Using Twitter and Twitter tools for your (very) small business

How do you start on Twitter if you have (are) a small business? Over the past year or so I’ve tried a couple of Twitter tools you may find useful. In this post I’ll run through a few ways to optimize your use of them based on what I’ve learned.

To get the most from Twitter tools for your business, start on Twitter

Twitter Birds - Twitter and Twitter tools for small business

Chickadees – 1908, American Birds. [Click to view image on Flickr]

Focus your approach from the moment you start on Twitter:

  • On business. Private contacts can warp the results that some Twitter tools give you because they dig through your tweets and followers.
  • On getting relevant, local followers. Seek out potential allies and customers in your region who are genuinely interested in your branche – and share useful content.

Focus on getting the right followers on Twitter

Don’t worry about your follower numbers (yet). Instead, aim for a solid basis of relevant followers:

  1. Make sure your tweets are on-topic 80% of the time. People should follow you (back) for the right reasons, or they’ll add no value at all for your business.
  2. Put in the time to find potential followers. Search for relevant topics and use hashtags: #contentmarketing . Research those topics on different (week) days to get a general idea of who’s tweeting when.
  3. Follow 20-30 accounts every day for a couple of weeks.
    1. Why not follow more? Following a lot of people at once is like shouting you’re not interested in what they have to say. You don’t want the followers you get like this – the kind that don’t listen.
    2. If you do follow more accounts per day, do 2 batches a day. One in the morning, another in the late afternoon. Why? See A.
  4. Scan new relevant followers’ streams for tweets you can retweet. People appreciate useful content even if you didn’t create it – and content creators will like you for sharing their content.

Suppose you get about 50 new followers every week, after two months you’ll have enough followers to look like you’re taking your Twitter activity serious – and to move on to your next step.

A small selection of useful Twitter tools

Before you try out any Twitter tools, check your Twitter settings. Notably your time zone. This should be accurate.

Now you can turn to a couple of Twitter tools to find more, relevant, followers.

Note: Twitter tools have a limited view of what makes other Twitter accounts relevant. They check bios and tweets for key words, number of tweets sent, and retweets. Twitter tools don’t cancel out the need to use your brain.

Tweriod

Tweriod will analyze your Twitter followers and come up with the times when most of your followers are active on Twitter.

  • To get the correct times, your Twitter settings must be correct. Tweriod doesn’t tell you which of your followers are just reading, tweeting their own content, or sharing other people’s content – just how many of them are online.
  • The free version will analyze a limited number of followers. For that reason, most of your followers should be relevant to your business.

Commun.it

Once you set a few key terms, and perhaps your website’s URL, Commun.it will give you a good sense of

  1. whether your followers are tweeting about the topics that you’re interested in
  2. if they’re tweeting about your business (website).
  3. who the main ‘influencers’ are among your Twitter followers.

You can use this knowledge to:

  1. retweet content that matches your followers’ interests;
  2. quickly check which followers you want to thank for retweeting your own content by mentioning them in a #FF or #FollowFriday tweet to all your followers. This may lead to some of your followers to start following these accounts. #FF tweets are generally appreciated for that reason.

Tweepi

Tweepi will help you:

  1. Unfollow. There are always Twitter accounts that you tolerate if they don’t annoy you on a daily basis. However, every once in a while you should muck out your Twitter stable. I’ve used Tweepi a few times and it works great.
  2. Follow Twitter users. I don’t use this option because I tweet about a broad range of topics. Having a good, relevant follower basis should help you get the right suggestions.
  3. Do a few more things I haven’t used it for because I don’t mind reporting Twitter accounts for spamming 😉

Tip: never resort to brainlessly (un)following every suggested account in the list.

IFTTT, Buffer and Hootsuite

  1. If you have plenty of content to share on a regular basis, but don’t want to spam followers with messages you mistakenly scheduled at the same time, try Buffer. Schedule to share messages a couple of times a day, and just fill up your Buffer whenever you get a mail saying it’s empty.
  2. If you want to share message X four days from now at 11.02 AM precisely, Hootsuite offers the ‘social media control room’ you need.
  3. For this blog, I use automated sharing by WordPress the moment I publish a new post. Plus an IFTTT-recipe which takes the change (my new post) on my blog and produces a new tweet ready in my Buffer.

Other Twitter tools

Don’t get me wrong, there are good paid tools out there that do a lot of things for you. But if you’re not ready to sign up for anything that will cost you the standard “Only 9 $ a month” these are a few money-free tools to get you started. This way, you can quickly get an idea of what you have, and where to take your (very) small business from here.

Read more:

What other tools have you found useful? Share your thoughts about Twitter tools & followers and social networks in general in a comment. Or find me on Twitter 😉

Why relationships deserve your time even if you don’t have any

A while ago I happened to read Mark Schaefer’s reply to a comment on his blog. He stated that nowadays there seems to be less time to nurture client relationships since the first few contacts are online. What are the consequences of our online quests?

Marketing concerns: points of contact

Network: How Are Your Business Relationships

Network: How Are Your Business Relationships?
– Cartoon by HikingArtist.com

From a marketing point of view, relying on face-to-face contact means you’re missing part of the client’s route towards making a buying decision – and you may miss out on a sale without even knowing it.

A lot of effort from (social media) marketing is aimed at going where your customer has gone. When you find them you don’t want to annoy them with pointless ads in a place where they don’t want your darn ads.

Content marketing is a way to patch up the hole in the long road of relationship building caused by the people’s access to online information. You want to be found before your potential clients create a shortlist that hasn’t got your name on it.

‘Online’ and the impact on professional relationship building

If you leave aside the commercial impact of having fewer meet-ups, there’s also a ‘human’ aspect that you need to address. Research and experience give you a good idea of what goes on in your client’s market. But to know instantly what’s in your client’s head even without having talked to them recently, you need to have a fairly complete understanding of your client’s personality and experience. It’s hard to really care about people you don’t know, and you’re at your best if you do care about them:

  • if you care you want to know,
  • you don’t care if you don’t know,
  • … it’s a Matrix again I think – feel free to sketch one 😉

All this means just one thing:

Your relationships deserve your time, even if you don’t have any.

If you have a lot of clients you may be able to buy some marketing tool to support this kind of online/offline relationship building. But not everyone has a lot of clients or the access to such a tool (and tools can’t solve every issue). Fortunately you can look at what you would have done in an offline relationship – rather than viewing social media as a megaphone you shout your message down.

You do need to plan when you need to meet up and what you’ll share at what stage in the relationship. Another thing you want to know is if your online content has inspired the trust you want to inspire in your clients. And: what can you expect from them at what stage?

Invest time in your relationships. Risk really getting to know each other. There are probably worse things in life.

Read more:

How do you view the time and effort you invest in your (business) relationships?

Blogging impressions: two tips for (automatic) sharing

One lesson I learned from all the blogs I read before starting my own blog is this: Mind how you share. In this post I’ll give you two tips plus reasons why you might consider trying them out.

1. Check every sharing button on your blogMind how you share

This may sound silly but have you checked what happens if you click any of the sharing buttons on your blog? Serious bloggers have all manner of cool stuff added to their blog, like floating sharing bars, that make it easier to share their content – if it all works! You should be able to just share. But it doesn’t always work out that way.

However I wrote on this topic quite a while ago. My second tip is about something quite a few people don’t do – but they should!

2. Check your shared messages on social networks

If you’re on Twitter you may have noticed crappy tweets that stop mid-sentence because they were automatically shared to Twitter from another social network, like Facebook.

On the other hand, if you’re on Twitter and you share to Facebook automatically, you may end up with tweetlike stuff on your Facebook page. It’s why I added, tried, and then quickly removed my automatic sharing connection from WordPress to Facebook earlier.

Why share if you make it obvious that you don’t know, or don’t care, what your messages look like?

Using the Publicize option to share your blog posts

In case you’re not using it: on WordPress you have the option to connect several of your social network accounts to your blog. You can view and edit these messages just above the “Publish” button. Every time you publish, your message is shared to every account you’ve hooked up. Unless you uncheck the check boxes first. You can edit the message before you publish your post, but you can only send one message that’s identical for all networks.

A perfect tweet may well be a crappy Facebook update!

If you need your message to go out to several social networks:

  • Skip those #!#! hashtags (for Facebook)
  • Keep it short (for Twitter)
  • Check the result every now and then, say every 5-10 posts (This goes for IFTTT recipes too).

The good part of automatic sharing

I’m mostly so relieved to have pressed the “Publish” button at 10 PM on Friday I then shut down my laptop and call it a weekend. Which means that unless I use this publicize option I end up not sharing the results of my thinking and writing on social media until much later.

Having my automatic messages in place means:

  1. I can concentrate on writing my posts and, after I finish them,
  2. I have more time to read other blogs and to comment on them.
  3. When on social media, I can focus on the social bit 🙂

If you feel it’s too much hassle to get onto social media AND figure all this stuff out AND actually be active out there so you decide to not bother at all, that’s completely fine by me. I understand and appreciate not bumping into your ‘zombie’ Twitter account 😉

That’s it for this year! See you here next year. If you’d like to add your thoughts about sharing please do so in a comment – I promise I’ll respond to your contribution!

The big issue: content creation and originality

Sometimes inspiration drops in through Twitter. It happened to me a moment ago and since I had been planning to blog this evening (yesterday evening by publishing time) I decided to write about it 🙂

In this post you’ll find my thoughts about content creation plus 3 tips.

This post originated in something I said in a DM:

No human is ever as original as they claim to be – or as unimaginative as they fear to be. {click quote to tweet*}

I think this quote is mine, but if you’ve seen it anywhere before, please let me know. My opinion in the matter is, as you may have guessed:

  • There are plenty of people out there – some of them I’ve met on Twitter – who claim to be completely awesome. I haven’t unfollowed anyone yet for boasting about their accomplishments – but I’ve come close 😉
  • On the other hand, some people are so hesitant you’ll never get to hear from them because they never even try…

The quest for originality in content

The worst thing you can do is consider blogging, or creating any kind of content – or anything at all, from the perspective of what you don’t have.

Content creation and originality

Content originality? Parts of this picture from OCAL.

  • Your first issue is that you’re human and so is your audience (unless you’re Men In Black). This limits your spectrum to subjects humans find interesting.
  • Then there’s the marketing issue: not everyone likes the same stuff. You need to find your audience and come up with stuff they like.
  • Next up: competitors. There are so many people blogging about the same topic – what can you possibly add?
  • And so on.

If you follow a similar train of thought, the sensible thing to do is, well, nothing. But wait – let’s try the same thing from the perspective of options that are open to you:

  1. You have a personal set of experiences in your life and career that is unique.
  2. This gives you an original view on topics that (many) others are interested in.
  3. Knowing this, you can learn by watching what competitors do in coming up with (original) content without getting the nasty feeling there’s nothing left to do.
  4. Lots of competitors? Great! Keep an eye on the ones who do their research. Be nice though – no stealing.

Here’s my best advice when it comes to the quest for original content: stop searching – for now. Accept that you’re probably not producing original (unique) content. Focus on other aspects instead. Originality will find its way to you once you’re actively creating your own stuff.

Tip #1: Opt for quality rather than originality

I wrote two posts about content curation earlier. One is about levels of content curation (the good, the bad, and the ugly). In the other I talk about content curation as a way to show your expertise. Here’s my view for what it’s worth:

Content creation is basically high-level content curation.

If you have no idea how to start, try curating other people’s stuff. Collect other people’s content, select the interesting bits and re-write it so that the resulting piece of content adds value in the eyes of ‘your’ audience.

I started my collection of interesting content on Pinterest, but any tool that will let you group and re-group information easily will help you get a clear picture of what there is, and where you might add the biggest value based on your expertise.

Your content may not be original, but what’s original about the post I’m writing? I’m sure there are similar posts all over the internet. The difference is that this one represents my take on a familiar issue.

Tip #2: Focus on delivering relevant content to your audience

Create stuff that matters to the people you create it for, and do it well. The rest is BS.

What insight can you add that’s relevant for your audience?

{click question to tweet*}

If you’re wondering what content curation looks like on a good day, read this blog post by Kara Jackson that is a great example of content curation while also being about content curation. As you’ll see, good content curation is quite similar to content creation. Both require writing skills, for one thing 😉

Tip #3: Don’t, ever, advertise at me and call it a blog

This one is for you if you’re a creator of business content. If you want to tell me “you must be running into problem X, we happen to have the perfect solution, please register here”, do it elsewhere on your website.

Use your blog to build your credibility as an expert and potential problem-solver. Show me something that makes me think: hey, I didn’t know that, never viewed the subject that way, I’ve learnt something today… You’re allowed to amuse me while you’re at it. Be creative 🙂

It’s originality, but not as we know it

The truth about originality is it doesn’t exist in the way we think it does. What does exist is “something old, something new…” in new, unexpected combinations.

*Click to tweet: the first time I saw this type of link I wondered if all it took was one click to tweet. Fortunately you also need to click the actual Twitter action button 🙂

Please leave your musings about blogging, content, and originality or your tips for further reading in a comment – I will respond to any non-spammy contribution!

A Day In Tweets: as seen from the Netherlands

Have you seen any infographics or other stats about Twitter usage lately? If you’re on Twitter or in the habit of reading blogs, or both, the answer is probably yes. Are any of these stats true? Again, the answer could be yes – but…

The truth is that Twitter usage (when, for what) has similarities no matter where you are. But there are some outside influences on why we do what we do when we do it

A day in tweets is not just about Twitter

Twitter usage through the day

  1. The timezone issue (certainly);
  2. Cultural differences (possibly);
  3. Corporate culture (no comment);
  4. Family life (if you value it).

I could start by giving you some theory on these three causes, but I think it’ll be more helpful if I just show you what I mean. What kind of tweets do I see on my screen during the day? For an overview I’ll stick to the homepage with ALL the tweets of all the accounts I follow.

A Dutch Twitter morning

7 AM. Pretty quiet. I’m offline, for one!

7.30-9 AM in the Netherlands. Dutch tweets start coming in. I ignore most of them – or read them for amusement during my commute (trains are wonderful things):

On my way to a workshop in Z. #excited (Dutch: #zinin)

Train 15 min. late. Why? Leaves are still on trees. #ns #fail

Stuck in traffic jam. 6 Miles of parked cars. #typical (Dutch: #hebikweer or #lekkerdan)

Of course people respond to some of these messages, and scheduled tweets from heavy users in other timezones roll in as well. This lasts throughout the morning.

Afternoon on Twitter

A bit after noon, my first scheduled tweet (if I have anything to share) is published. I may check up on Twitter around lunch time.

Somewhere around 2 PM Twitter starts to come alive…

… a storm is gathering…

3 PM

… Boom.

If I happen to have a Twitter tab open on my laptop, I will notice at some point after 3 PM that I have 47 new messages. Click to show them, scroll down a bit… the page shifts down an inch which means a new notification has appeared at the top of the page.In the past few seconds, 4, 6 or 11 new tweets have been sent.

My Twitter homepage explodes.

In fact I’ve watched my screen a couple of times at this time of day (a perfect coffee break moment) and I can confidently say I refresh the page at least every 30 seconds to view 20 new tweets every time. Mind you, I only follow about 400 accounts at the moment. So what does this mean?

This means the East coast of the US are awake. It’s now 9 AM over there.

It just so happens that I tweet mainly in English, and many of the people I follow are in the US.

What does it mean for the tweets I get?

  • Around 2 PM I may receive the odd tweet wishing me a “Good morning everyone!”
  • Then prescheduled tweets aimed at US Twitter users kick in.
  • From about 3 PM people who ‘do social media’ start sharing and retweeting new articles. I’m talking about social media marketeers, search engine optimization experts, business bloggers, and the like.
  • My ‘morning in the US’ scheduled tweet goes out (if I found anything useful earlier in the day).

Between 5 and 6 PM my trip home (if I’ve been at the office) by train gives me a chance to catch up with the news. Every now and then I’ll run into a website that just doesn’t get mobile. I skip those. Retweet, thank, add to buffer, look up Twitter handles or skip the exercise and just add the author’s name. This gets me through at least half an hour of my trip home.

6.15 PM depending what day it is, I’m either entertaining our son or cooking dinner. Combining either of those activities with checking tweets or news feeds on a phone is tricky. Spilled sweet pepper bits on my phone once (don’t ask how, I just did. I can be clumsy at times). This has made me more cautious. I may risk a quick update once everything is simmering quietly: after 6.30. My scheduled ‘US lunch time’ tweet is already out there.

9 PM at home, our little man is in his bed upstairs, I’m either on the couch with my phone and a book or at the table with my laptop to get some blogging done. It is 3 PM on the East coast now so people are apparently taking things easy, or it’s their job to be on social networks part of the time. On the West coast, it’s lunch time. People are chatting, following, retweeting and thanking one another. My last scheduled tweet goes out.

Around 10 PM I may have my last conversation of the evening, but for the sake of relaxation I may also turn off my phone completely before that. I don’t post at night, not even scheduled tweets. Tried it once but:

  1. The stats say people (in the US) retweet less after 3 PM so I’ve decided not to bother. If I get any reactions I won’t be able to reply anyway.
  2. Besides, I might confuse some people into believing I’m still online and purposely not responding. I’m pretty sure a few early unfollowers acted the way they did precisely for that reason!

If we’re all in the same timezone, this kind of thing may go unnoticed because we’re awake at roughly the same time, we have lunch some time around noon…

I hope you have enjoyed my Twitter sight-seeing trip!

How do timezones and the like affect your Twitter experience? Have you ever wondered why fellow ‘tweeps’ reacted differently from what you expected?

Twitter: 6 strategic tips for newcomers

I’ve been active on Twitter for a while now – though not long enough to have stopped being surprised (or somewhat dismayed) on a regular basis.

Great things about Twitter

Twitter provides an egg image for new users

Getting to know new people from across the globe – including people living quite close by, who remained unnoticed for a long time. Talking about things your relatives or friends may not be familiar with, or interested in because they relate to hobbies they don’t share or to your professional interests.

If you follow accounts with lots of links to interesting articles it is like having your intellectual equivalent of a bag full of sweets with you all day long. Even without searching, new stuff pops up. All you need to do is check out anything which looks interesting.

Surprises on Twitter

People expecting you to follow back within 24 hours. This came as a bit of a surprise to me. I mean what if you’re busy, or off for a holiday, or your spouse got angry because the best way to get you to talk to him/her would be to DM you on Twitter? Remember time zones.

People who don’t answer. I know some people have crazy numbers of followers but if you think talking to your followers is getting too ‘social’ then don’t follow back. Risk losing some followers. Or get some handy tool to help you stay social.

Clone accounts. Imagine checking a new follower’s bio and tweets, thinking ‘oh well, why not’ and following them back only to find some clone account following you the next day! I wrote a post about clone accounts earlier, and recently a similar thing happened to me.

Unfollowing and refollowing. I’m at a stage where I can still (just about) handle the number of new followers I get in a day and I check accounts regularly. I don’t like to see the same faces popping up several times among my new followers. If I don’t follow for some reason, tweet me a message if you think you can add to my (professional) life – show me you’re willing to talk to me. That adds value if your bio didn’t convince me!

Automated unfollows. I’m not kidding – it happened a couple of times before my very eyes. People who follow you because you might be interested in their products or services and who unfollow the second you press the follow button. I call that impolite. Only old-school, outbound marketers who want to be heard without having to listen do this. As I have only two ears myself (happy coincidence) I understand the problem of having a lot of people in your Twitter feed but hey, if you’re in marketing then it’s your job. Get your social media tool box out and go social.

#FF or #FollowFriday – apparently some people have decided to use their working hours on Friday to broaden their networks. They tweet #FF messages mentioning people they recommend you follow. I prefer the ones that state WHY these people are so interesting…

First steps strategy for Twitter newcomers

  1. If you’re not tweeting much yet, use lists to collect people you’d like to be followed by. Who goes into your list? Anyone with way more ‘followers’ than ‘following’. Let’s call them ‘influencers’. These are people who have plenty of others to talk with, and they need a reason to follow you (back). You can try to give them one by trying the next few tips.
  2. Get a profile picture. If you’re not comfortable with the idea, there are plenty of people who use a picture of part of their face, or a picture that shows them really small, or hazy, or dark. Whatever you do, it pays to ‘hatch’ from that egg.
  3. Write a bio that shows what sort of subjects you’re interested in.
  4. You can follow the ‘social’ people who are following more people than they have followers of their own.
  5. Retweet stuff from your influencers that you like. Quite a lot of people on Twitter will thank you for retweeting or mentioning their name (Twitter handle).
  6. If you have about the same number of followers as following, remember that others may interpret this as a sign you’ve an automated follow-back tool, and follow you in hopes of gaining more followers.
  7. Update: At some point someone will retweet an article you either wrote or discovered and shared, or mention you. My fellow blogger Daniel Sharkov (@DanielSharkov) has kindly pointed out that thanking people for sharing your stuff is definitely something you want to do. It may well lead to conversations and follows, but apart from that, people appreciate courtesy.

Looking back at my first Twitter adventures I would say the moment you decide to become active and therefore visible on Twitter, you need to be aware of what goes on around you. I hope I’ve given some idea of what you’re likely to encounter.

Did I miss anything major which you feel would really help people new to Twitter? If so, please add your tips in a comment to this post!

Great content curation: How using your expertise adds value

In my previous posts I have talked – a lot! – about social networks and sharing. I only briefly touched upon that which is being shared. Content. Loads of content.

This post is different. It’s shorter. And it can be summed up as follows:

Why content curation deserves your attention: a great way to add value using existing

If you hang around online long enough you’ll notice content is being reduced, re-used and yes, recycled endlessly.

I’ll be the first to admit that not everyone can blog full-time. But that doesn’t mean you can’t share your expertise. First, here is what you don’t do.

Definite don’ts in content curation

Here are some methods of re-using content you really should not consider:

  • Complete blog posts copied into a company website. Luckily I haven’t seen much of this, yet. “Text produced originally on blog X” – This had better be evergreen content because whatever it is, it’s not news. Stay well away from the murky waters of content theft.
  • Tweets that contain no reference to the author of the content it is linking to. This method suggests to casual observers that you’re rolling in home-made content. I’ve seen this a couple of times. How will anyone be able to tell quickly what your personal expertise is?
  • Blogs on company websites that contain image and some text from a different blog, add sauce “Well I think it’s a great contribution on subject X…” blah, blah. Actually I ran into one of these recently. Reading this particular blog left me feeling disappointed and guess what? I went to the original blog that was way better than the drivel I’d just read.

How to apply your expertise effectively

Great ways to use existing content without spending a lot of (extra) time can be swept into two heaps: social network updates, and the light version of blogging.

Updates are great if you don’t want to start blogging in any way:

  • Start by mentioning the original author’s name (Twitter handle for preference) in all your tweets, pins and updates.
  • Refashion the original title if necessary. Make sure your text reflects what you think makes this content worth reading or viewing.
  • Use keywords or hashtags depending on what your audience likes – only if they suit the content of course.

If this sounds like a lot of work in a tight space, you’re right. But it will cost you less time than drafting a full-length original blog post. The same goes for ‘light’ blogging:

  • Write a “Top 3” based on articles you’ve read on a subject in the past week. While you read, jot down what each article adds to your line of work. It doesn’t really matter where you do this: in Notepad, or directly into your planned blog post. Whatever works for you.
  • Or you can collect a few snippets of text and proceed in much the same way.
  • If you’re good at visual representations it’s faster and easier to (re-)visualize content than to write about it.

Your main aim should be to inject your expert opinion, however briefly.

The content curation methods I’ve just described will not lead you to eternal glory but they will allow you to show your expertise without risking your professional credibility or possibly even legal issues.

Do you curate existing content often? Did I miss any methods to curate successfully? If so, you’re welcome to add your comment to my list!

If you think this post was useful to you, please share it.