Over the past few weeks, we’ve been speaking to people about using social media, specifically Twitter, and a good proportion of them hadn’t touched it. However, they had heard that it was something they should be looking at and making use of. So we decided to put together a quick guide for people new to Twitter (and those who might have been using it for a while) to get up and running and getting the most out of it from day one.

What is Twitter?
Ok, so Twitter has been around for a while now (since 2006) and although it’s seen its fair share of facelifts and minor additions, such as advertising and promoted tweets, the service it provides has never changed…

Twitter is a service that allows you to create and broadcast your messages (140 characters long) to your group of followers. As a Twitter user you can follow people or companies you’re interested in, and this will build up your ‘feed’. Your feed is made up of Tweets from the people you’ve followed.

It’s like another language!
Much like any popular service, Twitter has developed its own set of unique terms and acronyms. Here is a quick look at what some of them mean:

Hashtag(#): These are often used on single words that people might be speaking about. Adding a Hashtag to a word simply makes it a clickable link, where twitter will then search for that word. These are great for events or specific topics.

Direct Message or DM: This is a direct message sent privately between yourself and another user. You can only DM people who follow you.

Lists: Lists are important and we will go into them in a little more detail later on. But in essence, they are just lists of twitter users. You can follow/subscribe to lists, or create your own public or private lists.

@Reply: Starting a tweet off with the @ symbol then someone’s username (e.g. @wearenorthwest) is a reply and will be sent to them but will not appear on your profile, but it will still be visible publically.

Retweet or RT: Retweets are where users rebroadcast someone else’s tweet to their followers. This is often shown by adding RT before the username and the tweet, but this is simply to let people know it’s a retweet rather than a requirement.

So now what?
With the basics out of the way and some understanding of what it means, how do we as a business, go about making the most of this social network? Well, below we look at a few do’s and don’ts, and some tips that will ensure your time on spent on Twitter won’t be wasted, and that you are talking to people you can help.

Standing out from the crowd
So you’ve got yourself signed up now it’s time to stand out and set yourself apart from all the other businesses you’ll be competing with.

The first place to start is with your profile page. This is quite important because rightly or wrongly it’s often used as a quick guide to judge you or your business. Therefore, it’s worth taking the time to get your brand up there and looking good. A nice clear profile picture of yourself or your logo, and for the header image, you’ll want something related to your business – perhaps something hi-res that you’ve used on a brochure. If you can’t find something suitable, you could try looking for something a little abstract on stock image sites (or Flickr) or you could simply leave it blank and just choose to display your brand colour instead (this is often a better choice than a bad, blown up and pixelated image).

Then it’s onto your description. Now you might be tempted to just take your usual elevator speech and pop it in there, but all of that is probably on your website, which will be placed just below your description by default. By all means tell people who you are and what you do, but also let them know what they can expect if they follow you. It’s also worth mentioning whether or not you monitor this account, simply because if you state that it’s only monitored in office hours, anyone who sends you a message on there won’t expect an immediate response out of office hours. You’re essentially just managing their expectations from the get go.

Now onto your content…

It’s all me, me, me
When posting the first thing you should avoid, which ironically is why most businesses are here, is probably one of the most important. Don’t just put out self-promotional tweets. While yes, some of your followers might be interested in that, I would argue the majority of them are not interested in hearing about how great you are, because they are probably here for same reasons as you are – to promote themselves. So, how do we get around this? We talk to people. It’s really that simple. It’s a social-network, so our job on here is just that – to be social. Talk to people and get involved in conversations, help people and offer advice. This might not be directly getting you paying clients and you might see it as giving away your services for free but it’s getting your name and brand out there in front of people, and if they see that you’re helpful, or your advice gets them out of a jam, the next time they need services that you offer, they may very well come to you first.

If you concentrate on putting out content that your followers will be interested in, promoting your blog posts, offering good advice and helping people out where you can, you won’t go far wrong. You can also use imagery or video to attract more attention. People often scanning their feeds will instinctively read the tweets with images mainly because they stand out from those that don’t and since people are naturally inquisitive, they’ll want to know what the image is about.

Lists, we all love lists…
Now onto lists. Lists, as we mentioned above, are a great way to organise and segment users. They can be used for a variety of different reasons. If you want to keep an eye on your competition, you can create a private list and simply add them to that list, then within a couple of clicks you can check the feeds of your competition and see if they doing anything that’s working for them. Or if you want to organise a list of PR people in the North West that you think other people might be interested in, just add these people onto a public list and they will be notified. You’ve potentially made a new contact, and again, in just a few clicks, you can see a feed made up of PR people in the North West. These are great for organising either people you follow or if you want to create sector specific feeds.

Making the most of search
For me, this is one of the most powerful and helpful features of Twitter, and something we use a lot here at We Are Northwest – the search bar and even more importantly, Saved Searches. Saved searches are exactly what they sound like; it’s a search term you’ve saved so you can revisit the results at a click of a button. Now that in itself isn’t important – just handy – but if you can get creative with what you search for, then this becomes a fantastic tool.

Say for example, you’re an accountant, and you’re looking to promote your business and get new clients. You could just do a search for accountants, but that would likely bring up a load of self-promotional tweets from accountants looking to do exactly what you’re trying to. So, just think about who you want to talk to? You want to talk to people who are looking for an accountant. So, put yourself in their shoes and think about what would they tweet about if they were looking for an accountant? They might tweet something like “can anyone recommend a good accountant”. So if you search for that, you’ve just got a list of people who are actively looking for a new accountant. This can be tailored further using the advanced options and you can pin it down to specific geographical locations, and the more creative you get with your search terms the more luck you might have. And all these terms that generate potential clients can be saved so you can check up on them every day or every week, which will save you time and make sure your time spent on Twitter is spent talking to people you can help.

Some things to bear in mind…
Twitter is one of these rare services that isn’t really responsible for your experience on their site. If you just follow Stephen Fry, your conversations with him are likely to be very one sided. As lovely a man as he is, he’s probably not going to be interested in why you’re on Twitter. So, your first port of call will be to go around and follow all your clients, say Hi and let them know you’ve joined the party. A lot of them will likely follow you back and this will instantly give you a feed full of people you have helped in the past, and as such, have a vested interest in what you say.

A friend of mine recently said ‘No one gives a shit what you’re doing on social media’ and while I might not have put it quite as eloquently as that, he’s right. Everybody is up to speed with it now and they are all doing the same thing. For businesses, it has now turned into what its name suggests; Social Networking. In order to stand out, you need to demonstrate your expertise and knowledge, and most importantly, develop some social interactions and relationships.