I wrote this article to submit to article sites with the goal of driving traffic, spreading awareness and further establishing Out-Smarts expertise. Its longer than our usual blog posts and contains lots of juicy details on micro blogging for anyone wondering how to best use it for business purposes. Enjoy!
Microblogging is quickly becoming one of the most popular technologies on the Internet with adoption of tools like Twitter growing at an exponential rate.
As the number of people using these technologies grows, the way people take advantage of them is becoming more sophisticated: they are being used more and more as a business tool. This article explains what microblogging is and introduces the most popular microblog sites. It discusses how these are being used from a business and marketing perspective and provides tips on safe and effective use of these forums.
What is a Microblog?
Microblogs are very simple internet technologies that allow users to post short statements or sentences, usually limited to 140 characters on a central site. The post can be made available to anyone or only to a chosen audience. Much like the Facebook status box these services were used initially as a forum to share triviality (like what was for breakfast) with a wide audience but people quickly tired of the banality and now the way microblogs are used is becoming more sophisticated.
Sometimes seen as a factor in the evolution of blogging, micro blogs are, as the name suggests, like mini blogs in that they allow you to post information and streams of consciousness and make these available to the world over the Internet. Unlike a blog, however, a microblog doesn’t have unlimited room for creativity – you are forced to get to the point.
By far the largest microblog is Twitter (according to Hitwise in Australia alone the popular microblog grew by over 500% new users in one calendar month this summer). Twitter was founded in 2006 and quickly gained attention by winning a prestigious South by South West Blog award in the spring of 2007. Although the site is growing at a tremendous rate, the user volume is still very small in comparison to social networking behemoths like MySpace. Using a simple clean interface, users can get set up and start Twittering really easily.
Another microblog technology that is growing in popularity is Plurk. Plurk differs from Twitter in that it provides a more visual “timeline” interface showing your “Plurks” and those you are following on a time sheet-style screen. Just launched in May this year, Plurk is a little more complex than Twitter to use but once you get the hang of it, it definitely appeals to those left brained people among us.
The omnipresent Google of course has its own version of a microblog which they obtained in late 2007. Jaiku has since been closed to new users as they beta test the latest version (which seems very visually appealing with a nice map interface). Request a beta invite to try it out.
The other major player in the microblog scene is Pownce. This one is very similar to Twitter in its look and feel but it has more capabilities in terms of being able to share files and events. Also Pownce doesn’t limit you to 140 characters so you can add more detail to your posts.
Newcomers in the field Spoink promote microblogging by phone from wherever you happen to be. Nothing new in that since most of the other offerings allow you to post from your mobile but what is different about Spoink is that it features the ability to podcast from anywhere. This is one to watch.
Microblogging for Business
Now that we know more about microblogs and the tools in this arena, let’s take a look at how companies and individuals are using microblogs to benefit their businesses.
The first thing any company or professional should do is to ask themselves: is a microblog pertinent to my business? are my peers using this service? and, more importantly, are my customers either using or listening (monitoring these forums) to microblogs? The early microblog adopters tended to be the youth market and the tech community but more and more mainstream professionals and companies are becoming active as time goes on. If you decide that your audience is applicable then the benefits of microblogging actively are numerous:
- A microblog presence is a stellar way to establish expertise and build awareness of what you or your company does. Build your brand by regularly posting on your subject area. Remember to add your logo and branding to the design of your microblog page and link to back to your blog if you have one so that your microblog contacts are aware of it and can click to read more. Threadless, the T shirt company that has made social media marketing an art form uses Twitter (@threadless) to update their audience regularly in this way.
- Microblogs are a great way to expand your network and build your contacts. To do so share neat links and always add value for your followers, if you do this effectively you can sit back and watch your contacts expand.
- Microblogs provide a good source for the latest information in your industry – if you’re following the right people, that is. Be cognizant of this as you add friends. Check out posts and look for those that add value, are industry luminaries or are using the forum in innovative ways. Network with peers in your industry to develop your knowledge and to build better partnerships.
- Microblogs are shorter than blogs and more concise so if you only have a few moments you can hone in on the juicies more readily. If you don’t have time to blog but still have something pressing you want to share, microblogs are a great way to do this quickly and effectively.
- Microblog technology can be used to expand the reach of your service and spread word quickly. An example is the police and fire services using Twitter to get the word out in emergency cases. The Los Angeles Fire Department (@LAFD) uses Twitter to spread fire related Tweets to interested parties.
- By linking or announcing new articles or changes to your site from a microblog you can drive more traffic to your site. Twitter is now the 4th largest driver of traffic to the Out-Smarts blog.
- Use microblogs for research by monitoring what’s being said about your product or industry so you can keep ahead of the pack. It’s also an excellent medium to elicit feedback on an issue you need more information on or are in the dark about. Tweetscan is a very simple tool that facilitates listening.
- Some companies are using microblog technology too collaborate on projects with decentralised participants or colleagues in short blasts. The CBC recently did this to great effect on Twitter during the Canadian federal election and were able to incorporate feedback from Twitterers on the ground in many constituencies.
- While direct selling on microblogs is discouraged, many companies use it to bring awareness of the existence/benefits of their products and services to new markets or to provide customer service updates. Whole Foods (@wholefoods), an organic food chain headquartered in Texas does exactly that whilst adding value by Twittering on community events and organic topics too.
Effective Twittering Tips
I have it on good authority that the Twitter microblog site is this year’s web 2.0 tool of choice for net savvy professionals to communicate with and grow their networks. Here are some tips for you to use to tweak your “tweets” and get more out of your Twitter presence:
- Add value – don’t just spout off about boring stuff. Nobody is interested in what color shoes you are wearing (maybe your underwear but definitely not your shoes!).
- Use TinyURL or a similar url abbreviation tool to shorten the length of url links in your Twitter posts so they fit in the 140 character limit.
- Don’t spam or sell.
- Friends and Followers – be selective about who you follow. Before you follow someone, check out their recent Tweets to see if they are of interest to you before you add them (they may not be of interest at all). If someone starts following you, don’t automatically add them and follow – take a look at the number of followers they have compared to their following If someone is following way more people than they have followers then it may be best to avoid them. They could be “Follow Spammers” more interested in gaining exposure than in finding interesting Tweets.
- Don’t let Twitter suck up too much of your time – it can be very distracting. Instead schedule it in to your week and spend a few minutes each day updating and enjoying.
- Limit the number of people you follow to avoid Twitter information overload. If you’re following too many people, you might miss that gem of information.
- Use Twitterfeed to feed your blog to Twitter.
- Monitor the Tweetosphere and make sure you are aware of anyone who mentions you so that it comes to your attention and you can be ready to counter any adverse Twittering. Use Tweetscan to monitor what is being said about you or your company on Twitter.
- Don’t click on a link from anyone you don’t know or trust. Many Twitterers use TinyURL or similar to shorten URLs (I do) but this camouflages the true source so you don’t know what you’re clicking on. These could be disguised links to potentially dangerous sites or viral downloads so be careful.
- Read the Twitter blog for updates and information on malware and spam issues.
- Secure your Twitter name. Get a Twitter profile in your business name before someone else does.
- Use common sense when Twittering and remember that most of these announcements can be seen by anyone and everyone. You don’t really have to announce that you’re away from home.
- If someone you’re following overloads you with spam then use the Twitter block at the right of the side panel to block them and let Twitter know too.
- Call on the community. If something adverse does happen then make your community aware of it. You will be amazed at the support, advice and action of the collective.
If you decide that your business can benefit from microblogging, participation in these sites can really impact your online marketing efforts, drive more traffic to your site and increase brand awareness. Before you start microblogging, take some time to check out the different offerings to find out which is best for you. Once you choose, schedule time to microblog and grow your contacts and always look to add value and tell your community something they don’t know. If you decide to hold off on microblogging for now, keep this on your radar: with its speedy user adoption rate. It’s only a matter of time before, like social networks, these become mainstream.