Organic Farming Is The Way For Business To Grow Twitter Followers

twitter fail whale blowfishThis is a follow-up to my How To Use a Company Twitter Account post.

That post dealt with brand voice, approach and language that should be used by companies when entering the Twitter arena. This is to expand on a Twitter debate I had this week over the practice of companies bulk following accounts instead of focusing on growing a base of evangelists.

So you decided to see what all the fuss was about amongst 1% of Canadians and you’ve gone and given your brand an identity on Twitter. Congratulations! But be careful how you use this new tool, because you run the risk of turning off just as many people as you can turn on.

Properly use Twitter and you’ll not only grow a list of followers, you’ll cultivate a legion of disciples will go forward and preach the gospel according to you.

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CARPET BOMBING ONLY WORKS WHEN YOU’RE AT WAR

When radio station CKNW first signed on to Twitter, they searched for users in Vancouver, regardless of demographic, and followed them in bulk. When the user re-followed, CKNW dropped them and followed as many more people as they could under Twitter’s follow limit ratios. The radio station treated the listeners/twitterers as nothing more than a commodity to be harvested.

This week I was suprised to, in a matter of minutes, be followed by a community college, a taco stand, a wrap restaurant, and a drug store cosmetics counter. I’m not a frequenter of any of these businesses. So it made me wonder, are companies taking the junk mail approach to Twitter? We all have flyers and cards in our mailbox each day that are just bulk sent to everyone in an area code regardless of their relevance to the particular recipient. The companies carpet bomb everyone in hopes that a few targets will be hit. These mass follows on Twitter felt like a carpet bombing, a more directed marketing approach would be a far wiser way to win followers and influence twitterers instead of having us look over our shoulder wondering why @LD_Cosmetics is following a 39 year old father.

It’s a curious little clique, this microblogging world, and the way you go about gaining followers will go a long way to the sort of influence you can wield.

GROW YOUR FOLLOWERS ORGANICALLY

When you sign on your company to Twitter, you need to create 2 accounts, one for the company (@acmewidgets) and one for yourself (@acmebossguy). You then use your personal account and your circle of colleagues to grow the company account.

It’s totally reasonable for a personal account to go out and follow those you already have a business or personal relationship with. With your personal account, start following and engaging in conversations with people you already know.

You can then retweet relevant content from your corporate account to expose it’s existence in your circle. Your circle will then be aware of your corporate account, and if relevant content is being posted to that stream, they will begin to follow @acmewidgets and spread the word.

You also need to include your @acmewidgets twitter account in all your business materials. Put it on your website, put the address in your corporate email signatures, have it on your business sign, tag it on the bottom of invoices, include it in your advertising etc. This way your biggest and best clients become aware of the twitter stream. If they’re fans of your company, and twitter users, they’ll certainly start following you and re-tweeting any great @acmewidgets information or deals you pass along through the stream.

Having these kinds of passionate “P1″ users involved in your twitter stream is really how you grow an account organically. You have created a base of evangelists who will “tell two friends”, and so on.

This organic approach is how we have grown the follower list for @virgin953. When we launched the account, we just launched it, we let those who cared come in, we didnt seek them out. I retweeted relevant posts via my personal account and announced the accounts existence to my follow list. We put a note on our Facebook page and website that we were on twitter, but we didn’t spam follow public relations professionals or media journalists to announce anything. We just let it grow on it’s own merits. It’s been a slow growth, but it’s been a genuine one. Those who follow the account are valuable contacts who care about what the station has to say.

BE AUTHENTIC

To grow a follower list organically you need to be remarkable in the way you treat the stream. You need to offer value in your tweets. You need to put forth interesting and relevant information for your audience. If you’re a discount retailer of @acmewidgets, that could be giving people advance warning of new deals or extra discounts. If you’re a higher end @acmewidgets manufacturer, perhaps your twitter stream is more lifestyle related and offers inside looks at the process to creating your great @acmewidgets.

You’re trying to create a viral marketing stream by growing the list, so by being authentic you are creating an identity for the brand and creating a more personal relationship with your follow list. These people have chosen to follow you, they’re fans, they want to be entertained and evangelize for you – give them something they can use, not spam, and they’ll do your bidding for you willingly.

BE PERSONAL (OR NOT)

If you have one person operating your brand account, identify who it is in the Twitter bio. Explain what @acmewidgets is about and then tell people who will be doing the tweeting for the company “Joe from accounting is our widget twitterer.” This personalizes the account and gives it accountability. We know with whose voice this brand account is speaking and we have perspective.

If you have multiple people contributing to one Twitter stream, like on the CBC show @cbcspark, have who ever is contributing sign their tweets with their initials (^DM, ^NY etc)

The flip side of this is more difficult, actually using the Twitter account to speak in the voice of the brand. This task should only be given to the most experienced of brand managers. Every single thing you tweet needs to be put through the brand filter to make sure it is authentic with the voice and identity you have tried to create.

LISTEN MORE THAN YOU SPEAK

The true value in the Twitter experience for companies, is the ability to eavesdrop on the conversations real people are having about their brand.

Monitoring the twitter stream is far more powerful than being active in discussion and getting followers. Twitter is real life stream of consciousness for people, they will tweet what they think when they think it.

Just have a quick peek at the experiences from Friday people had trying to pick up the new iPhone 3GS. If Rogers was properly using Twitter, they’d be able to instantly identify problems with the upgrade process as these active internet users and twitterers weren’t shy about letting the fur fly on their experiences.

**update** there are many Twitter accounts for Rogers. @RogersHelps hasnt been doing much, while @RogersKeith has been trying to solve issue.

To monitor the conversation on your brand, visit Twitter Search and type in some keywords related to your business. Your company name, your brand, your industry, your city and your products would be some good words to start with. You can then set up an RSS feed for these searches, or you can add the keyword searches to columns in a Twitter tool such as TweetDeck.

You now have yourself plugged in to the mind of your audience. You’re listening in on their very personal conversations they’re having with their friends about their experiences with @acmewidgets.

This monitoring of discussions gives you a chance to diffuse tense situations and reward positive ones. By monitoring the conversation, you now have a chance to control it by interacting with your audience in their neighborhood – Twitter.

These are your customers, they’re already talking about you – maybe now they’ll follow you and that’s where your growth can come from. Authentic, passionate customers who could be willing to evangelize your brand.

I don’t follow Viddler on Twitter, yet I use the video sharing service to host some of my videos. When I was having difficulty uploading my files to the site, I posted a note on Twitter asking if anyone in my group was also having difficulties.

Instead of getting advice from a colleague, Viddler actually responded. They monitor the stream for conversations about their service and interact where appropriate. The advice from the rep helped solve my problem and turned me from a Viddler user to a Viddler evangelist. I now know that when I have an issue, I can raise it and it will be heard and solved.

CONTINUE THE CONVERSATION

This Twitter Guide for Business is just meant to be a starting point for discussion. Many marketing pros balked at some of my comments in the Twitter stream on the topic this past week, I hope that after explaining my theories in more than 140 characters we can continue the conversation and share more ideas on how companies can more effectively use this burgeoning social media tool.

More articles on the topic of bulk following:
Bivings Report – Twitter Following Etiquette
Chris Brogan – 50 Ideas On Using Twitter For Business
Twitter – Making Progress on Spam
PC World – Fed Up With Twitter Spam?

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