Five tips for getting started on Twitter

A staggering 65 per cent of business don't use social media. Ignore it at your peril.

When I was kid, I remember thinking I’ll always be listening to the latest music, and not be stuck like my folks listening to that ‘old-time’ music. Now in my middle age, I can’t help but listen to music of the 80s and 90s, while my kids look and frown on me exactly the same way I did with my folks.

It’s the same with technology adoption and usage. As a kid I picked up the latest technologies like they were second nature and now, my daughter is giving me lessons on how to use Instagram and the like.

From a business perspective, we can’t afford to be old dogs not learning new tricks. We need to be aware of the changes in technology, understand its potential and be open to embracing them. Recent surveys have shown that 65 per cent of family businesses don’t use social media at all to communicate with their customers online. That number is far too low.

I have to confess I didn’t get Twitter. Why would I want to send what is essentially a SMS to whoever is bothering to ‘follow’ me? I’d rather make a phone call, or send a text message or an email.

But therein lies a part of the answer. The first text message was sent in the early 1990s and it’s estimated that over 6 trillion text messages are sent and received every year. That is astronomical growth. Pause for a minute and think how many messages you send that are business related. I suspect quite a lot.

Twitter’s growth tells a similar story. Twitter was created in 2006 and it has 200 million users posting over 400 million tweets per day. Of course much of this is social and personal content but a large proportion is also business related. It’s pretty clear Twitter is not a fad; it’s now a key channel for business communication.

This old dog needed to learn a few new tricks. My chance came one Friday night when I was out for dinner with friends and we were discussing social media. Like me, a friend wanted to give it go so we made a friendly bet over who would be first to achieve 200 followers (#firstto200). Considering we both started from ground zero, this seemed like a mountain to climb.

This created a fun and competitive way for me to take the plunge and to learn why Twitter is such a popular business tool.

Some of my key lessons on getting started with Twitter include:

1. Don’t be afraid. Like most technologies the best way to learn is to start to play and be prepared to make mistakes.

2. You have to reach out to potential followers. Increasing your following will grow organically through regular tweeting but you need to put yourself out there. The biggest increase in followers I experienced was by letting all my LinkedIn contacts know I was on Twitter. You should also think about promoting your Twitter handle (that’s your username) in your marketing collateral and in your contact details such as your email signature.

3. Follow people. Following people allows you to learn from those who are already tweeting. Observe the language they use, the conversations they start and participate in, and join in their conversations. There is a good chance they will follow you back.

4. It actually doesn’t take much time. Like a text message or a phone call, it doesn’t take much time to think about what you want to say, or to read what others are tweeting about. I had this silly preconceived idea I was going to be spending hours on Twitter each day. Consider helpful social media tools like Hootsuite that helps you organise your Twitter activity into ‘streams’ to make it easier to follow and participate in conversations.

5. It can be fun and informative. I discovered I was having conversations with clients, colleagues and friends that I wouldn’t have otherwise had. I was looking forward to tweeting and being informed about what’s going on.

So where’s the business value?

There were two key moments in this journey where the light bulb went on. The first was when I was able to email a couple of client tweets to a prospective client. In marketing, there is nothing quite like a client referral and having this readily available made a significant difference in a client situation. The second was finding out a key piece of industry information that allowed me to make a better business decision. Two small examples, but these were the experiences that moved me from the idea of Twitter being a fun social experiment to a business tool.

Everyone’s business and clientele is different, and so will your experience be on Twitter. It’s highly likely that your clients and prospective clients are on Twitter.

Is it time you joined the conversation?

Adam Ferguson is MYOB’s General Manager of Accountants Division.