Twitter is a place for conversations and the people who gain the most out of Twitter are using it as a discussion tool. Now, granted, those discussions can vary widely from ideas for dinner to the latest viral marketing campaign and everything in between. The key, though, is that whatever you decide to tweet, it should be relevant to your community and encourage a response. Here are a few best practices to help us all make Twitter a better place to converse.
1. Use the Twitter DM feature as it was intended.
The Twitter DM, or direct tweet, seems to be a source of much contention among twitterers. Certainly it has a place: You may need to have a side or private conversation with another person, but you don't want to broadcast it to the network. Unfortunately, many twitterers use the Twitter DM for things other than a quick private conversation. Any time I discuss Twitter etiquette with others, the single most popular request is stop with the auto-DM thanking someone for the follow and/or spamming that follower with a link to your site. There really is no argument for using the auto-DM this way. Now, I've heard some say they don't apologize for using the auto-responder DM as a thank you; they believe it's polite to say thanks. However, Robin from Pensieve.me had this to say, "They aren't thanking me (with) an auto reply, their robot is." Think of it in terms of blogging: The auto-DM on Twitter is like auto-loading music on your blog. People won't tell you outright that they hate it, but they'll unsubscribe from your feed (blog) or unfollow you (Twitter).
Alli Worthington from Blissfully Domestic is writing an e-book on Twitter (due out Monday, August 31). "While researching the Smart Girl's Guide to Twitter, I found one Twitter behavior that annoys everyone: asking via Direct Message for a ReTweet," said Alli. I think the reason people may be annoyed with those requests is that if something is worth re-tweeting, you won't have to request the re-tweet. If your information is interesting and relevant, it will be re-tweeted. The annoyance may also come from just being asked to do something (like re-tweet information) so many times from so many people. It may not always be you asking for the favor, but your request may be one of several a user receives every day.
2. Don't spam your followers by tweeting the same message repeatedly.
If a business (or an individual, since these days you are your brand) is just tweeting self-promotion and then re-tweeting it some more (via sites like HootSuite where you can set tweets to post automatically), that business is effectively spamming its followers and those followers won't stand for it. You may think that by re-tweeting the same information at different times over and over throughout the week you're reaching new people who may not have seen your original tweet. In the larger scheme of things, you are annoying your loyal followers who are watching what you type.
3. Take your Twitter campaign up a notch.
Businesses have discovered that Twitter is an easy way to reach an audience. Unfortunately, they're reaching out to that audience with tired and spammy campaigns. Augie Ray wrote a piece about Twitter etiquette for Social Media Today. In it he encourages marketers to use Twitter, but to "find a way to create Twitter promotions that engage others rather than irritate them . . . Marketers need to challenge themselves to get people sharing something of interest and not just spammy and irrelevant tweets, because what worked for Moonfruit once could well become a PR disaster for a brand running a Twitter sweepstakes in the future."
When a brand uses Twitter as a way to engage an audience, how that brand is perceived on Twitter is directly tied to how that business conducts itself in 140 characters on a consistent basis. If a business is only broadcasting and not conversing, that business isn't going to do well in the long-term. In other words, if the business is only tweeting links to their shop or marketing info on why they're the best, then those tweets are filtered out eventually (or users unfollow that business) because those tweets don't add anything to the discussion. That business is missing the point of the Twitterverse: adding to the community.
Adding to the community can be many things: providing discount codes for useful items (not every single discount code you have), responding to specific queries from customers (including complaints as well as praise), or just sharing something interesting (even if it doesn't directly relate to your business). When your followers perceive your company's Twitter presence as something more than a marketing ploy (i.e., they see your brand not as a brand, but as an interesting peer in their community), then you've achieved a significant goal.
Twitter can be an important part of your social media campaign or even your personal community, but you'll have to make it give and take. No one likes to hang out with the guy at the party who only talks about himself. Don't be that guy. Instead, bring something interesting to the table, share what others are bringing to the table, and develop a dialog.
Melanie Nelson writes tips and instructions at Blogging Basics 101.
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