07 Dec

You Should be Looking for Small Businesses on Twitter

Twitter to reach small businessesI am surprised — amazed even — at how quickly businesses of all sizes are jumping on board Twitter.com.  The uptake has accelerated in the past 6 months.

Twitter has been around for 2 years, but I believe interest by businesses has grown much faster in Twitter than it did in blogs, MySpace, Facebook or any other social media I can think of during the same amount of time.

If you are not using Twitter in your small business outreach, it’s time you explore it and get involved.  There are a lot of entrepreneurs and small business owners/staff using Twitter.  It’s actually suitable for any size business to reach small businesses because:

  • It’s cheap (free).
  • It’s easy (you’re posting one-sentence messages – it doesn’t get much easier).
  • It’s where an increasing amount of the online conversation is taking place today (if you want to reach out to small businesses, here is where you can find some of them).

What the heck is Twitter?

Twitter.com is a social site, meaning a site where lots of people congregate and participate.  With Twitter you use your mobile phone, a computer or handheld device to post short updates.  In my Inc Technology column earlier this year this is how I described Twitter:

Twitter is a kind of public instant messenger stream. You go online or on your mobile device and send text messages (“tweets”) of up to 140 characters — or about one sentence long. Your tweets can be read by others, and you can sign up to follow the messages others write so that you can read theirs.

Often the messages are incredibly mundane. “Just landed at San Francisco airport.” “Body can’t seem to adjust to the time change.” “Reading e-mails –147 in my inbox.”

Some messages are so trivial that at first you’ll be shaking your head. How could extremely intelligent people — the early adopters of technology — waste their time on such banalities, you wonder?

But stick around long enough on Twitter and you, too, will get sucked in.

Mixed in among the short updates from friends, colleagues, acquaintances, or people you’d like to get to know, you start to notice patterns. You start picking up small clues about their personalities, about their priorities, and about events in their lives. It’s a mosaic, a backdrop that helps you understand how they tick. You become more engaged in them and in their work precisely because you learn some details of their personal existence. You start to care more about them on a personal level. Thus, you care more about their work and become a more engaged member of their community.

How do I learn more about Twitter?

If you’d like to know more about Twitter, here are some resources for newbies:

Twitter for Small Businesses:  How and Why to Use It (This is the short video for beginners that I commissioned from video guru Jim Kukral.  For those who already use Twitter it probably does not cover new ground.  However, for new players trying to get a sense of what Twitter is, start with this video.)

Do you Converse or Broadcast? How to Build (or Kill) Relationships on Twitter (My take: This is a good primer on making it personal — something businesses need to do if you are going to develop a following so that you can reach small businesses.  Remember: all business is ultimately personal. No one wants to read a steady stream of announcements consisting of nothing more than the latest blog post or the latest offer you’re pitching.)

How Your Company Can Build A Community on Twitter (My take:  About 75% is helpful advice.  Some of this post is impractical for busy business people, however.  For instance, most of us can’t be monitoring Twitter all day long.  And I disagree with the idea that you shouldn’t use autofollow — I actually recommend it, because if you don’t keep up on your follows and don’t follow people back, many will feel snubbed by you.  Just don’t send canned messages to people containing a link to your latest ebook as an autofollow — that does feel incredibly cheesy and mercenary.)

A List of Social Media Marketing Examples (My take:  Peter Kim started a great discussion when he listed  examples of companies using social media.  Then readers weighed in and the list keeps growing — a perfect example of crowdsourcing.  This list is mainly large corporations, and includes much more than Twitter usage, but it’s a must-read list to get ideas.)

List of Fortune 100 on Twitter (My take:  this post written in September, before the October stock market meltdown, lists the companies in the Fortune 100 and their corresponding Twitter names.  I think a few more have since joined Twitter.  But I agree with the author that some of the most inventive ways of using Twitter come from companies smaller than Fortune 100 size.)

Twitter Brand Index on Fluent Simplicity (My take: this is the biggest, most complete list of Twitter feeds by businesses and organizations that I can find. In a word: awesome.)

But to really understand Twitter, you must try it and experience.  Please follow me and I will be sure to follow you back and make you feel welcome in Twitterdom:  @smallbiztrends.

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  1. Joel Libava said on December 7th, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    Anita,

    Your take is very cutting edge, with regards to Twitter and Small Business! Here is another suggestion:
    Don’t just blab about you, and your company. Pick some articles that add value to any topic, and link to them on some of your “Tweets.”

    Joel Libava

    Reply
  2. Martin Lindeskog said on December 7th, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    How do you manage do follow all your Twitter friends? Do you have your Twitter page on all the time? Where did you find the image with the blue bird (“Follow me on Twitter”)?

    Reply
  3. Anita Campbell said on December 7th, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    Hi Joel, yes, I agree that it is on the leading edge. But I think the adoption is much accelerated compared to the years it took blogging to go mainstream. That doesn’t mean everyone has a blog or everyone will be twittering.

    But it does mean you can reach the small businesses that are congregating on Twitter. And the earlier you get in on the game, the better. Why shouldn’t it be you reaching them, instead of your competitors?

    People often wonder how I reached 200,000+ RSS subscribers on my main site, Smallbiztrends.com. In part it’s a function of time. I started over 5 years ago and worked from the start at getting people to subscribe.

    Some of the same principle works with Twitter followers. Get in early, and two years from now who knows what number Twitter followers you will have. But one thing I can tell you for sure: you will have a lot more followers (and thus a bigger community on Twitter) by starting today, than if you wait two years. Get in on the ground floor, I say ….

    Anita

    Reply
  4. Anita Campbell said on December 7th, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    Hi Martin,

    For the “autofollow” I emailed the folks at Twitter and requested it. But I believe there are now outside services that you can set to “autofollow” your followers. I think this is one of them: http://twollow.com/.

    Regarding the Twitter graphic, I found it on a site that was offering it for free download. I can’t remember which site right now. However, this site has even better graphics, I think: http://siahdesign.com/archives/150. They are free to download.

    Good luck it,

    Anita

    Reply
  5. Peggy Duncan said on December 7th, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    @Anita Campbell:
    http://randaclay.com/freebies/free-twitter-graphics/

    Anita, this site has your Twitter graphic.

    Reply
  6. Martin Lindeskog said on December 7th, 2008 at 9:19 pm

    Anita,

    Thanks for the information. I liked Plurk’s timeline, but I haven’t used it for awhile now. It is hard for me to enter the “zone” (flow) and write microblogging messages on a regular basis. Didn’t you describe “twittering” as to the habit of scanning several stations at the same time?

    I think I will use Twitter for announcements, spreading the good word, and random thoughts now and then. I will use when I am traveling or planning to visit a certain place.

    In order to stir up the conversation a bit, listen to Loren Feldman’s speech on Blog08 as a response to Paul Boutin’s article, “Twitter, Flickr, Facebook Make Blogs Look So 2004.” http://eungie.notlong.com

    Click on my name if you want to read an excerpt from Paul Boutin’s piece and my comment on a Twitter application.

    Reply
  7. Anita Campbell said on December 7th, 2008 at 9:44 pm

    Hi Peggy, thanks for pointing out where that image came from so that we can give Randa Clay credit for it!

    Hi Martin, I think blogging and twittering are two different things. You see, you’ll never be able to make money from twittering or from your Facebook profile or your FriendFeed page (other than maybe a small slice of AdSense — peanuts). But with your own blog you have an asset you are building and you can monetize it. Twitter and Facebook and social media sites are about reaching out to meet new people and bring them into the fold. The question becomes, “where is the fold that you bring them into?” Why, your own blog of course!

    Best,
    Anita

    Reply
  8. Sheryl Schuff, CPA said on December 7th, 2008 at 10:15 pm

    Martin,

    I use Tweetdeck on my PC to keep track of my Twitter contacts. There’s another application called BrightKit which is billed as the “ultimate Twitter toolkit,” but I haven’t tried it yet.

    There are also apps for the Mac, iPhone, etc. Google “Twitter tools” for more.

    Sheryl

    Reply
  9. Martin Lindeskog said on December 7th, 2008 at 11:30 pm

    Anita: I think that blogging and twittering are different things, but they could interact with each others. I think Ev of Twitter and former co-founder of Blogger has some interesting thoughts in his post, What Blogger Should Do. http://oiceev.notlong.com Here is an excerpt:

    “Become the Aggregator: One possible answer to the question to what role does the stand-alone blog live in the age of a million-and-one generalized and specialized participatory web experiences is as a personal aggregator that reflects back the other stuff one does on the web. Yes, I’ll load all that stuff into FriendFeed, but that’s not my “online presence” as we used to say back in the day. Everybody (or at least a lot of people) needs an URL — and one without a ? in it. I want my tweets, and my photos, and my whatevers to show up on evhead.com (hosted by Blogger) in an attractive way.”

    I am interested in having plenty of stuff in one place, that’s why I am fascinated by start pages like Pageflakes and Netvibes. I will search for a simple tool to build a new “portal” for my different activities online and “offline”…

    Reply
  10. Martin Lindeskog said on December 7th, 2008 at 11:34 pm

    Sheryl Schuff: Thanks for the tips! Will these tools overcome the “problem” with the phenomena called crow epistemology?

    Reply
  11. Arthur Bland said on December 8th, 2008 at 2:21 am

    Oh well, I like Plurk too.. Have you tried it Anita? They seemed to function the same with Twitter? Do you see more advantages in Twitter than any other platform of the same type?

    Reply
  12. Amanda said on December 8th, 2008 at 11:12 am

    Twitter has certainly become one of the most popular social sites very quickly. I have tried Twittering but I couldn’t get excited about it. I just can’t seem to get interested in communicating with complete strangers. However, I can see the benefit it has in promoting your business – getting your name and business spread to hundreds of people all for free.

    Reply
  13. Anita Campbell said on December 8th, 2008 at 11:44 am

    Hi Arthur,

    Plurk is much more about chatting and seems to take more time, IMHO.

    The advantage with Twitter from a small business owner’s perspective is that you are going where the audience is. Far more business people are using Twitter than Plurk. With Plurk your message might be “a tree falling the wilderness” (that nobody hears).

    — Anita

    Reply
  14. Jeffrey Alexander Brathwaite said on December 10th, 2008 at 1:10 pm

    Hey Anita,

    Thanks for the mention of my blog post. I totally agree with you on small businesses using twitter for outreach. Most of the Fortune 500 corporations are slow moving but those that are currently on twitter like twitter.com/TheHomeDepot, twitter.com/TysonFoods and twitter.com/StateFarmIns have a big jump on those corporations that are still idle.

    All the best

    JB

    Reply
  15. [...] You Should be Looking for Small Businesses on Twitter Anita Campbell answers the questions “What the Heck is Twitter?” and “How Do I Learn More”, giving 6 links for newbies. [...]

  16. [...] You Should be Looking for Small Businesses on Twitter Anita Campbell answers the questions “What the Heck is Twitter?” and “How Do I Learn More”, giving 6 links for newbies. [...]

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