<< Continued from Part 2: Getting Started on Twitter

Let’s start off Part 3 in this series with the wise words of marketing guru Seth Godin. Godin writes endlessly about breaking out of traditional marketing’s broadcast-box and finding new ways to effectively engage customers:

“[Attention] is the unstated precious commodity. Consumers don’t notice anything until they pay attention and pay is the perfect word. Everyone is granted a finite amount of time per day, and how it gets used is a significant decision… [Some] choose to ignore just about anything unsolicited, focusing instead on the interpersonal activities of their lives.” – Seth Godin, All Marketers Tell Stories

Therein lies the power of Twitter: it requires little time and little effort to get the “permission” to interact with others. But don’t expect 10,000 followers right after you set up your account. Building a successful Twitter network takes time. You can’t build a house in a day. You can’t build Rome in a day. You can’t build a great marketing platform in a day. And – you guessed it – you can’t build a successful Twitter account in a day—unless you’re Kanye.

What is a “follower”?

Following people on Twitter means you are subscribing to their tweets—openly subjecting yourself to whatever they find noteworthy at any random moment. Some of it will be valuable to you; some won’t. But remember, all conversation has some value (see Part 1: Why I Love Twitter).

Others’ tweets will appear on your Twitter homepage (in chronological order) when you log in. The system keeps a long history, so you can scroll back through days and days of diverse commentary in a matter of minutes.

Following someone is as easy as clicking a “+” button. (Conveniently, it’s just as easy to “unfollow” someone.)

When you follow people, they instantly receive a notification by email. Likewise, you’ll receive an email anytime someone follows you. You can make snap judgments based on this data if you want to. In my example, it’s clear that Ninja Monkey just joined Twitter and is trying to get started. You might follow Ninja Monkey in return, send him a note of welcome, thank him for following you, or ask him what he plans to tweet about. All of these are great ways to strike up a friendly, memorable connection.

On the other hand, if Ninja Monkey were following 10,000 people but only had 2,000 followers, you could probably conclude that he is a spammer. There are exceptions though, so why not spend a minute or two investigating… Click into the profile and evaluate the last dozen tweets. See anything good, or is it all erratic promotions?

In addition to posting tweets publicly, people you follow will be able to send you comments privately. Click “Direct Messages” in the sidebar to check for these personal notes. Some people use special tools to automatically send direct messages when they’re followed. That bugs me, frankly. It’s impersonal, mechanical, unsociable.

Twitter does not send email notifications when people “unfollow” one another; you have to look at your “follower” statistics to determine whether people have left. Both “follower” and “following” statistics are listed on your Twitter page, beneath your name.

Building a following

The best way to start building a following is to follow others yourself. When the people you follow get an email alert that you signed on to read them, many will follow back. Some even consider that “good Twitter etiquette.”

But wait! Before you try to build a following, post a few good tweets in your timeline. See Part 5: How to Tweet for tips on writing engaging notes in 140 characters or less.

Show you’re a part of the community and try to hook up with tweeters by location (city, street, block), by utility(self storage, moving, real estate, media, vendors like StorageFront) or by market niche (students, military, residential, commercial, boat sales, RV sales, tradeshow facilities, parade float designers, etc.)

Try these methods for finding compatible tweeters:

(1)  Use Twitter’s “Find People” link at the top of the page to search for people you know, either by business or by personal name.

(2)  Use the keyword search box on the sidebar to see who recently tweeted “self storage” or “movers” or “SSA” to find people with related industry interests.

(3)  Enter #[yourcity] in the search box to find people who tweet about familiar regional concerns (learn more about “#” in Part 6: Techniques & Tools, coming soon).

(4)  Visit other storage facilities’ Twitter pages and view their follow lists (be selective or you’ll end up following competitors’ pals and look like a dummy cough Tom)

(5)  If you’ve entered your location under the “What’s Happening?” field, you can click on the blue link to see other business people in your area who tweet.

(6)  Have fun: Follow tweeters who have nothing to do with self storage but keep you actively engaged in Twitter. You can find just about any personality—from Rainn Wilson (@rainnwilson) to the Wall Street Journal (@WSJ).

*Note: The day after this article posted, Twitter released a new feature, “Who to follow.” It appears to behave similarly to LinkedIn’s “People You May Know” feature, which is quite handy for filling out your network. Below your name, Twitter lists two suggestions; “view all” takes you to a page with many more suggestions. Looks like it uses a bit of intelligence based on who you’re already following and what they’re tweeting. Very cool. Thanks, Twitter!

Choose to follow active users with relatively frequent posts. If a Twitter account hasn’t been touched in a long time, don’t bother. Up to 20% of Twitter accounts are “dead.” I’d say skip any account that has been inactive for longer than six months. While some people do sign up to Twitter just to watch and learn, you’d like to have a realistic estimate on the size of your engaged network.

Quantity vs. quality

When you’re just starting out, you’ll follow many more people than follow you. That’s normal. On average, between 20-30% of the tweeters you follow will reciprocate.

Ideally, you’d want the opposite to be true—you’d want more followers than you follow. However, that’s a pretty lofty goal, especially if you want your followers to be somewhat relevant to your business, not spammers from outer Mongolia. Typically, it’s only “industry influencers” who manage that kind of targeted, positive balance in their accounts. That’s one way you’ll know they’re worth watching.

Since numbers matter, you might conclude that the more you follow, the more success you’ll have building a long list of followers (about a third of your follows). You’d be correct. It’s definitely easier to build up numbers than to carefully craft a network. Numbers look good to prospective tweeters, and they look good to Google.

However, if you follow too many, your page will be stuffed with people you don’t really care to follow, and you’re just asking to be spammed yourself. With irrelevant content pouring into your page, you’ll have to sift through a lot of junk to find things you want to read. Heck, I don’t know how all these guys following thousands of tweeters even function on Twitter. Seems counterproductive to me.

On top of that, your own messages won’t be well targeted to – or even read by – most of your followers. You’ll be wasting time tweeting to yourself. I suppose some might find that amusing, but it’s fruitless as far as marketing goes.

Your goal really should be to attract a core group of followers who share your concerns and may be interested in the things you have to say—while maintaining numbers that keep you and them actively engaged.

Engaging tweeters

What about the people who follow you first? Some tweeters consider it polite to follow all people who follow them. But I suggest using discretion. Before I reciprocate a follow, I generally spend 20 seconds reading the follower’s bio and evaluating the last dozen tweets. I don’t want a bunch of clutter in my timeline.

Reply to the tweets of people you are following, especially if they’re not yet following you. That’s a good way to engage others and get them to follow you, even if they didn’t follow you immediately. Remember, though, that the people who have thousands of followers may not be able to respond to every reply.

Give credit when you retweet. Tweeters appreciate it and it helps you build camaraderie. You’ll show up in others’ “mentions” windows and spark their curiosity. You can either click the “retweet” icon next to the comment (this tells Twitter to send the tweet exactly as you see it, to all of your followers), or copy-and-paste the tweet and add the phrase “RT @ninjaselfstore” (learn more about Twitter keys in Part 6: Techniques & Tools).

Connect with people who talk about you but don’t follow you. You might contact these people first with a question—this is more likely to spark a response. Encourage those who are saying nice things about you, “@ninjaselfstore: Thanks for the compliment!”

Don’t hesitate to unfollow people who waste your time with trivial broadcast-style tweets. Pointless notes will distract you from more useful content and networking.

Never lock your company profile.

Merge your MarCom

Like your website, Twitter can be a window into your business that earns leads and loyalty. So, think about putting your Twitter username in the same places where you put your web address, formatted like this:twitter.com/ninjaselfstore or @ninjaselfstore. Here are some examples:

— Email address signature — Forum address on SST.com — In the address and/or company description in your StorageFront pages — Business cards — Letterhead — Stickers on your packing boxes — On your marquis sign out front

You can also add your Twitter feed to your website, blog and other social media profiles. If you have a following at your blog or a lot of connections at Facebook or LinkedIn, you can leverage this audience to increase your followers at Twitter. Ask your web developer to feed your tweets into your page. Here are some resources to help you:

TutsPlus, “10 Awesome Ways to Integrate Twitter with your Website” Denning Solutions, “Adding Social Media Icons”

Be Patient and Persistent

If you subscribe to good tweeters, and tweet great content yourself, you’ll start to see your following grow. But don’t expect it to happen overnight. Building a following takes time and patience—and most of all, good tweets!

Just for fun: You’ll know you’re too popular on Twitter when…

<< Part 2: Getting Started | Part 4: What’s Your Story? >>