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Ten Things You'll Need to Know Before Marketing on Twitter

Getting started on any social network is a rather daunting task - particularly if you're trying to market a brand. After all, social marketing is a completely different beast from traditional advertising. Though it's started to catch on (and we're seeing more and more people who feel comfortable with it), there are still many marketers who have absolutely no idea what to do when it comes to social media.

As one of the largest social networking sites in the world (as well as the platform which more or less pioneered the idea of microblogging), Twitter's a very attractive choice when it comes to talking up a brand. The conversational nature of the network only sweetens the deal. Still, if you try to simply dive into Twitter without first doing your homework, well...the results could be somewhat disastrous.

Here, then, are a few things you'll need to know before you market your brand:

1. Tweets, Retweets, Favorited Tweets, and Search

We're going to start with the basics: after all, they're something you need to have a very firm grasp of before you hop on to Twitter. Tweets are the basic method of communication on the social network (although users can still send one another private messages, as well). They're small snippets of information: thoughts, comments, or links to external sites. There's a character limit of 140 on each Tweet. Each user has their own personal record of Tweets they've sent, known as their Feed - following someone ensures that that person's Tweet's appear in your Stream. If you see a Tweet posted by an industry leader or a follower that you particularly enjoy, you can click on the icon that resembles a refresh button to "ReTweet" it, posting it to your individual Twitter feed and to the streams of anyone who follows you. It'll also tag the user who originally posted the tweet.

You can also favorite a tweet, which saves it to your "Favorites" tab and notifies the original poster that you liked what they said. Pay attention to what your followers favorite, and use that to determine future tweets. Finally, Search lets you seek out Tweets by keyword, user, or Hash Tag. The last of those will be explained next.

2. Hash Tags: How Do They Work?

What is a Hash Tag? If you don't know the answer to that question, you're probably not ready for prime-time. To put it simply: a hashtag is a means by which Twitter users can search for Tweets that share a common topic. For example, let's say a user has decided that a particular character on AMC's The Walking Dead carries the idiot ball in her purse (I'm not giving out any names here, but her name is Andrea). They might, include #TheWalkingDead or simply #WalkingDead in a tweet on the subject, so that other users who watch the show might come across the tweet. Tech For Luddites has a rather excellent (albeit dated) guide on understanding Twitter Hashtags. If you've the time, I'd give it a read. Entrepreneur has a similar guide.

3. How to Organize your Followers With Twitter Lists

Another basic functionality of Twitter that you're going to need to know about involves organizing your followers into groups - which Twitter refers to as "Lists." Selecting a list will display all the tweets from the followers on that list. Particularly in the case of larger businesses which are bound to have a huge following, this is a vital function of the platform. No matter the size or popularity of your brand, however,  you'll want to make it of lists if you're planning a Twitter campaign, so that you can differentiate between industry leaders, customers, clients, journalists, fellow marketers...you get the idea.

4. Followers and Following

One last entry on the basic functionality of Twitter, then it's on to the more abstract stuff. Followers are people who like your brand or your Twitter page, and want to keep up-to-date on whatever you decide to share. They see your stuff in their stream, but you don't see theirs unless you decide to follow them back. Here's where things get a little more complicated. See, you want to be very sparing with who you follow. Yeah, it's awesome if you want to be everybody's friend, but following too many people - without enough people following you - is a recipe for disaster.

"You want to avoid spammer stats," writes Shel of Redcouch. "The worst thing you can do is have stats that show you follow 149 people and 4 people follow you. It's because you chose to follow a bunch of people but revealed so little of yourself that no one wanted to follow you back. This can be fixed by going slower and posting Tweets that let others know who you are."

5. The Ins and Outs of Automation

A word on automation, next: it's a great way to take off some of the load associated with running a social media campaign, and it's great for scheduling posts related to contests or company events. However, automation should never be the primary means by which you communicate with your followers. The whole point of social marketing is to engage with consumers, and most people don't really engage so well with a robot. They need to feel like there's actually a human being behind the brand, not just an auto-tweeter. At most, automate when you've got tweets that need to be released at a particular time, but be sure to occasionally intersperse your automated tweets with real ones.

6. The Nature of the Network

Twitter is, at its core, an online water-cooler. That's the nature of the social network. Unlike with Facebook, you won't be able to determine someone's life story simply by looking at their Twitter feed (unless they're the type that likes to give their followers a play-by-play of every minute of their life). It's a social network that's centered around free conversation and discourse. People can say whatever they want about a product. Unfortunately, this means that organizing a promotional campaign on Twitter can be difficult, particularly if you don't understand how the network functions - the debacle surrounding #McDstories is a perfect example of how not to run a campaign on Twitter.

Basically: Hash Tags are risky business, you need to give your users a reason to share and discuss (a Call to Action), always have a disaster management team ready, and discuss the risks before you take the plunge.

7. The Rules of Engagement: Twitter Etiquette

Like any medium which encourages interaction, Twitter's got a number of unspoken rules regarding etiquette. You need to know them, lest you risk coming across as out-of-touch. First, and most importantly, don't spam. Space out your tweets - no one likes being bombarded with five hundred vapid messages over the course of a few minutes. Further, every tweet you share should have a purpose, every post should have at last some value to your followers. Go media Online gives a pretty good overview of how often you should tweet based on what it is you're trying to accomplish.

On that note, if your feed is going to be experiencing a period of particularly high volume, warn your followers about it beforehand - or set up your account so that it doesn't display replies to users on the streams of your followers.

Second, don't tag users who aren't following you in unsolicited tweets unless they've actually said something related to your brand or interacted with you in some way. When I see a tweet from some random I've never met which has nothing to do with anything I've ever discussed in my feed, I immediately categorize them as a spammer and ignore them. That goes double for sending direct messages. Don't use them unless you absolutely must discuss something privately with one of your followers. Never try to use them to promote yourself.

Third, be polite. Thank people often, don't be overly abrasive or 'ranty,' respond to people in a timely fashion, and occasionally promote other users.

8. The Biggest Influencers In Your Industry

Figure out the big names on Twitter who are associated with your brand's industry, and out of those, determine who has the most clout  (and the highest Klout score) on Twitter. Those are the people you're going to want to engage with when you start your campaign. They're (presumably) the most knowledgeable people on the network, and most of them probably have boatloads of followers willing to listen to whatever they have to say.

If you can get them to follow you and talk to you, you're already ahead of the game; their followers and fans will naturally find their way to your brand as a result.

9. Your Marketing Plan

Obviously, you're going to need a plan before you get started. What other mediums and platforms will you be running your campaign in? How will you integrate your organization's online presence with Twitter? What sort of personality best suits your brand, and how can you get that personality across? How can you find the voice for that personality? What sort of promotions are you going to be running, and how often will you run them? How will you measure the success - or failure - of the campaign? What's your Twitter feed going to look like, and what username are you going to use?

Basically, it's all a matter of doing your homework before you get started.

10. What Tools You're Going To Use

As with any social network, there are a number of marketing tools for Twitter which are designed to make your life easier. You don't necessarily have to use them - your campaign can be perfectly successful without them - but if you can save yourself some time, money, or effort, why not do so?

Do a bit of research on what tools are available, what tools your organization can feasibly make use of and which of those tools will be most valuable to you as a marketer.

Image Credits: [GoMediaOnline][CycoClothing][ChantillyPatino][TechedIn][Marketplace][Pinterest][Premise Punchtag][Flickr][Business2Community][Technobuzz]

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