Thursday, March 19, 2009

Rockin' Robin - The Rise of Social Media in Business Marketing

Have you heard of tweeting? Twittering? Tweeps? All of these and many more are terms that have been added to the internet lingo by Twitter, one of a burgeoning group of free social media service websites now being used by more than six million people around the world. The basic principle is simple – network with other ‘Tweeps’ (users of Twitter) and express what you want to say in 140 characters or less – but the effects are proving to be far more wide-ranging than one would expect.

Twitter has recently become very well known due to a few key events: some of the first eyewitness reports of the U.S. Airways plane that landed in the Hudson River were from Twitter, prominent politicians have been seen using it during meetings, speeches, and conferences, and Twitter was heavily utilized during the most recent presidential campaign. Courtesy of this micro-blogging service, news is being spread even more rapidly.

People from all walks of life are now using Twitter every day. Entrepreneurs, news anchors, bands, politicians, artists, business owners, students … All of these and many more are utilizing tweeting (posting on the Twitter website) as a networking and information tool. Charitable organizations are using it - today there is a push for Share our Strength, an organization aiming to reduce child hunger. They are trying to raise $12,000 in 12 hours using Twitter alone - currently they are five hours in and they have almost reached they goal.

An increasing number of big corporations are using Twitter now as well – HP, Microsoft, American Express, and Dell are just a few. In fact, when a coworker recently tweeted about our recent post involving UPS’s ‘no left-turn’ innovation, she was contacted by a UPS employee whose job it is to monitor UPS appearing in social media!

In the three years since its creation, Twitter has become one of the go-to places for entrepreneurs and business owners to learn about, network, and market their businesses. Social media and marketing experts are cropping up all over the place with ways to help streamline this process. People co-promote with each other and people who give good advice, are entertaining, or have some other valuable service are generally recommended to more and more people.

I just started using Twitter about a month or so ago after having heard more and more about it. I currently have about 500 followers, from a wide range of groups – many are total strangers, some are friends or family, others are business contacts. It is easy to get lost in what Twitter offers; an endless stream of interesting stories, blurbs, and thoughts from hundreds of people can be difficult to get away from. Generally, I’ve found it best to simply play the fly on the wall and jump in with a comment if I hear something interesting, or to ask a question of my followers and the ‘twitterverse’ as they come up.

While Twitter and similar social media are becoming increasingly good ways to make business connections, you have to be careful to avoid some basic pitfalls. The hard sell is incredibly unpopular on the site and will lose your credibility faster than virtually anything else. Twitter is meant to be used in a more organic fashion – by building a reputation with other users, they will be driven to use your products or services over time. Another thing to avoid is considering the number of followers you have as a popularity contest; rather than quantity, try to go for the quality of the people you interact with and make better content.

All in all, Twitter is becoming a fairly powerful tool for marketing, networking, and business development. Websites are easy to promote, especially if they have good content. There are numerous external applications that make it even easier to use (for example, one program allows you to search for key phrases in recent tweets – you can find out who is talking about small business government contracting, for example, and start a discussion!) and these can help reduce the time spent on it each day.

Don’t get overwhelmed – Twitter isn’t something that has to be used 24/7! This dynamic word-of-mouth advertising format has made marketing even easier to do, as long as you monitor what you are doing. Just remember that to get anything from it, you will have to give time, effort, and a little bit of yourself, just as you would in any other format.

If you’d like, you can always find Gateway to Government representatives on Twitter. My name is JIstvan and let me know when you get on! LauraGuthrie, my aforementioned coworker, is also worth following - she is a social media expert!

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