In the 1976 film The Man Who Fell To Earth, David Bowie’s alien character sits in front of a wall full of active television screens, each playing a different video feed, while he stares on, intently. To us, that wall looks like chaos, but Bowie’s character knows it contains vital information about the planet on which he has landed.
Similarly, for many CMOs learning the ins and outs of Twitter brand marketing, the modern Twitter stream looks a lot like Bowie’s “wall of information.” Indeed, I’ve talked with many business professionals who say they've experienced “social information overload” on Twitter. They’re following more than 100 (or 1,000) people, so every time they log on to the network, they feel like they're being hit with a barrage of disorganized tweets with little to no context.
While some people and brands have millions of followers, and they follow tens of thousands in return, the “follow the masses” strategy doesn’t typically translate into a useful Twitter stream. It can even give the impression that you or your company is only giving lip service to the vast majority of people you’re following.
That said, Twitter offers a great way for you and your brand to keep a finger on the pulse of your industry. Here are five steps to bring clarity--and sanity--to the process.
1. Target Exactly Who You Want to Follow: For those of you getting started, make a note of who you think you or your brand should follow on Twitter. Consider everyone from industry leaders, company partners, and their CEOs, CMOs, and management team, to companies whose products and services complement yours. It’s also a good idea to follow reporters who cover your industry.
If you’ve been on Twitter for a while and feel like the tweets you’re seeing just aren’t relevant to you, the first thing to do is pare down the list of people you follow. Weed out the ones whose tweets you find to be irrelevant, and unfollow any phantom Twitterers who are missing in action. One of the biggest mistakes people make on Twitter is to follow everyone who follows them.You don’t need to follow every newspaper, television show, business contact, and friend you’ve ever known either. Just follow the people and companies that you either want to listen to, talk with, or that make sense for your company.
2. Group Your Followers Into Lists: While it isn’t expected that you memorize the Twitter handle and avatar of everyone you follow, it is expected that when you see a tweet of interest, you have some idea of the kind of person who sent it. You should be able to tell if they’re the CEO you had coffee with last week, the reporter you spoke with on the phone, or a company representative who’s tweeting about his lunch. Think about the kinds of people you follow and what groups (or lists) you could put them in. One list, for example, can be your company’s executives and investors. For Retrevo, one of my Twitter lists is a group of reporters who cover technology and e-commerce. These lists can be public or private, depending on whether you want others to see it.
Another list I’ve put together follows a group of distinguished bloggers who talk about gadgets. Other potential lists can comprise thought leaders in your industry, or people to whom you would like to introduce your company. Once you’ve set up a few lists and populated them with your followers on Twitter, you can use a third-party application (I use HootSuite) to monitor these lists and see who’s writing about what.
3. Follow Ideas (Not Just Twitterers): One of the best ways to gauge the popularity of an idea, trend, or brand is to set up a Twitter search for it and make that search one of the columns you leave open in your third-party application. When the iPad came out, for example, I set up a search for it in one of my open HootSuite columns and watched the firestorm ensue. One of the benefits of watching the results of a search is that you’ll be able to see tweets from people of interest who you might want to follow and communicate with.
4. Monitor Who’s Talking About You, Your Company and Industry: While you might not be the person who directly tweets for your company, you should pay attention to what people on Twitter have to say about your company. (This is also a great way to keep an eye what the person who does oversee your company’s Twitter account is doing.)
If your company is launching a new product, then set up a column that populates search results for your product’s name; you’ll quickly get an idea of who’s talking about it and what they’re saying. Remember, this is not the time to be defensive should you see people tweeting unfavorably. This is your chance to listen. Click on the profiles of the people who are commenting and take notes on the type of person who likes your product, and the type of person who doesn’t. Look for similarities in their demographics and treat this information as research to guide your company’s future marketing efforts.
5. Stalk Your Competition: Ignoring what your competition is up to in the social space is like walking in the dark; you could end up in the wrong place or isolate your brand’s most loyal followers. Don’t just follow your competition’s company account--follow everyone on the executive team, the ad agencies (and account managers) they work with, and their PR department (and reps). Set up an alternative Twitter account to do this if you must, but put these people into lists according to their companies or industries. Know what they’re talking about, what interests them, and whether there’s anything you can learn from it.
If you’re still of the mindset that Twitter is a worthless place to be, then here’s my final plug: People on Twitter are sharing the kind of information marketers would have killed for less than a decade ago. In addition, you have access to it for free. Once you have figured out who (and what) to follow, have grouped them accordingly, and know how and what to monitor, you will quickly realize the crucial information now at your fingertips that can help build a successful marketing strategy.