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Ten Ways To Decide If Your Business Should Tweet

During a late lunch (for me) or an early dinner (for my wife's grandparents) at Applebee's in Reading, Pa., I was distracted from figuring out how to eat my riblets when I heard the conversation inevitably turn to Twitter.

It wasn't the most senior members at the table who were interested in tweeting -- thank goodness, as that would have made me fall off my chair faster than an Applebee's Top Shelf Long Island Iced Tea. Instead, my uncle, an optometrist, had been hearing about Twitter and wondered if he should tweet professionally.

When I answered Uncle Glenn, I brought up a number of factors that he should consider when evaluating the service. I also compared his situation to that of Jeff, my father-in-law, a plastic surgeon in Dallas. Glenn and Jeff have several things in common: small businesses in healthcare targeting older-skewing customers who aren't particularly tech-savvy. There are key differences though, and those are described below.

Here are ten factors Glenn, Jeff, or anyone else should consider when deciding whether to tweet:

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Domain squatting: Is there any value for you to register your business name or even real name (if you own your business or are the face of it) as a Twitter user name? I covered this recently, and there are a number of reasons why you should, even if you don't plan to actively use it.

Brand mentions: Is anyone talking about your actual business already? For a small business, this isn't as likely, but you absolutely must check. For this search and others discussed here, use Twitter Search at  search.twitter.com. While Twitter offers search functionality on its own site, it's only available to registered users, and Twitter Search is more robust.

Topical mentions: Are people on Twitter discussing topics relevant to your business? For Glenn, this might mean posts about getting glasses. For Jeff, it might be concerns about aging, or about certain products like Botox. These signal opportunities where you can respond and be a resource. I once tweeted about a friend needing a WordPress programmer; the person who responded wasn't following me but was getting alerts for relevant terms, and he wound up with the gig.

Location mentions: If your business is based in or focused on a certain city or region, search Twitter to see what people are saying about it. Then use the advanced search feature to find posts from people based within a certain area. There may be ways to be a resource about your area. You should also run location-specific searches for your brands and relevant topics. The potential reach also matters; Glenn's target is residents within a small radius of Reading (population: 83,000), while Jeff's customers live in and beyond the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, home to one-quarter of all Texans.

Target audience: If there are lots of relevant mentions, click the user names to see if they look like they could be in your target audience. If the volume of tweets is high enough, you'll find a sample of people who are sharing information about themselves, whether from their Twitter profiles, the links to their sites, or what they're talking about.

Competitiveness: How cutthroat is your business? Do you need to do anything and everything to stay ahead? Twitter could be a competitive advantage, or a necessary defensive strategy. Jeff's business is one of those fields where his competitors will shamelessly copy whatever he does, from marketing to innovative surgical procedures and technologies. Glenn's field is toward the other end of the spectrum, where he spends a lot of his time sharing what he knows with his peers. Someone like Jeff is thus more inclined to use Twitter because they have to, while someone in Glenn's situation would use it if they want to.

Sales cycle complexity: How involved is the purchase decision? For Jeff's business, there's a lot of complexity in terms of understanding the procedures and technologies involved. Plus, if anything goes wrong, it will often be very visible to everyone the customer knows. This means Jeff must invest a great deal of energy in making prospective customers feel comfortable with him and his business. With Glenn, trust is no less important, but his customers don't need to conduct as much research online; he'll wind up earning most customers' trust in person.

Purchase frequency: This can vary considerably for both Glenn and Jeff. For Jeff, many customers need to return regularly for maintenance. Glenn, meanwhile, has an opportunity to provide services for the whole family, from eye exams to glasses. How valuable is it to stay top of mind?

Acquisition vs. retention: If most of your business comes from existing customers, then just ask them if they use Twitter and if they'd want to keep in touch with you that way. If you're continually prospecting, then you need to review these other factors.

Bandwidth and resources: Even if your target audience is on Twitter and there are a million reasons to connect with customers there, do you work with anyone who understands Twitter well enough to participate, or can you afford to pay someone else to train you or run your Twitter program?

That's the long answer. The short answer is, "Are your target customers on Twitter, and do you have the resources to reach them?"

Jeff gave these factors a lot of thought and is already tweeting away, even if he's still figuring out the best way to use it (like most everyone else). Glenn will probably hold off unless his Twitter research uncovers surprising results. Both can periodically return to this guide to assess whether Twitter has the potential to help them grow their businesses. Even if it's a little challenging to understand, it's all much easier than figuring out how to eat a riblet.

12 comments about "Ten Ways To Decide If Your Business Should Tweet ".
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  1. Scott Hoffman from Lotame, June 9, 2009 at 11 a.m.

    David, great write-up, as usual. I think that your first point about "domain squatting" is also a great starting place for those companies that are looking for a safe way to start in social media, from both a defensive and offensive outlook. I have identified the 30 most important social sites to register your company name & brands on. I have tiered them into three sections, Top Tier being register and monitor, Second Tier brands should register, and Third tier sites for consideration. The link to the post and the sites is here: http://bit.ly/15tMR7

    Enjoy

  2. Graeme Thickins, June 9, 2009 at 11:01 a.m.

    Awesome post, David. There are SO many people I know that need to read this.... and they will if I have my way! :-)

    cheers,
    Graeme
    www.twitter.com/graemethickins

  3. Gerard Mclean from Rivershark, Inc., June 9, 2009 at 11:03 a.m.

    The short answer is probably more like:

    "Would your target customers ever be on Twitter... ?"

    Waiting until they are probably makes you late to the game. Bet they will be. If you guess wrong, not harm done.

  4. Steve Gaines, June 9, 2009 at 3:58 p.m.

    One of the questions I get asked a lot is: "Yeah, but do you think Twitter will really be around a year from now?"
    My response is that whether it is twitter.com or not, the technology of this sort of social media connecting will surely be. And as Gerard notes in his comment above, better to assume that your customers may soon start using it than waiting until you're behind the curve.
    And, likely also behind your competition!

    Great post David. Excellent fodder for helping a business owner to see why it's important to understand this!

  5. Mandy Vavrinak from Crossroads Communications, LLC, June 9, 2009 at 5:23 p.m.

    Like this... nice, concise list of factors. I think another one (or part of the larger list you have) is whether or not your business is one where conversations are likely to occur offline... some services/products people brag about having or using, some others not so much. If offline conversations are likely, online conversations are easier to have/hold/start. No one wants to talk about their colostomy, online or off...!

  6. Kaila Colbin from Boma Global, June 9, 2009 at 6:58 p.m.

    David, you are such a rock star!

    I have this conversation regularly with clients, and they're often surprised that a social media chick doesn't prescribe tweeting as a cure-all. Twitter, Facebook, blogs... even paid search and traditional media are all tools, and you need to understand the job before you know which tools to use.

  7. Kurt Johansen from Johansen International, June 9, 2009 at 11:19 p.m.

    I am liking your mindset and writings on these topics David, Keep it up.
    Cheers Kurt
    Australia's Email Marketing Guru
    http://www.kurtjohansen.com

  8. Garry Mendez, June 10, 2009 at 4:59 p.m.

    This is a great common sense approach. It's fascinating, the distinctions people make between tweeting and blogging. Most rational people would go consider these types of factors before starting a blog, but a micro-blog? For that most people just jump in and figure it out later, or write it off without a second thought. Good to see someone in the social media sphere applying some rigor to these kinds of decisions.

  9. Chris Celek from Celek Media Consulting, June 10, 2009 at 5:34 p.m.

    Part of the discussion with businesses considering Twitter, Linkedin (Groups, Answers) and others also should include, "What are you going to say?"

    Is the business owner ready to share personal insights, opinions and info? Will that help them connect with other users?

    Do other users want to talk about the owners' business and its products/services? We're not all Starbucks with that company's customer experience. Is the business owner comfortable with contributing ideas and info about topics not directly related to their business but that are helpful to other users the business wants to connect with?

  10. Jonathan Hall from American Pop, June 12, 2009 at 2:13 p.m.

    I think the bandwidth reason is the most relevant. Not understanding the medium is the best way to be ignored or at worst be labeled a spammer. Or, not having the bandwidth to read what others are saying, missing requests, not keeping up with steady tweets makes it a waste of time as well. I was not that into Twitter in my personal life, but am becoming passionate about it professionally. We use it for our clients for one. Additionally, the exchange of ideas, articles, anecdotes, etc. with peers has been a great experience so far.

  11. Kathleen Saenz from Neighborhood America, June 15, 2009 at 10:13 a.m.

    Hey Dave, good information. We're actually a social software provider for enterprises and use Twitter ourselves (not to mention LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube) to connect with customers, analysts, media and raise brand awareness. Been pretty successful!

    If your readers are interested in the topic for internal communications and employee engagement, @JasonBreed will be sharing our corp. case study at NYC event this Thursday: http://newmedia.meetup.com/83/calendar/10402561/.

    Best,
    @KathySaenz

  12. Jason Breed from Neighborhood America, June 15, 2009 at 11:20 a.m.

    Nice Post David. Certainly speaks to the WHY part of considering Twitter (or many other solutions). Many businesses are still clamoring for the HOW part now. A couple of notes in support:
    1. Securing domain words. think about it from a cusotmer standpoint. If I am in the events business and use IBM for the infrastructure on those lasrge events, I think of them as IBM. <> Now IBM on Twtter @IBM is nothing. @IBMEvents though, is representative accordingly. Problem is customers don't think about you always how you want them to. Consider a customer friendly way of letting them reach you via Twitter.
    2. A very helpful way of monitoring Twitter whether by industry, company, geography is www.twazzup.com. I'm not affiliated in any way, however just found them and recommended them to a webinar I did with 1,000 participants as a great tool to use.

    Interesting part is that I thought the last paragraph "Short Answer" was most impactful of the entire post. Companies are running to the latest tools to develop their strategies. Create the objectives first, develop the strategy then deploy the technology....sound familiar?

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