Twitter Basics: Companies on Twitter

twitterbasics4_cropI’ve written about some of the basics of using twitter in earlier posts, now I want to take a look at how companies are using twitter for a business purpose. I want to focus on companies getting it right – but I will point out some #fail moments!

The first thing to think about is what is your purpose for using twitter, I’ve broken it down to five options, but of course most companies use a combination on the same twitter account. Which you use will depend on your business; but make sure you have the customer service sorted out first.

1; Customer Service

One of the most common ways of using twitter is as a customer service channel, sometimes known as webcare. This means answering people’s questions online, regarding your company’s products and service – sometimes even when the question hasn’t been directed at you. Here are some examples of customer care tweets. I think you need to have good customer service in place before trying the other options here, otherwise you will hear complaints where you are trying to have a discussion.

Companies doing this include; ING, Citibank, O2, Yahoo (or flickr), AT&T and Delta.

2; Customer Engagement

Beyond supporting your customers with service you can use twitter to have a conversation with your customers.

Here’s an example from Dutch airline KLM.

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 17.14.37@SusanAretz posted a picture of a KLM plane from Madurodam, a miniature village filled with scenes from around the Netherlands. She tweeted “I’m curious where this @KLM flight is going”. Soon after KLM responded “Hello Susan, this is a special flight, destination ‘Dreamland’ :-)”

KLM uses social media really well, providing good customer care around the clock and connecting with customers using humour.

3; Marketing

Twitter can be an effective marketing tool, it can be used to promote events, generate leads – by offering whitepapers via email signup, and offer discounts or coupon codes. Those three options can be used for free, but their effectiveness is going to depend on your existing following.

You can also use either promoted tweets, or a promoted account. It’s hard to find accurate figures on these because twitter promoted tweets uses a bidding process similar to internet ad words, and the promoted account costs are based on a cost per follower. You can however set a budget so you can cap your spending for a twitter marketing campaign.

4; Online Brand

Twitter, and social media generally, is a great tool to share your online content. Companies use it to increase the reach of all sorts of content from press releases to timely product information. For example we’ve just had a series of electric storms in the Netherlands and ING tweeted a link to their general storm advice, including information regarding insurance.

5; Build a Customer Network

Providing quality help/support, sharing selected information on twitter first, hosting relevant tweet chats will all build a strong customer network. If you can build a customer network on twitter they will share your content by re-tweeting, expanding your reach. They may also answer questions about your brand on your behalf, and in times of crisis can help by spreading your crisis news and reactions.

 Some Do’s and Don’ts

  1. Acquire a twitter handle that matches your brand, usually your brand name.
  2. Use your logo as an avatar, it appears next to each tweet in your followers’ feeds
  3. Use a brand related image as your header image
  4. Specify the hours the account is monitored and responding; note if you’re an airline there’s an expectation that this will be 24/7
  5. Verify your account; with the official blue tick if you can (this is available for really famous people or for those with a decent ad spend on twitter). Link from your twitter account to your company site, and from your company site to twitter – this provides some verification for your followers if the blue tick isn’t an option
  6. Choose the right person/people to manage your account, they need to know twitter but they also need to know your company.
  7. Identify who is posting if multiple people manage your account, the convention for this is ^name or ^initials
  8. Set up guidelines  for your account including the purpose and tone of voice, this is especially important if your account is managed by several people
  9. Control sign-on, there have been a number of cases where employees tweeted from a company account by mistake – thinking it was their personal account. Consider using separate tools or apps to prevent this happening.
  10. Use hashtags – carefully – there are plenty of examples of hashtags going wrong.
  11. Tweet regularly, daily.
  12. Respond and RT.
  13. Listen to and understand your followers – the more expert they are on social media the greater the opportunity to interact.

Avoid these mistakes;

A final word

Keep your original purpose in mind and listen to your customers/followers, don’t be scared to try new things – and be prepared to adjust or abandon ideas that didn’t work. Finally – share what you learn, that’s what makes the twitter world go around.

Next Week; in the final post in this series I’ll look at some of the trolls, fakers, hackers and scams you may encounter on twitter.

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If Content is King, Why Can’t I See It?

I bought a MacBook Air laptop last year, and I deliberately chose the smaller, 11′ model. I love it. It’s small, light, easy to use. The battery life is around 8 hours (Apple says up to 9) and it recharges super quickly.

What I don’t love is how various websites appear on the smaller screen. Let me show you what I mean, the image on the left is from my laptop, the one on the right from my desktop.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There are a couple of things going on here;

  • the fashion for large, attention getting images at the top of an article
  • the fashion for large, attention getting images at the top of a page (eg; twitter’s profile pages)
  • increasingly large banner advertisements.
  • the myth that people don’t mind scrolling any more – it’s annoying if you have to scroll to see any content.

I’ve been involved in website re-designs and re-launches over the years and it’s become increasingly challenging to design something that works on all screen sizes, all  browsers and all devices.

Web analytics can provide designers with information about the devices and the screen sizes used, and if a website is design using the principles of responsive design then the same content can be served in a layout optimised for screen size. Of the examples in the slideshow above Mashable and VentureBeat (a wordpress site) both use responsive design, but it doesn’t seem to help. Of course it’s possible that they haven’t considered a separate template for an 11′ screen in setting that up. And by the way – this is not the only model of laptop with a small screen.

So web designers please please please! On your next redesign test – with ads – on a small screen. I really want to read  your content.

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Twitter Basics; Tools

twitterbasics3_cropThere are lots of tools for using twitter, some for tweeting and scheduling tweets, some add greatly to existing twitter functionality, others help you manage your followers, and some focus on data visualisation based on twitter’s data.

In generally they are using twitter’s API to pull publicly available data from twitter and presenting it to you in more useful ways.

I’ve tried a lot of tools over the years I’ve been using twitter and these are my favourites.

1; Tools for using Twitter

I am a fan of TweetDeck, I can manage multiple accounts from it, across multiple devices (I have an android phone and an iPad), and it provides multiple columns which is handy for specific searches and for any tweetchats that you join.

It will also let me schedule tweets. There are social media experts out there who say you shouldn’t schedule tweets, and there are examples where it has gone wrong. And there are social media experts who say you should (selectively) schedule tweets.

I do schedule some tweets, including my blog posts, but I schedule them for times where I am online, and able to respond to any interaction. I use TweetDeck for this.

Twitter now allows scheduling from company accounts, and their are other tools out there, Hootsuite is probably the most popular and it has the added advantage of giving you some analytics, although the most interesting data is only available for paid accounts. (See the advantages and disadvantages of Hootsuite).

2; Analysing Twitter

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 18.09.08I’ve used Tweroid, which tells you the best time to tweet based on when your followers are online and active.

My profile for weekdays is shown on the right, you can see activity drops off a cliff after 10pm, which is one reason I schedule tweets. It makes more sense to publish at 3 or 4pm than at 9am or 10pm.

This is something I check about once a month, the peak online time has got slightly later over the last year.  Possibly because I am involved in twitchats some evenings

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 18.28.05I’ve used twittercounter to check some analytics, in the free account you can get some basic statistics and three months worth of data.

The graph on the right shows followers vs following for my account over the last three months, you see that I’ve kept my following number close to my follower number. It’s also on a gratifyingly steady increase.

3; Managing Followers

I use to track my followers. I’ll generally follow back if the account looks like a real person who is tweeting genuine content, this tool helps me identify fake or inactive accounts. It also shows me who has followed or unfollowed me recently and lets me follow back (or unfollow) from within their application.

There’s another tool around that will validate followers for you called truetwit. I haven’t used it but have been asked to validate my account by people who are using it. Most days I only get a few new followers so it’s easy enough to validate them myself, but I can imagine for those on very popular accounts who want to ensure their followers are real, this would be a time saver.

4; Measuring Reach

If you need to know how far your tweets reach Twitonomy will give you an overview of how your tweets perform. Tweetreach will track how far a single tweet reached, how many times it was retweeted and how much exposure it ultimately got.  Hashtracking will track how far a single hashtag reaches.

For detailed analysis of your twitter reach you’ll need to pay for a premium service (I haven’t reached that level yet).

5; Visualising Data From Twitter

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 21.57.23To see who is tweeting around the world there’s  A World of Tweets, which generates a real time heat map of who is tweeting around the world.

It also ranks countries by tweet volume since it started producing data in 2010. The USA is first, but perhaps more surprisingly Brazil comes in second. Netherlands comes in eighth – producing 2.8% of tweets. Not bad for a country with a population of just under 17 million people.

Visible tweet has a cool animation of tweets on a subject of your choice, but not really useful information beyond that. If you want to know where your own twitter followers are then Tweep Maps.

6; Archive Tweets

One of my favourite ways to store twitter conversations is Storify, it allows you to curate a story timeline based on a hashtag, keyword or contributor names. The story is then available for anyone to read with links retained, plus when you publish it all the people whose tweets you’ve collected receive a notification, which is kind. I’ve used it for various events, here’s one from a PR and social media event last year.

This post comes with a caveat, the market of twitter tools is changing, I went through this list of Twitter tools from two years ago and found that 30% of the tools don’t exist anymore.

Let me know your favourite tools in the comments.

Next week; how companies can use twitter.


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Measuring your Enterprise Social Network

Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 22.00.15 That’s not a gratuitous image of chocolate cake; that’s how you need to think about measuring your Enterprise Social Network.

There should be three layers in your measurement, and no single measurement tells you enough about the performance of the platform. You need to think beyond activity measurements to content value and business value.


Activity measurements are generally automated data collected from the enterprise social network, they may include;

  1. number of people signing up
  2. number of visits
  3. completed profiles
  4. posts/questions
  5. responses
  6. communities opened
  7. community activity

In general these measures are used to improve your enterprise social network; either the platform itself or your adoption programme. Here are a couple of examples;

If the signup rate to your brand new enterprise social network is really low; the most likely explanation is a lack of awareness that your enterprise social network exists. Remedial action might be adding information and links to the intranet home page, or using an off-line campaign.

Use the user activity measures to find early adopters who can act as ambassadors in their business or perhaps take on a community management rule. Look at the most flourishing communities to find patters to copy in other communities which have a similar purpose.

Activity measures are all good useful measures, but they’re not enough.

Perhaps your activity measure tell you that a community is wildy active, with new members every day and a lot of posts and comments. Great stuff you think. Then you look at the community, and find that it’s a community where colleagues can share photos of their pets. It’s not bad to have social communities on your enterprise social network, but you probably didn’t build it for kittens. This is where evaluating content value comes in.

Content Value

This can’t be automated, someone must look at conversations and communities and evaluate the value generated. They will look at whether the conversation involves finding expertise, answering questions, supporting a work process, generating new ideas or sharing knowledge. The more those behaviours are shown, the more value the community has.

Business Value

A further level of measurement is business value; to what extent to activities on the enterprise social network have an impact on your company’s bottom line. It could be cost savings, reduction in email, effective innovation or improvements in service. You can often quantify this improvement in euros, dollars or the currency of your choice.

For example one company used communities on their Enterprise Social Network as service channels, they managed to reduce the average time taken to answer internal service enquiries from 8 days to a few hours, the impact on customers was that their applications were approved (or at least decided on) faster. That’s got to be good for business.

Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed that I haven’t mentioned ROI (Return on investment), some people believe that as we don’t ask for ROI on other work tools such as email we shouldn’t ask for it on this. I see their point. Others point to how difficult it is to calculate ROI for a platform, for me that’s the real issue. The benefits of an Enterprise social networks tend to be a lot of small wins in the initial phases (except in one case I’ve seen which had a strong intergration with the company’s CRM systems). So you’d need to calculate and then add together all those small wins, it becomes a rather vexatious exercise. I found that talking about supporting business processes in an Enterprise Social Network and providing examples and data demonstrating business value was strongly persuasive, possibly more effective than an assumption-ridden ROI calculation.

Image; Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake / Kimberley Vardeman / CC BY 2.0

This post is part of a chapter on risk from the book I am writing called “The ESN Playbook

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3 More Twitter Basics

twitterbasics2_cropLast week I wrote about 3 Twitter Basics, this week I want to take a look at some slightly more advanced ways to get going with Twitter.

I’ll cover what content to think about in your tweets, when to tweet and building a following. I’m posting here based on several years of tweeting for myself and for my (former) company.

I encourage you to get in and try twitter, the more you practise the more you’ll learn.

1: Your Tweets

I try to balance my content between commenting on things I’ve found on the internet, publishing my own content and interacting with other people. I am probably tweeting most prolifically at conferences and events. I’ve also used it to comment on television programmes (Apprentice and Dragon’s Den in particular). Increasingly I use it to interact with brands – sometimes to to thank them, but more often to get support. Here’s my how to for all of these content types.

Your own content – I write this blog and connect it to my twitter account, meaning that every post is publicised on twitter the moment it’s published. This has an advantage because wordpress lets you schedule posts, meaning your tweet goes at the same time.

I’ll also post personal observations, as I’m often in random locations to write there tends to be a coffee theme.

Events – I tweet a lot at conferences and other events, my twitter feed often becomes my “notes” after the event. It’s also a good way to find other people who tweet relevant content, and conversely a good way for other people to find you.

Other people’s content
Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 19.41.37- As well as using twitter I see a lot of articles, blogs and videos online every day. If I’m sharing a tweet I tend retweet it to give the source credit.

If I find content some other way I will make a new tweet with my own comment. I try to credit the source so if I know a relevant twitter handle I will add it, as shown in the tweet at right.

I want people to credit me when they share my content so it’s only fair I do the same.

Second Screen – There’s a phenomenon going on where people watch TV, while interacting via a social media platform. I sometimes do this, mostly during the BBC shows “Apprentice” and “Dragon’s Den”. It’s fun, although it can be an opportunity to snark.

Chat sessions – Twitter chats are a way to have an open discussion on twitter, at a specific time and usually structured via a series of questions.

I’ve been involved in the #ESNchat, about enterprise social networks, but they cover every subject from architecture to yoga, from cakes to veganism. I’ve found a twitter chat schedule, with the appropriate hashtag, of course you can also start your own.

Interaction with others – Don’t be shy – twitter become more useful and more fun the more you interact. Just use the @someone function, or reply to their tweets. Most often the person responds. Sometimes good stuff comes from it.

Interaction with brands – Many brands offer a service channel via twitter (or facebook), and customers expectations have grown regarding the responsiveness and the content of the response.

I’ve had mostly good experiences when I’ve used these channels, although I think that in some companies they solve the problem for me on the day, but don’t actually solve the problem over all (Gatwick Express was one example, they explained that I couldn’t book home-print tickets on the day of travel. But no commitment to change an illogical anti-customer practice.)

2: Building a following

Only people following you will see your content (unless you use the @someone function to address a person specifically), so if you’re sharing content you need to build a following of people to share it with and to interact with. Of course if you’re just using twitter to discover information then this isn’t so important, you can just focus on finding people to follow.

Most people will follow you back, unless they’re in the stratosphere of the twitterati, where the follow back rate is typically less than one percent (of the top twenty on twitter by number of followers only Britney Spears and Barack Obama are above 1%). I tell you this to manage expectations.

So the best thing you can do is follow people you find relevant and interesting. If you do this slowly and steadily your follower number will grow.

DO NOT follow hundreds and hundreds of people each day, ( and do not unfollow hundreds and hundreds of people at once). You will look like an “aggressive follower” to twitter’s algorithm, which would then consider your account as likely to be spam. You also look less credible to potential followers, even humans think high follow to follower ratio looks spammy.

DO NOT buy followers, it goes against the twitter rules and it doesn’t really add anything to your account. You won’t see better content, and you won’t have a bigger real audience. All that happens is a bit of PR kudos for having so many followers – until someone looks closer and figures out millions of those followers are fake – then the PR turns negative.

3: Twitter Ettiquette

If you post something on Twitter it’s public, and permanent.

Don’t be the guy who tweets about his pay, don’t the sport’s fan that abuses players online, don’t threaten other twitter members,  think before you make a questionable joke. Check the public shaming site for more examples.

Twitter has moved to make reporting abusive behaviour on twitter easier, but there are still plenty of jerks around. Don’t be one.

Next Week; Twitter Tools (followed by companies on twitter)

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Hacking Your Education

I loved school/university, it was great for me because I have weird academic sponge for a brain. It’s not always a great experience for everyone, and for some students it gets in the way of their learning.

Dale Stephens, founder of UnCollege, is one of those students. With his parents’ permission he quit school at 12 and started educating himself. He talked about it at The Next Web Conference.

He’s concludes that “we can’t teach the skills for tomorrow based on the schooling techniques of yesterday”.

He’s not the only one to come to that conclusion, it’s exactly why Jame Welton started Coder Dojo which is an after school club that helps kids learn to code (over four hundred Dojos in 43 countries). And it’s part of the thinking behind Sugata Mitra‘s SOLEs and child-driven education.

He’s right about the economics of university as well, The Economist analysed the cost and benefit of university education in the US. They found that the cost of education per student has increased at five times the rate of inflation, while salaries have remained static (in dollar equivalents). In addition they cast doubts on the quality of the education citing federal research that found literacy levels in those with a college education declined from 1992 to 2003.

There is still value in that degree, without it your job opportunities are very limited. Many jobs that once required no formal qualifications, or perhaps a short vocational course, no hire degree candidates. That’s the Catch-22; a degree now proves you’re good enough for a job that doesn’t need a degree.

Initiatives like Uncollege and Coder Dojo are great, and they start to address the shortcomings of our current education system – that gap between what students need to learn and what teachers are able to teach. They also point to a more “apprenticeship” type of training, where the formal classroom training is limited and the real learning is on the job and under the eye of a Master. This is still somewhat the model used for the world’s best chefs; they are known by who they have worked with – not where they studied.

But they don’t necessarily cover that need for certification. There’s another option working to solve that; MOOCs, (Massive Open Online Course). There are a number of credible organisations providing courses online, Coursera is probably the biggest. I worked with eLearning for about five years, and it’s great to see the technology is finally catching up with the dream.

Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 18.14.34

 The old model of school | university or tertiary training | work | retirement is being eroded. If our formal education isn’t preparing us for work effectively, our work is requiring us to learn and to keep learning, and given the changes in my financial fortunes I won’t ever retire in the sense my parents used.

So what does the future hold? That concept of lifelong learning is going to become increasingly important, we’re going to need

  • on-the-job short courses – almost instant education – to support us at work
  • anywhere/anytime courses for deeper knowledge and personal development
  • a buffet of courses, a lot of jobs need a range of skills and knowledge to balance a depth of expertise, sometimes referred to as T-shaped
  • a balance between solo study, online collaboration, and real life interaction in our training

And we’re all going to need an appetite to learn more, the ‘growth mindset’ that Dale Stephens mentions. But this all means that my niece and nephews, now at the beginning of their education, may begin their careers without sinking four years into classroom lectures.

Image: MOOC Poster / Mathieu Plourde/ CC BY 2.0

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3 Twitter Basics

twitterbasics1_cropA question came up on another forum about using twitter, so I decided to put together a short guide to help people get started.

Twitter is a micro-blogging service available online or via various apps. It was created in 2006, but real growth in user numbers didn’t start until early 2009 which is about when I joined, a year later I started a company account which I ran for about two years.

I use my personal account (@changememe) to find new content, to post my own content (I will be tweeting this blog post), interact in regular chats and to share things I’ve found online. I’ve met new people, solved service issues, and been invited to speak at a conference via twitter. For me it’s been a positive experience and I use twitter every day. Here’s the basics to get started, I’ll make another post next Monday with some more advanced tips.

1: Your profile

There are a few things you need to figure out when setting up  your profile, if it’s a brand new account it will have the new format, if it’s an old account it will soon have the new format so I will focus on that here.

Your twitter handle – essentially what are you going to call yourself. The maximum length is 15 characters, but shorter is better particularly when it comes to retweets. You can only use letters, numbers and the underscore (_), you can change your name at any time. With millions of users a lot of the “obvious” twitter names are already in use so you will have to come up with something new; there’s a tool to help you with that.

If you are a company and someone has the twitter handle of your company name you may need to come up with a creative version of your company name. Exceptions are when the account is being used as a spam account, or when the account is inactive.

Your avatar – the picture beside your name. Twitter recommends an image size of 400px x 400px, this means it will look good on your profile page and be resized for all other uses. I suggest checking how it looks after upload though – you still want it to look good in the 73px x 73px as it appears in the stream.

Not uploading an avatar means you’ll get an anonymous silhouette image, some people won’t follow accounts that have not bothered to upload an avatar.

Header image – the large image appearing at the top of your profile page. The dimensions for this are 1500px x 500px, but you do have an opportunity to resize and adjust the image after uploading.

Describe yourself – you can add your real name, location and a website link. You can also describe yourself in 160 characters or less, you can use hashtags in this space as well if you want to link to a theme of content.

For personal accounts there seems to be a trend to mix the professional, the personal and the humorous or surprising, as exemplified on Madeleine Albright‘s current twitter profile. Some companies try to follow this pattern, oreo manages to add humour to their profile.


2: Conventions for tweeting

Once you’ve got your profile set up it’s time to take a deep breath and start tweeting. Here’s a few things you need to know to get started.

@someone – beginning a tweet with someone’s user name means your tweet is brought to that person’s attention. So if you send a tweet with @changememe in it, I will see it in my notifications. This is important because I don’t watch my twitter stream all the time and if you don’t use this method I probably won’t see your tweet.

The dot – if you begin a tweet with the “@” sign the tweet will only land in the stream of the person (or people) you’ve mentioned. If you put something before the “@”, a full stop for example, the tweet will more widely seen.

Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 23.23.01 Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 23.29.58
Seen by @josecelades, he gets a notification. Seen by people who follow both @josecelades and me.  Seen by everyone who follows me (and @josecelades still gets a notification)

Hashtags – these are ways of adding a subject to your tweet, simply put “#” in front of the word you want to connect to. Twitter users use hashtags to find relevant information, to have conversations and to add humour to a tweet. They’ve also been used for political effect, as I write this #YesAllWomen is trending.

RT/MT/HT – the most common is “RT”, which means I’m retweeting someone else’s tweet. You can now retweet from the twitter platform, which gives a nicer format to the retweet, but the tweet remains the same.

MT is short for “modified tweet”, a rather rare cousin of the RT. It’s used if you’ve altered the original tweet in some way. I do this if I’ve taken a tweet in Dutch and am retweeting it in English for example.

HT is short for “hat tip”, it’s a nice way of giving credit to a fellow tweeter or other source.

In all cases you should include the username of the original sender, and when you do this it shows up in their notifications.

3: Who to follow?

When you first join twitter it seems weirdly empty, until you start following people. Here are some ways to find people to follow.

Search hashtags – search for hashtags relating to your interests or your company interests, when you see some tweets of interest follow whoever tweeted them. Conferences are a fertile ground for this as they will often use a specific hashtag making your search easier. In addition the audience has already identified themselves as being interested in that theme, and the posting frequency is high for the duration of the conference.

Find Experts – who are the leaders in your industry? who would be the most influential thinkers? look for their twitter accounts, you’ll have an instant stream of content if it happens to be Guy Kawasaki.

Follow people those experts follow – or the people who are interacting and retweeting their content a lot.

I always do a quick check of the person’s profile and recent tweets before clicking the follow button, I don’t want to follow any fake accounts and I generally avoid the crazies.

Follow people back – as you start adding content to twitter and interacting with others people will start to follow you, it’s polite to follow back.

OK, that’s the basic “how to” next week; constructing a good tweet, building a following, tools for twitter use. Also fakers, trolls and scams.

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