Crash Course in ... Corporate Twitter

Dell claimed it made $6.5m in sales on Twitter earlier this year, with 1.5 million fans, and other firms have joined the Twitterati in droves. Should your organisation be learning to tweet, and if so, what should you be saying?

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 28 Sep 2010

What's the point? 'Don't use Twitter just because everyone else is; think broadly about what you want it to do for you,' says Niall Cook, director of marketing technology at PR firm Hill & Knowlton. That could be to help you with customer service, to boost your brand recognition, or even to sell. 'But be prepared to experiment,' he adds. 'You'll get egg on your face if you think you know exactly what's going to happen.'

Listen first. Before you start sending out messages, find out what people are saying about you. Searching for your company and brand names on Twitter gives you an idea of what issues people are raising - and something to address. 'It's not a broadcast channel, it's a two-way communication,' says Twitter consultant Mark Shaw. 'Listen and then engage with them.'

Pick your team. 'The best person to tweet for the company is the person most passionate about the business,' says Shaw, 'not someone in IT.' You may have a team in communications who share responsibilities, or you could appoint a communities manager to do the job. Draw up a policy - eg, no tweeting after a night at the pub.

Put value in your tweets. Twitter's own best-practice guide suggests: 'Offer Twitter exclusive coupons or deals; take people behind the scenes of your company; post pictures from your offices, stores, warehouses; or share sneak peeks of projects or events in development.' Don't just regurgitate what's on your website.

Remember who's boss. 'The recipient is always in control,' says Cook at H&K. 'If you annoy them - eg, through hard selling - they'll simply stop following you.'

Mind what you say. For most people, it's a question of don't put anything in a tweet you wouldn't want your mother to see, says Cook. For companies, 'don't put anything in you don't want shareholders to see'. Financial firms may find it hard to fit regulatory health warnings into 140 characters.

Make it appropriate. Pumping out sales messages turns people off, says Shaw, but if you tell them about your 'deal of the day', it will be relevant, as Twitter is 'the now medium'. Tell everyone what sandwiches you're making today, the celebrity who's just agreed to endorse your product, or store openings.

Look for results. It helps if you can show some return on your investment: not just numbers of followers of the tweets you've sent, but improvements in brand awareness or customer satisfaction. 'Focus on outcomes, not just outputs,' advises Cook.

Do say:
'Twitter and other micro-blogging sites will enable us to engage with our customers and stakeholders in an immediate two-way conversation.'

Don't say: 'New paper clips due this afternoon. Tremendous sense of anticipation.'

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