Chances are, you're already using Twitter. About 23.5 million people visit the microblogging service each month, according to Compete.com. I do know, from speaking with many of you, that there are some holdouts. There are more than a few of you who clearly know about the service, but have yet to dive in. The most common reason that I hear for Twitter resistance (Twittersistance?) is that you just can't quite figure out the real reason for doing it.
That is, the value of being on Twitter in any really meaningful way has escaped you. I can totally understand. Here is the ultimate in context-free, short-attention-span media. There is not only no real reason for Twitter to exist, but the actual experience of using Twitter can be maddening. Watching a Twitter feed for any amount of time will give you everything from politicians exploring policy to teen girls complaining about the food in the school cafeteria. There's no underlying, inherent point to using to Twitter.
Unless, of course, you come up with one yourself. Which I, personally think you should do, and that point should be "become brilliant about your brand and marketing in general." This, I will admit, is precisely how I use the service. Here are ways you can use Twitter to fast-track yourself to becoming a marketing genius.
Set up an Account for Organization
Clearly an obvious step, but one that a few people don't think you actually need to do. Nonsense. Twitter does allow you to view the Tweets of anyone without actually having an account. This misses the point. You don't need an account, necessarily, because you need to actually put anything out on Twitter, mind you. Twitter is a crowd-content system, so you really should be putting content in if you expect to take content out. But the real reason you need an account is to keep your use of Twitter organized, specifically by following the right people, and always having all of those feeds in one place.
Start Following These People@nate_elliot, @DanCall, @aplusk, @feliciaday, @chrisharrington, @alicam, @markdavidson, @ninjachad. Oh yeah: don't forget @clickz and @garyst3in.
This is just a handful of people who have not only been on Twitter for a while, providing some interesting thoughts and bits of wisdom about marketing. And, they all seem to be entrenched into the marketing community. So, not only follow them, but see who they are following. When you begin to feel like you have a solid base on insight coming in, visit wefollow.com. This is a user-generated directory of people on Twitter that can be sorted by keywords.
If you do nothing else, start using Twitter in this way. Smart people are on Twitter and you can begin capturing some amazing thinking, simply by listening.
Use Search (For Pete's Sake)
Shockingly, Twitter search remains underused. That is, when you talk to people about Twitter, they always focus on things like number of followers or who they are connected to. But the Twitter search tool is remarkably powerful. In fact, Twitter just recently redesigned its home page to feature the simple search box. But you don't need that. You need to use advanced search.
On this page, you can get extremely specific about the type of content that you want. Not only can you search Tweets for particular keywords, but you can specify the language to search and whether or not the Tweet used a particular hashtag (hashtags are ways that users categorize the things they say).
But wait. There's more. You can specific the region the tweet came from, or even search for tweets from a particular person. Plus (and this is really brilliant), you can specify whether or not the person has a positive or negative attitude, and if the person is asking a question. And the results of this search can be turned into an RSS feed, so you can view it really from anywhere.
Consider, just for a minute, what you could do with this. In a matter of seconds, you can set up a feed that will give you Tweets in which someone is angrily asking a question (which you would want to have sent direct to customer support, I imagine). Or, if someone tweets about your brand from the neighborhood where you just opened a new store.
Make It Your Own With Apps
That stat about 23.5 million people going to the specific Web site www.twitter.com is totally misleading, because tons of people use the service, but never go to the site, opting instead to use the service via one of hundreds of applications built on the Twitter platform. Here are the three that a Twitter Marketing Genius should use:
Twitterface:You have to see TEXT Twitterface to really understand it. You can (again, in seconds) create your own, personally branded interface for Twitter. You can grab searches and feeds and coalesce them together into a very cool page. Do this for your brand, and send it out to everyone else in your department.
Twitalyzer: I've mentioned this tool before. Using a very simple interface Twitalyzer allows you to get a sense of the people you may connect to on Twitter by running their usage stats through an algorithm. The result is that you can understand how influential a person may be, or if they are a long-time Twitter user. Using this, you can hone down the people you are listening to, to make sure you're getting great quality.
What the Trend?: This is a fantastic site . Certain topics rise and fall in popularity on Twitter. This site not only tracks what topic is trending right now, but it tells you why. Use this site often enough and you are bound to identify a trend that is critical for your business.
Twitter is definitely a bit of an odd thing in the world. The core of the site seems so totally trivial. But, the fact is, Twitter has achieved a scale in terms of people, technology, and content that makes it hard to ignore. It's never too late to start using something valuable.
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Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.
June 20, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT