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The Only Rule of Twitter: Be True To Yourself

Mike Sweeney | January 7, 2010

It’s been three weeks since I wrapped up teaching a course covering Interactive Marketing at Georgetown’s School of Continuing Studies.  The topic for our last session was a doozy – social media, and in particular how social media can be used to achieve business or career-related objectives.

I saved Twitter for the latter part of the lecture, thinking that its stature as the hottest and yet most misunderstood social media property would generate some lively discussion.  I started with a very simple question:

Who here uses Twitter either personally or professionally?

Of the 18 students, 6 hands went up.  That’s it.  Only one-third of a group of mostly young professionals using Twitter?  And here I thought Twitter, much like an iPhone, was a status badge for the 20 – 40 something marketing professional crowd.  The follow-up question was an obvious one:

OK.  For those of you who don’t use Twitter, why not?

And the responses:

Student 1:  I already have Facebook, I don’t need another one. (I don’t even need the first Facebook.)

Student 2:  I don’t need to know what everyone is eating for breakfast. (Ah…the most common refrain from anti-Twitter folks.)

Student 3: I don’t have the time.  Who does? (As it turns out, quite a few…like in the millions.)

Student 4: I see these people – professionals – that tweet all day.  Sometimes every half hour, sometimes every 5 minutes.  How the hell does a person generate income when they’re tweeting their day away?  (I love this one, and often wonder the same thing.)

These responses generated a lot of side chatter and giggles.  As the Twitter-bashing calmed, I made the following statement:

You guys are absolutely right.  Twitter is not for everyone, and not built for every purpose.  However, at this moment, the business value of Twitter – if used appropriately – is indisputable.  That may change as Twitter goes through the typical flooding stage, but again right now the business value is indisputable.

Wow, I just got queasy writing that.  Did I really just represent that a business or a businessperson using Twitter is the proverbial “no brainer”?

That’s the thing.  It’s not a no-brainer if you follow the Twitter 101 type rules put forth by some of the tens of thousands of self-proclaimed social media gurus.  It can be a no brainer if Twitter is an extension of a sound marketing strategy, and if you (as an individual or an organization) stay true to the way you operate in a non-Twitter world.

That’s right.  Twitter is just a tool.  A very valuable tool, but just a tool.  If your Twitter strategy stands alone and is not integrated with a broader marketing strategy, you don’t have much of a Twitter strategy.

To illustrate, I am about to open the code on my very own, very complex Twitter strategy.  You too can acquire a whopping 250 (and dropping every second) followers by following these 5 simple rules:

1) I only use Twitter for business.  Ok, 90% for business.  An occasional tweet about Notre Dame or Gilbert Arenas slips in there, but those are generally weekend tweets, which I don’t encourage.  Why only business tweeting? I know the popular belief is that business and personal life blend together more than ever, and that may be true, but I don’t have to like it or support it.  And I don’t.  Twitter – in my world – is for business.

2) I follow folks in batches.  I’ll follow 10 – 20 new folks per week, just to see what they offer.  I also unfollow in batches, typically once a week.  As a matter of fact, I am about to do a New Year’s unfollowing batch, and here’s the charactertistics of folks that will get launched:

  • If you tweet too much, you’re likely out unless you’re an established business partner of mine.  Then I may put up with it.  I don’t like to talk to any one person 22 times a day, so why would I want to read that many tweets from one person?
  • If you do too much personal tweeting, you’re likely out.  Again, I use Twitter for business.  Some people tweet some very entertaining personal material, but I don’t use Twitter to keep up with anyone’s personal life.
  • If you’re clearly someone who is attempting to accumulate followers, you’re likely out.  While I don’t think your mission is unethical, mean-spirited or even bad business practice, it’s not for me.  Of course I check my follower count, but I’d rather have 5 of the right people paying attention to me than 25,000 of the wrong people.
  • If you tweet the same thing out 3-4 times in the same day, you’re likely out.  I don’t even want my closest friends to tell me the same story 3-4 times in a day, so why would I want to check out the Sir-Tweet-A-Lots.

3) I tweet only when I feel compelled to.  I don’t have any rules for it, other than only tweeting when I have something to say, something to distribute, and the time to tweet.  While I’ll never go as long as a week without a tweet, I don’t have any rules for tweet volume.  I eat 3 meals per day.  Ok, sometimes 4.  I exercise at least 3 times per week, more if I am lucky.  I tweet…well, whenever I have something to tweet, as I stated above.

4) I won’t tweet about where I am or what I am doing, unless it’s somehow relevant to a business situation or truly worthy of sharing.  I tweeted about sitting in traffic on the way from Baltimore to Northern Virginia once, and I got reemed.  Point taken – no one cares (except my wife, who was waiting for me to bring home dinner.)

5) I acknowledge useful material from others with retweets.  I always read the article or post before retweeting.  If I retweet something, it’s like referring business.  I will only retweet if I trust the material will not disappoint.

That’s it.  Those are my rules for handling Twitter.  And those are only my rules.  I would not encourage anyone else to follow those exact rules.  When we incorporate Twitter into a marketing plan for a client, we generate these same types of rules, but those rules are completely dependent on the goals of the business and/or the individuals associated with that business.

Tweet On Your Own Terms. If you think of it that way, Twitter won’t seem like such a puzzle.  You may even decide not to use it at all.  And guess what?  That’s fine.  You and your business will still survive.

Thanks to my class for inspiring this post, and to Geoff Livingston and his recent post – Tweet To Your Own Drummer – for reminding me to write it.

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