Whenever I talk to web businesses, there is a topic that comes up time and time again: social networks. Love them or loath them, 2009 really was the year social networking went mainstream. The pessimists will have you believe this is fuelled by our celebrity-obsessed culture and almost narcissistic fascination with ego searches. However, social networking is bigger than Stephen Fry’s breakfast and hopefully by the end of this article you will see how you can use social networking sites like Twitter to bring some real business benefit.Twitter, the biggest phenomenon of the genre, operates around the open questions “What's happening?”, and you only have 140 characters to answer. Looking at my own tweets (@benjamindyer) I admit, many of them are completely pointless. I see something I like or dislike and I tweet about it. However, looking at the bigger picture, this conscious stream of information turns Twitter into a surprisingly powerful tool, especially for business.There are lots of companies doing some quite incredible things. Dell recently announced it has made nearly $6.5m in sales directly from its Twitter presence and has over 1.5m followers. Ford too has a great set of Twitter streams and US cable company Comcast is rewriting the customer service manual with its exploits on Twitter.So we have established that big companies are setting up their stalls within these social networks. Where these businesses are throwing vast sums at establishing a presence we should all be able to learn from their experience, regardless of the size of our business.First, check your customer demographics: Find out if they use social networks, and if so which ones? Chances are they are on Facebook, but don't forget Twitter is key to some and there’s Linkedin and FriendFeed too. Ask customers what they use.Next, I believe it is also important to do as much listening as talking, and this is where a lot of companies come unstuck. Use the search engine on each social networking site to find who is talking about your company. The Twitter search is incredibly powerful and can really give some amazing insight into your brand, products and customers.Also extend your searches to include competitors and anyone respected in your sector. Track what is said about the products or services they supply and what they are promoting. What can you learn?Remember that the heart of social networking is engagement. If you find someone talking about you or your products, then get chatting. Ask questions and listen to the feedback. This is an incredibly empowering process for your customers. No matter how big or small your company, we all like to feel that someone cares.A great example of fantastic engagement is the US cable company Comcast, a brand that has been synonymous with poor customer service for years. However Comcast in 2009 became a completely different animal.One change has been to embrace social networking. Comcast is on all major social media sites like Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, etc. This presence gives it direct access to its users. Searching for examples returned hundreds of satisfied customers and barely any dissatisfied ones. Two years ago this would have been inconceivable.One great example comes from Comcast customer @cc_chapman:"Last night I made a snide remark about the lackluster quality of my HD picture on Comcast during the Celtics game. Comcast saw that and tweeted me back minutes later. This morning I got a call from their service center. This afternoon someone came out. Now my HDTV rocks! THAT my friends is customer service and how it should work all the time."Engaging closely is one thing, but remember that a person’s online social space must be respected: Be smart and polite. Don’t go butting into someone’s conversation with a blatant plug. This is a fast track to achieving the exact opposite result and being blocked. Far better to offer advice that’s relevant and of interest to your audience.While most people now have some sort of online presence, the biggest complaint I hear is, “I haven’t got enough time.” It’s understandable and depending on your business and the social networks you intend to have a presence on, you’re bound to drop some plates. However, there are free tools that can really help. A good one is the brilliant Tweetdeck. Tweetdeck connects up to a number of social networks (Twitter, MySpace, Linkedin, Facebook), its power comes in the ability to define searches or groups of people to watch. These searches are organised into columns that aggregate the data.Social networks are not just the preserve of those interested in Britney’s personal life, it’s a mine of information. If you’re not using it I can guarantee your customers are already talking about you. And your competitors are probably talking to them.So, what are you doing?
twitter for business
Whenever I talk to businesses about social networking the first reaction I get is often a raised eyebrow and a comment asking me why anyone would want to read messages about what people are eating for lunch. Hopefully by the end of this article you will see how you can use social networking sites like Twitter to benefit your jewellery business.To be honest I understand the confusion. Social networking, especially the ever popular Twitter, has turned us into obsessive cataloguers, recorders and diarists. According to Silicon Alley Insider, during April 2009 there were 1.3 million active Twitter users broadcasting approximately 3 million "tweets" per day - that's a lot of 140 character messages!Looking at my own tweets (@benjamindyer) I admit, many of them are completely pointless, I see something I like or dislike and I tweet about it. However, looking at the bigger picture, this conscious stream of information from its 1.3 million active users turns Twitter into an incredibly powerful tool, especially for business.Fantastic examples of companies leveraging this information include Dell, Ford and the US cable company Comcast. These companies are actively engaging with their customers and can see and respond to what people really think about their products, brands or services.So Twitter is a mine of information and you're keen to start getting involved, but it's important to remember this information is personal. Twitter users have consciously decided to broadcast their information and as such any business using the service must respect its users.The good and the badExamples of companies getting it wrong are littered all over the internet. My personal favourite faux pas comes from the UK furniture company Habitat who arrived on Twitter last month and decided to spam the current 'trending topics' to get noticed. Trending Topics is a section within Twitter containing Tweets on the current popular theme. To indicate its relevance the standard procedure is to include a hash tag, as below.@benjamindyer: Looking forward to the cricket #AshesHabitat's Tweets however included a hashtag that had absolutely no relevance to the trending topic. This caused an uproar as suddenly discussions over the problems in Iran, Michael Jackson's death and the film Transformers 2 were being spammed with Habitat offers as in the example below.@HabitatUK: #Mousavi Join the database for free to win a £1000 gift card.Habitat's spectacular failure with Twitter was compounded by its reaction, to try to cover it up by deleting all previous Tweets and by sacking the poor Intern. Habitat did officially apologise, albeit a number of days later, but it was too late, the Twitter community has sprung into action. Popular user @DarenBBC started a worlwide hunt for the recently unemployed Intern with numerous job offers and rewards. The search is providing so popular on Twitter that in the cruelest twist of irony it has spawned its own hashtag, #HabitatIntern. At the time of writing the fabled Intern is yet to be found, the mob suspect a cover up!The #HabitatIntern debacle has just hilighted to many the need for better policing of Twitter. Spam is becoming a major problem with automated ad bots poisoning the stream. As the popularity of a topic is totally a numbers game the trending topics list is always going to be a viable target for nefarious tweets. I fully expect Twitter to introduce a level of filtering or moderation in the not too distant future.However for every horror story there is an equally good example of successful use of social networking as Comcast shows. For longer than I can remember the brand Comcast has been synonymous with poor customer service. In the highly competitive US cable industry consumer choice is huge and Comcast was heamorhaging customers. However Comcast in 2009 is a completely different animal, so how did it turn itself around?One way has been to embrace social networking. Comcast has a presence on all major networks (Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, etc.). This presence allows it to pay attention to its customers. A quick search for examples returned hundreds of results of satisfied customers. In fact I had to really search for a dissatisfied one, whereas this time two years ago this would have been inconceivable.One great example comes from Comcast customer @cc_chapman:"Last night I made a snide remark about the lackluster quality of my HD picture on Comcast during the Celtics game. Comcast saw that and tweeted me back minutes later. This morning I got a call from their service center. This afternoon someone came out. Now my HDTV rocks! THAT my friends is customer service and how it should work all the time."Listening to customersListening to customers is an essential part of your business, but it's a very scary prospect. Five years ago consumers had a fairly limited and one-sided channels for feeding back to a business: phone, email or letter. Social networking has turned this on its head and suddenly your customers can talk and interact with your other customers, discussing anything and everything about your business. You have to ask yourself, do you want to be part of that conversation?However Twitter and Facebook are so much more than an additional customer service channel. Listening to your customers is essential, but listening to your competitors' customers is research! One such example is Intuit, the maker of accounting software QuickBooks. Intuit monitors Twitter for mentions of its competitors' products and often contacts the Tweeter to offer its own product or service. Now this is a fairly aggressive and it may not work for your jewellery business but its another example of using this mine of information.Further tips for starting out with Twitter:Find your customersBefore you go hell for leather into Twitter (or Friend Feed or Facebook) do some research. Social networking can be a time sink and to do it right takes effort, so make sure this effort is concentrated in the right place. Find out which network your customers use.Involve the whole business and be human!No one likes listening to a corporate tirade of why your product or service is the best in the world. In fact, just listing your world class achievement is a fast route to being ignored. Instead show off the human side of your business, mix up business and social tweets and let other members of your team have accounts too.Tweet and Re-TweetEngage with others by rebroadcasting your followers' tweets. This is called Re-Tweeting or RT for short. Not only are you doing your followers a great service by recommending other people's content to your followers, but it helps build an eco-system around your areas of interest. People will come to you by engaging with others.It's not all about follower numbersDon't be disheartened if you only have a small number of followers. Unless you're a huge multi-national, or offer a product or service with wide appeal it's very likely you won't have a lot of followers. Use this to your advantage: you can be lean and reactive and get to know the people that are following you.Don't take it personallyPeople often reveal their true emotions online and it's very likely you're going to find some less than happy customers. Don't take criticism personally, and use it to improve your business. Whatever you do always maintain the higher moral ground. Arguing and criticising others online isn't an attractive proposition for future customers!Tell everyoneIf you're going to have a presence on any social network you need to tell people! Consider adding a Twitter link to your site and your @ username to email signatures, business cards or marketing content - make it easy for people to find you. Also consider including your 'chatter' on your website. Frequently changing content demonstrates you are active and it’s also great for helping your search engine ranking.Use a desktop toolTo manage your Twitter traffic, investigate free tools such as TweetDeck, Seesmic or Twhirl. These utilities keep the high number of tweets manageable and have features enabling you to set up predefined searches and alerts (e.g. for your company name).Twitter is hugely powerful, it has the potential to revolutionise the way you interact with your customers, so give it a go!
Original post written for cmypitch.comIf you're working in the marketing and advertising business your marketing plans could be fatally flawed. Let me give you an example, McDonald's spent over $2bn last year in advertising, and yet the fifth result in a Google search is a YouTube video posted by an animal rights group - they clearly didn't read the marketing pitch!The example is a classic. It clearly demonstrates that social media has completely turned the marketing business on its head. Blanket campaigns that have worked so well in the past are history; the power is firmly in the hands of the consumer.Here are some tips for leveraging social networking for business and making your customers your biggest adverts.Find your customers. Before you go hell for leather into Twitter, Friend Feed or Facebook do some research. Social networking can be a time sink and to do it right takes effort, so make sure this effort is concentrated in the right place. Check your demographics and find out if your customers use social networks.Don't talk, listen. Use the Twitter search engine to find people talking about you or your company, but don't start talking immediately, listen first. Even better take it a step further and listen for your competitor's name, or search phrases that relate to your products or services.When you do talk, be smart. A person's online social space is a sacred thing; respect it by being smart and polite. Barging into a conversation with blatant advertising is a fast track to getting ignored. Instead join in the conversation and offer advice that's practical such as links to blog posts and useful sites.Let your customers know you're human. Let your hair down - show people that your company is run by humans, not cyborgs. Sharing even the most trivial of day-to-day information helps you to connect with your customers. Link to pictures, video or web content you find interesting outside of your sphere of professional expertise.Don't worry about the cracks. Depending on your business and on the social networks you intend to have a presence on, some things will fall through the cracks. You can't be connected 24/7 but you can mitigate it with some smart thinking. You don't need to read or reply to every comment - be selective. You can also use tools such as TweetDeck for Twitter to narrow the signal to noise ratio to an acceptable level.Learn to accept criticism and talk (don't shout) about the praise. As McDonald's has discovered people will happily point out your flaws. The skill is to react smartly - don't get too upset and don't get into flame wars with customers. Remember it's a public space. Likewise when you receive praise, feel free to show it off, in Twitter you can Re-Tweet (RT) the good news - just don't do it too often as no one likes a show-off.Pimp it! If you're going to have a presence on any social network you need to tell people! Consider adding your usernames and URLs to email signatures, business cards or marketing content - make it easy for people to find you. Also consider including your 'chatter' on your website. Frequently changing content demonstrates you are active and it's also great for helping your search engine ranking.Lastly, there is no black art to social networking; it's really all about common sense. However often the first hurdles you have to overcome can be your own preconceived ideas. Culturally it's very different to traditional marketing and those obsessed by stats and reports may struggle as the measurable benefits are replaced by intangible human ones.The conversation is going on right now - at the end of the day you have to decide if you want to be part of the social media wave. If you engage, sales will follow, if you don't potential customers will listen to your competitors who do.
An article I wrote for Web Designer Mag 156, go buy it, its a super read.Let’s all get on the same page here, unless you have been living in a cave… …actually scrap that, apparently even the Taliban use it. I’m talking Twitter, the latest thing to go nuclear.Even so, and despite all the airtime the popular micro blogging service gets, I am still shocked at the number of technology professionals that still have barely heard of it.I should declare that I am a hard core Tweetnic. In this article I will try to uncover how microblogging is now an unmissable tool, a critical cog in communicating what people are doing in work as well as socially. It’s also one of the most powerful trend spotters yet to be seen.Social StructureTwitter is diverse, it’s made up of big egos, celebrities, professionals, students, Mothers, Fathers, Children. There are people from every walk of life. In fact the way I describe it to non believers is to compare Twitter to walking into a busy pub (@rustyrocket will probably be buying the first round).The pub comparison can be continued further. The clever thing about Twitter is the clear social structure supporting it. Let’s face it, if it was just about broadcasting content, it would have already disappeared without trace.Twitter flourishes because it makes it possible for people to connect at a personal level. The individual has the power, and it’s easy to find people with similar interests. You can independently follow another person’s updates. For me this is the big difference between Microblogging and Social Networking. Facebook is about connecting with existing friends, Twitter allows you to make new ones.TrendsI have been using Twitter for just over a year. During this time it’s connected me to some leading industry figures, developers, designers, strategists and business owners. Not only has this enhanced my professional network, it’s enabled me to tap into a rich source of information. I’ve been able to spot trends and generally work more effectively.I find the content not only more relevant, but also more accurate. I trust my Twitter friends, rather than some random content that Google has scraped up. People often refer to having their “finger on the pulse.” Used correctly, Twitter will have that pulse throbbing right under your finger!FeedbackTwitter hitting the mainstream is excellent news for anyone wanting to use the service for feedback, crowd sourcing or gauging opinion. Getting balanced feedback is always tough, especially if you’re a small firm.A great resource is the excellent design critique website pleasecritiqueme.com. Designers submit their work for comments from an expert panel of designers with the real power coming from its Twitter feed (@critme). The feed is used to publish details of submitted work, providing a great mix of the expert critique panel alongside anyone else.Twitter for Business?Judging by the number of people that happily title themselves ‘Social Network Consultants’, it’s clear the business world is happily adopting Twitter at a rate of knots. Some of the great successes include Dell and the very excellent Skittles.com.Twitter is fundamentally different to what has gone before, and I think this is why business has been a little slow to adopt it. It turns the whole advertising model on its head. Suddenly business needs to engage with their users. Blanket ad campaigns aren’t possible, they would just turn users off.This principle is captured in a great quote from Scott Monty (@ScottMonty scottmonty.com) the head of social media at Ford Motor Company:"We're not interested in advertising on social networks; we're interested in getting in there and interacting with people." Ford are being proactive, with a great set of Twitter feeds and a head of social media to boot. In contrast, it’s very interesting to see that the official Google twitter account is incredibly quiet. Could Mountain View learn from Detroit?Designing a site around TwitterYou may be keen to tap into Twitter and integrate it into your sites, and I can guarantee that if your customers aren’t asking yet, they will be soon.The good news is that Twitter has a fantastic API (Application Programming Interface) and there are a ton of resources out there to get you started (http://bit.ly/iTndL). You can start from putting your latest 20 tweets on a homepage all the way to optimizing a site for searching real time.IRL?One of the brilliant side effects of all this chatter is the social aspect. I love to learn about the people that choose to follow me. So follow me at your peril!I am sure the Daily Mail warns us to be scared of “People from the Internet”. However if the recent Twestival event is anything to judge by, it’s turning a nation of keyboard warriors into very social people of all shapes and size, race and religions.Locally the Tweetup (Twitter + Meetup) principle is spawning groups all over the country. People are getting together to learn more and network with each other, built around a defining common interest. Can you name another web technology that’s having this impact?What do you think, let me know at twitter.com/benjamindyer.Tips for designers using Twitter:1. Collaborate with others; get feedback from fellow design peers2. Follow others and spot design trends before they’re mainstream, Digg has a great list of 100 designers to follow: http://bit.ly/s7NI3. Use Twitter search, listen out for people talking about you, your customers or your space.4. Ask questions, but…5. …don’t just ask questions, assist others as well6. Look to embed Twitter services and features in your designs7. Be consistent but not droll, mix your tweets with business and personal information8. Don’t use it as an online advert for your agency; nothing puts people off more than a constant barrage of why you’re the best!9. Take it further and attend a Tweetup