This six-part series was originally written by Carrie Royce.

I am addicted to Twitter. So addicted, in fact, that the marketing team here at StorageAhead openly teases about my attentiveness to tweets (just take a look at CJ’s StorageFront news release).

The thing is, I’m not unique in my addiction. Even though Twitter is just coming out of its early adopter phase, as of today the four-year-old “micro blogging” network has more than 190 million users tweeting 65 million times a day. If the Twitter population formed its own country, it would be the sixth most populous country in the world… With busy minds and dextrous fingertips, wink wink.

Why do people like it so much?

I agree, it’s an odd phenomenon; Twitter’s popularity has surprised a lot of market savvy people in both the technology and entertainment industries. They chalk it up to four no-brainer benefits: it’s  easy, fast, fun, free.  I like it because it has become the web’s “water cooler.”

Tweeting - it's addictive!

Back in my day, coworkers congregated around the coffee pot and chatted up the latest episodes of Friends, __Seinfeld and Survivor. Sales might throw in tales of their latest conquests; Marketing might talk of new industry developments; R&D might hint of innovations they’d deciphered via Geek World. Everyone would go back to their desks with a slightly broadened world view.

Nowadays, people largely communicate through chat, email and social networks—even when they sit ten feet apart. The typical person’s world view is narrowed to the thoughts and observations of the people selected for his inner circle. It’s like the long tail of communications.

On Twitter, you can catch up on the goings-on of any given industry or community—in real time. Tweets are instant, and they are publicly visible by default, so anyone can visit Twitter and read anyone else’s tweets. Even better: the network is huge and growing. Whereas your personal social circle might be a few dozen people, on Twitter your circle can be hundreds or even thousands of people, tweeting and retweeting diverse ideas.

Twitter is like everyone's Monday, in a good way.

Before I found Twitter and Google Alerts, my modus operandi was keeping tabs on 20 different websites, regularly checking for new and relevant headlines. Of course, half of the “news web” spends days rehashing the BP oil spill or Blogjevich’s storage auction, so much of that time would be wasted.

By following great editors and thought-leaders on Twitter – as well as active and intelligent local observers – I can sit passively and watch the tweets go by, like a stock ticker. It’s an effortless, efficient way to keep my finger on the pulse of several industries at once.

Some people on my team (eh-hem, CJ) belittle Twitter; their impression of it is a web wasteland of bored people making inane chatter about burnt toast and foot massages. I can see why they might think so: It has been said that 40% of tweets are pointless chatter. But then, so is most conversation—which serves to build trust and gives people the opportunity to like each other. All that “inane chatter” brings a human feel to what otherwise amounts to a news feed.

quote by Seth Godin

Besides, the truth is that Twitter is chock full of intelligent, interactive members—experts in their field who are willing to enlighten the masses. You can see this reflected in Twitter’s demographics: Most users are educated and live in higher income households. A third are 25-34 years old. As far as gender goes, users are about half-and-half. Americans are by far the heaviest users. Ethnicity pretty much matches the U.S. rundown.

Here’s a breakdown of Twitter by content type:

41% — Pointless babble 38% — Conversation 9% — Pass-along value 6% — Self-promotion 4% — Spam 4% — News

Click here for some fun graphics about Twitter on “Information is Beautiful.”

Okay, so Twitter is fun and informative. That’s all fine and good, but what about self storage? Does Twitter have a role in your local business’s marketing plan?

Have a look at these stories sometime:

— Twitter Most Popular Among Working Adults (Nielsen Wire) — Why Adults Have Fueled Twitter’s Growth (New York Times) — Who’s Driving Twitter’s Popularity? Not teens (New York Times) — Military Personnel on Twitter (CNN Tech) — How Law Schools are Using Twitter (Social Media Law) — Students use Twitter (Google) — Twitter in the [College] Classroom is Boosting Student Engagement (Mashable) — Professor Urges Students to Pass Notes (Chronicle of Higher Education) — Professors Experiment with Twitter as Education Tool (Journal Sentinal) — More Cities are Finding Twitter an Effective Comm Tool (MuniNetGuide) — Local Cities Use Twitter to Interact (NBS Local News) — Cities Replace Guidebooks with Twitter Concierge (Jaunted.com) — Marketing Small Business with Twitter (New York Times) — More Small Businesses use FaceBook & Twitter to Promote (USA Today) — 16 Examples of Huge Brands Using Twitter (Search Engine Journal) — How Companies Use Twitter to Bolster Their Brands (Bloomberg) — Twitter and the Kindness of Strangers (Groundswell)

I could go on and on (er, obviously—going on and on is my special gift), but I think that’s plenty of anecdotal material to support my answer: Twitter is popular with self storage’s target markets and thus  does have a role your marketing plan —if used correctly and purposefully.

In fact, it’s interesting to note that small businesses and large corporations alike are rapidly hiring people to do little else than tweet. Check out this July 2010 article in the Business Week: “Twitter, Twitter Little Star.” It describes social media as a booming media channel that has caught the attention of corporations everywhere, and suggests hiring a community manager who actively monitors, participates in and engages others on Twitter. The idea is catching on big-time in the U.S.

Are we doing social media right?

Actually, few businesses are “doing it right.” And the ones who are, have largely figured it out by trial-and-error in over the past few years years. Today, less experienced firms are trying to use the give-and-take medium in a broadcast way rather than learning from others’ early mistakes. The site is swimming in one-way tweets and spam.

"Pay attention to me!" - the truth about Twitter

Funny thing is, people can easily opt out of that stuff. It becomes white noise pretty fast, and once users recognize it as meaningless drivel, they’ll delete it from their “follow” list with a single click. Poof!

Twitter doesn’t work like traditional TV advertising. It’s more like an old telephone party-line—built for community conversations. The “social” in “social media” means publishing is about listening, participating and creating conversations—spending time engaging with the community. It’s a two-way street.

Listening to the online conversation is a vital step

To be effective on Twitter, you have to commit and give as much as you take. Tweets aren’t one-way, they’re swapped. With a little purpose and a dose of personality, here’s what self storage operators can do with Twitter:

— Build relationships with industry people as well as the locals — Request/Exchange ideas with market experts — Buddy up with local businesses — Get in front of college and military people — Interrelate your property managers — Enact a free, “always open” help desk — Monitor competitors’ ideas and promotions — Share tips, stories, news — Get a handle on good and bad local PR — Promote contests, deals, specials — Lead people to your blogs & forum posts on SelfStorageTalk.com

Here’s the bottom line, all ye self storage operators and managers: Twitter is the cheapest, easiest, most  versatile marcom tool in your arsenal . Unlike many other systems (particularly in web marketing) Twitter is not just for experienced marketers who have a ton of web know-how. However, it is an investment of time. Don’t treat it like a sales page, or it’s not going to do anything for you.

Use it to build interest and trust in your self storage business.

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