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.

Social Media Bookmarking

People of all ages are now accessing the Internet, affording us the opportunity to reach a broader customer demographic than ever before. With social media becoming more and more important when it comes to influencing public opinion and creating trends, it’s evident that all online business owners need to get in on the action and have a strong digital media presence.

The rise of Facebook and Twitter, in particular, demonstrates that the Internet has influence and power when it comes to raising public awareness and generating customers. Like it or not, we live in a time where executions are announced over Twitter, and Facebook campaigns can alter the result of which record reaches number one in the charts. As a blogger, there is no more valuable tool to promote your site than social bookmarking. You can harness the power of social media in a number of ways, all of which are free, easy to do, and highly effective.

Social bookmarking is simply the process of a reader sharing your content with a number of widely-used social networks, which you should encourage in order to increase visibility and enhance customer engagement. The entire World Wide Web operates as a linked series of networked applications, all of which offer distinct advantages and services to the business blogger. WordPress is the ideal platform to connect to these services, making it simple and hassle-free to benefit from social networking online.

While it is possible to craft all of your social bookmarking messages by hand, it makes much more sense to take the efficient route to online marketing: Plugins. WordPress deliver a series of simple tools that streamline your communications processes and make it easy to join the online fray with the minimal effort and zero expense.

Link to Your Twitter Account

Twitter is an extremely powerful and convenient way of communicating a lot in a few words. Set up a Twitter account that outlines your products and services, and provides regular keyword-rich updates to your readers. Pick who you follow according to your specialized industry, and people will tend to follow you in return. Every time you update your blog, post the link to your Twitter account.

It has taken the site just five months to double the number of Tweets it had, from ten billion to twenty billion. As of April 2010, there are reportedly over 100 million user accounts. Everything you write on Twitter is indexed and can be found on the web.

WordPress supplies a great ‘Twitter’ application at: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/new-twitter-button/. This is the ‘daddy’ of Twitter sharing, in that it keeps a track of ReTweets and is very easy to add to your site. It is also a visible and familiar tool which visitors to your site will recognize and readily use, encouraging information sharing.

The Power of Facebook

Facebook is the hub of social networking and bookmarking. It’s simple to set up a page linked to your business, and update it as your blog posts go live. People use Facebook to follow products and businesses they like, so it makes sense that if you engage readers then they will follow you… especially if you make it easy for them. When you set up your profile, again use keyword-rich texts and keep your page up-to-date with useful information.

Facebook hosts over 550,000 third-party applications, and boasts 500 million active users. More than 150 million people engage with the site on external websites every month, and there are more than 150 million active users currently accessing Facebook through their mobile devices. A simple tool to benefit from this popularity is Facebook Like.

The new style of the Facebook Like button has spawned numerous plugins, but I like this one the best. You can choose where to locate it and add custom styling.

Generic Social Bookmarking Plugins

The following plugins for WordPress all link you up to a range of social networking sites and take the hassle out of repeat communications to your customers. I recommend all of them as they will each bring specific benefits to you as a business blogger:

Sharebar: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/sharebar/
This is what I currently use on my site, the vertical bar on the left hand side with sharing options.

Sociable: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/sociable/
This plugin features a wide choice of bookmarking icons and you can select and re-order the ones you want to use.

ShareThis: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/share-this/
The ShareThis application reduces the ‘footprint’ of the buttons to a single option with expandable categories. However, in order to get it up and running you will need to register an account when you set up the plugin, by visiting the ShareThis website.

SocioFluid: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/sociofluid/
SocioFluid creates a great-looking bar of icons that can grow or shrink as you mouse-over each one. While there is a limited choice of icons, the plugin does look good on your site.

SexyBookmarks: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/sexybookmarks/
This is one of the most popular applications for WordPress bloggers, as it looks good and is highly visible.

Comment Terrorism – How to be a Good Blog Citizen

Anyone who runs a blog and modifies the comments which come through to you on a regular basis knows that sometimes, people behave badly online. Unfortunately, the lack of censorship online and the safety of having a screen between you and the world can sometimes lead to rash statements, comments made in poor taste or simply the joy of finding a platform where people can behave badly under the safe guise of anonymity.

Couple the ease with which people can make unpleasant comments with the huge prevalence of spam on our blogs, and it can make it difficult to wade through the feedback which you get on your site to find the truly relevant information. Sometimes as bloggers we need to take some time to look through our spam folders and unearth anything of value, as occasionally great remarks will be relegated to the trash pile unfairly.

As inhabitants of the blogosphere, we also have an obligation to know how and when to post up comments appropriately. Sometimes, the lure of comment terrorism can seem irresistible. Imagine if you have a client who has let you down financially, through, for example, not paying a bill.

The evil side of you understands that as a blogger with a strong following, you have the ideal platform for a naming and shaming exercise which could bring your assailant to their knees with a few choice posts. Add in the power of Twitter and Facebook for reinforcing your campaign, and you suddenly feel a rush of power, knowing that you control your site and all which goes on it, and have the capacity to damage someone’s reputation for good.

A nice feeling? Well, yes. Constructive? Not really! Campaigns like this may be a great way of highlighting the wrongdoings of others, but rarely bring much customer satisfaction when your readers get bombarded with off-target and venomous posts. Apart from looking unprofessional, it makes us seem like people who are not ethical or great to do business with, and a personal rant on the soapbox platform of your blog rarely yields positive results. The most likely scenario is that the subject of your comment terrorism gets off unscathed, while you end up looking like a small-minded bigot.

With all this in mind, here are some tips for playing nicely in the playground of blog commenting and tweets…

Keep it relevant

Never visit someone’s site to post comments which are not related to the post topic. This is the realm of spammers and psychos, and is best left to them as the experts. People aren’t interested in hearing about a great new software download site when they go online to look for tips on dog grooming. Stay on topic, and you’ll gain followers. Deviate, and you run the risk of being added to the trash along with the Viagra adverts.

Keep other people relevant, too!

Support readers on your blog to offer the same courtesy – when people go off-topic, bring them back through a few choice nudges in the right direction. This supports your blog to stay focused even when things have the potential to get heated.

Keep it polite

Don’t ever, ever bring personal or subjective views on to comment boards. The blogosphere is by and large a polite place, and an overly personal rant or attack on another person simply undermines your credibility. Would you want to buy services from someone who can’t rein in their opinions? No? Neither do your customers.

Keep it professional and product or service-related

If you have an issue to deal with professionally, take it off line rather than succumbing to the temptation to air your views through your blog. Your daily ups and downs are fascinating and engrossing for you, but don’t really hit the mark when your customers are deciding whether or not to make a positive purchasing decision.

Using Twitter To Promote Your Blog and Enhance Your Business

You can’t visit many blogs these days without seeing the Twitter logo and being invited to ‘Tweet’. Twitter is a micro-blogging tool which is becoming more and more widely-used and no longer seen as just a bunch of people “writing about what they had for dinner” (I had a salad by the way…). Here are a few ideas on how Twitter is beneficial for you or your business:

As a research tool:

It allows you insight into an amazing community of people from around the world to find out what they are thinking, feeling and experiencing in different ways. In a sense, Twitter has become a news service where you’ll quickly find if there is a breaking story somewhere in the world, by watching it. It is getting more popular because it’s very quick and easy to use. A wide variety of people use it because of the character limit of the messages, which keeps communications brief, convenient and productive.

For collaboration and networking:

Ongoing interaction is helpful for your business, in a number of different ways. It can support you to generate new ideas, or get you in front of potential new customers or collaborators. For your existing customers, it can inspire confidence and let people know what you are up to, encouraging them to stay in touch. It can also create significant relationship opportunities which are useful both now, and longer term.

To direct traffic:

Twitter is all about encouraging people to stay in touch! If your Twitter page is not driving direct traffic to your blog, then it’s not doing its job properly. There are many ways to drive direct traffic to your own website, from your page. You need to use these key benefits by posting regular, informative ‘Tweets’ to your followers to keep things lively and interesting.

As a marketing tool:

For marketers who use it, this is a great way to reach out to a different demographic. For those who are not able to commit to regular blogging, particularly due to time restraints, it could be the answer for social marketing. Using it is an interesting exercise for companies, to try communicating their own announcements.

To reinforce your brand:

You can use it to expand your brand or to show a different side of you. Some people inject humor into Twittering that you don’t see on blogs. There’s also something a little more personal about many of the people on it, letting you see the ‘real’ person behind the business image.

To promote content:

Twitter can potentially drive traffic and promote content to your primary sales site. It offers a tool called ‘Twitter Feed’ which will take the titles and URLs from blog feeds and publish it on your account. This is a great way to promote your content, without you having to lift a finger.

To enhance SEO:

You can increase the popularity of your profile page with the help of some tricks. Find people’s Twitter pages which rank highly. For Example, ‘Brent D. Payne’ is a popular user who has a 7 page ranking and 21,720 followers to his profile. If you can link to a well-visited profile page, your profile will get popular and ranked in return.

For easy updates:

Now you can use your cell phone to post updates! This will help you to keep up with fresh and related content from anywhere, any time. You can very easily post text from your cell phone as Twitter allows 140 characters for one post. Updating your profile page frequently will bring people back to find what you are posting.

To assess your audience:

Through Twitter, you can get the sense of what people think about a subject, which is a very positive way of making sure you post well. It helps you to know people better, and supports you to keep updated on the thoughts of your potential readers and their requirements, and then cater for them.
All in all, it’s a convenient, fun and simple tool to use which holds a number of benefits over conventional tools. If you’re not Tweeting already, perhaps it’s time to sign up?

There are may other benefits, what are your favorites?

Little Known Blogging Tools That Rock!

There are thousands of plugins and addons that people can use to make their blogging easier and better. However there are some lesser known ones that may help you in certain aspects of your blogging.

1) HTML COLOR CODES

When altering the design of your site or even adding a sidebar widget box, it is very useful to know the hex value of a color for use in CSS or HTML code. This is where HTML color codes comes in, giving you the most web-friendly color codes in which to design your site. You can even buy them on a mousemat or poster for handy references! If you have Firefox you can also use the Colorzilla dropper tool extension to find out your the hex code of colors you like.

 

2) COLOR COMBINATIONS

When designing a site it’s often hard to know which colors compliment each other, and will look good on your site. Color Combos is a site that has a large selection of palettes and complimentary colors. You can type in your hex code(s) or simply the name of a color and get back a list of palettes that have colors that look good together. You can even test and tweak the combinations to see how they look side-by-side. One thing I don’t like about the site is the number of adverts plastered everywhere.

 

3) BLOG ICONS

Every blogger needs icons, whether it’s for Twitter or Facebook, or for various projects. There are plenty of icon sites out there but I like some of the icon search sites that are out there. Find Icons and Icon Finder have 287,194 and 158,179 icons respectively. Of course some will be duplicates but the great thing is they are all there at your fingertips to compare side-by-side and download. Icons often come in icon sets, so if you like the style you can usually get similar ones to match.

 

4) ONLINE REPUTATION

If you run a business you usually like to know what is being said about you. Google Alerts are very useful for that, and you can also set up Twitter searches, but it would be nice to find everything in one place. This is where Social Mention and Addictomatic come in. They search various sites to see if your name is mentioned (be sure to wrap your name or brans in quotes in order to find an exact match, like “blog tech guy”). Social mention actually searches 97 places, like Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, even the BBC. They also provide some metrics, like strength, sentiment, passion and reach, though I need to look up how they’re calculated. Addictomatic comes back with a personalized page made up of widgets from some of the most popular sites showing the results for your search term. You can bookmark this page and check often. Invaluable stuff.

I’ll be covering some more tools in future posts, but have you used these and found them useful? Are there any other tools you find indispensable?

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 Guide To Twitter

A free “geek’s Guide To Promoting Yourself and Your Online Business in 140 Characters or Less with Twitter” is now available for free from Geekpreneur. For those new to Twitter and it’s benefits then it’s a great guide.

Free Twitter ebook

The book is split into four main sections:
1. Why You Need To Join Twitter Right Now
2. How To Use Twitter As A Mini Blog
3. Using Twitter To Enhance Your Online Business
4. Twitter Tools

The book is 48 (short, fat) pages long, with the first section explaining neatly what Twitter is. It has some quick tips on getting your page set up, finding people to follow, and more importantly, getting people to follow you.

The second section gives you more tips and advice on writing tweets (your messages on Twitter are called tweets), while the third part has some good solid advice on building your business and brand through Twitter. Finally the book talks about all the (free) Twitter tools out there that can make posting tweets easier, or help you automatically add blog posts.

Personally, I wouldn’t think too long and hard about, just join and follow me and I’ll be your first follower back :). If you like Twitter then I’m also on Plurk if you want to give this Twitter competitor a try.

I'm On Plurk

As a follow up to my “I’m On Twitter” post, I’m now on Plurk. Plurk is like Twitter but has a neat timeline interface, so check it out and let me know if you’re on there so I can follow your updates.

Many people are testing Plurk to see how it compares to Twitter and with all of Twitter’s downtime recently then people are very intrigued. It’s not fair to directly compare then, but they do fulfill a similar need. If you try it, please let me know what you think.

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