What is Twitter actually for?

These days, Twitter is as much a part of our everyday lives as drinking coffee or taking the car out. Whenever we sit in the movies, go to a concert, or see something interesting on the street, it’s inevitable that at least half the people around us are tapping on their smartphones, and updating their status through a nifty tweet as they watch. Because of this, many small businesses may feel a little jaded with Twitter, thinking it has been taken over by self-promotional activities, political grandstanding, or youngsters updating their site with a stream of mundane drivel.

Despite the Twitter phenomenon becoming ever more popular and mainstream, however, it is still a great tool for marketing your business effectively, and building strong relationships online with your customers and peers.

Twitter is essentially a public text messaging service. Whereas many of us like to let one or two of our closest friends and colleagues know what we are up to, Twitter publicizes your antics to the whole world. The site which started out as a miniature blogging concept has now revolutionized online communications, inviting ever more public and controversial figures to share their thoughts and actions with the online world. Executions, political spats, governmental updates, and celebrity break-ups are all announced through Twitter, leaving no doubt as to the power and magnitude of this social phenomenon.

If you are the sort of person who would rather text message someone on your mobile than give them a call, then Twitter is probably ideal for you. Short, sweet, and to the point, the site’s restrictions on word count and content mean that no-one can spend a long time updating their status, and you can get what you want people to know out there with minimal effort. The very brevity of Twitter is the attribute that has made it so successful, leaving people who are nervous of Facebook and its in-depth plumbing of people’s lives, flocking to this more succinct and economically-worded site.

Essentially, Twitter features two basic functions. It enables people to follow updates that you post, and allows you to follow those people whose updates you want to read for yourself. The concept is simple – it’s taking the status bar from Facebook, and focusing upon that as the primary means of contacting others. Because of the simplicity of Twitter, it has become widely used as a business and marketing tool, enabling online entrepreneurs to share information and updates about their products and services, for free. People who regularly use Twitter can glance across their page and catch up with updates from those who they are following, for simple, quick, and easy access to the latest goings-on.

There are a number of easy ways that Twitter can help you with your online marketing and customer generation. Consider doing one or more of the following:

  • Follow people across your industry so you can stay right up-to-date with issues, changes across the business, or new innovations.
  • Connect with people to share best practice and advice, and ask for help when you need it.
  • Set up search terms to get a list of tailored tweets (even for people who you may not be following) to stay abreast of issues that are of interest for you and your business.
  • Ask people for services, and offer your services to others. Remember that you need to sell carefully, as Twitter is not primarily designed for cold approaches – build up relationships first, and offer your support when asked.
  • Conduct market research on certain products and services in your market, to ascertain what people want, and how best to provide it for them.
  • Send out requests for feedback, shares, and comments on blog posts or new webpages you’ve developed.
  • Market your products and services in a friendly and approachable way to those people who follow you on Twitter.
  • Offer an instant customer service to people who mention you or your products, keeping an eye on potential complaints and addressing them promptly.
  • Network with a group of people with whom you can quickly and easily connect, and with whom you can develop ongoing and strong relationships.

Twitter is fast, simple, and easy to use, and doesn’t have the invasive quality of a direct email.  It’s ideal for short, pithy comments and marketing messages, as it is restricted to a 140-character limit, meaning you don’t have to spend hours crafting your messages.

However, using Twitter is the same as any other online platform, and governed by the same rules. Stay clear of spamming, keep your Tweets professional and friendly, and avoid bombarding your potential customers with reams of sales material. You can use Twitter with a number of tools including TweetDeck and HootSuite to manage your list of contacts efficiently, searching through the messages posted by other people quickly and easily.

If you’d like to know more about using Twitter for your business marketing and advertising, there’s a great little guide available at http://www.wikihow.com/Use-Twitter. There are loads of different features available for Twitter, so have a look around at what you can achieve, and develop your knowledge to provide focused posts with techniques such as hashtags. If you fancy sharpening your tweeting teeth on someone, my address on Twitter is @BlogTechGuy!

Twitter Tools

Hootsuite

HootSuite is asimple to use online application that lets you combine all of your social media accounts into one, incorporating Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. It enables you to schedule, send, and receive messages across multiple platforms, all from one place. By bringing all of your social networking into one application, you can save hours of time. There’s a simple HootSuite plugin for Firefox through which you can schedule messages and follow RSS feeds.

If you find maintaining social media accounts too time-consuming, try using HootSuite once a week, scanning the feeds to see if there are any interesting conversations that you can join, “like,” or share.

HootSuite also allows you to upload multiple messages in advance and then pick the date and time that you want them to appear. In around half an hour a week, you can do all of your marketing and social networking in one go, saving a great deal of time compared with going into each site individually. It is, however, worth keeping the HootSuite application open while you’re working, so you can respond to any direct messages in a timely manner.

TweetDeck

TweetDeck is considered to be the most useful and practical application available for managing your Twitter account. You can customize the interface to control the users, tweets and columns on your account, saving valuable time and making Twitter easy to manage and use each day. TweetDeck allows you to write status updates, create short URLs for webpages, shorten messages, and apply hashtags to your messages, all from one simple interface. Easy to use, fairly intuitive, and convenient, it’s a great way to access your Twitter account and use it without any undue pressure.

TweetDeck provides options to start new groups, manage them, and choose members for each, enabling you to send out direct messages to specific groups of people. You could, for example, divide your updates into personal, business, family, or advertising messages. There is an advanced search option that lets you see all recent tweets that may be relevant to you, and you can use this to start new conversations with people.

How To Build An Email List

One of the most common questions I get is how to build an email list or how to get more email subscribers. I do this a few different ways.

Choose an Email Newsletter/Autoresponder Service

Of course, before you can do anything you need to choose an email service to add subscribers too. I use AWeber, and while there are many other competitors out there, AWeber is my favorite due to ease of use and functionality for internet marketers.

1) & 2) Permanent opt-in forms

1) I have one opt-in subscription form at the top of every page. It’s large, you can’t missed it at the top of every page. This form has different backgrounds that randomly show so it looks different each time the page loads.

2) I have a simple form at the bottom on every single blog post page. The position and color of this doesn’t change, it’s a small form for convenience. Click the image below for a larger view.

3) Pop-up form

I use a plugin called Pippity to control my “nice” pop-up forms on the site. At the moment I have three variations that I am testing with different designs. They pop up after a certain amount of time on the site and when closed do not reappear for 8 days even if the visitor returns. I do this to reduce the annoyance of the pop-ups to regular visitors. There is another popular plugin called Popup Domination, but I prefer Pippity because of it’s ease of use and analytics capabilities.

For example I can tell which forms are used the most by new subscribers, how long the pop-ups are displayed for before being closed and make variations of the same design to test timing options.

4) Contact form

Another plugin that is brilliant is Gravity Forms. I use this for my Contact page, where it asks a series of questions to the visitor, with the final one being whether they would like to subscribe to my newsletter or not. It uses the AWeber form add-on to add any person automatically to my newsletter who selects they would like to be added to my list.

My opt-in rate for people who contact me (I get a lot per day!) is over 80%, so if you have a lot of people emailing you for support or asking you questions, Gravity Forms can be a great way to add relevant subscribers.

5) Subscribe Page

This subscribe page is for search engine visitors, searchers on my own site or if I need to provide a direct link via email to someone.

6) Paypal integration

AWeber has a great “app” that allows you to add anyone who pays you via Paypal to your email list. So whenever anyone buys one of my services, such as my Complete Blog Setup, they are asked via email if they want to subscribe to my newsletter.

Summary

There are multiple areas of opportunity and “touch points” with readers and clients that you can use to offer your email subscription list. However, as I’ve talked about before (How Much Does An Email Subscriber Cost You?), it’s what you do once you have them that is very important, as an email list, and the methods used to gather subscribers, cost money.

There are a couple of ways I can name now that I don’t use, but what are the ways you use to gain email subscribers?

The tools I use to build my email list are:
a) AWeber
b) Pippity
c) Gravity Forms

Free Screencast Tool – Jing!

As recommended to me by a client, David Congreave, via Twitter, there is a great free screen capture and screencast tool called Jing.

Created by the makers of the paid-for Camstasia (TechSmith) Jing is a simple free application that lets you easily capture screenshots or videos on your desktop.

jing-before-after

Its simplicity is brilliant, simply select the area you wish to capture, choose video or image and then go. If you select image you can then easily annotate the image with arrows and text. If video, you can choose whether to record audio or not. Once complete you simply hit the share button and it will upload the image or video to screencast.com and give you a URL to share with whoever you want to. It’s so easy and fast.

Of course, with simplicity come downsides. You cannot do everything you want when editing an image. You cannot edit a video at all, it’s a one take wonder. Videos are limited at 5 minutes, and your screencast account has an upload limit and monthly bandwidth limit, both of which can be increased by paying for a Pro account.

After failing to get the browser based Screentoaster working (damn you Flash!), Jing actually seems to be almost everything I was looking for. Now, when a client wants to know how to solve an issue I can send a quick video of how to do it without having to waste time editing it, producing it in the correct format, figuring out where to upload it to and host it. If you need to visually show people what you’ve done or how to do things, then take a look at Jing.

Cool Twitter Tools

Do you use Twitter? The short conversation (or some say “micro blogging” ) tool is a great way to keep in touch with your friends, family, business partners and clients.

Twitter

There are many tools out there that interact with Twitter, and an internet search will bring up lots of top 10 Twitter tools lists, but a couple of tools have come to my attention as I’ve been using them for clients recently. The first is Twitterbacks created by Jim Kukral.

Essentially a selection of free Photoshop files that you can download and use as templates for your Twitter profile page. Very easy to use, and free. Yaro Starak reports that he has noticed “Twitter.com profile pages are starting to rank in Google really well. Might be an SEO strategy there!” and so isn’t it time you looked at your profile page? My Twitter profile page needs a bit of work I admit, but I’m waiting for my new blog design to create a consistent image – oh yes, a new blog design is coming soon but more on that sometime soon!

The second is a plugin called TweetSuite that can display TweetBacks on your site (like Trackbacks or Pingbacks, above your comments), automatic tweeting of new posts, and many other features that you can choose to use or not.

While you’re playing around with Twitter, why not follow me? Do you have any other Twitter tools, tips or tricks you would like to share?

Free Tool To Check How You Blog Looks In Other Browsers

A great tip from Brendon over at Tailored Consulting: a way to see how your website looks in 40 different internet browsers and operating system combinations via BrowserShots. Frankly I’d never heard of half the browsers, but it’s still a really useful free tool.