Twitter for Marketers: Top 10 FAQ's

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This guide is a best practice Q&A for marketers who are already dabbling in Twitter for business purposes. With insights into the most commonly expressed concerns and queries that marketers have about the micro-blogging platform, these explanations are designed to help you bolster your confidence when tweeting. Learn how to gain more traction on tweets, how to use hashtags more effectively, how to use Twitter to promote events and more.

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Question 1:

How can I get the most traction on a tweet?

A recent U.S. study by Carnegie Mellon University, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that a staggering 130 million messages a day sent out on Twitter are simply not worth reading. How you write your tweets is of utmost importance. Of the 1,500 Twitter users questioned within the study, many disliked overuse of hashtags, being told where someone is every time they go out and lots of whinging and complaining.

Twitter is a real-time newswire, and although it hasn’t replaced traditional news, it is frequently the space where news is heard first. For this reason, it’s important that your tweets are fresh and topical. There’s little point in retweeting stale news that’s a few days old or, for that matter, what major news outlets are tweeting, unless you have your own insight or comment to add.

As a marketer with a brand message to share, you instinctively want your tweets to be self-promotional in some shape or form, and this is frequently where confusion and uncertainty sets in. In September 2008, journalist Clive Thompson mused in an editorial for The New York Times Magazine that Twitter had expanded narcissism into "a new, supermetabolic extreme - the ultimate expression of a generation of celebrity-addled youths who believe their every utterance is fascinating and ought to be shared with the world."

To a certain extent, this expression still rings true; the average tweeter does not want to hear what you’ve had for breakfast or how “market leading” your latest product or service is. They do, however, want to hear your professional insights and are particularly receptive to original content created by the tweeter. “The Twitter ecosystem values learning about new content”, the U.S. study claims. So whether it’s an infographic you’ve designed, a blog post you’ve authored or even just a mobile photo - if it’s new content, the average Twitter user is going to be interested in it, regardless of whether it’s generated by a brand or an individual.

Additionally, the U.S. study found that even 140 characters can be too long for some people's rambling comments, and this is echoed in other similar studies. Keeping your tweets succinct and to the point will go a long way towards getting them noticed. Avoid superlatives as much as possible. Furthermore, consider keyword optimising your tweets so that they can be discovered by those interested in specific terms. The Twitter search tool is the easiest place to start with any keyword-based research.

Another study worth considering, by Dan Zarrella of HubSpot, analysed 200,000 link-containing tweets to identify where the best place to put the link was. He discovered that placing your link 25 per cent of the way through your tweet results in the highest clickthrough rate (CTR). In addition, he found that you should not bombard your followers with links - sharing them at a slower pace helps to further improve CTR.

Question 2:

How can I be confident using #hashtags?

Hashtags are far from new but they remain a conundrum for many marketers. The true value of hashtags is that they enable your updates to be seen by not only your own followers but also the hashtag’s. Consequently they can help widen the reach and potential audience of your campaign.

The New York Times’ Social Media Editor, Liz Heron is quotes as saying “Campaign Titles are now decided by coming up with a strong hashtag - it can help a story go viral and crystallise traditional reporting”.

But in cases where brands have tried to get clever and thoughtful with hashtags, there are enough #hashtagfail examples to deter even the most brave, social media-savvy brand from using them.

Multinational fast-food giant McDonald’s was recently forced to backtrack when it’s Twitter hashtag campaign went a bit awry. At the start of the year McDonald’s launched a new marketing initiative on Twitter to promote the company’s focus on healthy ingredients. Assuming their customers and fans would tweet positive, Big Mac-friendly messages they used the hashtags #McDStories and #MeetTheFarmers. As you might imagine, things didn’t go quite to plan: Tweets bashing the McDonald’s brand rapidly gathered critical mass. Examples read:

“#McDStories I once ate a McRib. I was sick for a week and a half.”

“#McDStories Take a McDonald’s fry, let it sit for 6 months. It will not deteriorate or spoil like a normal potato. It will remain how it was.”

The keys to successful hashtags are research and a good understanding of how people behave and communicate across Twitter. At the early campaign planning stages, spend time researching hashtags that you plan to use, and consider alternatives. Branded hashtags like #McDstories are very transparent and often descriptive, but they might turn off people who don’t want to include that brand in their messages. The service is useful when searching for hashtags relevant to your industry with it’s usage volume and trend data. Another good resource is #tagdef, which provides definitions for trending hashtags and allows individuals to add their own. Twitter’s own search facility is also an easy place to go to for hashtag research.

When tracking activity around your campaign, having an easily searchable hashtag can be helpful. This is particularly true if you are running a competition or giveaway and need to identify entrants and winners.

Try to keep hashtags short in length so that you are taking up as few of those all-important 140 characters as possible. Additionally, remember to promote your hashtag on all campaign literature and assets. This is why forward planning is so important when it comes to using hashtags - you wouldn’t want billboards displaying the wrong hashtag or no hashtag at all!

Question 3:

What are the rules regarding product and brand endorsement on Twitter?

From Bieber to Obama, Lady Gaga to Stephen Fry, celebrities hold clout on Twitter. It therefore comes as no surprise that brands are keen to have well-known, influential Twitter accounts publicly endorse or mention their products. One Twitter mention from Britney Spears for example, could rocket or destroy your brand in a matter of hours, depending on the nature of the tweet. Celebrity tweeting can cost up to 10,000 USD for a single tweet depending on who the endorser is and what they are tweeting.

Recently, confectionary giant Mars paid Rio Ferdinand, Amir Khan, Ian Botham, Katie Price and X-Factor contestant Cher Lloyd to post "twitpics" of themselves with Snickers bars as part of an advertising campaign. Ferdinand and Price boast a Twitter following of more than 1.5 million each. But the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received complaints about the campaign, on the basis that the celebrity tweets were misleading. It wasn’t until 90 minutes after the celebrity tweets were sent that Mars followed them up with it’s own tweet explaining that the stars were taking part in a promotion and that the pictures were advertising. As a result, the ASA is investigating the campaign.

The lesson for all marketers is to be 100% transparent about product and brand endorsements on Twitter. Cover-ups and deceptions across social media are always exposed and will ultimately come back to bite you. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) advises that advertisers should always be transparent when promoting brands across social media. Twitter generally allows the paid tweets, as long as they're posted manually and not automated by a computer program. In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission suggests endorsers end their tweets with the hashtag #ad or #spon (short for "sponsored by'') to clarify that they're ads.

Question 4:

What is the best way to organise a tweetchat?

A tweetchat can be an effective, low-cost way of attracting new followers to your brand’s Twitter handle, gathering interest and attention around what you have to say - assuming it is of interest! They can also provide your customers, or those with similar interests, with the opportunity to engage in conversation with each other. One of the largest Twitter chats, #Blogchat, generated over 300 million impressions and over 50,000 tweets during the last four months of 2011.

There are dozens of scheduled tweetchats that happen every week, identifiable by their hashtag. There’s a Google Doc that keeps track of the Twitter Chat Schedule to help Twitter users find chats that may be of interest to them, and Twebevent is another useful place to promote your tweetups. Additionally, it’s worth promoting your tweetchat hashtag via your Twitter profile and within other relevant marketing materials.

A tweetchat shouldn’t be viewed as a marketing opportunity in disguise - it’s crucial that it’s not promotional. Rather, your objective is to be useful and informative. If you are new to the concept of tweetchats, go ahead and take part in a few to get a feel for how they work and what sort of subject matter promotes good dialogue and keeps conversation flowing. Richard Branson’s #askrichard tweetchat is one worth observing for its simple, personalised and honest format and style. Recently, he began introducing video into the tweetchat for questions that he runs out of time to answer, which adds an interesting new dimension.

Deciding on engaging subject matter is crucial - the content needs to be relevant, topical and stimulating enough for the tweetchat to maintain its audience. For example, if your business houses a particular sort of expertise or a respected figure, those can be great ways to pull in a crowd.

Prior to organising a tweetchat, it’s important to think about how you are going to elicit questions from your audience. Some tweetchat moderators invite submissions in advance via their Twitter account; some create a public Google Doc where users can contribute one question each; and others accept questions via Facebook. Take your pick! Remember to credit the Twitter handle of the questioner when answering the question, and if you receive a huge volume of questions, try to pick a nice variety to answer, maybe grouping some similar ones together.

Last, but by no means least, think about the long tail of your tweetchat. Continue to monitor your event hashtag at all times via a social dashboard such as Tweetdeck, and make sure you’re listening to, participating in and amplifying any post-event conversation that utilises your hashtag. Additionally, continue to share relevant content via your Twitter handle with your hashtag, in order to keep your newly established community talking and engaged.

Question 5:

How can I use Twitter to best promote my offline and online events, including webinars?

The Blair Witch Project is thought to be the first widely released film that used the Internet to tell part of the story, creating a captive, rapt audience before the film was even released. It harnessed the early Internet to spark heated debates over whether the film was a reallife documentary or a work of fiction. Today, we have many more social media platforms at our disposal that can be great for promoting online and offline events.

Decide early on a hashtag that best relates to the subject matter or name of your event - it can be an acronym or abbreviation if you want to keep character length short. Be sure to promote it in all pre-event literature and marketing-related content and most importantly, begin to tweet the hashtag from your brand’s Twitter handle. Be careful to balance tweets promoting your event with useful and informative messages related to the subject matter or theme of your event. Be sure to follow anyone who engages with you on Twitter and expresses interest in the event.

Think about making registration for your event social. Within the online registration form, suggest at the end that people share details of the event with their Twitter followers. You can suggest a scripted tweet for them to send out, which they can edit if they prefer.

Additionally, if it is an offline event that you are planning, think about organising a tweetup with your followers on Twitter utilising a platform such as Twtvite.

A great tactical idea is to introduce a “pay with a tweet” element into your event promotion plan. Think about producing a downloadable e-book or white paper, for example, which people can receive for free if they tweet a short, keyword-optimised message about your event or webinar. If it’s a live event that you are organising, you could maybe even give away free tickets or promotional voucher codes via this model.

Alongside this, think about undertaking a Twitter outreach programme prior to your event by looking to connect with authoritative and influential individuals on Twitter who have a special interest or expertise in the subject matter of your event. They may like to receive a personal invite to join your event or webinar and may even be interested in live tweeting during the event itself if it takes place offline.

Another consideration is whether you need to think local. Twitter spans all geographies and time zones, but is there a specific region that your event or webinar is most relevant to? For example, if you are going to be hosting a webinar discussing the UK economy, UK tweeters are probably the most appropriate audience. Similarly, if you are organising an offline event in Brighton, it’s a good idea to seek out influential individuals on Twitter who live or work in Brighton and have an interest in your subject matter. Useful tools for finding people to follow on Twitter by location include Social Friend Adder, Rise Up Dood! and Filtertweeps.

The bottom line is that when used effectively, Twitter can be a great, free tool for publicising your events. Citrix GoToWebinar has discovered that webinars promoted via Twitter result in a 50 per cent reduction in Cost Per Lead (CPL) in relation to other media.

Question 6:

How can Twitter be used to encourage conversation

Twitter can provide a useful stream of commentary and conversation around events of all sorts that take place both online and offline. When conversation is annotated with a suitable hashtag, individuals anywhere in the world can follow the keynote speeches and debates of events they are interested in but were unable to attend for cost, location or time reasons. Encouraging this sort of conversation is a great way of making your events more social and widening their virtual reach.

If you are running a webinar or online event, be sure to find a suitable moderator - ideally someone impartial with editor skills. He or she should have a good grasp of the event’s subject matter and what’s topical and likely to stir debate. He or she should follow the conversation that is taking place on Twitter during the webinar or event and respond as soon as is appropriate. Twitter can serve as a real-time barometer of what delegates and attendees are feeling during these events, and if a strong consensus of opinion is evident, drawing the Twitter discussion into the actual event can add an interesting new dimension.

Live tweeting is another way of creating original content for a brand during an offline event. For example, Oscar de la Renta, a high-end fashion brand, uses a roving reporter to offer live Twitter commentary during events that it is hosting. In addition to textual tweets, photos (via platforms such as Twitpic, Yfrog and Instagram) can be just as powerful for encouraging dialogue during an offline event and showing those not in attendance what they are missing. Save your highresolution photos to be processed later but upload snapshots from your phone instantly to create a visual sense of live streaming.

Questions can be useful for encouraging Twitter conversation during and after online events in particular. If you are able to ask questions pertinent to the event via Twitter, denoting them with your event hashtag, you can add another layer of discussion to your event. Remember to thank any contributors for their input and follow them.

For events taking place offline, a tweet wall - a huge screen behind speakers that displays hashtagged tweets in real time - can be an incredibly visual way of building Twitter conversation during a conference or event. This also helps promote Twitter commentary between event attendees via their mobile devices. But be aware that this “backchannel” can backfire if the tweets become negative or go off topic. All that interaction can derail speakers as they try to respond to the “interference”, so a tweet wall must be thought through well.

There are many different types of tweet walls. Some show incoming tweets in a linear, blog-style fashion. Others display incoming tweets one-by-one in a colourful, artistic way (sometimes via a tag cloud). Tweet wall software worth investigating include TweetFeed, Visible Tweets and Another Tweet on the Wall. There are many alternatives on the market, both free and priced.

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Question 7:

Does Twitter impose any editorial controls?

On January 26 2012, Twitter announced that it would begin restricting tweets in certain countries. “Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country while keeping it available in the rest of the world” the company revealed on its blog.

This marked a sharp policy change for the social media platform, which a year earlier took a hands-off approach when anti-government protesters in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab countries coordinated mass demonstrations through the social network.

In terms of the sort of content that might be censored, Twitter gave the example of pro-Nazi content, which is banned in France and Germany. In theory, the new system could have been used last year to block tweets exposing details hidden by super-injunctions about celebrities.

Due to the sheer volume of tweets that are sent every minute, filtering individual tweets before they are posted is neither desirable nor realistic. Therefore, Twitter is only going to be reactive in the way that it censors content.

For most brands and organisations, this is just something to be aware of at present. But as the number of lawsuits being filed against Twitter increases, it’s likely that the social media organisation will take a tougher stance.

An additional control to be aware of is the volume cap on tweets that can be sent from a Twitter account in one day. Currently, this stands at 250 direct messages and 1,000 tweets. Recently, this limit was tested by mobile operator O2 when it requested an extension for a single day, but the request was refused by Twitter.

Question 8:

Should we allow our employees to tweet for us?

If you are consumer electronics retailer Best Buy, the answer is a resounding “yes”. It’s award-winning Twelpforce campaign is a shining example of how employees can be empowered to tweet on behalf of their brand, showcasing their expertise and know-how with a personal nametag on the tweets they write.

The retailer encourages its employees to handle online customer service and company promotions via the Twelpforce Twitter channel with associated work on Facebook and YouTube. Employees use their Twitter ID to register for the Twelpforce service - employees are encouraged to create a new Twitter account for this. Once registered, Best Buy employees from across all operations are able to send messages from the central @twelpforce account. Best Buy refers to the setup as “a collective force of Best Buy technology pros offering tech advice in tweet form”. People ask @twelpforce a technology question and the collective Best Buy intelligence answers.

However the case for employees’ use of social media is becoming increasingly tested, with many brands unwilling to grant their staff such freedom and trust on Twitter. The past few months have seen more and more cases arise in which employees’ personal and professional use of social networking sites has created uncomfortable situations.

Last year, someone with access to the official Chrysler Twitter account, @ChryslerAutos, dropped an F-bomb on it’s 7,500+ followers: “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f**king drive”, the tweet read. The tweet was rapidly deleted, but it had already been retweeted, and according to reports, the culprit was an employee of the social media agency who was running Chrysler’s Twitter account.

Currently in the U.S., a case is going through the courts where an employee is being sued for taking his 17,000 follower Twitter handle with him when he left. The company, Phonedog, claims that it helped Noah Kravitz to establish his online identity on Twitter during the four years that he worked for them. According to PhoneDog, his Twitter handle is worth about $42,500 a month.

Question 8:

Should we allow our employees to tweet for us?

Brands and organisations who encourage their employees to tweet on behalf of their business, either through personal or company Twitter handles, face definite risks. But there is real value to be had in a personal and human approach to Twitter, as opposed to a corporate and scripted one. Many organisations are going down the route of issuing staff with Twitter guidelines, outlining best practice and, most importantly, the dos and don’ts of what they can say.

Sky News recently told its journalists not to repost information from any Twitter users who are not an employee of the broadcaster. This includes a ban on retweeting rival “journalists or people on Twitter”. Reporters have also been warned to “stick to [their] own beat” and not to tweet about non-work subjects from their professional accounts. However, the guidelines advise that when a “story has been tweeted by a Sky News journalist who is assigned to the story, it is fine, desirable in fact, that it is retweeted by other Sky News staff.”

In a similar piece of news, the FA recently warned footballers that what they write via Twitter can be subject to disciplinary action. The advice came following a huge increase in the number of disciplinary cases that the FA has had to deal with as a result of footballers behaving unprofessionally on Twitter. In January 2012, Leicester City defender Michael Ball was fined £6,000 for posting homophobic comments on Twitter, which ultimately cost him his contract. Queens Park Rangers captain, Joey Barton, has also been warned against posting match predictions on Twitter, which was seen as insider betting information.

Ultimately, for many marketers, establishing a presence for their brand on Twitter is no longer a choice but a necessity. As more and more customers turn to Twitter for customer service needs and enquiries, the more personalised approach they receive, the better. Having guidelines in place, particularly for new employees joining the company, is a sensible move. Establishing measures to clarify who “owns” the Twitter account if an employee moves will increasingly become a requirement as more legal precedents are set.

Question 9:

What should we do if someone has hijacked our brand on Twitter?

Future-proofing your brand’s presence on Twitter goes a long way towards protecting yourself against brandjacking. Consider any potential Twitter handles that you may need in the future for business divisions, sister brands, senior people, etc., and claim them. If you have no immediate plans for these Twitter handles and they are going to be laying dormant for a while, then to keep your account active, be sure to log in and tweet within six months of your last update. Accounts may be permanently removed due to prolonged inactivity.

One of the challenges with Twitter is that anyone can create an account and brandjack, or cybersquat, corporate names. It’s important to confirm to the Twitter community that your corporate or brand Twitter account is official. An easy way to do this is to link from your corporate website to your Twitter handle, and vice versa. This method, called a “crosslink”, confirms to Twitter that the account is official.

Twitter users are allowed to create parody, commentary or fan accounts. One famous example is the @BPPublicRelations Twitter account, which was set up during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill crisis to mock BP and expose its PR blunders. With over 150,000 followers, the spoof Twitter account has acquired exponentially more followers than BP’s official Twitter account has. The handle, @BP_America, boasts a modest 36,000 followers by comparison. Despite BP’s efforts to shut down the fake account, Twitter has done nothing, as the account is clearly ironic and not purporting to be official.

However, accounts with the clear intent to confuse or mislead may be permanently suspended. Impersonation, whereby someone pretends to be another person or entity in order to deceive, is a violation of the Twitter Rules and may result in permanent account suspension. If you wish to report someone for impersonation on Twitter, you can do so online via the Twitter Help Centre.

Twitter has in place a Verified Accounts programme, which establishes authenticity of well-known accounts so users can trust that the author is legitimate. These Twitter accounts display a blue tick “Verified Badge” on their Twitter bio. Verified Accounts must be public and actively tweeting. Twitter does not accept public requests for verification.

Twitter’s Verified Accounts programme recently hit the news however, when an account purporting to be Wendi Deng, Rupert Murdoch's wife, was verified for an entire day even though it was fake. The verification process is supposed to guarantee to Twitter users that these people are who they say they are. But, as fakeWendi herself said, "You have to wonder... why Twitter verified this account for a full day. I never received any communication from them about this." This just goes to show that even Twitter gets it wrong sometimes.

Question 9:

What should we do if someone has hijacked our brand on Twitter?

Some important lessons can be learnt from brands that have been unfortunate enough to find themselves in the middle of a Twitter firestorm. The Twitterverse can be very unforgiving when brands get it wrong or try to be clever with Twitter when they might be better served improving the quality of their product or service first - before they ask people to talk about them publicly.

Last year, the Guardian demonstrated such a mistake when it was forced to shut down a special Twitter account that caused outrage among readers. The account @911tenyearsago, established to report the 10-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks, barely lasted an hour before the Guardian cancelled it with just 16 tweets of the many hundreds it clearly had planned. The idea was to cover "the events of 9/11, tweeted as they happened in 2001." The social backlash on Twitter was swift, with many people labelling the tweets as "a bad idea" and "a bit sick".

One user's tweet read: "Sorry, Guardian, but @911tenyearsago doesn't feel right to me. There's a difference between remembering and reliving."

Towards the end of last year, airline Qantas decided to launch a competition on Twitter, offering 50 pairs of first-class pyjamas and luxury amenity kits. It invited people to answer the question, “What is your dream luxury inflight experience?” using the hashtag #QantasLuxury. But the timing of the giveaway was problematic. If anything, the marketing department seemed out of touch with the rest of the company, which was dealing with the repercussions of grounding a Qantas fleet a few weeks earlier.

As a result, the sentiment of the Twitter responses didn’t match what Qantas had had in mind, with many people tweeting about their grievances with the company using the competition hashtag. Miraculously, the competition continued as the Qantas social media team turned a blind eye to the deluge of sarcastic comments.

Without wishing to navel gaze too much, it is always worth taking heed of high-profile mistakes made on Twitter and, where appropriate, using these lessons to continually update and improve your own Twitter policies and campaign plans.

A Final Thought

Jeff Bezos, CEO of once said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” What do people really say about your brand? In order to be brave on Twitter as a marketer, you must be aware of what your customers are saying about you online across all social channels. Be confident that you have a good product and treat customer service with the utmost priority.

Ask yourself: what do your customers expect from your company when it comes to Twitter? Look at what your industry competitors are doing; consider their approach, tone of voice, purpose and level of activity. Be aware of the hashtags they are using and the conversations they are joining. For the digitally ignorant marketer, it can pay off to “lurk” for a while until you feel confident in Twitter etiquette and behaviour, specifically within your industry sector.

Try not to think of Twitter as just words. Photo and video sharing is becoming increasingly prevalent across the micro-blogging platform, offering multidimensional ways for sharing information and ideas with your followers, as well as for telling your brand or company story.

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