Twitter Talks Business

Twitter recently released a tutorial http://business.twitter.com/twitter101 specifically focusing on how to use Twitter if you are a business.  So far there are six sections of the “Special Guide” and each is short, sweet, and salient.  The six sections are:

  • What is Twitter
  • Getting started
  • Learn the lingo
  • Best practices
  • Case studies
  • Other resources

I’ve been on the fence about Twitter because I initially saw it as public texting and I really only text with my sons.  I didn’t think the public really would be interested in my illuminating words such as “whr r u?” and “dinner now.”  However, the attention Twitter has received from recent international incidents and some gentle prodding from some of my friends on the West Coast has me looking more closely at Twitter.  As a person who is interested in communications and marketing, Twitter is a pretty fascinating subject.  Did you know that Twitter had 4.42 million unique visitors in December 2008 and is on pace to hit 50 million in December 2009?  Can you believe that growth?  Just to compare, it took the top four television shows combined in last week’s Nielsen ratings to hit 50 million viewers.  That’s a pretty nice space to be in at no direct cost for a business.

Here’s a quote from Twitter 101:  A Special Guide for Business that captures why you may want to look at Twitter for your business even if you aren’t all that interested in it personally:

“Twitter is a communications platform that helps businesses and their customers do a number of useful things. As a business, you can use it to quickly share information with people interested in your company, gather real-time market intelligence and feedback, and build relationships with customers, partners and other people who care about your company. As an individual user, you can use Twitter to tell a company (or anyone else) that you’ve had a great–or disappointing–experience with their business, offer product ideas, and learn about great offers.”

The key reasons a business might add Twitter to its overall communications portfolio are:

  • Instant connection to customers and prospects.  You can see who is already mentioning you, you product, or your business and respond.
  • Customer feedback and real-time market research.  What you hear in a focus group is helpful, but observing and being a part of what is really happening is even better.  And on Twitter, you get unvarnished reactions and feedback on things that customers may not have even bothered to tell you in a survey.  In addition, you can easily see what other companies in your field are doing.  What sort of content are they putting out on their tweets?  What kinds of offers, coupons, and announcements are they using Twitter to disseminate?  How are they responding to their customers?
  • The opportunity for an informal, conversational communication tool with the chance to build a relationship over time.  There is low commitment on the part of those following you.  They don’t feel caught up in a marketing mechanism; they just add you and your business to their list of people they are following.  Offer good information and they will stick with you.
  • A way to tap into the short attention span of today’s market.  Communicating in 140 characters takes some getting used to, but today’s world is about headlines.  Twitter serves up the headlines.

What I don’t think we think enough about is what it takes to dive into Twitter or any other social media pool.  The platform may be free and the amount of time to write and post a 140-character tweet is not all that time consuming, but the overall strategy of how and why to use Twitter for your business is not so simple.  If you read the Best practices and the Case studies sections of Twitter 101, you’ll see that you do need to take a little time to set yourself up properly, learn Twitter norms, and think about who you want your business to be on Twitter.  How often will you tweet?  How personal will you be?  Who are you going to follow?  How many people from your company will be tweeting?  Bottom line, whether you are a sole proprietor, a small business, or an international conglomerate, Twitter is on the radar and you need a plan.  This initial tutorial from Twitter is a good place to start.

The Love Hate Relationship in Marketing

Last year I was in Italy attending a conference and met another participant named Margie.  After introducing myself as someone who coaches executives and entrepreneurs on how to take small do-able steps to expand their businesses, Margie started telling me how much she dislikes marketing herself and her service business:

I know I can create more business, but I’ve been procrastinating.  It’s more like resisting.  I just wish I could get moving on it to some extent.  The summer is coming and I live in a beach town.  Yet, when I think about having to get out there and market myself, I would rather go to the dentist and have root canal work done without Novocain!

In response I asked her if she had ever written down what she LOVED to do and what she HATED doing in her business.  As we talked, Margie was able to outline that she loved working with her clients directly and she also loved coming up with new services to offer.  She loved working with her website designer because he took her ideas and made sense of them and she loved advising people when they called her on the phone.

When we moved on to what she hated, she reiterated that she didn’t like marketing and selling and promoting herself.

So then we talked about two things.

  • The first was that some of what she loved doing was actually marketing.
  • The second was that there are ways to get help with the things you hate doing.

Focusing on having the right product to offer is marketing.  When Margie was thinking about new services and responding to what she was hearing from her clients, she was marketing.  And when she was working with her web designer, she was marketing.

Sometimes the big picture is more intimidating than it needs to be.  If you realize that you can break down what needs to be done into manageable pieces, you may find that you actually like some parts of marketing and the rest might be something that someone else can help you accomplish.

We talked further about ways that Margie might tackle the things she didn’t like to do by approaching them using activities she did like to do.

1.  Ask your network – this doesn’t have to be complicated or cheesy.  It can just be talking to or emailing people you already know.  In Margie’s case, I reminded her that these are small personal steps and not to think of it as a big marketing campaign.  We talked about how she liked helping her clients and she enjoyed when they called on the phone.  Just remember, the people in your network like you, they value your services, they want you to stay in business, they understand that you might not like to sell yourself, so they will help you if you ask them to do so.  Some specific ideas we talked about were:

  • Asking your current clients why they came to you and what they thought was special about your services.  Write down what they tell you and now you have some information to use in your next promotional effort or on your website.  Also ask them for testimonials and permission to use them.
  • Create a coupon or gift card that you can offer to current clients who bring you two new clients.
  • Create a flyer with a discount offer and ask your network to help you circulate it.  Somewhere on the flyer make sure to encourage people to join your e-mail list to receive additional discounts in the future.
  • Ask your network if they know anyone who can help you with promoting and selling for a price you can afford.

2.  Find agents – actors, authors, and athletes all have agents.  Maybe you need an agent too.  My niece was in the 7th grade when I realized what a great agent she is.  She loves to sell things.  For her it was a form of competition.  When I needed a salesperson, she turned out to be more than willing to work on commission after school.  She had the time of her life and I was happy to pay her when she sold something for me.

3. Traditional marketing “collateral” – this is probably what many sole proprietors and small business owners worry about.  Traditional collateral – a website, business cards, flyers, etc. are all very good to have, but they are not nearly as important as building your reputation and relationships with current and prospective clients.  For someone like Margie, who likes building relationships, getting to know and help her clients, this concept feels much more comfortable.  She can focus her efforts there and get help to do the traditional collateral work.

So if you are stumped and feeling overwhelmed, try the love / hate list and see if you can take a few steps forward doing what you love and getting help for what you hate.

Do-It-Yourself Career Development

With corporate downsizing at an all-time high and entrepreneurs and small businesses on the rise, many of us are finding we have to “do-it-yourself” in some areas where we might once have had help.  Specifically, we have to actively manage our own careers, including keeping an eye on our own training and development.  Whether you were one of the “lucky” ones still working at Shrinking, Inc., or one of those sent away to find greener pastures, you need to be much more “hands-on” about your own career.  You can’t just coast and boast any more.  From high-potentials to CEOs and from sole proprietors to small business mavens, keeping your skills, experiences and perspectives up to date is necessary to marketplace survival.

People learn from key experiences, from key relationships and from active engagement with new information through classes, workshops, books or other media.  Let’s take a look at each of these learning opportunities.

Key Experiences – you are on your own either because your company who once had career ladders and high-potential programs is now furloughing people and cutting retirement benefits or you’re now a sole proprietor or always was a small business person.  What can you do to get the important experiences you need to keep yourself, your products, and your business in the game?

  1. Make your volunteer time work for you. Take a look at where you are already volunteering.  Do you do things to support your kids’ activities?  Do you volunteer at a soup kitchen or help with Special Olympics?  See if there is a way to gain some experiences that fit your career needs.  For example, maybe you’ve seen that all the new hires at your company seem to have computer skills that you don’t have.  They talk about social media and websites, and you can’t keep up.  So try to learn a little something about websites for your child’s hockey team.  Set up a Google site or a Yahoo! Group to organize the team’s schedule, announcements, and contact information.  It’s a pretty safe place to learn – low risk and it doesn’t cost as much as going to a class on corporate communication.
  2. Evaluate opportunities for learning potential. Maybe the assignment you just received from your boss is the same work you’ve been doing for the last several years.  Is there anything about the assignment that could stretch you or teach you something new?  Does this assignment offer you the chance to teach someone else what you know and allow you to develop mentoring and delegating skills?  Take the time to look at what you are already doing and see if there is a way to add a little bit of just-in-time learning to the mix.
  3. Write it down. The time may come, and let’s hope it is your own decision and not a surprise to you, that you will have to find another job.  By writing down your experiences as you have them and updating your resume, your LinkedIn profile or any other documentations of your work history, as you are doing things, you will be in a position to just edit and improve and not have to create your work success sheet from memory.  Writing down your accomplishments and experiences also provides a moment of reflection.  Pat yourself on the back and take note that you finished a project, sold a contract, wrote a paper, helped a person or whatever reflects the experience for you.

Key Relationships – people learn from other people.  You have a chance to build on relationships as part of your personal career management strategy.  Is there someone in your network or at your office from whom you can learn something new that would help you in your career?  Is there a transferable skill that you think you will need to have mastered before you change jobs?  Is there a perspective that someone else might have that you would like to understand so that you can do your job more effectively?  Is there a person you could mentor and in teaching someone else more fully embrace your own skillset?

Active Engagement with New Information – here’s a place where we can all “do-it-ourselves” because of the wonderful gateway of the internet.  It isn’t always necessary to travel and sit in a classroom to learn something new.  Download a podcast, read a book review, commit 30 minutes a week to learning something new that will enhance your career.  We’re all victims of information overload, but new information that is relevant to either your current job or the one you plan to take on next, is critical to your success.  Take the time to read, listen, and learn.  There’s a wealth of good information out there for you to soak in.

And don’t forget that there is help – even for those of us who feel we are doing a lot of do-it-yourself work these days.  There are executive coaches, performance coaches, online tools and resources, groups to join – in person and online – and if you are in a large enough and healthy enough organization, your HR department.  Take advantage of these resources, but understand that when all is said and done, it is up to you to see what you need to secure your future, set a plan, and then work the plan.