unlocking twitter business benefits

Here is one of the most common business inquiries I receive: “I am about to launch a (business/book/seminar) and want to use Twitter to do it. Can you help me?”

My answer is usually “yes … I can help,” but my advice is rather unsettling. Twitter probably won’t work to help your business unless you follow three best practices first, and this is enough to stop most people in their tracks.

Although it is certainly possible to have a short-term business success on Twitter, it is not probable without months — or even years — of work first. Behind every case study there are three factors at work and these stepping stones are climbed only through a lot of preparation and effort.

Before we get into the details, I want to emphasize that there are many business benefits to Twitter that DON’T require a lot of preparation, You can use it for market research, education, and customer service, for example, without the steps I am about to explain. But if you want to generate leads and SELL something some day, pay attention to the advice below.

1. The network strategy

I have nearly 90,000 followers on Twitter and I go to great lengths to assure that they are real people, not spammers of inactive accounts.

If I sent out a tweet right now promoting my new book, how many people would actually buy it? Not very many. Why? Your Twitter audience is generally made up of “weak links.” These are people who are aware of you but probably won’t take a strong action like donate to a cause or buy something just because you ask.

Think of this like sales. You have to have a lot of contacts for any of them to turn into leads. You have to have a lot of leads before they turn into a sales call. You have to make a lot of sales calls before you find people who will actually buy from you.

Twitter is much the same way. If you have 2,000 followers, you are not going to sell 2,000 books, You might sell one!

You have to consistently and methodically build a relevant audience of “contacts” before you find those relatively few who will actually buy something. There are many ways to find these wonderful people including mining Twitter lists, Advanced Twitter Search, Twitter chats, and even through Twitter’s advertising programs.

The single-best place to go for resources to build your network is Chapter 5 of the book The Tao of Twitter, which has more than 20 ideas. You need to continually find these relevant people, even if you only spend 20 minutes a day on this activity.

2. The content strategy

So the idea behind sales and Twitter is to turn these weak links into stronger links that will lead to real business opportunities. Now that you have built up a list of people who will have some disposition to be interested in you, you have to get on their radar screen and usually it is your CONTENT that leads to that awareness.

Content can come in many forms. Here are a few ideas about the types of content that can get people’s attention:

Rich content — The most powerful content is original, “rich content” that provides depth and voice of authority. Generally speaking, rich content comes in the form of a blog, podcast or video series. It’s hard work providing this content on a consistent basis but this is the type of value that makes you stand out and create a deeper connections with these weak relationships. Linking tweets to your original and helpful content can spur people to learn more about you.

Content from others — If you do a good job surrounding yourself with a relevant audience, they will also be sending you links to wonderful content through their tweets each day. Re-tweeting others takes the burden of finding content off your shoulders and also compliments others when you acknowledge their good work. Re-tweeting is a superb way to get on somebody’s radar screen!

Contests and games — People love the opportunity to win prizes. Promoting a contest is a great way to create awareness, especially when combined with Twitter advertising.

Personal engagement — Show people your human side whenever possible, If you are tweeting as an individual, mention things going on in your life or tweet a photo now and then. If you are tweeting under a corporate account, think about adding initials to the end of every tweet so people can know there is a real person behind the content.

3. Consistent Engagement

Social media is SOCIAL. It’s not very effective creating an audience without engaging with them or simply shipping content out there like an advertisement.

When I was starting out in business, I used to attend a lot of live, monthly networking meetings. It would take 4-5 months before people started to recognize me and get to know me. It might take six months before those connections led to a cup of coffee and a real business discussion.

In real life, we build meaningful relationships — strong links — through a series of engagements over a period of time, maybe even years. Networking on the web is the same way. It takes time, patience, and consistent engagement.

Look for opportunities to say hello to people online, to compliment them, to re-tweet something they provide that is exceptional. And always look for ways to actually MEET people in real life. That is the best way to convert those weak social media connections to strong relationships who can help you.

Managing expectations

I can’t tell you how many people come to me thinking Twitter (or social media in general) is some miracle cure. It’s not. It CAN work, but you need to have realistic expectations about HOW it works and what it takes to get there.

There is no quick or easy way to create business benefits through Twitter, but I can also tell that if you do the hard work, it’s worth it. Twitter — combined with rich content, a relevant audience and consistent engagement — has helped many people build careers, find jobs, promote causes, discover new markets, hire valuable employees, and yes … even find new customers!

I hope this perspective helps and that you’ll take a moment to share it across your networks as your own helpful content that connects with your relevant audience. After all, nothing says I love you like a re-tweet now and then!

Illustration courtesy of Flickr CC and Grace Smith.

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