Leveraging Twitter for Local Marketing

With over 328 million active users, including 67 million in the United States, Twitter is a major player in the social media space. It's especially popular among people on the go, with 75% of users accessing the service through a mobile device.

Conceptually, it's the equivalent of a cocktail party where everyone can overhear everyone else's conversations, if they choose to.

And just like a cocktail party:

  • Guests who only talk about themselves aren't very popular (unless they're already popular for other reasons).
  • If you're new to the scene, it can be hard to find people to talk to.
  • If you're not in the right place at the right time, you can miss out on a lot of great connections.

The second and third bullet points are two of the main reasons that it can be difficult for local business owners to leverage Twitter successfully.

If Twitter is something that your customers are asking you to engage with, or you just want to try it out, here are a few quick pointers to help you gain traction.

Get Started with Twitter

The first step is to sign up for an account at https://twitter.com. Pick a username that is unique, compelling, and short—space is at a premium on Twitter and people will have an easier time sharing your content if your username is short. If possible, your username should be somewhat consistent with what you've already chosen on Facebook and other social media sites.

Take the time and make sure you fill out your profile page in a compelling way, with a complete description of your business, a link back to your website, a professional photo or business logo, and an engaging background photo. This is a key step in attracting followers.

Find People to Follow

The first place to look for people to follow is your existing network on other social media sites. Do you have personal friends on Facebook or business contacts on LinkedIn who are already using Twitter? This can help you build up a seed list of initial people whose conversations you can join.

The next place to look for accounts to follow is a Moz app called Followerwonk. In particular, pay special attention to the "Compare Users" tab. Start by comparing the accounts of businesses near yours, or even competitors that are a little further afield. Pay special attention to folks who follow more than one of the accounts that you typed in—in general, they'll be more likely to follow you, too, once you follow them.

And finally, you can use the Advanced Search section on Twitter itself. Type in a keyword related to something you sell—or that typical customers of yours are interested in—and fill in the "Near this place" field, and you're likely to get a pretty targeted list of users to follow.

Get Familiar with a Twitter Management App

Twitter is a unique social network in that the most effective way to engage with the service is via third-party apps. The Twitter website itself is somewhat cumbersome to navigate and requires constant refreshing to keep up with conversations.

Two great apps for monitoring and responding to Twitter streams are Hootsuite and Tweetdeck (the latter is now owned by Twitter). Both of these apps allow you to segment the lists of people you follow into categories like "customers," "prospects," "influencers," and "VIPs;" set up notifications when certain people tweet or certain keywords are tweeted; and schedule tweets in advance.

All of these features will be key to your long-term success on Twitter.

The Twitter mobile app for Android or Apple iOS is also an essential download.

Listen First

As you get familiar with the mechanics of using the app, it's a good idea to simply listen to conversations for a couple of weeks, learning the typical syntax and tone of the people you follow, picking up on topics of interest to them, and understanding the general flow of Twitter conversations.

If you see an interesting topic, start out by retweeting ("RT"ing) the person who mentioned the topic as a way to dip your toe into the conversation.

Tweet Intelligently

As you become more and more familiar with how to use your Twitter app(s)—and what the conversations among the accounts you follow look like—don't hesitate to jump in and start tweeting yourself.

When you tweet, make sure you're showing off your own personality, as authentic accounts are much more likely to gain and maintain a strong following.

There's no magic formula for what to tweet about, but a good general rule comes from small business social media expert Matt McGee: 1/3 tweets, 1/3 @ replies or RTs, and 1/3 links or self-promotion.

Use Followerwonk to compare your followers' most active times, then schedule your own tweets appropriately for maximum exposure.

Finally, if someone happens to @mention you or RT something that you've tweeted, be sure to take that opportunity to thank the person immediately and engage them in a follow-up conversation. Accounts that engage their followers at a personal level will gain popularity much faster than those who are more aloof or slower to respond.

Attract Followers

Sadly, there's no guaranteed way to attract followers to your account—like most online marketing techniques, it simply takes work. However, here are a few ideas to help get you started in building engagement on Twitter:

  1. Promote your Twitter account offline and in your email communications to existing customers. When you do, don't just show the Twitter logo—make sure you also display your @handle so that people know exactly where to find you.
  2. Offer Twitter-specific (and time-sensitive) discounts. These can be a great way to surface your account to new followers, as they are more likely to spread virally than ordinary tweets.
  3. Post photos of momentous, yet everyday, events. If you're a bakery, show your hot rolls as they are coming out of the oven. If you're a mattress company, show your customers relaxing on their mattress as you deliver it. If you're a real estate agent, show your happy clients entering their new house for the first time. These types of interactions show off your personality and are more interesting to prospective followers than generic news stories or product updates.
  4. Be a conversation-starter. Ask your existing followers pointed questions about timely topics going on in your community. (i.e., "What's the best place to watch the football game tonight?")
  5. Provide customer service via your Twitter handle. Encourage your followers to tweet you with questions about your business. Word to the wise: If you're going to do this, you have to be vigilant and responsive to tweets, or else you risk making a lot of customers and prospects angry. Five- to 10-minute response time is acceptable; anything more than that, and you should probably consider an alternate primary use case for Twitter.

For more ideas on how your business can use Twitter most effectively, check out the official guide from Twitter itself, and Matt McGee's "10 Creative Ways Businesses Use Twitter."

Keep learning

Put your skills to work

Can your customers find you online?

Check your listings on Google, Bing, and other local search engines.