5 Unbreakable Rules for Using Twitter as a Business Tool

Like most social technology sites in worldwide use today, companies big and small are scrambling to convert Twitter from a simple networking tool to a legitimate way of increasing revenues and decreasing costs.  Unfortunately, most of these businesses are learning just enough about Twitter to be dangerous.  And annoying.  And in some cases, unethical.

Although many of us would love to see each new Twitter account issued with a comprehensive User Guide and Rulebook, the fact is Twitter users can pretty much do whatever the want.  Because of this complete lack of standardization (other than the 140-character limit on Tweets) businesses across the globe are using Twitter to annoy potential customers at record rates—faster than they ever could have hoped to annoy them through other, more traditional marketing channels like direct mail and direct email.

With the above in mind, below are five rules that should NEVER be broken by people trying to use Twitter for business purposes.  As with all previous posts, this particular article is not written for pyramid schemers, get rich quick experts, professional traffic whores, or the kid from Amsterdam trying to find a million Twitter followers before the end of the year.  This post is designed to help people who run REAL small companies figure out how to use Twitter—a simple, yet complicated micro blogging technology—to gain a market advantage.

Rule #1: Don’t Bombard Your Followers. Anyone who has been on Twitter for more than a week has at least one follower who sends six Tweets in rapid succession multiple times per day, or sends one Tweet every 20 minutes like clockwork.  Here’s a tip: unless you work for a national news organization, your company is NOT important enough to justify this volume of communication.  As a small company, sending one relevant piece of news to your followers per day is plenty.

Rule #2: Only Tweet When You have Something Interesting to Say. If the extent of your Tweet is going to be a rehash of an inspirational thought from your new desk calendar, don’t bother.  Tweeting famous quotes, personal observations and headlines from ESPN’s breaking news section are are also off-limits.  Listen to mom on this one: if you don’t have something relevant to say, don’t open your mouth—or in this case, don’t type.

Rule #3: Don’t Follow People Indiscriminately. When it comes to using Twitter for business purposes, the belief there are no ”bad” followers is absolutely spot on.  Regardless of what your company does, someone voluntarily electing to hear from you might not always be good, but it is NEVER bad. The reverse, however, is not true.  Making a poor decision about who your company follows on Twitter could cost you a significant amount of fans over time. Do the math: if you run a Twitter feed for your business and choose to follow Al Gore or Rush Limbaugh, you have a 50/50 chance of offending every U.S. visitor to your Twitter site.  In the case of selecting Twitter followers, the rules of cocktail party conversation always apply: avoid politics, religion, and polarizing celebrities.

Rule #4: Avoid the Temptation to Re-Report the News. As a blogger who cranks out two or three original articles every week, I understand how difficult it can sometimes be to come up with fresh content. That said, sending your loyal followers a link to CNN’s latest article on the swine flu is a poor excuse for customer contact.  If something really big happens in the world, there is one thing you can absolutely count on when it comes to Twitter: within two minutes, everyone will already know.

Rule #5: Stop Trying to Make a Sale Every Time. Understanding all of us have bills to pay, even the best cooks in the world take the chef’s hat off every now and then.  If you condition Twitter followers to expect a sales pitch every time they hear from you, your followers will quickly build up an ‘immunity’ to your Tweets . . . and simply stop reading them.  Between sales and marketing messages, be sure to mix in a good amount of ‘no strings attached’ communications—industry facts, trivia nuggets and short “Thank You” notes for supporting your company.

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