How Your Company Can Build A Community on Twitter

In this post, Pierre Far (@pierrefar) explains how to kick start a community using Twitter. Pierre recently launched a URL shortening service with analytics called Cligs (@cligs), and used Twitter to build a community around the service. Here are his notes from this experience.

Whether you’re a startup or an established company, your customers are probably on Twitter. And whether you like it or not, they’re going to complain and praise your company and products on Twitter. Let that sink in a for a second: they’re going to complain and praise your company and products in a very public forum. There is no escaping that your reputation can be, rightly or wrongly, negatively or positively affected because of a handful of tweets.

But I’m not here to scare you into creating a Twitter profile. What I’d like to do is tell you how wonderful an opportunity this is to engage with the Twitter community, in public, and win the hearts of this community.

The Key to Community Engagement is Monitoring

To know which members of a community you need to be talking to, you need to know who’s talking about you. On Twitter, that’s quite a feat. Think about the challenge you have: Twitter has millions of users. Some are very popular with thousands of followers (i.e. very influential) but most are not that popular. Some tweet very regularly and some tweet very rarely. Some simply whine about your product, some post wishes for features, some express frustration, some give constructive feedback, and if you’re really lucky, some sing your praises. How would monitor all this activity?

The answer begins with Twitter search. This is a relatively new service from Twitter. It used to be a startup called Summize that Twitter bought and integrated. By far, this is the best way to monitor Twitter. Type in a search and you get 15 hits per page (remember this number). I tend to keep the search’s tab open because the results update once a minute using AJAX: if there are new results, you get a message saying “X more results since you started searching.” Refresh the page and you get the new tweets. Also, when there are new results, the page’s title is updated to tell you how many new results there are so you don’t have to keep checking the page. How is that for real time monitoring?

The other neat thing about Twitter search is the RSS feed. Every search can be turned into an RSS feed; you can find the icon at the top of the sidebar on the right. You can subscribe to this with your favorite RSS reader, but think about what you can do if you write monitoring programs that pull the RSS data and then analyzes it. So set up searches of your brands, products, etc, and watch them!

However, once in a while Twitter search will break, especially during peak hours when you see a delay in results coming in. More seriously, sometimes it misses tweets that clearly match the query. So make sure you don’t depend on it 100% but open up other communication channels like direct messages (more on that in a bit).

For completeness, there are other ways to monitor Twitter:

  • Use advanced desktop clients like Tweetdeck and Twhirl.
  • Use tweetbeep, which bills itself as “like Google Alerts but for Twitter”, and be sure to read TwiTip’s own Tweetbeep for Beginners guide.
  • Use the search engines: Use the [site:] operator in Google or Yahoo!; example: [google site:twitter.com] to search for all mentions of “google” on Twitter. Also, if you have a Google Alert set up for your brand, it will pick up some tweets.

Talk to Them!

OK, so you know who you need to talk to, now what?

The first thing to realize is that most of your talking on Twitter is in public: everyone can see what you’re saying. Yes, this does mean that you must never make your updates private if you’re engaging with others on Twitter. Direct messages (DMs) are to be reserved for specific uses as I’ll explain below.

Here are the different ways you talk to people:

  • Thank those that praise you and extend a welcoming hand saying you’re here if they need any help, got any questions, feature requests, feedback, etc. Basically, tell them how they can talk to you if they so wish. A good way to thank people on Twitter is to also follow them, and this opens up the possibility of them sending you a DM if they so wish.
  • Publicly @reply to the people that speak negatively about you offering them help. The simplest offer of help is to give them an email address for them to contact you. If it’s a problem you’re working on, tell them a fix is coming soon. If it’s a new problem they’re reporting, thank them wholeheartedly and promise a fix soon (it’s a free bug report your quality assurance people missed). Don’t be afraid to ask them to contact you privately so that they can give you a better description of the problem and have them help test the fix. And of course, follow them. They might want to DM you something private, like their username.
  • Give your community a way to contact you outside Twitter. We just talked about email, but your profile page should at least give a link to a website. I can’t decide what’s the best page to link to as your website on Twitter, so I’ll give you suggestions:
    • Your website’s home page
    • Your contact page
    • Your blog’s home page
    • A custom landing page
  • And don’t forget to say something sensible in the Bio field.

One last tip: don’t use services to automatically follow all your new followers. It’s impersonal, and it’s obvious. Instead, get Twitter to email you every time someone follows you (or you can check your followers periodically), and follow everyone who’s not a obviously a spammer and send them a personalized DM thanking them for the follow. You can easily personalize it by finding out their name. It take 15 seconds to do this and it’s a good thing. Don’t expect any replies though.

Brand Your Profile Page

Yes, it’s a way of talking to your community as it shows effort and that you care. It’s also a quick confirmation to a new visitor that they’re viewing the right profile. Some tips to get you thinking, and you really should read Sara Rosso’s post here on TwiTip for more details:

  • Change your icon/avatar photo. Upload a small version of your logo. Twitter will automatically resize that; it will not look perfect unless what you upload is a square because the photo is a square. I usually use a large version of the website’s favicon as that’s the correct brand and is also a square.
  • Change your background. I’ve seen many approaches to how this gets done: some theme it exactly like the website; some create a custom theme but using the same color palette as the website, and some just choose a color. I suggest the following: the current Twitter design is centered on the page. So use the left hand side space to put some useful info: your logo at the very top, contact details, interesting web links, etc. I did mine (for @cligs) manually, but The Closet Entrepreneur has Powerpoint and Keynote Twitter background templates to help you. A rough rule of thumb for the space on the left is 150-200px.

Get Your Blog to Work With Your Twitter Profile

The root of this tip is that how you engage with your community is not a one-off or one-channel task, but an integration of multiple channels. To this end, blogs are a natural fit to complement your Twitter efforts. So how do you integrate blogging with Twitter? Some ideas:

So Does it Work?

Short answer: oh yes it does! I’d like to illustrate this with three examples.

  • Comcast: The prototypical example of using Twitter to engage with your community is Comcast. The “Comcast Guy” is Frank
    Eliason @comcastcares and he can work some magic apparently. Michael Arrington (of TechCrunch) wrote up his experience of publicly complaining about Comcast on Twitter back in April, and how Comcast responded (by very quickly fixing his connection). And that’s not unique: googling brings up a lot of stories, some even proclaiming new love for Comcast. Now that’s magic.
  • Google: There is a great write-up about a Google Webmasters Tools user, Gary Cope, having a problem. Gary blogged about it and that got automatically fed into his Twitter account and that got picked up by Sagar Kamdar (@skamdar), the new Webmaster Tools PM. Sagar publicly notified Gary on Twitter that the problem is being looked into, and then personally replied to Gary’s blog post the next day saying the problem is fixed.
  • Tweetdeck and Twhirl: These are my favorite examples of one person making a big difference using Twitter. Tweetdeck is a popular Twitter client written by Iain Dodsworth. Iain uses Twitter as a very powerful support channel. To see it in action,
    just look at the @tweetdeck feed. Likewise for Twhirl, another popular Twitter client, the @twhirl feed is just awesome.

And these are not the only examples. ReadWriteWeb has more, and just search using your favorite search engine.
It really is amazing what a good Twitter engagement can do to your business. It builds good will, gets you rave reviews, makes people like you more (or hate you less ;) ), not to mention creating buzz and generating links. Comcast hit it spot on when they named their account ComcastCares, because that’s what you should be doing: caring. If you care enough, a community will build itself around you. And Twitter is a very easy channel to demonstrate that you care.

Comments

  • December 7, 2008

    Great post. I think the most important thing is to communicate with the users and follow as more as possible friends, do not always talk about your product or your company.

  • December 7, 2008

    Too bad most of my customers never heard of twitter ;-)

  • December 7, 2008

    This is great information for anyone looking to build community around their business or cause. Great tips :-)

  • December 7, 2008

    I think the best way to build a community on Twitter is by messaging people. Keep in contact w/ people.

  • December 7, 2008

    Good post i love it. keep on and i will put in practice some of doze consul if not all. lol

  • December 7, 2008

    great post.. I had heard of twhirl but not tweetdeck headed there now to check it out..

  • December 7, 2008

    I have been considering how to help my company (I head up their internet marketing and social networking) use Twitter to follow and interact with our customers. There are some great tips in this post I am just itching to implement. Thanks for a great post!

  • December 7, 2008

    Excellent article Darren!

    Warcom has been using Twitter for a little over a month now and I’m ’slowly’ starting to find it a very useful too to interact and network with existing customers and potential customers.

    Not with standing, it is a fantastic tool to meet like minded business people!

    Cheers,
    Paul

  • December 7, 2008

    I love that it is recognised that CARING is an integral part of the customer service experience and Twitter. The task of replying to people has to be a people person, and not the “IT guy” or your sales and marketing team.

    How you look after your customer is the differentiator in a social world.

  • December 8, 2008

    Great article! Now something offtopic — there is another amazingly simple and good looking url shortening service http://shrt.st. Analytics feature in there is underway afaik.

  • December 8, 2008

    really great blog. I really think a firefox add has revolutionised how I use twitter….it means i’m not logging into the site constantly. I’ve also found some interesting sites which list the most popular twitters which are good reference points, especially if you are new to twitter – if you are interested check out http://chatterboxer.wordpress.com/tag/twitter/

  • December 8, 2008

    Excellent article. I am very new to Twitter and I was wondering what it was about! Thanks so much for your perspective!

    krissy :)

  • December 8, 2008

    Sorry, I put my twitter id down wrong. let me give another shot at it! thanks!

    krissy knox :)

  • December 8, 2008
    Tony Elias

    How about if a company creates its own twitter using one of the available platforms out there like buzzable, twingr and my favorite yonkly.com This way your customers don’t need to know what twitter is but instead access your twitter-like community. There is a good example of that at http://www.isweat.com which is powered by yonkly.

  • December 8, 2008

    There is one thing you dont realize. Your twitter page is NOT your intellectual property, nor do you have creative -commons in it. It does not belong to you or your enterprise. You owe nothing, zilch , Nada. You simply have no rights.

    Building a brand, presence, or any kind of following with this tenuous supportive structure is very weak and poor strategy. Twitter can pull the rug on you tomorrow, and your Internet sales or branding all grinds to a smoking halt.

    Getting banned on Twitter is very common. I see 100s of businesses being banned. You see that orange owl gazing on you, when you click that cute looking logo ?

    Think strategically, how far and how many resources should invest in this type of marketing endeavors.

  • December 9, 2008

    Great article, I am off to customize my background now. I agree with the difficulty in deciding which landing page to use for visitors. I think I will give them each a try and see which gets the best conversions.

  • January 16, 2009

    its a shame that most of the customer we deal dont know whats Twitter ;-) But I agree Twitter is a very effective tool and if used properly it can take your products to many places.

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