Are You Headed for a Twitter Chernobyl?

Last Updated Nov 15, 2010 7:58 AM EST

If you're one of the countless small business owners who have jumped on the Twitter bandwagon, we have two things to say to you: congratulations and beware. Even big companies, like MacDonald's, get flamed for their Twitter missteps, reminding us all that social media can be a free for all where good intentions sometimes go terribly wrong. It's tough to navigate this world when so much is out of your control, but there are elements of your social media strategy that you can and must manage. I recently spoke to Ryan Holmes, the CEO of Vancouver-based HootSuite, a popular social media dashboard for groups, who offered five tips for tweeting entrepreneurs.
  • Take off your selling hat. "You should think of Twitter as nine parts fun, interesting, engaging information and one part soft marketing," says Holmes. "People tune out to self-promotional messaging." If you establish yourself as a source of news, tips, and useful information on your industry, then your followers will be more receptive when you move (subtly) into promotion mode.
  • Don't open the floodgates. There's nothing worse that having your Twitter stream cluttered with message after message from the same source. My own reaction to this: I typically block the offender. "You want to spread messages out and think about the number of messages per day or hour," says Holms. "And don't exceed what's reasonable, which is usually one or two tweets an hour." For those of you who have better things to do than think of Twitter all day long, HootSuite offers a tweet scheduler, so that you can actually enter all your tweets, and schedule them to post throughout the day.
  • Separate Twitter and Facebook. "You should treat them as independent broadcasting channels," says Holmes. "There's a different language for Twitter that doesn't translate well into Facebook," he says. Think of Twitter as a place to share links and to meet and interact with people you don't already know, and Facebook as the channel where you talk to friends and acquaintances. Ultimately, you'll want to spend the most time where you're most likely to find your customers.
  • Monitor your Twitter account. "You've got two ears and one mouth," says Holmes. "So listen to the conversations that people are having. Get up to speed with what people are saying about your brand, your competitors, and other key topics that are related. For instance, if you're selling yoga mats, you should probably also be listening to what people are saying about Pilates." Holmes recommends that you watch carefully who is responding to you and retweeting your messages (the stats tool on HootSuite allows you do this). Then, make sure you interact with those people by either responding to them, thanking them via direct message, or retweeting them.
  • Be mindful of security. Suppose you hire an intern and charge him or her with managing your twitter account. "This can be a dangerous thing for a small business," says Holmes. "Because the intern can go in and change the user name and password. I anticipate at some point a "Twitter Chernobyl" where an employee goes rogue and it takes a while for an account to get locked down." By that time, your disgruntled intern or employee may have done significant damage to your brand. If you use a dashboard like Hootsuite to manage your Twitter account, it's simple to kick an employee off the Twitter island if you need to. You can also set up a system that requires drafts of tweets to be approved.
Do you have some Twitter tips and strategies to share? Let's hear them.

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