Having celebrated the tenth birthday of Twitter this week, it is worth stepping back and looking at the influence of the social media tool on the way we communicate online. With its 140 character limit and 500 million tweets per day the social media platform has, in spite of recent uncertainty about its future, become a vital tool for sharing world news and content in real time.
There is much debate about the pros and cons of Twitter. For businesses it can bring benefits and disadvantages in equal measure. Businesses have been forced to be more accountable as customers have embraced the platform it gives them for public interaction whether for questions or complaints. Handled well it can provide a highly effective tool for customer service improvement and brand enhancement with immediacy and a personal touch allowing businesses to interact directly with customers, understand problems and address them quickly and visibly. Handled badly or without integrity it presents greater opportunity for public criticism and shame with the capacity to reach many more people than with conventional word of mouth communication.
For example, an ill-advised and miscalculated Tweet in the face of a PR disaster can quickly go viral, beginning a tirade of negative media coverage and game changing problems and losses for a business.
Yet if used judiciously businesses can reap the benefits of Twitter. Well thought out and engaging, well targeted tweets can quickly establish a voice of integrity and tell a business story with an immediacy and flexibility which was not available to businesses before. Brands can engage in a conversation with customers and develop a more human interaction than was previously possible. But integrity and sensitivity is vital. The marketing press is littered with examples of brands displaying serious misjudgement by choosing to promote their product on the back of campaigns about a sensitive issue or a terrible world event. The negative impact can be deep and long lasting.
But for small businesses in particular with limited budget, a well thought out approach to using Twitter to create interest and a personality for your brand can be very powerful. However many struggle to demonstrate return on their investment in social media activity. Particularly for small businesses it is all too easy to divert valuable resources when there is no evidence of a positive impact on sales and revenue. Our research in the Exemplas Index shows that 15% of businesses think that social media and digital platforms are not relevant to their business at all, but we would argue that the potential benefits and value for an individual business should at least be considered before deciding against the use of social media.
When it comes to Twitter quality is better than quantity although depending on your business sector the amount you tweet will vary. It’s important to have guidelines or a policy in place to protect your brand but avoid being too restrictive. And finding new and meaningful Twitter content everyday can be a challenge. Simply promoting your events or products every day or tweeting for the sake of it will not sustain follower interest in the long term. What works is fresh and engaging content, responding to followers, getting involved in conversations related to your business strategy. Why not consider using humour or visual content such as video or info graphics as these can really help to increase interest in your Twitter activity and are much more likely to be shared and opened. There are also a growing number of features within Twitter, such as promoted tweets, which may help you to extend your reach and get your message out there.
But small businesses should be careful not to spread themselves too thinly on social media platforms and focus activity, resources and budgets on platforms which are most appropriate for their business to get them in front of the right customers and support the strategic direction of the business. Whatever your view of Twitter has been over the last 10 years its impact on business, the media and our culture is huge and it does without doubt provide an affordable and accessible marketing and communication tool which has the potential to transform small business.