We’ve all heard about Twitter, and it’s meteoric rise in popularity, with nearly 24 million users as of July 2009. In case you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last year, Twitter is a messaging tool that allows you to send out “tweets” of no more than 140 characters to people who have elected to follow you, and allows you to read the tweets of the people you’ve decided to follow yourself. But for many real estate developers and marekters the usefulness of Twitter as a branding tool still remains a bit of a mystery. Here then, are the Seven Beginner Steps for Using Twitter as a Branding Tool. This is nothing more than a list of the things I’ve learned so far that have convinced me that this is a communications and branding medium with a future.
1. First, lets deal with some of the most popular objections I hear in every boardroom regarding Twitter. “Who cares if I have two sugars in my coffee?” “It just seems like a whole lot of mindless chatter,” and “what if someone says something mean about my brand?” If you think of Twitter as a networking cocktail party, it all makes sense. You don’t walk into a cocktail party and start announcing what you have for sale, or the special discounts you are offering for a limited time only. No, it’s best to walk into a party and start talking about things you have in common with the people you meet there: vacations, jokes, sports, favourite restaurants, or etc. The idea is that by engaging in small talk, you get to know strangers a bit more, and gradually a level of trust develops. Talk will naturally migrate to business, if you’ve chosen your conversational partners well, and it can, from there, easily lead to referrals or opportunities to do business together. The same rules apply on Twitter. Make sure you are following people who fit your customer profile (more on that in a moment) and then just start talking about stuff. Don’t pretend to be anything you aren’t, but just go easy on sales messages until you’ve established yourself with small talk, and exchanged some stories. Stories are the currency of a relationship.
2. Use the networking cocktail party analogy described above to answer ANY questions you might have about Twitter etiquette and behaviour. For example, some people ask me if they really have to use a thumbnail photo of themselves when they set up a Twitter account. Well, would you go to a party with a bag on your head, or a mask that hides your identity? How many people would talk to you? Other people have asked if they can join Twitter and just watch, and not really participate. Use the analogy…would you go to a networking event and just lurk in the corner holding your drink? If you did, would anyone take you seriously? How much small talk is appropriate? How funny should you be? How often should you send out a tweet? Can someone else send out tweets for you? All those questions, and more, can be answered if you think about the real world litmus test I’ve suggested. The answers become obvious.
3. Who is going to represent your company on Twitter? It shouldn’t be your brand, in my opinion. It should be a human being. No one wants to be friends and hang out at a party with a brand. So it should be your CEO, or your CCO (the latest “C” level title; Chief Conversation Officer) or someone else who you can count on to represent your brand properly. For a real estate development, the sales lead is the obvious choice.
4. Chances are, many of your staff are already using Twitter in their personal lives. Do you have a policy in place that outlines your stance on representing the company publicly on social media channels? You wouldn’t let your staff say anything they want whenever they feel like it to the newspaper about the company. Social media is no different. You need to outline expectations.
5. How do you attract the right followers? Use a website called Twitter Search, which operates like Google. Enter words in the search window that your desired audience would likely be tweeting about. For example, on a recent trip to Eastern Europe, I used the words “Prague” and “Budapest” to find followers in those areas, who were then more than happy to help me avoid tourist traps and have a better trip. Follow the people you find who are talking about things you want to talk about, and get engaged in the conversation. The people they are talking with will notice you are there, and will follow you. It grows exponentially once you get started.
6. Another objection I frequently hear: “I don’t have the time to do this.” This idea that it is time-consuming is incorrect. Once you have the hang of it (which takes all of an hour or so) active participation takes mere moments a day. I send out tweets when I have 5 minutes to kill waiting for a meeting to start, or sitting in the back of a taxi. You can send a tweet while waiting for your iced-mocha-latte at the coffee shop, or while the steak is grilling on your backyard BBQ. If you have a camera on your phone, you can send out a picture of whatever you are looking at, or something weird you see on the street. It takes 30 seconds. And you need to find maybe 4 or 5 of those 30-second moments each day. If you can’t find 2.5 minutes a day, then I’m worried for you! There’s even a site called Hootsuite that allows you to set up your tweets to go out automatically, so you can participate on auto-pilot for the most part. But that’s a bit more advanced, so don’t get worried about that until after you have the basics sorted out.
7. One last Twitter tip for beginners. There’s a free program you can download onto your computer (there’s a version for your phone as well) called Tweetdeck. This gives you an easier view of who is talking to you, who is addressing you directly, and who is sending you private messages. Once you have this installed the whole thing starts to make a lot more sense. I’m not sure why Twitter hasn’t come up with a better user-interface itself, but it hasn’t. And while there are many programs that you can download for free that are similar, Tweetdeck is the one I like best, so I’m telling you about it to save you the time of trying a bunch of others.
The big-daddy final objection I encounter repeatedly is “Ok fine, so it’s not that hard, but is it really doing anything of value for my brand?” The answer here depends on how you define value. If you see the benefit of having personal connections and open dialogue with your consumers and prospects, then you are good to go. If you’d rather not talk with your customers and target audience members, well, I don’t have an answer for you, and I wish you good luck. In this new dialogue-focused-social-media-marketing-based world, you’re going to need it.
David Allison, Author and Partner at Braun/Allison Inc.
David Allison is a partner at Braun/Allison Inc.; a Vancouver-based company that provides creative services for residential and resort real estate developers. His book, Sell The Truth, is available for free here. You can connect to him on LinkedIn , follow him on Twitter @BAdavid and read his blog, One Brand Clapping here.