Wednesday, July 15, 2009

5 Rules for Businesses Using Twitter

Over the past few months, Nelso has been researching the ways that businesses are using Twitter, and we've compiled a list of over 5000 businesses on Twitter (this list was prepared by hand, so we've verified that these are all real businesses).

After looking at thousands of Twitter business accounts, it became apparent that many businesses are not using the service efficiently, and so we've put together a short list of rules you should follow if you are running a business and are on Twitter. If you run a small or medium-sized business (SMB), and you're not already on Twitter, see Rule #1.

Rule 1: If you don't have a Twitter account already, get one

With the possible exception of email, Twitter is the easiest to use communication and promotion tool for businesses. It takes only a few minutes to set up an account, and once you have set up your account, you never need to visit ever again, if you don't want to.

Set up text message (SMS) capabilty for your account under "Settings->Devices" and then all you have to do is send a text message to 40404 to update your status on Twitter (an update is also often called a "tweet"). Of course, we'd recommend logging in to the website (or using one of the many Twitter desktop or mobile clients) to track replies and see who's following your account, but you can effectively promote your business on Twitter using nothing more than text messages.

Rule 2: Make sure your profile is complete

We're surprised that we even have to include this as one of the rules, but we were amazed at the number of business accounts we found on Twitter that, while active, lacked even basic information about the business. It's not uncommon to find a business account (like this account for the Strongbox Lounge) that don't list a location, website, or any other details about the business. It took us a while to figure out "STRONGBOXLounge" was the account for the Strongbox Lounge in Philadelphia.

Name: Include the full name of your business. This doesn't need to be the same as your username on Twitter.

Location: Be sure to provide a location, and be as specific as possible. Most commonly, we see a location like "New York City", but why not include your full address in the "Location" field (I'm assuming your business is not in a secret lair below Manhattan)? If I ran the applestoresoho account, I'd update the location to 103 Prince Street, SoHo, New York, 10012. No need to make your customers work harder to find your business.

Web: If you have a website for your business, include it here (remember to include the "http://" part). Again, this seems obvious, but we found many business accounts where the business had a website, but for some reason didn't include it on their Twitter profile.

Bio: Take a few seconds and tell us a bit about your business. You only get 160 characters, so this isn't an essay question. If you have a telephone number, think about including it in your "Bio".

Rule 3: Stay on Topic

Although Twitter tends to be rather informal, try to keep your updates related to your business. It's fine to throw in the odd off-topic update (e.g. "Go Mets!"), but those kind of updates should be infrequent. Twitter users will be following your account to find out about your business, so if you want to tweet more often about personal stuff, open a separate Twitter account.

Rule 4: Provide context in your updates

You can't assume that a user that follows your account is following all the other users that follow your account. Thus, they normally will not have seen the original tweet that you might be replying to. Instead of sending a tweet like "@jdeneut Yes, it's tonight!", give some context to your reply by sending a tweet like "@jdeneut Yes, the 2-for-1 seafood special is tonight!". Twitter users that follow your account will see your updates mixed in with updates from everyone else they follow, so including as much context as possible in every tweet will make it much easier for potential customers to understand what you're saying.

Rule 5: Update your Twitter account regularly

As we said in Rule #1, updating your Twitter account is easy, so remember to update regularly. During our research, we found many accounts that hadn't been updated in months. Other users following your account will often stop following if you don't update regularly, and even worse might assume that you are no longer in business if they don't see any activity on your account for an extended period. Get in the habit of updating your Twitter account at least twice a week, and ideally once a day.

However, don't update your account too often. Flooding your followers with too many updates is a sure way to lose followers.

Extra Credit

If you follow the rules above, you'll be well on your way to promoting your business effectively on Twitter. Of course, there's much more to using Twitter than just following these rules. You'll get even more out of Twitter if you monitor @replies to your account, and if you follow some other users rather than just having them follow you. You might also want to follow other businesses in your area, or businesses in your field in other cities to see what they're up to (you might be able to find some of them in Nelso's Twitter Directory).

If you are a business on Twitter, but Nelso hasn't found you yet, send us a tweet and we'll include you.

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