April 6, 2009 – A day that will live in infamy.
That was the day that in my USA TODAY column I responded to a question from a reader that asked “Should I Twitter?” with “The answer is . . . No!” Of everything I have written online over the years, and it is hundreds of thousands of words, I am not sure that anything has received more feedback, and more negative feedback, than that column.
I immediately realized that I touched a nerve when my editor, who gives my columns their titles, gave that one the headline, “Ask an Expert: Should Entrepreneurs Twitter? Uh, no.” Not a good sign, that.
Back then, when Ashton Kutcher was trying to get a million followers and the news was all atwitter about Twitter, like many others, I thought Twitter was nothing more than a gossipy, truncated, silly platform for, as I put it, learning about what someone was doing “at 3:47 tomorrow afternoon.” My additional arguments included
- Twitter is too personal for business use
- Twitter is too self-indulgent (not totally wrong there)
- Twitter requires too much time
OK, so I was wrong. These days my CTO (Chief Twitter Officer) Maria and I have combined to create 5,000 followers and a lot of great relationships. We tweet daily and it is an essential part of our brand building efforts. While I still feel too hemmed-in by Twitter’s 140 character limit, that is about the only bad thing I have to say about it, especially given Twitter’s recent overhaul and better page layout.
Want more Twitter tidbits? Check out these stories:
- How to NOT Use Twitter to Promote Your Restaurant
- Top 10 CEOs Who Tweet
- 3 Ways to Use Twitter for Excellent Customer Service
What I now know is that Twitter does a lot of things really well that I just didn’t get back then, to wit:
Get instant feedback: This is definitely one of my favorite things about Twitter. Like this column? Re-tweet it. (Now, please!) By seeing how often a tweet is re-tweeted you gain instant feedback on what is working and what is not.
Prospect: By searching keywords using Twitter search you can locate people who just may need what you sell.
Generate word of mouth advertising: What is a re-tweet but e-word of mouth advertising? And we all know that that’s the best advertising there is.
Build buzz: When a food cart in L.A. can create standing room only lines by tweeting its next stop, when an ice cream shop can create chatter about a new flavor by pre-tweeting it, that’s buzz.
Learn new things: The River Twitter is a constantly updated flow of information. By zeroing-in on the right people who tweet items of interest to you, you can tap into a fascinating never-ending news feed.
Get new ideas: That same news feed can generate new ideas, as can seeing what your friends, colleagues, and competitors are doing on Twitter. Its very transparency is a Gift From the Gods if you use it right.
Meet new people: While having a lot of followers stokes your ego and creates brand equity (see below), it is probably truer that the chance to connect with people and prospects you otherwise would not meet is what really makes Twitter something special.
Build a better brand: While grading the relative value of all of these different traits is tough, brand building has to be near the top of the list. Twitter, I have learned, is an amazing tool for building and reinforcing your brand. Tweeting the right items, and in the right tone, to the right people, with the right offers, builds your brand the right way.
Turbocharge your customer service: it’s no surprise that a lot of companies have turned to Twitter to beef-up their customer service. The instant reaction afforded by Twitter is great for that.
Go viral: Want to get a message out? There are few faster ways than Twitter.
Get more business: Twitter can build you business in many ways: By allowing you to meet the new people, by building brand and buzz in your industry, by tweeting contests or freebies that draw people to your site or business . . .
Notify customers: By setting up a Twitterfeed you can let people know when you are having a sale, or introducing a new product, or whatever.
Did I miss anything? Probably. And, happily, the Twitteratti will let me know, instantly.