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December 02, 2008

How to Use Twitter as a Twool

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I may get more value out of Twitter than anyone else on the planet because I use Twitter as a tool—specifically as a marketing tool—for my website Alltop and my book, Reality Check. If the concept of using Twitter in a commercial manner interests you, keep reading. If it doesn’t, then you can continue to send and receive tweets about how cats are rolling over and the line at Starbucks.

  1. Forget the “influentials.” You must buy into the theory that products and services reach critical mass because mere mortals spread the word for you. This defies the common wisdom that a handful of “influentials” shape what the rest of us try and what we adopt. In the online world, these influentials include Mike “I can go a week without Twitter” Arrington, Robert Scoble, Seth Godin, and to some extent me.

    Reliance on influentials is flawed because the Internet has flattened and democratized information. Influentials don’t have as much special access, special knowledge, and distribution as you might think because of the growth of websites, blogs, and, of course, Twitter.

    This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t care about influentials—if nothing else they can help you get to what some consider “nobodies.” But mark my words: (a) Nobodies are the new somebodies, and (b) it’s better to have army of committed nobodies and than a few drive-by somebodies. The most somebodies can usually do for you is a one day bump in traffic.

    One more point: if enough nobodies like what you do, the somebodies will have no choice but to write about you. In this way, the buzz of nobodies begets the attention of somebodies and not vice versa.

  2. Defocus your efforts. The goal is to get to masses of people because you don’t know who can and will help you. (If you knew exactly who they were and what they can do for you, then you’d focus on them—then we’d be back to focusing on influentials—albeit less known ones.) The catch is that defocusing isn’t actionable unless there’s an inexpensive, easy, and instant answer to reach massive amounts of people, and per dollar there’s nothing better than Twitter to do this.

  3. Get as many followers as you can. I recently explained what I do to get more followers. Click here to read about my methods. Ignore people who tell you that it’s the quality of your followers not the quantity. They’re trying to make friends, not use Twitter as a tool. And, truth be told, there are only two kinds of Twitter users: those that want more followers and those that lie. You can follow me here.

    The reason you want more followers is the law of big numbers: the more followers, the more people talking about what you do, the more you can reach the tipping point. If you think you “know” exactly who can and will help you, you are deluding yourself.

    You will face the issue of whether your Twitter name should be the company’s name or your name. I have Guykawasaki and Alltop because you should try to get both much like preventing domain name squatting. My theory is people are more likely to follow a person than a company, so 99% of my attention goes to my Guykawasaki account. Also, someday you may sell your company, and the company account will probably go with the acquirer. However, if you go with your name, you need to not tweet only about your company—indeed, you have the moral obligation to tweet informative posts that have nothing to do with your company. You can see what I do here.

  4. Monitor what people are saying about you, your company, and your product. You can do this here with the search features of Twitter. Be sure that you bookmark your search so that you won’t have to reenter terms. Or, you use a product like Tweetdeck to create a search. For example, I monitor this search [guykawasaki OR “Guy Kawasaki” OR Alltop] to follow what people are saying about me and Alltop. Searches like [how to Alltop] where you substitute your company or product name for “Alltop” are also useful to find tweets about using your product or service. You can also use Twilert.com to receive email notification of search results much like Google Alerts. When you find such tweets, take these actions:

    People are pissed: help them out

    People are confused: help them out

    People who have questions: help them out

    People are happy: ask them to spread the word

    You will find that people are delighted by contact with the company and that no matter how rocky the relationship started out, they usually become fans and evangelists. By simply monitoring what people are saying about you, you’re using Twitter better than 95% of the companies out there.


  5. Can I tell you a funny story? I once spoke to a group of large company social media folks. One was from United Parcel Service, and she said that her Twitter searches were inefficient because the string “UPS” is in so many words (“startups,” “meetups,” etc.) Undaunted, I searched for “UPS” in front of the group, and the first tweet that I found was a complaint about a UPS delivery! That brought a howl from the audience.
  6. Ask for help. Don’t be shy about asking people on Twitter to spread the word for you. If they like what you do, they will. If they don’t, they won’t. It’s as simple and transparent as that. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for some of us), most people don’t have the chutzpah to ask for help.

    Alltop would not be anything close to what it is without the Twitter community. Twitter users suggest new topics as well as sites and blogs to include on those topics. Many have gone so far as to suggest a topic and compile a collection of feeds for the topic. And then they help us market the site too. Holy kaw!

  7. Make it easy to tweet on your behalf. Twitterfeed is a service where any RSS feed can automatically appear as your own tweets. Bloggers do this, for example, so that their blog posts automatically appear as their tweets.

    I took it to the next level by asking Mario Menti, the Twitterfeed creator, to make a special webpage where people could sign up to allow us to automatically post Alltop news as their tweets (click here if you’d visit the webpage). Approximately 177 people did so.

    I want to make sure you understand what this means: 177 people agreed to repost all Alltop news as their own tweets. This took automated tweeting to a historical new high—or low depending on who you asked.

    Then my new book, Reality Check, came out, and I made an offer of a free copy of it to anyone who signed up for the Alltop Twitterfeed. Another 280 people signed up—bringing the total to approximately 450 people. The count as of June 2009 is 671 people.

    We counted, and these 671 people had a total of 150,000 or so followers. This meant that whenever we announced a new topic, the 150,000 followers of 671 people received notification. These 671 people had followers in common, so their tweets didn’t reach 150,000 different people (see next section), but this was the Mother of Retweeting.


  8. Right about now you should be asking yourself, “Why would people help Guy like this?” The answer is that these Alltop evangelists see spreading the news about Alltop as a service for their followers. They believe that Alltop’s information is good and useful and will help their followers access information on the web. Thus, the primary motivation is not a $30 book, but the satisfaction of helping others. This is a very important lesson: people must believe that what you’re marketing is great for their followers, and they must trust you. Here’s a guideline for creating something great. Here’s how to build trust. Here’s a complete explanation of evangelism.
  9. Create an email list. One issue with 671 people tweeting 150,000 followers: if people followed some of the same 671 people, they got duplicate announcements. I started receiving about five complaints a day—still, the math was good: five complaints from 150,000 exposures? I can deal with complaints but, in a sense, my idea worked too well.

    What I could not deal with was the unintended consequences of automated tweeting. For example, Republican members of the 671 people probably didn’t appreciate the Obama.alltop announcement. I was afraid that someday a pastor (and her followers) would wonder why she tweeted about Hunting.alltop, Buddhism.alltop, and Pregnancy.alltop.

    Clearly, some of the people needed to choose which topics they tweeted and how the tweets were worded. Also, some of the 671 started to lose followers because of the frequency of Alltop updates (we often announce three to four new topics per day). I certainly didn’t want these people to lose followers because of me—if there’s anyone in the world who understands the trauma of losing followers, it’s me.


    Can I tell you another funny story? Yes, some of the 671 people lost followers because of the Alltop tweets, but many told me that their followers found the Alltop tweets more interesting than their own tweets, so that they had more interaction with their followers because of the Alltop tweets!


    To fix these issues, we created the Alltop news and announcements email list. Through this list, we announce every new topic, and we let the recipients decide if they want to tweet it (or email it) to others. Also, they can obviousy edit and create their own tweet or message.

    We told the 671 people using Twitterfeed about it, so that they could drop the Twitterfeed mechanism and use the email notification instead. We opened up the email list on the night before Thanksgiving and in six days approximately 600 people signed up for it. That was surprisingly high, but what’s even more interesting is that only fifty of the Twitterfeed folks stopped doing it.

    I thought the majority of people would drop Twitterfeed and disappear completely or switch to the email list. You’ve heard that synergy is when 2 + 2 = 5. This is Twitter synergy where 671 - 50 = 1,000 because we signed up more people by offering an alternative. With the email list, we must have tapped people who were hesitant to entrust their feeds to us but wanted to help in some other way. Thank you God.

  10. Make it easy to “post to Twitter.” One day I met with Rashmi Sinha, the CEO of Slideshare. We got to talking about how she increased her traffic, and she told me that a “Post to Twitter” link was the most effective mechanism. When people are viewing a Slideshare page like this hilarious one about getting old, they can click on the “Post to Twitter” link under the frame and a window opens with a preconfigured tweet to send to followers.

    According to her, this was much more effective than the various sharing and email forwarding schemes. I thought her idea was absolutely fabulous and copied it. Now there is a “Post to Twitter” button on every Alltop topic page. Approximately twenty people a day do this. On average they have 350 followers, so this provides us with another 7,000 or so impressions per day. More is less when it comes to offering people multiple ways to spread the word by clicking on rating services like Digg, Delicious, and Yahoo Buzz, pick one and be done with it. I pick Twitter because it doesn’t involve a popularity contest to get on any front page—instead, all your followers will get the tweet.

  11. Offer advice deals to Twitter users. This is something that I don’t do, but I would if I ran an ecommerce company. You can Twitter to offer special deals to your followers—for example, check out what Amazon does by clicking here and what Whole Foods does by clicking here. Also, check out the stream of Twitter deals here. You’ll see offers from companies using Twitter as well as the deals that Twitter users have found (probably including company employees acting as “regular” Twitter users). How can you not love something like Twitter that is fast, free, and far-reaching for pushing out special offers? (Power tip: if you need to enable several people to tweet and to schedule your tweets, check out a service called Brightkit.)

  12. Tell the complainers where to go. Some people will disagree with this use of Twitter. Don’t let this worry you because at some point everyone pisses off someone on Twitter. Therefore, letting a vocal few limit your use of Twitter is a big mistake. If they don’t like what you’re doing, tell them to stop following you: end of discussion. And rest assured that “Twitter spam” is an oxymoron because following you is completely opt-in.

This is how to use Twitter as a tool. I hope the Twitter community helps you as much as it has helped Alltop and me. With some effort, you may come to view Twitter as I do: the best new marketing twool of this century. Tweet long and prosper.


For more information about Twitter, click here.

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