Twitter as a marketing tool (or why I had to unfollow Tim O’Reilly)


I’ve been using twitter for almost a month now. In the grand scheme of things I haven’t been using it very long, but the foundation of how I was instructed to use it as a networking tool is starting to crumble.

At the request of the CEO where I work, the marketing director, the CEO, and I attended a webinar on marketing using social media. I attended the part on getting blog readers, because I write the company blog. The biggest thing that I walked away from the webinar with was the idea of building my network on twitter before even starting to concentrate on writing high quality articles.

Twitter: The basics

If you’re not familiar with twitter, it’s basically a short, group subscription based text message that you can get on your mobile phone or on your computer. You can chose to receive all of the short (140 character) messages from a member that you want to follow. Whenever a person that you follow decides to send out a short message, called a “tweet”, you get the message in a real time information push. Many twitter members submit messages on what they’re doing, or on information that they found useful that day and want to share with their followers. If you find a tweet that someone posted to be useful, you may rebroadcast the information to those following you in what’s called a “retweet”, where it’s good manners to attribute the original author.

Networking by following

The webinar that I attended focused on building your network by following people, in the hopes that they will follow you in return. In the twitter world, supposedly it’s good manners to follow people that have followed you. If someone follows you, you’re supposed to visit their profile and if it’s not spam, you politely follow them back.

Therefore, to get more people following you, you’re supposed to follow a few strangers every day. Not just a few random strangers though. You probably want to follow members that are in your industry. You can locate these members by seeing who is following influential people in your industry or by doing topic searches.

Here’s why that doesn’t work, though. I’m only following 24 people and check my twitter account twice a day. Even though I’m not following very many people, it still takes a significant amount of time to read all of their tweets since the last time I had logged in. To actually have that many tweets going to my mobile phone would be unruly, so I don’t have them sent to my mobile phone.

If someone is following more than 50 members, I’d wager that they aren’t reading what others are saying at all, and are mostly just broadcasting their own spiel. If you have a follower that is following more than 50 users, the only way they’ll see what you’re contributing is if you send a reply to them or mention their name in a tweet.

The true measure of how influential a person is on twitter is that they’re being followed by people who aren’t following very many people. Additionally, they’re being followed by other influential people. It would be interesting if twitter would calculate this metric and display it on a user’s profile. However, I know that many hackers would be able to quickly become the most influential.

The follow and be followed in return tactic can work, though. You just need to target new twitter members that haven’t figured out yet that it’s not useful to follow people just because someone followed them. To have any hope of members following you back out of politeness, you need to target users that aren’t following very many people and that don’t have very many followers. However, I’m not going to recommend this approach, as it seems rather spammy.

Networking with content

Another way to get more followers is by getting people that you want to influence to read your tweets and possibly follow you. This was also mentioned in the webinar that I attended.

If you’ve followed some truly influential people on twitter, you’ll notice that they have thousands of followers, yet they only follow a handful of people. These social networking “magnates” are not going to follow you, but they may periodically read tweets that reference them.

If you find that a twitter magnate posts something worthwhile, and you retweet it, giving them proper attribution, they may end up reading your profile. However, even if you get their attention momentarily, these magnates are still unlikely to follow you because they would perceive that as a recommendation.

You can still attract the attention of average people, though. Using industry keywords or current topics in your tweets may get people reading your tweets and visiting your profile. Some people may follow you because they’re momentarily interested in what you have to say, but at least as many people will follow you hoping to sell you something related.

One thing that I’ve definitely learned is not to make too many twitter posts unless you want people to stop following you. I don’t care if you’re @timoreilley, who was posting some great stuff, but if you post more than five tweets a day I probably won’t follow you for long. Twitter only allows 140 character messages because that’s what they can broadcast as a text message to mobile devices. However, the brevity that this has inspired has influenced what people expect. They want only the edited down version. It’s not only about concise messages, but also about getting rid of the lesser important topics. If you make more than five tweets a day, expect normal people to stop following you.

Twitter as an informational resource

By far the most value that I’ve received from twitter so far is by following influential people. I follow artists that I like, well connected CEOs of successful companies, and successful bloggers. These people, who are unlikely to ever follow me, are posting useful and insightful information. They’re sharing information in a short concise manner that they would have never taken the time to do by maintaining a blog (except for the bloggers).

It may not qualify as networking, because I’m just an ear and not a mouth, but I’m right there in the loop as some of the most amazing social networking unfolds right in front of me. It’s like getting a hidden microphone into the black tie party of the elite that I could never get into myself.

The webinar that I attended at the request of the CEO where I work is not named here simply because I don’t remember who presented it. I’m not sure if it was a free webinar or not, and I’m too lazy to ask if the others that attended it remember the name of it. Sorry.