Twitter can be a challenge, if you don’t understand ‘community’. If you don’t get it, you’re as good as blind
Twitter is a funny platform. In some ways, I’m surprised it has lasted as long as it has. For specific things, I can see its relevance, but the profile of the brand doesn’t seem to match the resonance of engagement with it. In Australia there are 2.2 million Twitter accounts, up 60,000 in January. Interestingly and as a gauge, 73 per cent of Fortune 500 companies help to make up this number, and the chances are they have more than one account. It does make you wonder what the actual split is between individuals and corporations and if the hype is owed more to the desires of organisations desperately trying to stay relevant in the web 2.0 world.
As a communicator it presents an interesting dichotomy. You could say Twitter is the ultimate example of a medium where the reader has sovereign control. As a “Follower” you choose what you are interested in. As a micro-publisher on the other hand, you can’t really speak to any specific community. With the exception of the # there is no way to reach a target group, say if you wanted to simply reach SMBs who need mobile phones for example. On the other hand, Facebook has been working hard on being able to deliver this capability to organisations and communicators that have something specific to say to a defined audience.
It’s clear Twitter has its advocates. I’m not saying it’s useless. News has never travelled faster than on Twitter and the ‘trending’ visibility offers unprecedented insights into which messages are hot in different areas at any given time, but it is a little like having a conversation in a crowded pub – hard work. The problem is Twitter has created a jungle without a compass. There are some cool aggregators that help you, but to be honest, I think Twitter is indebted to them. Add to this user anonymity which further clouds the issue and the question remains… with 2.2 million accounts (individuals and organisations) spewing out information they just hope someone will be interested in, how can you Tweet so it is heard above all the other random noise. And even if you do, how do you build on that fleeting connection when your message is there one second and then gone the next?
It all comes down to how you define what a community is!
Everybody is different. As such, we all like to share and consume information differently. This means that sub-communities exist within target groups. You need to understand this if you want to make Twitter work for you, because even if you are targeting, for example SMBs looking for mobile options, using Twitter doesn’t guarantee you speak to the decision maker. You may however get to their staff who have a heavy influence on that decision maker. Stats vary, but those between 18-29 represent nearly double the usage rate compared to those aged 30-49. Of those aged between 18-24, 31 per cent are active Twitter users. It means your pitch is all important – use relevant language!
Communities define themselves. It’s not about how YOU segment, it’s about what OTHERS identify with and are drawn to. They are often better problem solvers than you, or your customer relations team. Let your communities discuss, debate and solve problems amongst themselves. They often prefer it. It’s often quicker and usually cheaper. As a Community Manager, you then interject and escalate where necessary, but more than that, act as a strategic conduit, not a tactical executer. Ie. you don’t just Tweet for the sake of it, you share relevant conversations back up into the organisation at the right junctures, so you can integrate the best ideas and perform in an even better, more customer-centric way moving forward.
What you want has more to do with fostering culture. A Twitter community is faceless, but the behaviour derived from the culture of your Followers gives you an understanding of whether you are actually engaging in a sustainable way with them. Engagement is measured in so many different ways, but it is generally self-serving. Behavioural attributes are harder to quantify, but far more helpful than key words, or reTweets. If you want to see how this might work, start with an incubator unit offline before diving in, because…
Your internal community matters. Having a good Community Manager makes a big difference, but the people that sit behind them are just as integral. Cultural traits are passed on through observation. Perhaps the greatest benefit of a good Community Manager is their ability to cultivate the community from within! They all form a part of your external persona. This is what brings Twitter to life!