Listen to your customers on Twitter

If you lived on Mars for the last 6 years then I probably need to tell you what Twitter is: a social network where you can publish short messages of up 140 characters (this was designed to be compatible with the short messaging system: SMS messages you send from your mobile phone, which are also restricted in length). It empowers users to share content, mostly about how they feel, but also share content, links, feedback on companies, films, blogs, other content, ratings, etc.

Now if you started a small business on Earth, then you’re probably thinking how can you take advantage of Twitter to grow your business, connect with customers, find out what customers need etc. The first temptation is to try to pitch on Twitter, or send updates relating to new products. Let’s face it: twitter users don’t want to be talked at, they hate the usual corporate messaging, they want to connect with people and they want content they’re interested in, they want to connect with companies and individuals working for those companies in their own terms. Forget the traditional way of doing business.

So here’s a list of 3 dos and 3 donts that will help you take the most advantage out of Twitter, as a small business owner:

1. Personalize your content – don’t sound like a corporate advertising campaign. The user 2.0 has very good filtering abilities and your message will fall onto deaf ears if it sounds like the usual corporate message. Instead be personal. Use your real name, sound and behave like a person, rather than a corporate identify. Users like to connect with people, not companies. If you do that, you’ll find your message is listened to more often than not.

2. Listen – don’t just blast your message, instead use Twitter to listen to what your customers are talking about, what their problems are, what they’re looking for, what they need. You can do that by searching Twitter for various keywords related to your business and see what the users are saying, complaining, thinking about. There are also various tools that will allow you to monitor the user generated content. Try to respond to users if you have solutions to their problems. Again, sound like a person (see number 1), rather than a corporate automaton.

3. Share interesting content – a lot of companies think that talking about features, releases, things you normally write in boring PR releases will make users follow you and get excited about your products. Think again! Users want to read content relevant to them. Instead, talk about common problems, offer tips & tricks related to your business area, free advice and industry insight. When 140 characters are not enough, add links to more extensive content on your blog, wiki, website. To know what content users are interested in, revisit number 2: Listen.

And here are the 3 donts (DO NOT), some of them extracted from the list of dos above:

1. Do NOT sound like a broken corporate record (see number 1 and 2 above)

2. Do NOT share boring content – it’ll be a waste of your time and money as no one will read it. As much as you’d like to think your business is special, no one necessarily sees it that way. If you produce boring content, no one will follow you on Twitter.

3. Do NOT get dragged into heated exchanges, insults, etc. There’s nothing that put a user off better than seeing a small business owner getting down and dirty, exchanging online punches and insults with potential customers or competitors. You will be judged by your words and actions. It’s always better to admit there are problems or that errors have been made, rather than try to fight it. You cannot silence the social media, so don’t even try.