Let’s Talk Twitter //php get_posflags()?>
Posted on | August 1, 2009
Written by | W. R. Tish
It’s digital age word of mouth uncorked
Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the stony soil of Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape,without Internet access,chances are you have been hearing more and more often about the website called Twitter.com. Twitter talk seems to have undergone a huge uptick in recent months, thanks in part to Oprah and other media heavy hitters both talking of it and on it. But what is Twitter, and can it actually be of use to you as a wine/spirits purveyor? The answer to the second part of that question is most definitely YES, but figuring out how depends greatly on understanding the first part.
In short, Twitter is a communal microblog; a site where anyone who registers can present an identity (visual image, or avatar; brief bio; optional link back to a personal/company website) and publish messages of up to but no more than 140 characters on whatever he/she sees fit to say, or tweet. Think of it as the energy of instant messaging crossed with the scale of text messaging and the free spirit of blogging. Twitter as it appears on a screen, is minimalistic by modern website standards: messages are streamed, in real time, refreshable every five seconds, with new tweets appearing above older ones. The look fits perfectly on a PDA (another reason Twitter has exploded in popularity).
Aptly named, the overall effect of the site can range from the quiet chirps of a few birds or the melodious cacophony of whole flocks,depending on how many tweeters you follow (more on following below). Taken as a whole, the concept is undeniably simple yet amazingly complex. With an estimated 61,000 tweets posted every hour, messages fly across Twitter from many sources on countless subjects. Tweets swing from the ludicrously personal ( I just finished cleaning out Bun Bun’s hutch.) to the obviously promotional ( Want to win a free laptop? Ask me how.) to the semi-inscrutable ( article on managing multiple profiles in social media: http://bit.ly/43Vch) and seemingly irrelevant ( @RandoMan go ahead, do it!) or just mundane ( I need a nap.). Tweets can also be riddled with acronyms that go well beyond LOL. (GNO, anyone? That’s girls night out.) In truth, the only thing all tweets have in common is brevity.
Key to Twitter’s effectiveness as a business tool is simply finding the right audience for your tweets. In other words, if Twitter represents a practically boundless universe of communication, it only begins to make sense when you access the slice of that universe that is of value to your business. Fortunately, the breadth and depth of the wine/spirits-loving community on Twitter is truly enormous (makes sense,lots of people love to chat about eating and drinking) and accessible. If you think of Twitter as one massive cyber-convention of people who want to converse about anything at all, the wine/spirits professional’s mission is to join the sub-convention attended simultaneously by not only the trade but also consumers and by every sort of person who might have a role or interest in any service, product or activity related to wine and spirits. That is the Twitter that matters to you.
The devil of Twitter naturally lies in the details, not the concept. According to Nielsen research 60 % of Twitter users quit after a month or less. The main reason is frustration. It takes time to get the hang of it. With that in mind, below is some basic information and specific tips on getting Twitter.
Every tweeter is identified by a screen name of their choosing, which is usually a short derivation of a real name. When communicating directly to or about a specific tweeter, the screen name is preceded by the @ symbol.
Perhaps the most important Twitter term of all is follow. The reason: when on your personal home page of Twitter, you only see the real-time tweets of those you follow; and they see only the tweets of people they follow, which only includes you if they follow you back. Quality of followers is more important than quantity, but until you actually reach a critical mass (100+), there is not much to see, and not much worth saying, as few will actually be online to hear (see) them. There are two basic ways of building a following: 1) searching for others you might like to follow, by using the Twitter search box or the more powerful site www.search.Twitter.com; and by following the followers of others (you can literally check out the profiles and tweet history of anyone on Twitter, to get a sense of their particular interests).
Updates are simply the messages that individual users tweet, which are always displayed in reverse chronological (most current on top).
A profile is basically the public information about any tweeter, comprised of screen name, avatar, name, location and bio (yours can be set/adjusted via a settings tab), plus all of their updates as well as counts of following and followers, both of which can be viewed in detail by clicking. Many tweeters enhance their profile page by customizing the appearance of the background, adding artwork and/or extra contact information.
Favorites are simply a tweeter’s favorite tweets made by others. Like a tweet? Click on the star icon in the tweet and it is stored in your favorites, and retrievable (kind of like you might use a DVR to store a TV show to come back to later). These are not private; you can click and view others’ favorites on their profile pages.
A message,usually called a direct message or DM,is a direct message you send to anyone who is also following you; DMs are not visible to anyone else. It is like an email between you and another person.
Because the 140-character limit is quite constraining, many tweets actually work like headlines, or teasers, that included a link to more complete information on a website. A website called tinyurl.com is indispensable; it quickly compresses the full url of specific web pages into a short version that takes up fewer characters and looks like this: http://bit.ly/43Vch.
Finally, let’s look at three functional terms that are vital to using Twitter: retweets, @replies and hashtags. If you find a tweet of
particular interest, you retweet (or RT) it by pasting the text into an update of your own, preceded by RT and the original tweeters screen name. @replies are simply replies directly to someone else’s tweet; even if not replying directly to a tweet, including @JohnDoe (as in a specific screen name) in a tweet of your own will help John Doe see your tweet quickly regardless of when you posted it, as he can instantly view all tweets with @JohnDoe in them next time he’s on Twitter by clicking the @JohnDoe button on his home page. Hashtags can get complicated; they essentially represent focused topics, created and then communally used by preceding a specific term with the # symbol in tweets. Hashtags have become a sort of inside baseball way of making comments on specific topics more easily searchable in the so-called Twitterverse; they can be very general (#wine) or very specific, e.g., #WBC denotes tweets related to the Wine Bloggers Conference (which happens in July 2009 but is already a pretty hot ticket on Twitter).
Building a Twitter Network
Your Twitter network is the people you follow and the people who follow you. Following (or not) is always voluntary, and reversible. This is the bread and butter of your Twitter experience, and the site most certainly will not work for you unless you embrace the spirit of engaging this network as much socially as commercially.
The value of a building a network rests not only in you reaching your followers, but also in your followers reaching theirs. Remember that word of mouth is the most powerful form of marketing anywhere. People rely on people they trust when it comes to trying new things and going new places. Twitter is Digital Age word of mouth. Retweeting is a crucial part of what makes Twitter so powerful. For business purposes, when you provide and update that your followers see fit to retweet, you can gain followers organically (as opposed to searching various tweets and profiles and following people and hope that they follow back). Retweeting can make Twitter work with blazing speed (news of a recent minor earthquake in the Bay area reached San Francisco even before tremors were felt there) and reach. And because re/tweets can contain links, the information transmitted can be both very precise and extensive. Note: this ability to insert a direct link is perhaps the most powerful aspect of Twitter; the 140-character tweet can function as a teaser, a headline, a sneak peek.
The trick to building an effective Twitter network for business is not to oversell. In short, people join Twitter to exchange ideas and information,including things that can be bought. However, tweeters no more wish to be sold to than they want to be cold-called at home during dinner. If you keep your followers’ common interests (wine, spirits, food, entertaining, travel) in mind when tweeting, retweeting and @replying, you will firm up your identity as a business that cares about the wine and spirits experience.
That sort of authenticity is crucial to successfully using any social networking. If you do not want to engage in conversations about the overall business you are in, Twitter may not be for you. If you do, you will find that tweets can echo in cyberspace in ways you had never imagined. In addition, you will gradually find followers that are not always wine/spirits-centric, but rather people of all sorts who simply enjoy drinking and eating.
Developing a Twitter Strategy
Twitter may be practically instantaneous, but the fruits of your tweeting may take weeks to be apparent. Before getting to some wineshop/bar-specific strategies, here are some basics:
- Be consistent. Tweet daily, at different times during the day. This increases your exposure to followers and will help you literally get a hang of it.
- Be balanced. Tweeting about things you do/sell/offer is fine, so long as you aren’t overdoing it. Mix in RTs of interesting other tweets; seasonal/topical observations; @replies to questions/comments of followers.
- Observe. Watch how others tweet, and see what gets RTed and/or @replied to.
- Grow your network gradually. Commit to spending time each day or at least each week to finding new followers. Doing it massively (i.e., following 1,000 before you even have 100 followers) will appear suspect. And think of expanding your network not just by searching with wine/spirits in mind, but also exploring regional Twitter people and topics,local followers are simply more likely to walk in your door.
- Be someone. Yes, you are a business; but the most successful businesses on Twitter project a personality, not merely products and services. You like what you do; let it show! One vital caveat: if you are tweeting as a business, rather than as an individual, it is probably a good idea to have one person do the tweeting, in order to develop a consistent style/tone.
- Step it up a notch. At some point in your Twitter learning curve, consider using a supplemental Twitter tool, to either manage or enhance your tweeting. Tweetdeck.com, for instance, helps you organize your network and see many aspects of Twitter on one screen. You can also share photos via twitpic.com. There are literally dozens of Twitter apps out there; but they don’t make sense unless you already have a decent grip on your Twitter identity.
Assuming you want to give Twitter a shot to help your business, what sort of things should you tweet about? For wine shops, tweetable topics can include new arrivals, seasonal recommendations, special events, relevant wine articles online, critics’ acclaim, wine-world anecdotes, food suggestions, trend watching, entertaining tips, and so on. But the answer really depends on your business. Ann Farrell, who does the tweeting (as @TheWinePeople) for Haskell’s ten locations in the Minnestoa’s Twin Cities, says that their greatest bump in followers and business came when promoting their annual nickel sale via Twitter in April. She adds that some of the store’s more passionate followers now tweet about what they just bought at Haskell’s; some even post photos of their shopping carts as twitpics. At Suburban Wines in Westchester County, New York, owner Lance Cerutti does the tweeting himself. While he has not found Twitter to be measureable yet, and Suburban’s 6,000+ followers are still not as numerous as his store’s email list, he is amazed at the amount of dialogue he has engaged in and feedback he has received via tweets.
Bars and restaurants can tweet on topics similar to wine/spirits shops (new stuff, special events, special offers) and then some (beer!), and the social nature of those establishments can lead them to dip easily into the very sort of things people talk about when going out to bars (sports, celebrities, local happenings, holidays). Cinco de Mayo was a hot topic in the first week of May, for instance. Dozens of New York City establishments have tapped into the Twitter-friendly website coovents.com, which tweets happy hour specials daily as @coovents. Brian Simpson, tweeting as @rogersmithhotel, has developed Twitter relationships with hundreds of travelers in general, sharing tips and thoughts on cities other than Manhattan where the hotel is based. He has also used Twitter to recruit volunteers to test out new dishes at the restaurant; he occasionally posts special Twitter rates when the hotel has vacancies; and his personal interest in social media has helped make the hotel a hub for Internet-driven meetings.
To go through more examples of how various on/off-premise businesses tweet would be to risk straying from the central point that if you do decide to join the Twitter scene, the key is to develop an identity, tone and range of tweets that fits your particular establishment. By all means, Twitter requires practice and consistency to yield results. But also remember that 140 characters can be very potent. To wit (or to twit), never mind the previous 14,000 characters in this article. Just focus on these 139: Twitter = pure communication. What do you already do, & how can you let people know you do it well? Worth giving a whirl; just be patient.
W. R. Tish can be followed on Twitter as @TishWine.