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Five questions to ask yourself before you open a Twitter account

Despite the growing popularity of Twitter and the many cases where retail brands have demonstrated significant returns from the channel, there remain many companies that have not yet found a way (or the right way) of utilising it.

There are numerous examples of brands setting up Twitter accounts that then lay dormant because the company failed to understand the amount of resource that would be required to manage it effectively. Or, companies are using their feeds purely as a broadcast channel, not realising that Twitter is as much about listening and engaging with customers as it is about communicating special offers and discounts.

However, there are instances where the misuse of the channel has caused brands real damage. Take the recent Kenneth Cole debacle. The brand has suffered real damage from an ill-advised tweet relating to the Egypt crisis:

This tweet seemingly came from Kenneth Cole himself and is a great example of a brand or individual not fully understanding the channel or the ‘rules of engagement’.

As a business owner, I would never allow anyone to Tweet from our business account unless they understood how to use Twitter in line with Leapfrogg’s business strategy, company ethics, key messages and communication style. This makes absolute sense to me but is probably due to the fact that we are a digital agency and understand the medium. I’d guess Kenneth Cole’s tweet was innocent in its intentions but somewhere along the line the company’s core values and messages were forgotten.

I also find it alarming that there are high profile and traditionally ‘savvy’ companies who hand over the Twitter feed to their intern or junior employees as apparently ‘they get the web more’. I find it even more worrying that there are people out there recommending that they take such a casual approach. I only recently heard a “digital expert” recommend to a large conference room that they ‘get cracking with Twitter and see what happens as you should just be on it’.

Gulp!

I would say that this is the last thing brands should do. It’s easy to get caught in a panic that you should have a presence on Twitter as everyone else around you seems to be there. However, launching into such a public and powerful medium without research and planning, can do more harm than good.

Take the case of Habitat who in 2009 put an intern in charge of their Twitter account. The maverick intern probably thought piggybacking the civil unrest in Iran was inventive. However, the backlash from Habitat’s followers and the wider community demonstrated a naivety of the medium and the audience, which again caused a PR nightmare for the company.

So with these examples in mind, what can you do to avoid making the same mistakes? Numerous blog posts are out there talking about specific tactics, how to grow your followers for example, but what should you be thinking about before you even open an account? Here are five actions to help you execute a more effective Twitter strategy:

Do you understand your target audience?

Ask yourself, is my target audience even using Twitter? It sounds obvious but we’ve spoken to dozens of companies who are investing a significant amount of time and resource in Twitter without having conducted the research necessary to understand the social media habits of their prospects and customers.

They have a US bias, but Pingdom has a number of demographic studies around Twitter users that you might be find useful to build a picture of the typical Twitter user.

Is your competition on Twitter?

Assuming you know your key competitors, search for them on Twitter. Are they active and how are they using the medium?

There is only so much you will be able to garner by seeing whether your competitors are active on Twitter or not but it will help to build your understanding of the medium and find inspiration on how Twitter might be used for your own business.

How will Twitter fit into your existing business activity?

What makes Twitter such a unique marketing tool is that it can be used to communicate with prospects and customers all the way along the buying cycle from sales through to customer service.

Too many companies however are using it purely for the former, shouting about their products, special offers and promotions. They then wonder why they see such limited returns from their investment in Twitter. Whilst direct sales activity can work, brands need to support promotional activity with content that delivers a more rounded experience between brand and customer.

Perhaps most powerfully, Twitter also offers brands the ability to listen to, learn from and engage directly with customers…all in a public environment, which when executed well is immensely powerful PR.

With the above in mind, think carefully about how Twitter can complement your existing sales, marketing, PR and customer service disciplines.

Do you have the resource to manage Twitter in-house?

We would argue that the day to day management of Twitter is best looked after by you, in-house. An external party, such as an agency can provide strategic advice, training and support but they will never fully grasp your brand or be able to respond with the immediacy that the Twitter audience demands.

With this in mind, do you have the appropriate level of resource available in-house? Is there somebody, or a team of people already using Twitter, or other social networks in their personal life that in turn can be empowered to develop the company feed?

Twitter demands almost constant attention if it is to truly deliver to the bottom line so consider the in-house capacity and expertise you have before opening an account.

Have you got brand guidelines and communication processes in place?

Providing the back bone to your Twitter strategy must be certain guidelines on its day to day use. A communication strategy, which might include brand guidelines, key messages, buzzwords and keyword targets, as well as processes that guide staff on how they should respond to common situations, a customer complaint for example, is absolutely essential.

Allowing a more junior member of the team to manage Twitter is fine but in doing so make sure you have guidelines and processes that negate the chance of him or her doing anything which is ‘off-brand’.

Conclusion

Hopefully, my advice will help you to be properly prepared before you get started on Twitter or realise that maybe it’s not the right tool for your business in the first place. I’ve posed just five key questions  at this stage but what I hope to have demonstrated is that Twitter will only prove to be successful tool if you plan it’s execution with as much detail as you would any other marketing channel. Give Twitter the respect it deserves!

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