A good while ago I wrote a long post about problems with the Twitter @reply system — Twitter it seems have been trying to fix this, but causing problems (see #fixreplies). I may humbly suggest that the now updated post is worth a read.
Last week I used a Sweetcron installation, a red pen, some cardboard and scissors to build The Twitterlizer (excuse the American spelling). It aggregates mentions of the phrase “digitally included” from across the social web, YouTube, flickr, 12 seconds, blogs, Twitter — especially Twitter, if you’re logged in to Twitter it will even tweet for you with one click.
The aim is to use it to persuade other people to help someone else understand something on the web, and we’re using Twitter as the main thrust because it is so simple. It’s a little trite, and people will in no way really be “digitally included” just because they’ve tweeted — but it’s a start and a start of a helping relationship. If you’re happy to show someone Twitter, you’ll be happy to show them all sorts of useful stuff — and hopefully they’ll be happy to ask for help.
It’s all part of the social enterprise I’m involved with — We Share Stuff — we believe that using IT to share experiences and make connections is a far better way to get people able to use the technology than any formal training or certificate. Social interaction is a much bigger driver than a job using a spreadsheet.
We’re running an event at the National Digital Inclusion Conference – Mon 27th and Tues 28th – in London. So if you’re going to that please stop by and say hello. If you’re interested in digital inclusion but can’t afford the (very high) cost of attendance then we’re also hosting a FREE fringe event on the Monday evening in Westminster, come along and meet us, hopefully as many interested delegates as we can grab, and others who are interested in really doing something to share their knowledge and experience. See more details on www.twitterlizer.com.
If you can’t make it to London, then give us a tweet, and digitally include someone too.
First written May ’09, updated (slightly) April ’11.
Although listening is the most important way of using Twitter for a brand or organisation, you’ll want to do some actual tweeting too — or it’s not a conversation. Here are some generic tips on how this can work well, based on my work with a number of organisations. Again, I’ll assume that you’ve got a basic idea what Twitter is and got an account. I’ll use the example of a theatre venue here, as it’s something I’ve been thinking about, but the principles should be applicable across organisations.
What to tweet
Twitter is all about adding value to other people – on a personal level you get this value back in kind (your questions answered, or being entertained), for a business you would hope that it’s a loss leader for sales (like making the seats in your venue nicer than the absolute basic). In order to make valuable and useful tweets it’s good to think about the “value” of each tweet that the organisation makes — they should be (at least one of):
- Interesting : eg. an exciting new booking for the venue (or new product, whatever)
- Entertaining (or nicely personal) : eg. something interesting backstage (This tweet of mine from the Warwick Arts Centre of Rapunzel’s hair would be a good example) – this is mostly where the personality of the tweeters can come through*
- Informative: eg. a road closure nearby (this might not affect just visitors, but useful locally), cancellations, additional dates to sold out shows…
- Helpful: mainly this is responding to queries either asked directly to @yourname or that we can see through the search feeds.
*The “entertaining” tweets are very attached to people’s personalities — brands don’t have personalities, but the tweeters do. It can depend on the size or your organisation, and the number of people tweeting from it as to how you can best get the personality out.
Personality matters, how to get it through
For a very small organisation, one person bands especially, showing the personality can be quite easy to do — if one person is doing all the tweeting it will happen quite naturally. But if one person is responsible for Twitter in a larger organisation, what happens then they are on holiday or at weekends? If your Twitter contacts get used to a certain level of updates or response, a dead period can break trust — people will drift off and get information elsewhere. Because of this it’s important to share out the responsibility of Twitter (both monitoring and responding), there are a number of different strategies.
One, employed to good effect by Channel Four News (@channel4news) is to decide on an organisational tone of voice — theirs is lightly conspiratorial, and friendly — but then not say at all who is actually tweeting. I would suspect that one of the broadcast assistants is put “on Twitter duty” each day. This is useful for a very well know organisation, but it is a barrier to conversation — Channel Four News don’t have to work hard to build contacts or answer difficult customers (or deliver information), they are there to create a friendly atmosphere and to extend the culture/community around the programmes, they don’t need to build personal relationships.
Another way of letting the personality though is to “sign” some of the tweets — this works well for the asides, the entertaining nonsense that builds networks. By signing the tweets I mean tweeting messages that are linked to real people — you could do this my leaving a name/initials after a circumflex at the end of the tweet (“just seen something odd ^jon”) or better still link the organisation’s tweets to the Twitters of individual people one their own accounts. This can be done technically (by services like GroupTweet or ConnectTweet, or by bespoke filters — I’ve used Yahoo Pipes and Twitterfeed for this purpose) and can work really well when people are already using Twitter for themselves.
An example of a use of GroupTweet is the Twitter stream of my radio show The Big Paws (@thebigpaws) — we use normal (“unsigned”) tweets for information, and GroupTweet fed direct messages from our own accounts for “asides”. GroupTweet has a slight technical issue in that you can’t follow people outside the organisation with the account (as it works by retweeting direct messages), ConnectTweet uses #hashtags, which solves that but does leave brand tweets also in the originators account.
Whichever method you choose it’s still up to all tweeters to understand what’s appropriate to say on behalf of the brand or organisation — but this is no different to them speaking in public offline, and you trust them to do that, right? Spamming isn’t a good idea, everyone must understand that.
Here are a few tips of how to structure tweets, what to include and a few common pitfalls to be aware of:
- When tweeting a link (to a new blog post, or anything else on your site or not) tweet the direct link to the actual content – don’t just tweet a link to your website and expect people to find it (use a URL shortener like bit.ly with stats if you’re interested in how many people click on it).
- Watch how often you tweet links to your content — most people are capable of finding your blog posts without twittered links. Don’t automatically set links to be tweeted as new posts are posted, or at least set up a separate Twitter account for that and mark it clearly as a feed of your new posts. If you have a new blog post that you’re really excited about and want to tweet about, communicate that excitement in the tweet.
- Asking for a ReTweet is a little desparate, make interesting content and people will want to pass it on — be very careful about asking for ReTweets, campaigns are a possible use, but your latest blog post isn’t.
- Think about when to tweet, if you want to generate a fun discussion (or even a more weighty one) then think about when your network is most partial to that sort of thing. Friday afternoons are good for fun, Monday mornings, not so much — although your network might display different characteristics.
When and how often to tweet
This is really the same question; each tweet exists separately and due to the ambient and transient nature of how people read Twitter there isn’t really a too much or a wrong time — as long a each tweet is adding something to the people who read it. The tweeter has to ask themselves “why should anyone care about this?” — friends will put up with things from you that people you’re hoping to communicate with as a brand won’t. Tweet useful and interesting stuff and people will want to engage, don’t and they won’t.
As ever any questions, improvements or suggestions are welcome — these can only be very broad tips because each organisation is different, but I hope they’re useful. I’m very happy to talk to you about specific cases (and I’m @bounder btw).
If you’re doing any sort of professional work on Twitter then the main part of what you should do is listen. Listen to see what people are saying about you or your areas of expertise. You might find useful information, or you might find useful contacts or leads — or more likely you’ll be able to help people who are asking questions about you or things you aspire to be seen as expert about. In this quick guide I’ll use the term “brand” but really, “interest” area is just as valid. I’m going to assume that you’ve used Twitter (if not here’s a quick start guide), and that your “brand” has a Twitter account — if not then then the listening will all be of “interest” type but it’ll still be worthwhile, and will help you get used to how people use it to talk about services or products or subject areas.
I’ll do a “how to tweet on behalf of a brand” guide soon, as I’m doing a bit of work in that area with a couple of organisations — they’re very different in scope and what I find out there will be useful to others I hope. But first to the listening…
Twitter Search and RSS
Importantly you’ll need to (learn to) use Twitter Search and RSS, and particularly Advanced Search. We’ll use the search to build queries that show you the sort of things about your brand or subject area that you need to know.
You can refine your searches with; Words, People (to, from or about), Places (Near this place,Within this distance), Dates, Attitudes (With positive attitude :), With negative attitude :(, Asking a question ?), or Containing links.
When you’ve got the searches up, you can subscribe to an RSS feed of new results — it’s by far the best way, and it’s the one that will keep you sane.
First up you’ll want to monitor all @replies to you – especially if you don’t have anyone monitoring your account all day. Yes the @replies tab shows you this, but this is mainly about monitoring – not spending all day checking twitter as if it was an email inbox.
You should probably also set up a search (and subscribe to the RSS feed) of any tweets “referencing” your account name – which is mentioning you without it being the first.
After that it’s up to you, pick the combinations and searches that bring up things you’re interested in – if you’re a local business you might try tweets near you matching your work (a plumber could set up searches for “burst pipe” or “plumber” within their catchment area) if you’re a nationwide (or worldwide) organisation then you’ll have to find another way to filter down to
How you chose to respond to the tweets you find is up to you, to simply respond and say “you’ve been talking about X hire me” would be seen as spam. But again, to use the plumber example you could offer advice to help and build trust that way (eg “turn off your water, the stopcock might well be…” or “if your heating isn’t coming on, check the pilot light of your boiler”), chances are helpful tweets will be well received — good vibes for your brand might build business slowly or quickly, but they’ll be worth it in the end.
Make sure your profile offers enough information: website address, even phone number if you like so that anyone you’ve interacted with knows who you are and how to find out more or contact you.
All this works best with RSS, to try to monitor everything in real time (whether in a tool like TweetDeck, or by manually refreshing the search page) would be time consuming and would eventually drive you crazy. RSS is the key to managing information, and it’ll be worth your time to try to get to grips with it.
But if you really struggle, then there is a way to get this stuff by email — TweetBeep
TweetBeep is like Google alerts for Twitter, you can use the site to send you an email when new things match your search terms. For keywords, people or location it’s nothing Twitter’s own search facility doesn’t offer – apart from the email alerts, which can be set to come to you hourly, daily etc.
This post was written way back in Twitter’s first flush of youth, Feb 2009, but I’ve updated it to reflect some technical changes and other stuff as of April 2010.
Been hearing all the hype about Twitter, but don’t know how to have a go? Here’s a quick guide to starting off, helping you to avoid getting lost and frustrated. I’m not going to tell you why Twitter is great, or how brilliant it is at finding news first or how “following” celebrities will change your life — Twitter is different things to different people and you won’t find out how it works for you until you try it for a bit. For now, let’s assume you’re interested in it but aren’t really sure what to do.
They spelt my name wrong, actually prompting me to buy johnbounds.co.uk to point here too, but here is the feature on Midlands Today in which I briefly, er, featured:
Thanks by the way to all those whose Twitter brains I picked beforehand for what to say too.
"love the fact that "good meeting" is an emergent meme on Twitter: the phrase is seen by a lot of people on Twitter as an empty platitude, the twitter equivalent of saying "er"." I did have a good meeting with Mr Hickman the other day, too. – Some thoughts on good meetings – Jon Hickman's posterous.
No recriminations or anything, just an interesting thing that happened this morning on the Twitter. I was listening to Radio Five when the sad news that David Cameron’s son had died broke. This sort of “news” is normally queue to turn off radio and TV, as there’s nothing to be said, but they’ll insist on saying it over and over again. But before I got to the switch, Nicky Campbell read out the statement from the Conservatives that (paraphrased) said: “the Camerons hope that people will respect thier privacy” and without pausing for breath “we want your views on 0845 etc”. That’s everything that’s shitty about modern media, so I tweeted:
Which obviously resonated with podnosh, who retweeted (taking out the bit about Morrissey — reasons of space, or reasons of musical taste, I dunno):
But by the time it had made Twitter search:
There was a subtle difference there, this tweeter had a problem with Nicky Campbell that I hadn’t articulated in my original, but it’s attributed to me there. There’s a subtle difference between “what cock” and “what a cock” — enough to cause libel-ish issues if I was famous enough for people to leap on to criticise. Had I thought “better” of my original statement and deleted it, only the retweets would have been on the web — how would I prove my innocence in “what-a-cock-gate”?
Tea Fu is the ancient art of persuading others to make you a cuppa.
Most often practised in dwellings, the Tea Fu master will use psychological tricksterism as tea always tastes better when someone else has made it. The true master will also attempt workplace Tea Fu.
I’ve made a little twitterbot (using twitter search, yahoo pipes and twitterfeed) that searches for people who tweet “X has made me a cup of tea” or “X has made me a cuppa” and then tweets them back in the style:
Anyone working in advertising is welcome to pay me loads to either take the idea and build a TV campaign around it, or to build a viral site where people can record their office-based Tea Fu.
About Twitter of course. What's interesting is not so much how people are very easily able to guess what "the media" with ask about Twitter — but how the responses to the questions varied so widely. Ask people whey they use LinkedIn or Facebook and it's all about "friends" or "business contacts", Twitter is just another method of communication with no "use" built in. That's what makes it so powerful. [link]