/ Twitter Guerrilla Marketing 101

Social Networking has been the prevailing buzz word for several years, making marketing and engineering organizations scramble to try and incorporate some aspect of social networking into their roadmap in order to capitalize on the added attention. The problem is that social networking is a broad concept that encompasses many different products, companies, technologies and disciplines, making the goal of “social networking” too nebulous a goal to effectively pursue. Many organizations hire Social Networking Consultants, most of which are just marketing professionals who have used one of the popular Social Networking tools, and can add little value.
The purpose of this article is to discuss one of the many tools available to a Social Networking project, Twitter, and discuss reasonable strategies for its use, what you can expect from a well executed campaign, as well as hints, tip and pitfalls.

For those starting completely from scratch, Twitter is a Social Networking service founded in 2006 and has grown to an estimated 200 million users at the time of this writing. To those of you completely unfamiliar with Twitter, it is a broadcast platform allowing users to send out messages of 140 characters or less to its users. Users can subscribe to other users in order to get broadcast messages from other users delivered to them by either text message or listed in chronological order on their web page or twitter client of choice. Twitter was originally designed around the constraints of cell phone text messages or SMS, allowing any user to interact with the system with even the most basic cell phones, so long as they have a SMS messaging plan.
The important things to note about twitter are:

  • Messages sent out on Twitter are broadcast to the world by default
  • Users that subscribe to your account get simpler access to your broadcasts, but anybody may view them
  • Users that haven’t subscribed to you may still find your posts by searching on keywords located in your post
  • How Twitter is typically used

Twitter users will typically “follow” other users that they find interesting, people that they know, or people that have common interests. When following another user, you can specify whether or not you want messages immediately delivered to your linked cell phone. In the days of the Smartphone, this technique is being used less and less, with users opting to view tweeted messages on a purpose built viewer. Regardless, it is good to know that some users get immediate notification, as you can use this fact to create time sensitive campaigns for users that follow your account closely. On the opposite side of this spectrum users can be turned off if the poster posts too frequently with unimportant information. Optimally, twitter etiquette seems to indicate that one daily post is as frequent as users are prepared to accept from an unfamiliar poster. Obviously friends and family members can usually get away with more.
The end result of this “follow” network is that Twitter creates a web of associated users. If you are followed by a user that is interested in your topic it is highly likely they follow other users interested in that topic as well. This leads me to the next Twitter use aspect: the Retweet. If a user finds a post of your particularly interesting, he may rebroadcast it to his members, and provide you with attribution. This helps spread the word and help publicize your account, and extends the distribution of your message.

Creating Content

As stated before, the best Twitter followers start following for one of several reasons. They may know the person or organization associated with the account. They may find the posts interesting or informative. They have an interest in the subject matter. Content selection should reflect this. If users find posts useful or interesting they will continue following, or even retweet the information.
Two limitations of twitter are going to greatly influence what and how you post. The first limitation, already discussed, is the limit of a post size of 140 characters or less. Messages must be short and concise in order to fit in that small window. Adding to this limitation, if you are hoping to extend the footprint of your messages by having other users retweet the message, your message must be even shorter than 140 characters. Users rebroadcasting your message must also have enough room to indicate the message is a retweet, typically indicated using the characters RT followed by the twitter address of the person it originally came from. For example, if you broadcast the message “Hello there”, somebody retweeting that message would send out “RT @username Hello There”. The added “RT @username” adds thirteen extra characters, meaning you have a new adjusted limit of 140-13 or 127 characters with which to work. Obviously, this is going to be dependent on the length of your Twitter name.
The next limitation is that Twitter etiquette requires you to not send more than one post daily. So getting around the first limitation by sending out two messages in order to complete your thought is not going to be received well.
So, what can you do with 140 characters or less? Basically, you are limited to short messages that you can send out frequently. One method of getting around the size limitation is to post links to web pages, along with a brief description. Understand that the appeal must be greater if you expect users to follow a link. Where users may be alright with reading a brief message from your organization, fewer will be as prepared to follow a link and potentially leave their Twitter application in order to read what the page to which you have linked. The description you write about the link, and what you link to has to be appealing enough to get users to cross that barrier. Given that, understand that links to advertisements will not only be effective, but will usually result losing followers. If you must link to retail offers, make sure that they are “deals” that will make followers feel like they are being given exclusive access to in appreciation of their loyalty.
The most effective campaigns are those that may combine elements that the target audience may find interesting. Mix and match from any of the following types of posts:

  • Short Tip of the day. Something relevant to your and by extension your followers interest.
  • Links to materials you or your organization has created. This may include articles, white papers, etc. This can be content about your company or organization, but again should not be too commercial. Linking to a page that describes how your product or service can be useful is acceptable. Linking to the datasheet is not.
  • Links to external articles that are not directly about your product or service, but reflect a story or angle that would benefit your company or organization. For example, if your company makes solar panels, linking to an article about climate change would be acceptable.

It is important that whatever frequency you select to send posts becomes a permanent process. If you post daily at noon on weekdays, you should continue to post at noon on weekdays. If you post weekly on Sundays, continue that pattern. Users will get used to your posts showing up at a particular time, and come to expect it to be there. Posting inconsistently will result in user frustration.
One final tip: If you are posting a link to a web page, URLs can frequently be as long as or longer than the Twitter message will allow. This also leaves nearly no room for the addition of a comment to describe to what you are linking. You can remedy this using what in the industry is called a URL shortener. URL shorteners are services that take full and long links to web pages and create as short a URL as possible. The URL that the service provides will redirect the user to the page you want. There are a number of URL shortening services available. If you are using the Twitter website or their branded client applications, URLs will be shortened automatically.
Finding Followers

One benchmark of success in Twitter is the number of “followers” your twitter account has. It is an important metric, but not as important as some would believe. Twitter followers can come and go quickly. There is no way to easily gauge whether a follower is genuinely a part of a demographic to which you are trying to appeal, or even determine if the account even reflects a real human being. That said, there is a technique to finding followers early.
The best ways should tie into your Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) plan. SEO, for the uninitiated is the practice of engineering your website to take advantage of specific key words so your site appears as high as possible when users search on those key words. How SEO works is a topic for another article, but for now, understand that there are certain keywords that are important for your company or organization to be associated. If your organization is Elmer’s Glue, it would probably be in your best interest to be followed by anybody that expressed interest in glue, or paste, or adhesives, etc. Figure out which words to which you wish association. This should be a relatively short list, and specific. Avoid words that may have association with unrelated products or services. Using the Elmer’s Glue example, “glue” may be a good word, but “stick” may be talking about a property of glue, or tape, or may even be talking about a small cylinder of wood or a tree branch.
Once you have your collection of key words, use Twitter to search for users with discussions about those words. Read these posts for context. Again, if you were Elmer’s Glue, and you searched for the use of the word “glue” you are interested in posts like “I got glue all over my art project”, but not a post like “kindness is the glue that holds societies together”. The first post may find what you have to say interesting, but the second one probably wouldn’t.
When you find a post by a user that has interest in your key word, follow that user. This has a dual purpose. First of all, if this user does have an interest or enthusiasm about your subject, you can use this to obtain insights as to how they may use or interact with your or similar products. Beyond that, and much more to the point, following the user will alert them to your account’s existence, and frequently (out of courtesy) they will follow you back. You can usually determine beforehand which user are likely to follow you back by looking at the ratio of people that they follow versus the number of people following them. If those two values are close, they are likely to follow back anybody that follows them. Follow this process for each user that references your keyword in a relevant way, each day as a best practice.
Additionally, as a best practice, and most importantly to users trying to build a following, send a personalized direct message to all new users that follow your account each day. This helps build a relationship with the users and will let the user feel more included. Additionally, this interaction will decrease the number of people that would later un-follow your account.
Make a record of each user you follow using this method, and mark when you first followed that users. You should use this list to return in thirty days to monitor which users followed you back versus people that didn’t respond. It is important to unfollow users that haven’t followed you back in 30 days. Just as we indicated that users that have a near 1:1 ratio of followed versus following numbers, if the number of people you follow far exceeds the number of people following you, it can set off warning flags to users. Accounts that indiscriminately send out follow requests and have a high followed to following ratio appear to be Spam account to Twitter, and that practice can get your account frozen by Twitter.
This practice alone can get you to thousands of followers. The goal is to get the account up to a critical mass where word of mouth and retweets start to result in users following your account that you did not follow first. As you start getting more unsolicited users than users obtained through following, you can start to ease off of the process of following users based on keywords.
So I am up to 20,000 followers. What does that mean?

As stated earlier in the article, just because you have 20,000 followers does not mean that you have 20,000 people interested in you, following your every post. You don’t even have 10,000 of those people. If 1% of your followers are actively interested in what you post of a daily basis, you are doing very well. So, what are the other 19,000?
Many of your followers are on Twitter to be heard, not to listen or exchange information. This fact is not limited just to other companies or organizations. Even individuals that only represent themselves can fall into this category. Don’t be discouraged. Just understand that this is reality of Twitter.

So, if followers are not a good benchmark for how successful your Twitter account is, how do you measure success?

One measure is to monitor the number of times popular posts are retweeted. If posts or articles are being retweeted frequently, it is a good sign. Another way is to determine how frequently links you post are being monitored. Try and link to links dedicated to twitter so you can measure how many users select that link. Follow “mentions”, or how often people refer to your account on twitter with other users.
Priming the Pump

Once your group of followers has reached a “critical mass”, and organic growth is now outpacing harder earned and hunted followers, there are a couple of proven techniques to help use your followers to attract new followers. Each of these techniques, however, requires some sort of promotion or give away. Some of them also depend on whether or not you have other promotional channels that you can use in concert with Twitter to expand your twitter footprint.
The first technique is available to those who have an established channel for reaching their customer base. This may include mailing lists, websites that are regularly visited, or even presence at a trade show or seminar series where they can reach a relatively mass audience with which they would like to improve awareness. The concept is to use this other channel to publicize and reward following. For example, a company performing a seminar series, or taking advantage of presence at a trade show, may promote a random “give away” to one follower. Their audience may be offered the chance to win an iPad (or whatever the “must have” item happens to be at that time) for one random follower at the end of the trade show, and provide instructions on who and how to follow. The limitations of success of this sort of campaign are only limited by the audience of people made aware of the promotion. There are anecdotes of users who gained over 100,000 followers in a seven day period with the right promotion.
Another technique is to take advantage of your existing user base to promote a similar program. An example would be to tweet to your followers that a giveaway will be presented to any follower that retweets a key message. The core concept about this is to take advantage of your network, and your followers’ networks, etc. If you have 5,000 unique follower, and your followers have 100 friends that are not already following you, with only degree of separation your potential addressable market is 500,000 users. Of course, the hope is that this technique goes somewhat “viral” and you will see result of not only followers, but followers’ followers, and so on, extending the possible market to millions or more. With a 1% participation rate, you can get a message to a large number of people for a very low cost.
It is important to not use your followers in this manner until you have created enough of a following to take advantage of organic growth, otherwise the return on the investment of whatever the “giveaway” happens to be may be low. It is also important to not use either of these techniques too frequently, of your account may get unfairly branded as being a spam site. You want to keep the value of the content you deliver high, even if much of that content is not completely home grown or immediately applicable to your product or service, so long as it serves the common interest of your followers and isn’t counter to your goals.
Finally, you can create time-sensitive campaigns in order to increase audience attention. For example, you may create a promotion that the next ten people that send your account a direct message will receive 20% off on the purchase of one of your products. This technique has several benefits. First of all, people casually following your posts will get “trained” that they need to follow your posts more frequently, perhaps even have them delivered by SMS, if they want to take advantage of deals you offer. Reading a time sensitive post, two or three days after it was posted will leave the user feeling like they are left out of a good opportunity. Second, it will allow you to quickly identify which users already follow you closely. It is good to know who these users are, because they can be useful for getting your message out.
So, I have all these followers. What now?

As stated before, it is one of the biggest mistakes to believe that if you have 10,000 followers, you have the ear of 10,000 people interested in what you have to say. A greater percentage of your followers have no interest whatsoever in what you have to say, and are simply following you in the hopes of expanding their audience. This is alright. These users aren’t costing you anything, but you do have to take that fact into account when estimating the impact of any campaign you execute using your twitter account. They can even be beneficial if used correctly.

So, if Twitter is such an “echo chamber”, with most users more interested in reaching followers than consuming your content, is it worthwhile pursuing? Absolutely. As stately, probably 80% of your followers will have little interest in what you have to say. Probably 15-18% know who you are, but will only take passing interest in what you have to say. The final 1-2% will be your champions; they are your base.
This 1-2% are enthusiasts that have interest in your subject matter. They will be active and enthusiastic participants. What is more, they will have followers as well. They will serve to be influencers in a larger circle that you may not have direct access to in any way other than through them. This circle may extend beyond twitter itself. These followers are the diamonds in the rough that you need to identify, interact with and keep happy.
You can identify these users by their activity. They will retweet messages you send that they find useful. They will send out messages about similar subject matter. They will frequently interact with you or your account. Identify these individuals. Nurture and cultivate relations with them. Seek out posts that they are sending, whether it is about your organization or product or not, and retweet messages that they send that are in the interest of your organization or product. These users will increase your footprint and potentially open doors.
Even the casual observers with primary goals of increasing their following can be useful in this respect. If you are promoting content they deem valuable to their audience, they will rebroadcast it in order to increase their credibility.

Twitter can be a powerful tool. Unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult to determine exactly how powerful a tool it is, because there is no fool proof method of measuring its success. Primary measurement methods, such as quantifying the number of followers are fundamentally meaningless. Secondary measurements, such as measuring retweets and mentions can be more effective, but the effect and impact of those are difficult to measure as the audience of each person retweeting your message.
From a leverage standpoint, it is difficult to beat Twitter as a platform for delivering your message. It is a free service that allows you to easily seek out and identify an audience, not by generic demographics, such as age, gender and income, but based on demonstrated interests. For the simple investment of a small degree of time each day, you can create a receptive audience that you can reach day or night.
In the end, Twitter is just one tool in the proverbial social networking toolkit. Gaining a twitter following should be viewed as one means towards the end of publicizing your message, product or service. There are other tools that, when used in conjunction with Twitter in a single concentrated strategy, can help to strengthen your community and expand your reach.

Stay tuned for other articles on this subject.