5 insider tips to tame the Twitter beast

Second Cup, Tim Hortons, the CBC, MTVCanada, Roots are just a few of big Canadian organizations on Twitter so why shouldn’t your business be on the microblogging site?

Most technology and small and medium sized business (SMB) experts agree that many companies could reap huge marketing benefits and customer kudos on the cheap by incorporating social networking technology into their customer relations management processes. However, recent research shows that although a majority of SMBs are eager to embrace social media, many are also at a loss on how to effectively use these tools.

This complexity perhaps can be best exemplified by the bewilderment of many business operators on how to user Twitter for their business, according to Jesse Engle, founder and CEO of CoTweet, a San Francisco-based developer of social media management and reporting tools.

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Top Fortune 500 companies such as Coca-Cola, Citibank, Microsoft and McDonald’s, hire CoTweet to help them manage their social media presence. The company’s enterprise grade services start at around $1,500 per month, however, SMBs can learn about how to effectively use Twitter by practicing some key principles that Engle revealed in a recent online presentation for MarketingProfs LLC.

In his presentation titled: Taming the Twitter Beast – Going from microblogging to macro branding, Engle pointed out that Twitter has virtually provided consumers with a “megaphone to broadcast to their friends and everyone else their experience with a company.” This, he said, could have a negative or positive impact on the company concerned depending on how effectively it manages the online conversation.

DonLimpo provides a comic take on microblogging with cartoon Twouble with Twitter.

In their book Empowered, Forrester Research executives Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler, say that more than 25 per cent of our impressions about a company now come from social media. “This means that conversations about your business are taking place in social media and your brand is being defined and shaped in those conversations.”

A major problem, according to Frank Eliason, a senior vice president for Citibank, is that “many businesses do not understand Twitter or Facebook.”

He said that “social media conversations are more numerous and spreading faster compared to those in the traditional outlets.”

He said that negative impressions that consumers get about a company from social media outlets “are often the impressions that stick.”

“To be able to shape your brand, you need to join the conversation,” Eliason said. Citibank, which has over 200 million customers worldwide, is in the process of reinventing itself as a “social bank”, according to Eliason. The company is currently training more than 100 customer service representatives on how to respond to and engage clients on Twitter.

“You need to embrace social media and counter negative conversations with positive conversations,” said Engle.

Smaller businesses that want to launch a Twitter presence or enhance an existing one, can make use of the following tips from Engle and Eliason.

1. Identify people who will form your Twitter team

While Citibank has the resources to train 100 or more employees on Twitter, many SMBs will probably have to make do with two to five team members to start. These people would ideally be employees who are well-versed on the businesses’ brand, its products and services and the message that has to be relayed to the public.

Recruiting strategies vary from organization to organization. Some companies might have a Twitter team assigned to handle technical assistance. Others might have a general customer query team while some businesses might want to have a special person assigned to handle a specific situation such as a public relations crisis. The important thing is that team members are trained on how to speak with and help customers.

2. Listen in on conversations

The Twitter team members must have keen ears for identifying social media conversations that directly mention the company or conversations that may concern the business or offer it the opportunity to weigh in and improve its profile. This way, team members are not merely reacting to customer questions but are actively taking part in initiating brand shaping conversations.

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3. Learn to ignore the noise

Twitter can be a very noisy place full of conversations that are best ignored. Twitter team members need to know which conversations to ignore, and what deserves attention. An assigning process can be developed by the teams to determine which team member should answer what posts. This process can be automated with the likes of tools such as those offered by CoTweet that track and analyze conversations and automate assignments.

4. Determine whether you should use personal or branded tweets

Logos help consumers identify a business and its Twitter post and can help with branding, according to Engle of CoTweet. However, using a company tag on tweets might not work for all business, he said.

“Personal accounts, on the other hand, tell clients that they are speaking with a real person,” said Eliason of Citibank. He said businesses can use a hybrid where a Twitter team member’s photo appears on the company Twitter account. Members also sign their personal tags on their posts.

5. Streamline tweeting process

When Citibank started its Twitter team, there was heavy emphasis on controlling the tweets that were posted according to Eliason. “First we have a lot of formal tracking of conversation, then we had to determine who will be responding – does tweeting sit in PR, marketing or customer service?”

Since Citibank was a financial institution, tweets also had to go through rigorous legal review, he said.

When they realized that it was so much trouble and not financially responsible to have 50 people approve a tweet, Citibank began looking at streamlining the process.

Today Citibank tweeters are encouraged to tweet by themselves but are given guidelines to follow. New Twitter team members still need to secure approval for their tweets but as they progress are allowed to tweet by themselves, said Eliason.

He said control was emphasized initially because the company was still learning to “understand the language and speed of the space.”

Engle of CoTweet said there are a number of tools that enable companies enhance customer contact.

For instance, some systems can be configured to allow Twitter team members to switch Twitter conversations to email or phone channels.

Some companies are able to cut down post response time by using templates or pre-typed answers to frequently asked questions, he said.

“This helps ensure that clients get the answers they need fast while team members are able to concentrate on other posts that require more complex responses,” said Engle.

Nestor Arellano is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and join the IT Business Facebook Page.

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