeat step 6 for each article
  8. In Word, order each tweet in order of priority and for best time of day they should be released.  For example, if there is some really timely news that has just broken, put it at the top s it is the first one to go out.  Sprinkle the others so they go out late morning, around lunch, mid-afternoon and late afternoon
  9. In your tweeting application schedule each tweet 2-5 hours apart, depending on how many you have

This strategy helps you publish the most relevant news for the day.  If you have 7 open tabs, and you get this down to 3 to post about, you are providing more value and tweeting about all 7.  Be sure to also throw in some news about your company now-and-then, but don’t overdo it – the tweets need to be of value to your audience.

Remember to scan the article, find catchy nuggets and include in the tweet – don’t just use the headline.

Especially if the headline is short – find other useful facts in the news, and use the full 140 characters you have.  You must add value.

We find using the above process allows us to get relevant news out each week day and with 30-60 minutes of effort, so 2.5 – 4 hours a week.

Delegating tweeting to your team

You could also delegate tweeting, so have 3 people sending tweets and on different topics or areas of interest.  Still use much of the above process but allocate each person a time of the day they need to get their 1-2 tweets out, so you’re all not getting in the way.  Each person should check your Twitter application first to see what has been tweeted about recently, and what is scheduled – so they don’t duplicate tweets.

6. Allow people to follow you easily

Lucidica social bookmarksOn your site add social bookmarking facilities where people can mark pages as interesting (e.g. in Facebook, send a Tweet on Twitter or bookmarking on social sites like Digg and Delicious – see the image on the left for what we use).  This allows people to share with others quite easily when they find good content on your site (usually “how-to” guides, news articles etc).

Lucidica twitter follow usAdd a Twitter “Follow us” button on your website (see the one we have at www.lucidica.com on the right).  Mention your Twitter account and what your audience can expect to get out of it on your site and in your monthly email newsletter (if you don’t send a monthly newsletter come along to our next Email Marketing seminar at the British Library to learn how easy this is to do, the risks and benefits).

If you have a blog, when you create a new post be sure to tweet about it.  When you launch a new product, service or websites tweet about it and ask for feedback from your community.

7. Monitor, listen, learn and adapt

As with anything in small business survival, let alone success, is all about adapting – finding things that work and as quickly as possible dropping things that don’t.

To monitor your success simply run a tally somewhere (a spreadsheet is fine) of the key performance indicators (KPIs), each week or month, and chart it.  These could include:

  1. Number of followers
  2. Number of re-tweets (where people send on your tweet to their followers)
  3. Number of mentions
  4. Lucidica bitly clicksNumber of clicks on shortened URLs (see our Bit.ly example on the right)
  5. Number of leads generated (if you don’t ask each client how they heard about you, do – so you can work out what marketing is working for you)

By monitoring who mentions you in other tweets you also garner terrific market intelligence – are competitors, suppliers or clients talking about you?  If so, don’t you want to know what they’re saying so you can respond?  The same reason why you should be using Google alerts to watch what is said about your business and key team members on the internet. And if someone positively tweets about you, go out of your way to thank them (via Twitter, email or even a phone call).

Make sure these KPIs are on the up, otherwise start asking yourself why it’s not working.  If it’s not for you then stop it but we recommend trying it for at least 6 months – and that is with a minimum 3 relevant tweets a day, each week day – so only 390 Tweets to see if you get a return on this corner of social media!

For more information on Lucidica, the IT department for small businesses, follow this link