posted 10 May 2011 in Volume 14 Issue 6
Too many tweets?
Elizabeth Donevan reports on a recent UKFast round table exploring the role of Twitter in business development and marketing
During the run up to Twitter’s fifth birthday in March this year, rumours circulated around the possible £6bn sale of the social media platform to suitors including Facebook and Google. Industry insiders digested the potential deal and commented on Twitter’s thus far loss-making status during Social Media Week 2011. Now more than ever perhaps, Twitter’s position in the social media hierarchy and its usefulness to businesses is being hotly debated.
Lawrence Jones, managing director of UKFast – a web hosting firm with 4,000 clients – has witnessed first hand the attitudes of businesses towards social media, including Twitter, and how they’ve changed over the past five years. “In many cases now, we deal directly with social media experts at organisations,” he said. “Just having a social media specialist within your business is a very recent concept, and 70 per cent of the time they are focusing the majority of their efforts on Twitter. Despite this, many organisations still aren’t sure how to harness Twitter as a business tool and even those larger companies which think they do know, might not be going about it in the right way.”
As part of its series of round table events, which are based on matters of interest to growing internet businesses, UKFast invited six social media experts to its
Joining Jonathan Bowers, communications director at UKFast, was Laura Wolfe, founder and managing director of marketing firm Journey9.
Wolfe shared her experience of winning a major contract through Twitter and was keen to point out that the business deal came about as a result of a conversation about her favourite football club,
“I started on Twitter by joining conversations about things I was interested in,” said Wolfe. “I’m a huge
The panellists agreed that developing a Twitter strategy is easy if approached in the right way. It was established that many small and medium-sized enterprises waste time and money on half-baked social media plans because they ignore the fundamental purpose of the platform.
Coral Grainger, founder of Manchester-based consultancy firm Capital Relations, noted that at its heart, Twitter is a conversation platform. “Be yourself, be honest and be true to your clear values,” she said. “Don’t try to do the hard sell. Share your interests and your passion and find out about other people’s interests too. Through that connection you’ll build relationships – often personal ones in the first instance, but if they turn into conversations that help you build your business, that’s great.”
A consistent approach
According to Chi-chi Ekweozor, director at Realfresh.tv, it’s crucial for businesses to display authenticity and consistency when on Twitter in order to establish trust and, with that, a Twitter following.
“Do that by leaving a gap of at least 15 tweets between selling yourself,” says Ekweozor. “You shouldn’t just tweet about your company information or your product. In Twitter speak, that’s just talking at people. You need to get on there and listen to what your peers and your clients are talking about.
This way you will pick up tips on using Twitter, which involve talking to people, and that is essentially what the platform is about.
“As soon as you can, include the @ symbol before a person’s Twitter handle, that way you are talking to them directly. It makes you more approachable and demonstrates that you enjoy conversation via social media,” added Ekweozer.
Tom Stables, lecturer in online business at the
“When you first get on there, no one is listening – don’t be put off by that,” he said. “Get involved in the conversations and it will begin to make sense. But don’t just use it as a forum to make announcements. Don’t over think it. Engage with people, talk to them, listen to what they are saying and get stuck in.”
That’s not to say businesses shouldn’t plan their Twitter attack. Nor should they presume that a presence on the site is necessary.
The right fit
Leanne Forshaw-Jones is currently director of digital communications for PR firm Roland Dransfield. Previously she managed the online communications and media strategy for property firm Urban Splash. She highlighted the importance of using Twitter for the right reasons.
“Think about it properly and listen to what existing users are saying and doing before you dive in – you don’t have to sign-up and start tweeting to do that. Learn from that experience and then find out if it’s the right place for your business and your brand,” she said.
While understanding the common teething problems for businesses using Twitter for the first time, the panellists agreed that it should be a key element of most organisations’ marketing strategies and offered their advice on how to maximise its potential.
Panellists agreed that SMEs should adopt a personal and consistent approach to Twitter and said it was important to find the right individual to tweet. While big corporates can use the brand as their Twitter personality, SMEs should nominate one person to develop their status, who should adopt a friendly and personal approach online.
They were keen to point out that a half-hearted attempt at developing a presence on the social media platform could be more harmful to a business and a brand than ignoring it entirely.
“You need to find the person in the business, who will commit to maintaining the presence on Twitter,” added Forshaw-Jones. “I’ve seen too many businesses who’ve created an account on there; it’s got their branding all over it and there are two tweets up, or nothing at all. That’s a fatal flaw. You need to find the person within the organisation who will be patient, stick at it and search for the relevant news or people to be linked to.”
Jonathan Bowers suggested businesses are delaying any investment in social media strategies because of a lack of evidence of the impact on the bottom line.
According to Paul Sutton, head of digital communications at Oxford-based Bottle PR, how businesses could measure the impact of investment in Twitter was a common question. “I’m coming to the conclusion that you can’t measure it effectively yet. We still don’t have the clear link to show that it’s impacting the bottom line. But many of its users are keen to establish that link between Twitter and business so hopefully it’s not too far away,” he said.
Ekweozor disagreed, saying that while Twitter lags behind Facebook in terms of how easily its impact can be measured, there are some key indicators that businesses can use to decide how useful their Twitter strategy is.
“You can measure it to a degree. You can get some stats. You can see how many people retweet what you say and how that affects your followers. It is slowly becoming a science, but at the moment we are still a bit obsessed with the celebrity side of things on Twitter,” said Ekweozor.
The panellists agreed that tweets that refer to special offers and point-of-sale redeemable vouchers were effective for a select few – those that users follow for the sole reason of securing discounts. For the majority of tweeters, however, they felt that the hard sell was largely ineffective.
“Twitter is about observing what people say on a casual basis,” said Sutton. “It’s about profile building, not selling. Discounts are a separate thing – people have chosen to be targeted with discount codes. Generally though, people aren’t receptive to the hard sell on Twitter.”
Discussing the quantitative return on investment for tweeting, Jones cited Dell as an example of an organisation that has cashed in on the micro-blogging site. In 2009, Dell reported that it had earned around $6.5m from its DellOutlet account on Twitter. That amount was made through sales of Dell PCs, accessories and software related to promotions made by the company on the site.
“Dell has shown how a trusted brand can use a Twitter account effectively,” said Jones. Its strategy also combines discounts and special offers on products with a personal approach to customer service. It has carefully selected which products to sell and to which target marketplace.”
The panel also discussed whether businesses are wise to publicise their client list by developing them as contacts on Twitter.
“For most businesses, their client base is their bread and butter,” said Bowers. By putting that client base on Twitter, he added, are you inviting your competitors to poach them?
“If you are doing a good job, the good will out,” said Granger. “People will talk about it and they will be loyal. You will retain that list because you’re providing a good product or service.”
Ekweozor added: “A business can build its Twitter base by following its competitors’ clients and engaging with them on matters of mutual interest. It happens all the time and it can be a strategy that works very effectively to grow your following.
“However, if you hide your customer base and you’re not in touch with your clients on Twitter, you’re not giving them the opportunity to advocate you on that platform. Meanwhile your competitor may still end up following them and trying to build a relationship with them. If this happens, there’s a chance your clients will form a relationship with your competitor instead of developing the one they already have with you.”
For further information about the UKFast round table series, contact Elizabeth Donevan at Elizabeth.email@example.com