Should you follow everyone who follows you? Which hashtags should you use for your business? And is it a bad idea to start a reply with the @ symbol? Twitter is a killer marketing tool, if you know how to use it.
You know Twitter can be a game-changer. You've read about companies achieving amazing results with tweeting campaigns. And you wonder if you could you make the same magic work for your product or company.
There's no way to guarantee success with a Twitter campaign, but you can stack the odds in your favor by following some simple tips to vastly increase your effectiveness. Here's how to get the most bang for your tweet:
1. Follow wisely.
Some think of Twitter as a numbers game, in which the more followers you have, the more powerful you are, and so they build up as large a number of followers as possible. Experts say a more surgical approach works better.
Whatever you do, don't automatically follow every account that follows yours. Some may be spammers or even porn spammers. And services that promise huge numbers of followers are probably a bad investment.
"If you have 25 super powerful followers willing to review your product and they each have a lot of followers and blog readers, then you are going to do a lot better than with 5,000 more random followers," notes Penny Sansevieri, CEO of Author Marketing Experts. She particularly recommends following industry experts who do a lot of retweeting—with any luck your posts may get retweeted too.
How do you get these powerful followers? The first step is to follow them. Some will follow you back if your tweets contain valuable or interesting information. Another good strategy is to connect by reading and commenting on their blogs.
2. Take full advantage of search.
"The biggest unused Twitter resource for small business owners is the search.twitter.com function," says Alexis Wolfer, founder and editor-in-chief of TheBeautyBean.com, an online publication that got its start on Twitter. "You can search for what people are talking about in real time, which is very powerful. I can search for 'drugstore mascara' and see the people doing anything using those words. So if someone is at a drugstore wondering what mascara to buy, I can say, 'Hey, did you see this article we wrote on the best drugstore mascaras?'"
Advanced search settings give you many useful options, including the ability to search for keywords in a specific geographic location, or in tweets containing question marks. These are likely to be questions that you may be able to answer, which will build good will and gain you new followers.
"Twitter's search only goes back for a few weeks, so if you want to search further back in time, consider using FriendFeed, advises Tim Frick, author of Return on Engagement: Content Strategy and Design Techniques for Digital Marketing. He also suggests getting an RSS feed for the keywords most important to you. (You can do this on Twitter by clicking "RSS feed for this query" near the bottom of the page after entering a search term.)
By the same token, you should know which hashtags are most important for your industry and company. How do you find out? On hashtags.org you can enter any hashtag and see how it's trending.
3. Time your tweets.
Most Twitter users don't look at tweets that are more than a couple of hours old, so if you want people to actually read your posts, you should time them for when you have the largest live audience.
When is that? "If you have followers all over the world, Eastern Time during business hours is the best time to tweet," Sansevieri says. "Generally, past noon Pacific Time is less useful. Retweeting starts to drop off toward the end of the day." Although this is a good general rule, your customers' habits may be different, so try experimenting, for instance by offering giveaways on different days and at different times to see which get the greatest response.
If the best tweet time for your market isn't the most convenient for you, you can schedule tweets in advance using applications such as TweetDeck or HootSuite. Wolfer does this, for instance, to schedule some tweets in the middle of the night Eastern Time in order to reach her followers in Australia and Asia.
4. Aim for Friday.
One of the most popular hashtags is #ff, an abbreviation for "Follow Friday." Follow Friday is a tradition in which Twitter users on Fridays list interesting Twitter accounts that they recommend following. Though the hashtag is overused and sometimes abused, it's still worth considering when making your plans.
It's counter-productive to ask your followers or customers to recommend you on Follow Fridays. But you can time your most interesting tidbits of information, giveaways, announcements or other posts you know the Twitter community will especially like so that they happen on Fridays. That way, you may be top of mind when your followers start thinking about whom to recommend. "Friday is when you want people talking about you," says Ashley Jewell, director of social media marketing for NAP, Inc. which launched its Boba Baby Carrier with a highly successful Twitter campaign.
5. Think retweet.
What's the longest your tweets should be? If you answered 140 characters, you're wrong. That's because -- you hope -- your most interesting tweets and appealing promotions will be retweeted by your followers, and then their followers, and on and on. A retweet means adding the initials RT followed by your Twitter name. If someone retweets someone else's retweet of your tweet (whew!) a second Twitter name may be included as well. If you started out with 140 characters, some will get lopped off at the end to make room for these additions.
"If the end of the tweet is a link, as it often is, then your link will be lost," Frick notes. To avoid having this happen, he and other experts recommend keeping your tweets to 120 characters at most. A relatively short Twitter name can help too.
But you won't get retweeted in the first place, or gain much attention on Twitter, unless you tweet information and links that others find interesting or valuable. Thus, you should avoid having your Twitter stream consist of a list of announcements about your products and other marketing messages. "Business owners get caught up worrying about issues such as what their background will look like or what their brand will be," Sansevieri says. "None of that is as important as their engagement with the community. That's why posting things on Twitter when you have nothing to gain will bring huge rewards. The more you give people what they want, the more they'll give you what you want."