To Tweet or Not to Tweet, That Is the Question

Last week, we seemed to have reached the pinnacle of Twitter buzz. It included “The Wall Street Journal” online coverage, “Firms Seek Profit in Twitter’s Chatter,” and Guy Kawasaki’s widely debated keynote about Twitter at Search Engine Strategies New York, which I attended. That was reinforced by conversations, from conference sessions to a bar, that centered on Twitter.

Now that Twitter has entered the mainstream, let’s examine what smart marketers should do about it. Tempted as I am to give tips and tricks (maybe in follow-up column) for using Twitter, let’s first look at the bigger picture and ask ourselves as marketers, “To tweet or not to tweet?”

Much like the conversations we’ve had about blogs and Facebook Groups, we must return to marketing 101 before we get caught in the hype and become Twitter addicts. A marketing 101 professor would advise us to ask the basics: who, what, why, and how. More specifically: Who’s our audience? What’s our objective? Why does this take priority over other initiatives? And, how will we measure success?

Let’s go through that exercise to ensure we don’t look ourselves in the mirror in three months and ask, “What the heck am I doing wasting so much time on Twitter?!” Trust me. This happens to thousands every day.

Who’s Your Audience?

If it’s other cutting-edge marketers, technocrats, Web 2.0 aficionados, or Gen Y or younger, you may need to seriously consider building a Twitter strategy over a good SEO (define) game plan or effort. Kawasaki is a good example of someone who has the right audience; he’s trying to get tech-savvy entrepreneurs to use his blog aggregation site to help them promote their own Web sites. With all the focus online and the audience being more tech savvy than not, it’s no wonder Twitter is driving serious traffic to his sites and he has more than 40,000 followers.

If you don’t know if you’re audience is using Twitter, don’t guess. Put a survey question in your next invoice to customers or next e-newsletter and ask, “Do you use Twitter?” However, if you’re trying to attract a new audience or market segment, asking your existing customers may not be sufficient. To fully understand new customers, look at existing marketplace research that matches your customer profile. Additionally, you may need to reach out to your in-house list of non-customers (prospects, leads, etc.) and put a survey out to them that has some explicit value to these folks.

What’s Your Objective?

One objective of using Twitter is to promote discounted products or services in a time-sensitive way to create an immediate call to action. Southwest Air, JetBlue, and Amazon have all done a great job at this.

Another is to create a following of your efforts so people feel like they are in the know of what’s going on in a certain space or about your company. Singer John Mayer, who has more than 400,000 followers on Twitter, posts his thoughts right before he goes on stage for a show. That’s a great way to increase the personal connection with fans and keep them loyal. For mainstream brands, that approach may be trickier and potentially not worth it. B2B (define) companies always have a tough time with this — and rightfully so. What would an automobile parts manufacturer have to tweet (except they’re going out of business soon), and what engineer or customer would follow that? Ask yourself: what is my objective and is it worth the effort?

How and Why

The how and why questions are inseparable, as in “How will I manage this Twitter initiative?” and “Why is this a priority over other efforts?” These questions must be part of the same thought processes. By asking how you’ll manage your Twitter initiative, you’re forced to look at Twitter as a program or campaign, not some random thing to do in your spare time. If it’s a spare-time initiative, don’t you have better things to do — like spending time with your children or reading a good book?

Same goes for the “why.” Why is Twitter more important than properly rebuilding your Web site, optimizing for search engines, segmenting your e-mail campaigns, and aligning your Web analytics with your business objectives? Too often, we get caught up with what’s cool and think, “If I can do it the way Guy Kawasaki does, I’d be a hero!” Then we lose sight of what’s right: what has the highest potential for ROI. We forget that just because something looks easy does not make it right. Ultimately, I go back to Stephen Covey on this one and say, “Fellow marketers, first things first!”

Marketers are not lemurs. Or are we?

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