Twitter has an estimated eight million-plus registered users. We explain why this medium is one we can't ignore. Twitter is a micro-blogging website that publishes updates of up to 140 characters in length. Users post what they are doing and, when other users choose to "follow", those updates appear when they log in.
So why use it?
1. Build an online presence: Expanding your activities beyond your organisation's official website, into new areas such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs, is part of creating an integrated online presence that will become more important as the public moves to a fully networked existence.
2. Keep in touch: Use Twitter to keep your admirers, followers and even critics informed about upcoming product releases and conferences or conventions you will be presenting at, and to elicit feedback about new products and services. Create a dialogue with your customers and present an approachable, human face to your enterprise. As part of a comprehensive online presence, this helps humanise your organisation and encourages discussion and involvement with your clients. Dissatisfied customers can also be communicated with and a resolution can be found quickly and publicly.
3. Protect your brand: Just like purchasing www.yourname.com, creating Twitter accounts will help protect your online profile. Even if you have no immediate plans to use them, it's a good idea to be prepared because the online world moves so quickly.
4. Stay one step ahead: Although Twitter isn't as popular yet as social networking sites such as Facebook, it is growing - and fast. Creating a presence after all of your competitors have joined, and the network has become louder and busier, will make it more difficult to attract new followers. Gathering followers now, and benefiting from a likely upsurge in popularity and coverage, makes a lot more sense.
How to use it
1. Reply to your readers: If you want your customers, fans or the general public to continue reading your tweets, you should consider creating personalised communication that is directly engaging, even though it seems less efficient because it requires consideration of every incoming tweet. Twitter is about being effective, not efficient, and using it effectively involves leveraging the directness it offers between users, rather than risking an automated reply that is insensitive, unhelpful or simply confusing.
2. Keep informed: Similar to how media monitoring can watch for keywords and alert you to coverage you would otherwise miss, the micro-blogging technology allows you to receive notification of keyword usage by other users. Twitter is a quick and easy way for people to talk about what is happening to them right then, which can often translate into a way to express frustration or praise at a product or service they are using.
3. Be creative: Engage your audience by tweeting a story in instalments, or by having some fun with your brand. Any narratives your organisation is experiencing can be written as a story. Narratives can span the traditional (a new TV show, movie or publication) to the more ambitious (organisational change, expansion, a new product line). By playing out a narrative, in some cases by a fictional character, or by providing entertaining updates, you can engage your audience with passion and creativity.
4. Give yourself a voice: Your brand may already have a defined voice, but Twitter allows you to vary it and create a broader online persona. Updates can be written by "the organisation", an excited new employee who chronicles her experiences, the chief executive about the strategic vision, a help desk member, or any other passionate, involved worker. Multiple accounts can be created.
5. Broadcast: If your organisation broadcasts in traditional media, use Twitter to reach an audience that is not as interested in TV, print or radio. By partnering your account with your website, you can automatically publish tweets that direct users to updates. At September 2008, a review of United States newspapers showed about half used sites with automatic updating (source: graphicdesignr.net). Twitter provides immediacy, improves your profile and can increase credibility.
1. Negative feedback: By establishing a presence, you may receive more direct input from other users about your products and services, and these comments will sometimes be negative. Take the opportunity to respond quickly and appropriately, by providing assistance or information where possible and directing the user to an alternative communication channel if appropriate. From a negative update, create a positive interaction.
2. Falling behind: Effective use entails being aware of all relevant updates, responding promptly where necessary, and keeping your followers informed of your latest news. This is not a set-and-forget tool, so it is imperative that your organisation allocates adequate resources to manage your account every day. A slow, silent account will do more damage to your online presence than no account at all.
3. Under-resourcing: Just as your organisation needs to be up to date in its management of an account, you also need to consider who will be managing it. A resource will need to be allocated, with enough time every day dedicated to reading reports, responding appropriately and updating with the latest news. Although this seems simple, don't risk under-resourcing your approach.
Katherine Milesi is a partner, online services, Deloitte; firstname.lastname@example.org
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