Twitter marketing is not so scary for SMBs

Small and medium businesses fearing the plunge into Twitter marketing should probably welcome a radical idea from Twitter for Dummies co-author Laura Fitton-your number of followers actually doesn’t really matter all that much.

“You would never walk into a cocktail party screaming your name and your company,” says Fitton, who is also CEO of oneforty.com, an online community that rates and shares social media monitoring tools among brands and businesses of all sizes.

The same logic applies for social media. “You really have to connect with the audience in a way that they’re really excited about,” Fitton told her audience in a talk at Mesh Conference 2011 in Toronto.

“People with more connections have more options,” she says, but it’s more about connecting with the right people. She calls it “vanity metrics”-or basing your social media influence on your number of followers or fans rather than how many people are actually engaging with you effectively. “What matters is, are you getting anything done with it,” she says.

Related story: Why your social media business plan is a ‘hash-tag fail’

“Think about how your content can be genuinely useful to your followers,” she says. She gives the example of one of her most popular tweets: “the problem with hotels is that you need pants just to get coffee.”

That particular opinion had an impact because it was relatable and so many of her followers agreed, she says. “What’s significant and interesting is discovering what you have in common with other people,” she says.

The same effect can work for your business. By tweeting interesting questions or quotations rather than a simple title and link, you can engage your followers more effectively, she says. It can even work for a boring press release, she adds.

Fitton does acknowledge the time trap that Twitter can be, though. Business owners – or any tweeter – can treat it as a work break between tasks, like Fitton herself does. She also recommends that very busy business owners try out scheduling tools where they can pre-program tweets for certain times. One of Fitton’s favourites is Twylah, a tool that creates a constantly updated Web site based upon a user’s tweets. “You also get a very inexpensive way to maintain a Web site for your business,” she says.

But it is important to still follow-up to replies and mentions that you get back from those pre-programmed tweets, she says. Otherwise, “it would be like sending e-mail marketing lists to a giant list of unqualified leads,” she says.

Related story: Are you suffering from social media overload?

E-mail marketing can still work, though, according to Candice Faktor, Torstar Digital’s vice president of strategy and new ventures. She played a large role in the company’s acquisition of deal site WagJag.

Taking advantage of a site like Groupon or WagJag requires crafting an experience that people really want, Faktor said during a separate session at Mesh Conference. “You have to think about the package and experience that you’re curating,” she says. “You need to make sure that the deals make sense for you as a business,” she says.  Deal sites work best for services-based businesses like restaurants or spas, that can offer an experience rather than just a product.

Even then, businesses need to create an experience that will have people coming back even after their coupon is used up, Faktor says. “Make sure that there’s an upsell opportunity,” she says.

E-mail marketing through deal sites works especially well for small businesses who don’t have to pay up-front marketing costs, but get paid based on what the results are from the e-mail marketing campaign, she says.

Whether you take the e-mail approach, social media angle or both with your marketing, the idea is to stay engaged with your customers.

And if any tweet-mishaps do occur within your company, like employees accidentally tweeting personal words from a company account, Fitton has more comforting words.

“Very few of the companies who have had disasters fail to come back,” she says. “You will get forgiven for a lot.”

Harmeet Singh is a Staff Writer at ITBusiness. Follow her on Twitter, and join the IT Business Facebook Page.

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