• 07 Sep 2009 /  Opinion

    Post No Bills

    I am not a marketer; in fact I go out of my way to avoid marketers on most occasions, I am just another random person from the Internet. I see so many companies trying to market their products and services on Twitter and failing miserably at it. In this post I’d like to give some free advice to those people whose job it is to market their company to the general public—A consumer’s point of view if your will, although I am only one consumer in the billions of consumers on the Internet.

    Below are a bunch of things you should consider before you create an “official” company presence on Twitter.

    Who is on Twitter?

    Twitter breaks down loosely into five different groups of people; The spammers, those trying to market their products (sometimes indistinguishable from spammers), the “professional” tech people (your Robert Scoble, your Leo Laporte), the tech-savvy consumer, and the people who really don’t know what Twitter is but there is a lot of talk about it and they don’t want to be left out (a lot of celebrities fall into this category). Some people also straddle more than one category.

    If you’re approaching Twitter marketing with the idea, “I think it’s a waste of time, but there’s a lot of people on it and it’s popular with the tech-savvy young folk” then you should not be on Twitter. You need to be willing to spend the time needed to keep your Twitter presence up to date and keep the communication with your customers and followers flowing in both directions.

    Twitter is about conversations and interactions; it is not a one-way street. If you don’t have the resources to monitor your company’s Twitter presence on your own, or you’re not willing to have an employee always monitoring your Twitter stream, then Twitter is not for you. Your customers (followers) expect you to reply to them in a timely manner if they address your company directly. This does not mean you need to monitor the stream 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but customers will expect some sort of answer if they have a problem and you have an “official” Twitter presence.

    If you are not monitoring Twitter yourself, then the person or persons monitoring the Twitter presence for your company should be “Twitter-savvy” and know a bit about the lingo when talking to people on Twitter. People will throw around acronyms like “DM” and “RT” and the person they are speaking to should know what these sorts of things mean in the context of Twitter.

    Choosing Your Twitter Name

    For your “official” company presence on Twitter, your Twitter name should be your company’s name. If your company name has two or more words, then use capital letters or underscores to separate the words, for example; CompanyName or Company_Name. Your customers should be able to find you quickly and easily when they do a Twitter search. If your company’s name is already in use by someone who does not represent your company or it is “squatted on” by someone who isn’t using the account then you can go to the people who run Twitter itself and ask them to release the account to you if you can prove ownership of the brand name.

    While you’re at it, it’s probably a good idea to set up a company email address those people who follow you on Twitter so that you can more easily service those users. Something like “Twitter@CompanyName.com” instead of the usual “support@” or “service@” would suffice. That way when someone in your Twitter feed wants to send you a query, you can easily reply with your Twitter-specific address.

    Your Twitter Icon and Homepage

    Your Twitter background should reflect the branding on your website. You shouldn’t waste this space but you shouldn’t go overboard either. Solid colours or single-image backgrounds are much nicer than tiled backgrounds. Remember that most people’s screens are going to be in the 1024 by 768 to the 1280 by 960 range, so keep that in mind when you add information to the left of the Twitter stream. You probably only have 150 to 200 pixels of width to work with there. Don’t go overboard with the information in this sidebar either, this isn’t the place to tell your life’s story or to put 487 links to all the various landing pages for your website. Keep it short and to the point.

    Your Twitter icon should be easily recognizable as belonging to your company. Remember that Twitter icons are small, so you may have to simplify your branding so that your customers can find your icon amongst the sea of other Twitter icons. And while you’re at it, you should also fill in your bio information and use the actual URL for your website, not a shortened version.

    Don’t Use Twitter as a Link-Dump

    If your Twitter stream goes something like; “We have widgets on sale now! http://www…” followed a week later by, “10% off all red aardvarks for the next week. http://www…” and so on, then you do not belong on Twitter. Nobody is interested in following link-dumping accounts—you might as well drop leaflets from an airplane you’ll accomplish the same end. Dumping piles of garbage links into the Twitter stream will get your account blocked by your customers and/or suspended by Twitter.

    It’s fine to post links to your product pages in your Twitter feed, but that shouldn’t be the ONLY thing in your Twitter feed. You also need to put some thought into what you’re saying when you post your links—if you want people to forward your link on in their Twitter stream, or “Retweet” your offer, then your offer needs to fit within the 140 character limit and include the text “RT @YourCompanyName.” This is also where URL shorteners come in. Find yourself a good URL shortener and use it! Some URL shortening services will also let you brand your short URLs, or hell, if you’re posting enough links you should get your web-savvy team to create your own shortened URLs that will redirect your links to your company website.

    Talk to Your Followers

    Part of being on Twitter is the conversation that goes on between users—if someone is following you and sends you an message, they expect a response. “But how do I know if someone is talking to me if I’m not following them?” you ask. Well, that’s another part of your “responsibility” on Twitter: in addition to monitoring your regular Twitter stream, you must also occasionally click on your @name tab to see if someone you’re not following is asking you a question. You could also type “to:” and your username into the Search box (ie to:MyCompanyName) to quickly sort through the Twitter noise and get to the people who are talking to you.

    Practice Good Customer Service

    If you’re not personally monitoring your Twitter presence then make sure that the person who is doing the monitoring is capable of making and keeping promises on your company’s behalf. For example, if you (or your agent) promises to look into a user’s problem and get back to them with a response then you need to make 100% sure that you get back to that person with a response! This is Customer Service 101. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, and don’t make up answers when you have no idea what you’re talking about. You don’t lose anything by replying, “I’m not sure how to solve your problem, let me ask my tech support people and I’ll get back to you.” Just make sure that either you or your tech support department gets back to the user. Leaving someone hanging on Twitter is a death sentence for your company brand.

    Special Twitter Offers, Coupons, and Contests

    There seems to be a trend lately on Twitter where companies who are just stepping into the Twitter stream have a contest to help them gain followers. In fact, this has been done so many times now that a lot of people have stopped following people who “tweet” or “retweet” these contest phrases because it makes so much spammy noise in the Twitter stream. If you want to gain followers on Twitter, your best bet is to get advertised through other Twitter users and that can only happen through investing in interaction and conversation. Contests on Twitter are great, and many people will enter them for the chance to win that iPod or new product, but you need to make that contest worth the effort. If you make it too difficult, then nobody is going to be interested and nobody is going to follow you.

    While in the same vein, you need to make any special offers or coupons you give away on Twitter worth the effort. Marketers often talk about the low coupon remittance—people aren’t going to use your coupons or take advantage of your special offers if it isn’t worth their time. For example, I often get coupons for “$5 off any purchase of $100 or more”—This is a useless coupon. It’s not even worth my time to try and remember your coupon code to get a mere $5 off a $100 purchase. If you want people to actually visit your site to use your coupons then you have to make it worth the effort.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that the first W in “WWW” means “World” as in “World Wide Web.” When you make a statement on the Internet, you are talking to the WORLD. If your special offer only applies to your specific country of origin (I’m looking at you Americans), then make it crystal clear at the beginning otherwise you’re going to waste people’s time and just piss them off. Simply saying “Free Shipping on all products using the code TWEET” is misleading, you should say something like “Free US Shipping.” Remember your International followers when making offers on the Internet.

    An Example to Follow

    If you’re looking for someone to learn from, have a look at the people over at the NAPP (National Association of Photoshop Professionals). They have many people involved in Twitter over there from the highest office, down through marketing and down to the people who appear on their podcasts. Each one a character in their own right, and all of them interacting and conversing with their followers.

    If I send a tweet to @scottkelby (Creator of Kelby Media Group, which is part of the NAPP) then I will get a personal tweet back from Scott Kelby, not Scott Kelby’s assistant, but Scott Kelby himself—It might take a day or so, but he will reply. If I send a tweet to @NAPP_News asking a question about a product, then I will get a human being answering me in a friendly manner. The user behind @NAPP_News is capable of mixing her marketing duties with her contest duties with her just general shooting the breeze duties and it doesn’t occupy 100% of her day. If @NAPP_News says she will get in contact with the people over in subscriptions to find out about your missing issue of Photoshop Magazine, then you can be sure that you’ll either get an email from the subscription department, or you’ll get a reply from @NAPP_News telling you what happened. The people at NAPP know how to keep their customers happy and it doesn’t cost them a lot of time or money to do it.

    Most of the time the consumer just wants to know that a company is listening to what they’re saying.

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  • 01 Oct 2008 /  News

    What's Ahead?

    Billions in Bailout

    So the US Government is talking about a $700 billion (with-a-B) taxpayer-funded bailout to end the ongoing mortgage company problems and stem the gushing flow of money flowing from the US economy. This would push the US National debt to its highest level since the second World War. The US debt would amount to 70% of the country’s gross domestic product! But what will this short-term solution do to the economy in the future? Are we looking ahead to blue skies and rainbows or massing thunderheads and destruction?

    Startling Observations

    As of September 2008, the total U.S. federal debt was approximately $9.7 trillion. [source: Wikipedia] Each citizen’s share of this debt is $32,336.00. The National Debt has continued to increase an average of $2.32 billion per day since September 28, 2007. [source: US National Debt Clock]

    Forget “original sin,” we’re talking “original debt.” A child born in the USA today will have a $37,000 debt before they even finish taking their first breath! What happens after an additional $700 billion is spent to bail out Wall Street?

    The government reaching the requested debt limit would entail every man, woman and child in the U.S. owing more than $37,000 each. The median U.S. income last year was $50,233. [source: The Toronto Star]

    The Government Accountability Office (GAO), Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the U.S. Treasury Department have warned that debt levels will increase dramatically relative to historical levels, due primarily to mandatory expenditures for programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and interest. Mandatory expenditures are projected to exceed federal tax revenues sometime between 2030 and 2040 if reforms are not undertaken. Further, benefits under entitlement programs will exceed government income by over $40 trillion over the next 75 years. The severity of the measures necessary to address this challenge increases the longer such changes are delayed. These organizations have stated that the government’s current fiscal path is “unsustainable.” [source: Wikipedia]

    This means that if the United States of America does not stop spending more money than it generates that it will self-destruct, and soon. And we’re not talking about 2030, we’re talking closer to 2015. You cannot keep printing more money to cover today’s debts, just look at the current crisis in Zimbabwe where they are facing an inflation rate of 11.2 million percent. If you think gas is expensive now, just wait…

    Once upon a time you had to have a dollar’s worth of gold to guarantee your printed dollar, now all you need to do is print up as much money as you need. What is a dollar worth these days? What happens when countries all over the world bring in their bits of paper and start demanding payment for the “promissory notes” that you’ve printed up?

    Where Does the Money Go?

    The President’s budget for 2008 totals $2.9 trillion. Just a few examples; they’re spending $608 billion on Social Security, $386 billion on Medicare, $481 billion on National Defense, $145 billion on the “War on Terror” (which might as well be under DoD), $34 billion on Department of Homeland Security (again, DoD), $56 billion on Education (which is just over one third of what they’re spending on this “War on Terror”), and only $20 billion on Agriculture. [source: Wikipedia]

    So we’re looking at something like $660 billion on “Defense and Security” or nearly one-quarter of the budget.

    Bailing out Wall Street

    So now the whole world is waiting for the big bailout of Wall Street. Why should we in Canada care if the US goes under? Well, unfortunately a lot of our economy is tied to America’s. Every time the US Stock Exchange takes a dive, the Canadian stock market (and the UK markets, and the EU markets, and the Asian markets) get sucked down with them. This sort of thing needs to stop. In my opinion, Canada needs to start thinking about Canada and stop sniffing after the US markets. How about us up here in Canada start dictating terms to the USA in regards to imports and exports instead of the other way around? NAFTA did nothing good for us here in Canada despite what the “experts” say. Talk to the man in the factory and ask him what NAFTA did for us.

    Everyone is waiting to hear what is going to happen in Congress. The fear-mongering continues. Bush is flapping his lips about “shoring up the economy.” I mean, who started this slide into oblivion in the first place, Georgie? It was you and your little “War on Terror,” wasn’t it? You were so busy screwing around in someone else’s country that you let yours go to hell. Nice job.

    It should be “interesting times” for the next few days, that’s for sure.

    (Some images from the stock.xchng, manipulated by Herne.)

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