When the internet began to get popular – and easy to access – around 1995, there were already many people working hard to figure out how to profit from it. It was a difficult task, as the internet itself, especially in terms of advertising and marketing, turned the traditional paradigm on its head. Gone were the days of one-way marketing, where the marketer held all of the power through the use of current media.
Suddenly, marketers and business people were faced with a communications medium that was two-way – not only could they speak directly to their consumers through targeted advertising and websites, but those same consumers could become the other half of a dialogue – which, in turn, could be open for anyone to read.
The advent of so-called social media changed the game again, when in 1998 a site called Friends Reunited was launched to help people reconnect with their schoolyard chums in the United Kingdom. In 2000, Friendster launched – and within three months, boasted three million users.
Two years later, along came Myspace.com – years ahead of its time in terms of social networking online, it became the pre-eminent site for friends, and random strangers, to connect. It wasn’t long before brands began to make their presence known as well. Then Facebook happened, slowly at first, but it grew and grew to become the marketing and networking juggernaut it is today.
By the time 2006 rolled around, the online world knew what social media was about. It was peers talking to peers. Colleagues to colleagues. Brand to public – and public back to brand.
That was also the year Twitter was born – an anomaly on the social media scene, since it imposed an arbitrary 140-character limit on all messages, and made any sort of long-form communication all but impossible.
Tweeting on Twitter?
For the uninitiated, Twitter is a daunting, scrolling wall of text, filled to the brim with indecipherable abbreviations, strange symbols and an endless stream of babbling about – quite literally – anything, and everything.
Twitter users decide on a name for their account, sign up and off they go. To begin with, everything you write on Twitter is available to be seen by the public. But consider this: Twitter has more than 140 million active users every month – and about 2.1 million of those are Australians. Combined, the global total of Twitter users send out around 340 million tweets (messages) every day, or 4,000 tweets per second.
If that sounds like your message will get lost completely within a nanosecond, take heart from the fact that you can – broadly speaking – target your message. By adding a ‘hashtag’ – for example, #Telstra or #yourbrandhere for your own brand – it will help people who are reading Twitter to find, and see, your message. When a topic is being talked about a lot, it will appear on the ‘trends’ list – the more people talking about it, the higher it will be.
The ‘social’ aspect of Twitter comes from the fact that users can ‘follow’ each other – if someone you are following tweets, then it shows up in your personal Twitter feed. Likewise, whenever you tweet, it will be seen by the people who follow you. You can set each tweet to only appear to your followers, or you can shout from the virtual rooftops – the choice is yours.
A new medium
Despite the fact that Twitter is, largely, filled with the kind of people who feel that sharing the fact they had Weetbix for breakfast is of vital importance to the universe, it remains a remarkable tool for marketing. Some of the biggest names in show business – and some of the biggest brands in the world – have more followers on Twitter than there are people living in Australia.
For the trivia buffs, top spot on Twitter is currently held by pop star Lady Gaga, with 27,895,598 followers. When you consider that’s a direct marketing channel to people who are already engaged with her product, it becomes pretty clear that this is a marketing opportunity like no other. Her message – and, potentially, that of your business, goes out to people who have opted in to receive it. In terms of market penetration and targeted exposure, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Indeed, many Australian businesses have done very well for themselves, and they have Twitter – and the conversations it can produce – to thank.
One such business owner is Jason Miller, the man behind Rich & Lingering, a provider of private food and wine experiences around South Australia. Jason has found that through using Twitter, he’s been able to not only grow his business, but also find other people who share his passion for food, wine and travel.
That’s not the only benefit, of course – Jason has discovered that Twitter is actually changing the way his business operates.
“Within the travel industry, it has shortened the lead times,” Jason said. “Visitors are organising experiences for tomorrow or the next few days – which they get ideas for from their friends or associates. Lead times for planning travel used to be much longer and involved getting ideas from travel agents and guide books, which often have out of date information.”
Jason warns other small business owners that it’s not just a picnic on Twitter, and that you will need to be switched on and ready to embrace the technology.
“I would recommend Twitter to other small business owners,” he says, “but you will need to have an appropriate allocation of resources – such as time and staff – and be actively involved in the Twitter community. Just setting up an account and passively hoping for the masses to start flocking to your door is a surefire way to damage your brand.”
Change the way we do business
For Kirsty Wilson, Twitter has revolutionised the way her business is progressing. As the owner of Interim Business Solutions, which offers virtual administration and social media support services to other small businesses, Wilson is well aware of the importance of these new channels of communication to business.
“I joined the social media arena in various stages,” says Wilson. “LinkedIn was the first I dabbled with, back in 2005, but it didn’t really gel, nor did I have a clear purpose for being there. Next, I joined Facebook during October 2008. The main motivation to join was the growing discussion about Facebook and social media for business. Then came Twitter, which I joined during December 2008, initially to follow my ‘geeky’ brother on a trip to Iceland.”
While she was getting her head around Twitter, and keeping up with her brother’s escapades in Iceland, Wilson had a real ‘lightbulb moment’.
“Twitter was the first [social media platform] to make sense,” she continues. “I found I was connecting with some amazing people from the word go, while following my brother’s trip, of course. Twitter then guided the way for me to really implement a successful strategy for both Facebook and LinkedIn. All three now complement each other perfectly, but they’re used quite independently and they’re certainly not the same.”
But while she is enjoying positive results from Twitter – she says 43% of her leads come via Twitter, with a 47% conversion rate – she is very well aware of the limitations of the platform, and the need to ensure that the businesses using it do so in a fashion that won’t alienate potential customers.
“Whether or not I would recommend Twitter to someone depends on the nature of the business and the business owner,” says Wilson. “It’s great for service providers who work virtually. They can network and be seen with other virtual workers. These business owners ‘get’ the virtual space and the opportunities that are available to them.”
“Some just don’t get it and others just want to broadcast,” she continues. “Broadcasting doesn’t work – after all it has to be social. There is a reason why it’s called social media. I assist clients to get set up in the social media space for their business. I’ve seen some run with it and make it work for them and I’ve seen others drop off, either overwhelmed or because they don’t get instant gratification – they think it’s a waste of time.”
For the best results, Wilson recommends making sure that business owners understand not just the platform, but how it is meant to work. “It’s often likened to a cocktail party,” she says. “You float around the virtual space, meeting, greeting and learning about others. You can build a great community, and source business alliances and clients. There are some fabulous tools to make tweeting more efficient and I’m a heavy user of ‘lists’ which supports my strategy.”
For Karalyn Brown, Twitter is a different beast – it’s less about marketing, and more about relationships. She uses Twitter in her recruiting business, Interview IQ.
Brown’s been using Twitter since 2009, but only solidly for business since 2010. It was only when she formed a close professional relationship with another Twitter user that she realised not only the power of the platform, but also the way in which it would go on to work best for her.
“Initially I started as a broadcaster, and sent tweets about my blog posts,” she says. “I tracked these using a shortened URL, and I noticed that people were clicking the links. Things ramped up considerably when I followed a few people who were doing similar things to myself, and a prominent tweeter called Animal promoted me to his global audience. I then realised the power of relationships on Twitter.”
Brown has recognised that Twitter has made the way we do business a lot faster.
“It makes people more approachable, and allows you to quickly tap in to what people are thinking,” she says. “It gives you credibility and gives you the ability to create your own publicity. You can ask people for advice, as I have seen many people do, and get four or five instant answers from people you don’t know.”
The fact that you might not know the people responding means that the advice that you’re likely to receive won’t come with any preconceptions – and it is often the case that advice from a stranger with no vested interest in the outcome can be the most impartial – and helpful – advice of all.
Each of the people we spoke to about Twitter acknowledged that there are downsides to the platform – and that there are definitely a set of rules that need to be followed.
The internet – and particularly the social media arena – tends to be made up of market-savvy individuals. With that comes a certain level of cynicism, which means that overtly broadcasting a hard sell via Twitter is unlikely to win you many friends.
“I really don’t like all those direct marketing messages,” says Brown, referring to the brazen sales tactics used by the less tactful Twitter marketers. “I found out very quickly that Twitter is about building a following, and that to build that up you need to understand what you’re doing on there.”
It’s a remarkable world we live in – and the human race has never had the means to be so connected to one another before. From a sociological point of view, it’s an amazing opportunity for people to gain an understanding of the people with whom they share the world.
Finding and reaching an audience – even for the most niche of products or services – has never been easier. Social media has weathered the fad period, and become embedded in the psyche of consumers.
Golden rules of Twitter
Want to make sure you’re a good Twitter citizen? Karalyn Brown, founder of Interview IQ, has a few rules to ensure you avoid the dreaded ‘spammer’ tag:
• Twitter should be about promoting other people more than yourself.
• Search out people who want to network.
• Use the research tools available to find the right audience.
• Make sure what you’re tweeting is of use, and is interesting, to your audience.
• Figure out what can – and should – be automated through Twitter and what shouldn’t.
• Make use of the hashtags to help you focus your message, while still finding new people to talk to.
• Have fun.
Engage with your audience
Twitter itself is developing new levels of service for businesses that use its platform to advertise and inform their audience. There are a few different offerings in the pipeline at the moment, under the umbrella of Promoted Products.
The Promoted Products suite includes Promoted Tweets – a service that inserts your message into search results, based on geographical location, as well as broadcasting your message to Twitter users whose interests and demographics match those of the target audience that you have identified for your business.
Next rung up the ladder is a Promoted Trend – a service that inserts your topic of conversation into the trend list (see above), where it will be seen by anyone looking to view what’s trending around the world at the moment.
Finally, Twitter offers a Promoted Accounts service, which suggests to users who share interests similar to your business that they should follow you. It will make sure your account and tweets are featured in search results and that your business is promoted to people who are likely to be interested in what you’re offering.
Below is a tiny selection of tools to help you make the most of your Twitter experience. There are literally hundreds of different tools to help you make sense of Twitter, and analyse how your message is travelling around the globe.
The search feature on the Twitter website is worth its weight in gold. Solid, robust, and it can pinpoint anything you’re looking for, including hashtags.
Users can create their own lists, and normally do so based on the content of the people they are following. Find a like-minded individual on Twitter? Check out their lists for a veritable goldmine of other users.
A user directory of Twitter that ranks users by the number of followers in a variety of different categories.
This site helps you to look back through the incredible history of data that Twitter has spawned, and find insights about the topics you are targeting.
How far did your tweet travel? How many people saw it? Find out at TweetReach.
Image credit: Thinkstock