It seems like you just finished getting your corporate blog up to snuff and now you're being asked to "tweet" your campaigns. Microblogging is taking center stage not just as a social tool, but also as a marketing one -- and you suddenly have to think in minutes, not days. And instead of crafting thoughtful posts that weave in your marketing messages, now you have to craft short, punchy posts just a few words long.
Welcome the world of microblogging -- the newest way to communicate with customers and prospects. Microblogging, the process of broadcasting short, simple messages out to a private group of subscribers or over a public webpage, is like traditional blogging on amphetamines. It's fast and immediate. Instead of updating posts on a corporate blog every few days , you are communicating every few hours.
Twitter, the darling of the microblogging world, has become famous for the rapid fire posts and updates from traditional web technorati like Guy Kawasaki and Jason Calcanis, as well as celebrities like Shaquille O'Neal, who all have have tens to hundreds of thousands of followers. However, there are good reasons for businesses to build a base of followers, even if you are not trying to amass an army watching your every post.
First, let's define exactly what we mean by microblogging. In general, microblogging refers to brief text updates, photos, or audio clips that are published in regular, short bursts either to a pre-selected group of subscribers, or "followers" as Twitter calls them, via a public website, or to mobile phones. Twitter, with some 6 million users to date, rules the microblogging world, but it's far from the only platform. In fact there are more than 100 microblogging services around the world, with more joining the fray every day. And you can also microblog without using one of the dedicated services; you could simply create an RSS feed or even scroll punchy updates on your homepage.
The content of a microblog differs from a traditional blog in that it is much more topical and is much shorter. Marketers and communications teams use microblogging to get the word out about a new product, special offer, or branding campaign. For example, think: "Our new software is out!" as the microblog equivalent of a product release, or "Get 20 percent off in the next hour only!" as the microblog promotional offer.
The marketing results of microblogging can be exceptional. It is a personal, relevant way to connect with "followers" of your company or brand, creating a constant, ongoing dialogue around your products or services. So what can you do to get started the right way with microblogging? Here is a 10-step guide to make microblogging work for your company.
1. Pick a leader. Someone at your company has to become the face of the microblog. Depending on your company, it could be the CEO (@Zappos), the customer service guy (@comcastcares and @RichardatDell), the marketing outreach folks (@MSWindows), or a combination of all of them. Now, to generate enough updates, you will need to get the entire company involved. Send out a memo saying you need news tidbits, funny stories, corporate culture bits, publicly announceable customer success stories, small wins in different departments (tech, sales, marketing, engineering, product design, etc.). Your microblog is the place to announce small but important news items. But make sure there is a one personality driving the charge.
2. Spiff up your background. A Twitter background is easy to build. If your design firm wants to charge you $10,000, fire them on the spot. You can use a free tool like Twitbacks.com, or throw something together in Photoshop in minutes. But get creative. Search through Twitter profiles to get some good ideas.
3. Start out with simple messages. Think of your microblogging platform as a new way to communicate with customers and potential customers by offering them useful information and tips, inside deals and promotions, and news about your company they might not otherwise learn. Your first updates can introduce your intentions and let people know what they can expect to find if they subscribe to your feed. Entice them with useful and fun information, promotions, or insider-like tidbits about your brand.
4. Establish a regular rhythm. Only you can decide how many updates per day is enough. It depends on the content. Customer service tweets need to be updated all day long, while product news will be less frequent. Map out a general plan to update your feed X-number of times per day, and at which particular times of the day. Early morning, mid-morning, and early-afternoon make the most sense for business goals. These regular posts are a chance to have fun with your messaging. You can also weave in anecdotes about your company's culture, announce small news tidbits that aren't worth a whole press release, such as "Today we signed our 100th customer!" or "A customer using our database technology just ported a petabyte!"
5. Follow others, and they will follow you. Are there leaders in your industry who tweet? Key suppliers, partners, or customers? Unless you are President Obama (@barackobama) or already have established credibility, chances are low that you will suddenly achieve tweet-stardom. You need to reach out to your core community by following them and asking them to follow you.
6. Connect with your followers. No one is forced to follow you. Anyone who has searched for you, found you, and chosen to follow you is a person you want to know better. Do the polite thing and send them a direct message, thanking them for the follow. If they have relevant content, follow them as well. A little dialogue goes a long way.
7. Talk like a real person. Maybe your microblog is just supposed to be funny, or maybe it's a serious conduit for news and promotions where you can speak one on one with customers. But leave the marketing messages at home. You have 140 characters, which is enough to say something useful, but not enough for hyperbole.
8. Use the tools out there. Do a simple search on "Twitter tools" and learn about all the new add-ons and applications to help your Twitter experience. Many are free, and most are easy to use. It seems like every day someone else is building something useful for the microblogging space. Use a link shortener like bit.ly or tinyurl.com to make URLs more manageable.
9. Track and analyze. An added advantage of registering to use URL shortening tools is that you can track traffic through the URL. Over time, you can track what kind of posts get the most pass-through traffic, so you know what kind of content your followers care about.
10. Don't let your feed go cold. Whichever microblogging platform you choose, make sure you can shut it down if you have to. If the pace of updating becomes too grueling, or if your company goes into a quiet period, you don't want a dead and lifeless microblog hanging around. Make sure you can "disconnect" your feed or cancel your account easily. In general, microblogs that only have posts from last month and nothing new will turn off their followers. If you can't update for some reason -- loss of the staff member who usually does the updating, company quiet period, etc. -- then shut the microblog down for a period. Announce to your followers that you'll be back on a certain date, and explain the reason for your absence.
Microblogging seems here to stay -- at least until another hot trend takes its place. By following these 10 simple steps, you can turn the microblogging craze into an effective marketing tool to boost your brand, drive sales, and increase customer loyalty.
Clay McDaniel is principal of Spring Creek Group. Follow him at @springcreekgrp.