Using Twitter for Small Business: 6 Questions with TweetSmarter

by Kevin Casey on March 1, 2011
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What can you do for your business in 140 characters or less?

Plenty, if you ask Dave Larson. He and his wife Sarah are the brains behind TweetSmarter, a nonstop stream of all things Twitter with more than 240,000 followers and the publishers of the TweetSmarter blog.

Larson recently shared with us some of his insights and tips — and a couple of pitfalls to avoid — on how to use Twitter for your business the right way.

ISSB: You recommend that businesses start with a personal Twitter account. What led you to give that advice?

Larson: My advice isn’t about Twitter, it’s about your business. If Twitter gave away $10,000 to business owners, no strings attached, anyone who wouldn’t take it should quit pretending they’re in business. Why is that relevant? Whatever your business, there are people in a similar business who either make a lot more money than you do, or make a similar amount but spend a lot less time making it. You need to find out what they are doing and try it in your business, right? Even better, you need to find people who’ve tried those things and can tell you what will probably work for you. So if Twitter gave you a $10,000 credit toward business consulting, where you can choose from many of the best business owners and consultants in the world, you’d be a fool not to take it. And that is exactly what Twitter offers you, if you know how to take advantage of it. Twitter is a $10,000 check you’re leaving uncashed. So the first step is making a personal account, with your Twitter bio being 50 to 70 percent about your business, plus one to three personal things about you. Include a link to your business website, Facebook page, or Google or Yahoo listing.

So business owners should think of Twitter as an information-sharing tool rather than a sales and marketing channel?

You begin by using Twitter as what is known as a PLN (Personal Learning Network), and finding good answers to your tax, sales, legal, hiring, marketing, investment, and other important business questions. As you get good at doing this, you’ll learn how the Twitter community works. And then you’ll be able to unlock a lot of the hidden benefits of Twitter for small or local businesses. One example: Everyone who is on Twitter that is a potential customer of your business should know about you. And once they do, you can turn some of them into dedicated champions of your business. Many businesses have a “Twitter mafia” of customers who promote their business for them… but not before you understand how to be a part of the Twitter community, which starts with getting value out of the connections you can make on Twitter.

Some people say, “Twitter can’t help my business.” What is that owner missing?

If you’re not ready to take advantage of all the free help Twitter can offer to your business, realize this: You can get benefit from Twitter in less than 10 minutes a month. This is because, at its most basic, Twitter is a free local, regional and internet listing for your business that takes less than five minutes to set up. So, first: Invest those five minutes! Then send out one tip relevant to your business a few times a month, and a couple of links to things you find interesting on the internet. Schedule what you will send in advance using FutureTweets (or a similar service). Figure to spend five minutes once a month on this, plus time writing some tips a few times a year. Ideally, each month also mix in a few personal tweets and a few links to things you’ve found interesting on the internet. And retweet a few tweets if you feel ready to learn how to do that.

Is Twitter a better tool for small businesses than Facebook?

Strategy is the best tool for any business. The strategy I recommend is using Twitter to find people who can help make your business successful, and then expanding your use of Twitter from there. Twitter is a direct phone line to people who can help you, and much more — but you have to learn how to use it first. Facebook is an extension of your internet business presence, and of things you’ll experiment with to engage prospects and customers. A lot of what can be done well on Facebook can also be done well on a website. Twitter, too, can do many of the things you can do on Facebook, but it is also much more useful, and it takes more knowledge to use it in more advanced ways.

Is there such a thing as “tweet fatigue?” Can a business spend too much time on Twitter?

Spend 90 percent of your available time on things that benefit your business. Of those, do things that bring the most benefit to your business first. In addition, take some time to learn new things that might pay off later, such as Twitter. Initially, spend as little time on Twitter as you can get away with while you’re learning. Once it begins bringing you benefits, spend as much time as you need to maximize benefits that are paying off for you. Anything that takes time can also be a waste of time, some of the time. Don’t spend time on Twitter unless you’re getting value for yourself, for your business, or for helping you do something good for others.

What’s the worst mistake a small business can make on Twitter?

All of us hand out a business card when it is appropriate. None of us go into meetings carrying giant advertising signs and megaphones. It’s the same with Twitter: Don’t advertise on Twitter much more frequently than you hand out business cards. In other words: All advertising, all the time is a waste of time. Don’t advertise at all until you have made your first 20 to 40 tweets. Then not more than one ad every 20 tweets — the fewer, the better. The next worst thing is to have unasked questions. Ask friends, but also ask around on Twitter. Send a tweet to @TweetSmarter — or anyone you find on Twitter that can help you — anytime, and I or my wife Sarah will do what we can to help you.

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