I’ve been on Twitter for (logs on to personal twitter account and looks at history) for four months and nine days as of today. So even though I wasn’t an early adopter to the service, I definitely have been on for long enough to as where I am really starting to see some trends in use and misuse of Twitter.
As stated in an earlier post, I have been working online in one way or another for a long time now – and much of that time has involved some sort of marketing. For this reason, I find Twitter to be fascinating. Basically what it comes down to is a way to really build yourself as a “brand,” regardless of whether you’re using Twitter to communicate with friends or complete strangers. Not only is it a system where you can microblog your life, but it’s kind of a public chat room as well as a status update (I used to do a very similar thing with custom “away” messages on ICQ – but those were only visible by my friends).
When I started using Twitter I viewed it as just that – a quick update as to what I was currently doing. I didn’t have any followers at first, other than a few friends, but it was satisfying posting what I was up to. Eventually I switched over to ping.fm (and am currently using SocialThing) to update my status across all services (Facebook, MySpace, Jaiku, Twitter, etc.) As more strangers started to follow me, however, it became clear that there is a lot more going on with Twitter than updating people on what you are doing.
What I soon realized is that Twitter really is one of the best methods for defining yourself as a brand. People see what you are doing, they see what you are thinking, and they see what is important to you based simply on what you can say in 140 characters or less (per post). There’s great opportunity in that, but there’s also great danger. The opportunity itself lies in the ability to connect and share thoughts and information with like-minded individuals, but also in defining who you are as a public figure. The danger comes from the same place. Sometimes it’s best to keep your thoughts to yourself, especially on the Internet where nothing really ever goes away.
Using Twitter solely as a personal branding tool, however, can be harmful as well. If you try too hard to portray yourself as one way or another, it’s easy for others to spot it. Keep posting about the same topics, pushing your products or service, etc. and people will know when you’re posing – and they’ll plain stop paying attention (or ditch you altogether). Then again, if you’re using Twitter to connect with people with whom you don’t already have a personal relationship, you need to post more than “at starbucks waiting for my latte.”
This is where I have personally struggled in the past, but I think I am getting the hang of it now. It’s extraordinarily easy to keep posting promotional stuff, hoping someone will re-tweet it, and voila: instant popularity. Of course this isn’t the case, but when you’re working with short little 140 character posts it can be easy to lose that perspective. This is why I am actually quite happy I use services like SocialThing and Ping.fm – they help me remember that when I post a regular update I’m posting to my friends – whether I personally know them or not. It’s showing up in my facebook and myspace, where my less-technological friends hang out, as well as to the more fringe applications like Twitter (let’s face it, as popular as Twitter is, it’s no Facebook).
Like I said earlier though, if you are using Twitter as a communications tool where you really do want to build yourself as a brand, it’s important to write to both your personal friends and your “network” friends. To do this, it’s extremely important to offer something of value. It’s no different than running a business or trying to sell a product – you need to have a reason for people to care and buy in. If you can do so – and you honestly have something worthwhile to say, people will pay attention and eventually follow.
The wrong way to get followers is to follow. It’s easy to find people who might be big influencers, and who could get your message out to everyone (the voila! moment). It’s even easier to click that “follow” button and pray that the person on the other end does the same when they get the email saying you’re following them. The thing to keep in mind though is that Twitter is not a popularity contest. It really doesn’t matter how many people follow you – what matters is who follow you. Are they paying attention to what you have to say? If so, is it benefiting them? Again, if you’re offering something worthwhile, you’ll spread like wildfire, since Twitter really is the epitome of viral.
So my suggestion to all of you is to remember this: Be yourself.
Share the knowledge you have. Ask the questions you need to ask. Post that you’re waiting in line for a latte. Be real and be useful. Be funny and be tragic. People follow people on twitter not because they want to be sold something, but rather because they want to know you. Let them into your life and share a real connection, and you’ll transcend being a brand – you’ll be much more.
P.S. This applies to you corporations out there as well.