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While some claim that Twitter is a platform of mindless dribble, to the professional with a product or service to market, it offers a potential lead generation stream.

Seven Steps to Twitter Domination: A Business Guide to Twitter Optimization and Management

Twitter is deceptively simple but an absurdly time-consuming social media platform to effectively utilize. While some claim that it is a platform of nothing but mindless dribble, to the professional with a product or service to market, Twitter offers another potential lead generation stream, and at a zero price point, it is easy to access.Twitter

To the professional attempting to market a products or services, Twitter is not about what type of toast they had that morning at breakfast or what they’re listening to on the radio. Twitter is about creating relationships by providing useful information about one’s area of expertise. And from this relationship – and the trust built through it – comes the marketing potential of Twitter.

What follows are seven steps to maximizing Twitter performance and ensuring that the investment of time or capital is well worth it.

Step One: Select a Professional Avatar

An avatar is a fancy name for a profile picture or image. Twitter users who do not upload a photo or image are automatically assigned a sad, lonely egg for a profile picture. While color choices can be made for the egg, not bothering to upload a professional photo or image says only one thing to potential followers and customers: The person, business, or brand is not to be taken seriously.

So, start with a professional image or photo. This could be a photo from a company website, a brand logo, or almost anything else that speaks to what the Twitter profile is attempting to convey (e.g., a smoothie shop might have a photo or a drawn picture of a smoothie). If using a photo of a person, ensure that it is closely cropped – it will render in thumbnail size only – and of a professional quality. Silly, blurry photos and selfies do not inspire confidence in a product, service, or brand.

One tip when using personal photos is to accentuate attractive appeal and openness. Smiles should be big and bright, with flawless grooming. Most Twitter users would rather click on an attractive photo or read something by an attractive person, regardless of other underlying factors about the person or their work. So use an appealing photo, but one that is professional and not frivolous.

Step Two: Optimize Profile Text

When signing up for a Twitter account several vital pieces of information which should be included: the user’s name, Twitter handle (e.g., @PrisonerLaw), location, website or blog link, and a 160-character bio. Since these is so important, let’s take each in turn.

When selecting the user’s name, there are two general options for the business professional: the person’s or the company’s name. Generally speaking, unless the company is based on a single, primary personality, then the company’s name should be included. If required, abbreviations can be used. Spaces should be placed between each distinct word. For example, I would use “Christopher Zoukis”, not “ChristopherZoukis”. This will help with search engine discoverability.

While some might like to forgo their location, this is a bad idea for businesses, especially for local businesses. There are several third party services that connect into Twitter which use location information to help people find others to follow. Therefore, location information should be included. If the business is in a large city, then that’s the answer. On the other hand, if the business is in Ripon, California, then perhaps listing Modesto, California – the closest big city – would be a better answer. This can always be changed at a later date.

Next we have the website or blog link. This is where lead generation is fulfilled. This link shouldn’t go to a personal blog, but to the company’s or branch’s website. That way, when Twitter users are reading a company’s tweets, they can easily click on this link back to the official company website to learn more about its products and services.

And last, the bio. The bio is limited to 160 total characters – numbers, letters, spaces, and punctuation marks – and acts much like a mini-elevator pitch. It is a quick one-to-two-sentence biography of the company or the professional. When deciding what to include, businesses should also consider the keywords for their industry (the terms searchers use to find them). Often, on Twitter and via the search engines, keywords included in a Twitter bio can trigger search result placements. This is a good thing and is all about lead generation.

Step Three: Find Your Voice

As we said before, effective Twitter management is a process of building relationships and trust. This is done by consistently offering valuable information, answering presented questions in a professional manner, and not bombarding followers with promotional messages. Penny C. Sansevieri, author of Red Hot Internet Publicity: The Insider’s Guide to Marketing Online, suggests an 80/20 mix. Eighty percent of tweets should offer good advice or other information and only 20 percent should concern selling a product or service (depending on the industry, perhaps even less than 20 percent). And, of course, tweets are limited to 140 characters, so brevity is a must.

When deciding what to tweet, the business professional should think about who their target audience is. These are the people they will be speaking to through tweets. Each and every tweet should provide something of value to the imagined follower. Along with tweeting information that targeted followers are seeking, the tweets should also conform to customers’ vernacular.

Step Four: Types of Effective Tweets

Following Ms. Sansevieri’s advice, 80 percent of tweets should be non-promotional. In total, businesses should strive for between three to five tweets throughout each day and night. These could be almost anything, but there are several types of tweets which seem to have higher click-through and retweet rates than others.

Generally speaking, a business’s Twitter feed should attempt to inform, educate, and inspire. With this in mind, tweets which teach followers about the business’s area of subject expertise are paramount. These could be tips, advice, or facts about the subject area. They could be news about happenings within the industry. If there is a big industry conference quickly approaching – or currently going on – and employees of the company are involved, then they should be tweeting from the conference and interacting with fellow conference participants.

Related to such smart tweets is the concept of Twitter management and interactions. Twitter is more and more becoming a conversation area between customers and brands. When a customer in this day and age has a question, comment, or complaint about a business, they can often be seen tweeting to – or about – the company via Twitter. When this occurs, businesses absolutely must respond and do so in a professional manner. Remember, everything on Twitter is public. If there is a problem, fix it and do so publicly. And when problems or complaints do occur, companies should offer the complainant something free for bringing the problem to their attention (e.g., a free smoothie or a free movie ticket). This is just plain good public relations.

Now, when engaging in promotional tweets, these should be very carefully evaluated to see if they too provide value. Value is a must. If a company repeatedly sends out the same tweet about their new store, then that is plain old noise. But, if they tweet about specials, discounts, or special deals, then that’s value. It’s also a terrific idea to allow others – often called “brand ambassadors” – to sing a business’s praises in the form of tweets and other writings. These tweets can be retweeted and articles, blog posts, product reviews, and so forth can be tweeted.

Step Five: Find Like-Minded Followers

Twitter isn’t a magic platform where a company sends out tweets and magically people start showing up asking questions. While that is a part of the process, the other part is following like-minded groups and individuals. Twitter, in a word, is about networking. A smart way to connect with others in a company’s industry is to use the Twitter search, or Advanced Search, feature to find good, relevant people to follow. This involves typing in a few industry-specific keywords and seeing what profiles pop up.

Outside of the Twitter website, businesses should also engage in searches for industry experts they already know about. Often experts’ Twitter handles can be found on their websites, and with that, they can be followed. A search should also be conducted on Facebook since many companies, organizations, and experts also have Facebook pages. These Facebook pages can easily lead to linked or affiliated Twitter profiles, where more followers can be found.

Any discussion about increasing follower numbers would not be complete without a quick note about buying Twitter followers. Generally speaking, buying Twitter followers is not a smart idea, especially if the company selling the Twitter following service requests the Twitter account’s user name and password. While yes, a large number of followers implies authority and probably encourages others to follow, the followers will mostly be fluff, people – or computer bots – who do not care about the message and will not engage in any sort of action on behalf of the company.

Step Six: Include your Twitter Handle Everywhere

While gaining Twitter followers isn’t the ultimate goal of a company’s Twitter platform, it is a good mark of success and return on investment. The more followers a company has on Twitter, the easier it is to get a message out to those most likely to engage in whatever action is desired. As such, the Twitter handle (e.g., @PrisonEduc) should be made very visible.

To start, a company’s Twitter handle should be clearly visible on its website or on blog page. This can easily be accomplished by placing it in the sidebar of the page. It should also be included in every email from the company, in the email signature (the information below the email which contains website address, street address, phone number, and now, the Twitter handle). Of course, the Twitter handle should also be included in all other online profiles (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, FourSquare, Google+, Pinterest, etc.).

Step Seven: Automation

One of the great things about Twitter is that some of the process can be automated through social syndication tools. A favorite syndication tool of many bloggers is the built-in function of having each blog post automatically tweeted. While not very interactive – and by no means a total Twitter management strategy – this helps keep a Twitter feed active when the user is not manually tweeting.

In this day and age, many companies have websites with built-in blogs. These blogs are terrific for audience engagement and search engine optimization purposes (fresh, new content is always a good thing). With these automation tools, blog posts can be automatically tweeted and automatically shared on Facebook. And this helps businesses – small and large – do more with less, accomplish greater work with less resources.

Along these lines, every business’s website and blog page should have easily identifiable social share icons. These are those little Tweet, Like, and G+ buttons. With these social share buttons, readers can click on the icon associated with the social network they wish to alert to a particular piece of content, and it will be shared with all of their contacts on that network.

Bonus Step: Outsource Twitter Creation and Management

There are many firms which handle Twitter profile creation, optimization, and ongoing management. The best ones charge upwards of $400 to $500 per month and they do a terrific, consistent job (@GreatLeapStudio is one such firm). Others, like @24Social, take a more minimalistic approach, yet are a terrific bang for a business’s buck. 24Social charges only $49 per month for Twitter management, plus $69 for profile creation and optimization. While they aren’t on the Twitter profile 24 hours a day, they certainly do a good job of responding to direct messages, tweet creation, and the scheduling of tweets so that coverage is given on a consistent basis.

About Christopher Zoukis

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the author of the Federal Prison Handbook., Prison Education Guide, and College for Convicts. He is currently a law student at the University of California, Davis School of Law, where he is a Criminal Law Association and Students Against Mass Incarceration board member, and a research editor for the Social Justice Law Review. Learn more about him at Federal Prison Consultants.

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