The right and wrong ways to engage on Twitter

November 10, 2010
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We had a good laugh around the office today. A visitor to our workplace was working on a presentation and started laughing out loud; as part of his research he was checking up on the Twitter accounts of various fast food chains to see what they were doing to engage their customers.

The reason he laughed? This particular national fast food chain was Tweeting things like: “Our new 99 cent such-and-such is delicious and filled with 100% such-and-such”. I’ll spare the details that would identify the chain, but you get the idea. They were simply advertising via Twitter, which is about as uninteresting and boring as it gets. Who wants to see that in their Twitter stream?

We were laughing about how bad it was, and my officemate had an idea: As a mild form of reprimand, and due to my cynical sense of humor, he suggested I reply.

I replied back: “Thanks so much for the fascinating information!”, which (and I admit this) was a snarky response.

But then, they replied with something even worse: “Even better! Our (insert other sandwich here) is also only 99 cents!”

It was so impersonal, it felt like it may as well have been a bot.

This is an extreme example, and of course I was baiting them, but the overall point is this: Engagement via advertisement on Twitter is exactly the wrong way to use the platform.

If you’re responsible for using Twitter as a form of outreach for a business, let’s consider some of the appropriate ways to use this powerful tool.

You should, first, and foremost, be interesting. One of the biggest jokes about Twitter is that “nobody cares what you’re eating for lunch.” Sometimes, however, people do care. If you’ve tried a fascinating new local restaurant or had an exceptional experience at a local retailer, there is nothing wrong with talking about that. People want to know about interesting and positive things you encounter during the day. It’s also appropriate to occasionally link your followers to interesting or informative things you’ve read, or re-Tweet some of the interesting people you follow.

Twitter is like a casual cocktail party. You can go in and mingle, laugh, tell a joke, shake some hands, listen to other interesting people, talk about your kids or your funny brother-in-law, and nobody will call you a jerk. Imagine, though, going into the same party and telling everyone about the deals you’re currently offering, over and over again. Nobody is going to want to be your friend.

Treat Twitter like a casual conversation and you’ll find that when you do have something of value to offer your network, they’ll sit up and listen because they trust you and they know you’re not only there to sell something. They follow you because they like you, and they’ll buy from you for the same reason.

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