Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On Twitter, building it won't make them come

I've had a few conversations with communicators lately about communication strategies they've built or are building (around specific issues, to publicize events, to attract attention for an announcement), and in which they're identifying Twitter as a tactic.

When I ask how they're planning to use Twitter, they often say something like "Well, we'll set up a Twitter account, and then we'll send out our messages."

It's not as easy as that.

I wrote a post last month called What Twitter isn't, in which I talked about how best to approach tweeting (if your intention is to use Twitter for PR).

What I didn't discuss in that post, though, was when to set up your Twitter account, and how to use it.

When's the best time? A year ago. When's the next best time: now.

If you have any intention of using Twitter to communicate with your audiences (that is, once you've determined that your audiences are or will soon be using Twitter), establish your presence there now.

The day you have a message to share with your audiences is not the day to set up your Twitter account. Why? Because on Twitter, you need people to have chosen to "follow" you to get your messages.

On day one, there's a relatively limited number of people you can email to say "Hey, come follow me on Twitter, here's my @username" -- and frankly, you could just as easily share your messages with those people by email. Will those people follow you immediately? Who knows... and you're too busy getting your announcement out to really think about it too much.

If you set up your account in advance, you have the time to begin building your audience before you need it.

Because Twitter makes it so easy for users to share interesting tweets with their own followers through "re-tweeting," your "followers" list can grow quickly... but only if you're tweeting things others want to hear. If you tweet something I think my followers would value, I'll re-tweet it; then, they may check out your profile and decide to follow you themselves.

Followers follow for a reason.

People are busy. There may be some who follow you because they feel they should (because they have some more personal connection to you), but most will only choose to follow your tweets if your tweets offer them something they value.

Have a quick look at the small portion of my Twitter timeline from this afternoon, shown above.

Notice anything?

Each of those tweeters has provided a link to something they felt might interest their respective audiences.

You sometimes hear people say all you get on Twitter is "I had a nice sandwich for lunch" or "I need to change the oil in my car," and that it's a waste of time. My answer to that is that if you're following people who offer nothing more than daily inanities, it likely is a waste of your time.

But my next suggestion would be to stop following those people, and follow others who tweet information that has some value for you. It's not as though every tweet needs a link to something else; personal perspectives and observations can be valuable, too!

Just make sure yours offer something your audiences will want before you send them.

Think of your Twitter feed like a storefront.

Building a store on a busy street isn't enough to guarantee sales. If you want people to come in and buy something, you need to put something in the window that'll entice them.

Our PR and Ad majors did a short customer behaviour research project in a local shopping mall last week, and saw evidence of exactly what I'm talking about: retail customers respond to displays that promise something they want (whether it's a particular product, or a sale, or an experience).  Put something in the window they'll think is interesting, and they're far more likely to come in.

What does retail consumer behaviour have to do with Twitter?

Everything! Because retail consumers are people.

We need to stop thinking as though human nature is somehow left at the door of the office (or wherever you're not using your mobile device). People respond to what interests them, whether it's in a store or online. They will volunteer to hear a sales pitch (i.e. walk into a store or follow your Twitter account) if they think there is something valuable to be gained there.

So, give them something valuable.

As soon as you realize Twitter is going to be part of your strategy, get on it and start using it. If you've determined that Twitter is right for your plan, you've obviously been thinking about your audiences -- so start finding and sharing information those audiences might find interesting. Follow audience members you know, as well as others who influence them -- odds are, they'll look at your profile to see who you are. If they like what they see (i.e., they see some value in your tweets), they'll likely follow back: and presto, your network is building.

If you tweet and no-one is there to hear it, you haven't gotten any closer to achieving your communication objectives.

But if you build a Twitter feed that provides value to the audiences you want to reach, they'll be there when you need them.


  1. Thanks, Melanie. This is a very insightful post. Describing Twitter as the equivalent to a store-front is a great analogy.

    Again with the, "what's in it or me?" principle.

    Should I be writing this down? :)

  2. "When's the best time? A year ago. When's the next best time: now." That's hilarious, and SO true.

  3. Haha - just like planting a tree! :o)

    Thanks for reading and commenting!