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SEO Website Audit

Is Twitter for the Birds?

August 13, 2008

Today's guest article comes to us from my friend and long-time HRA subscriber Jim Spencer, founder of JBS Partners  – a website design and marketing firm in Winchester, MA, that serves small business and solo entrepreneurs. I met Jim in person at a SEMNE (Search Engine Marketing New England) event. Since then we've kept in touch at other events, including our SEO Luncheon last month.

It was at the luncheon where we got to talking about Twitter, as I had seen a lot of "Tweets" from Jim there. As he began to tell the group about his Twitter experiences, I realized it would make a great article for the HRA, because I'm pretty sure many of you have either not tried Twitter yet, or perhaps tried and thought it was "for the birds."

If you fall into either of those categories, or even if you're a Twitter pro, I think you may learn something from this article. I know I did!

So without further ado, take it away, Jim...


++Is Twitter for the Birds?++

I surely thought so after creating my Twitter account back in early 2007. As an entrepreneur, I find that time and resources need to be well targeted and purposeful. I could see no purpose as I stared at the blank screen. This was not a resource for me.

Today, I can confirm both customer and colleague relationships initiated through Twitter as well as many friendships and even money in the bank. Here is how that all changed, after a Twitter primer.

What is Twitter?

Twitter falls into the category of social media applications. This communication tool allows you to keep in touch through short messages that can be sent to many people instantly.

You can update three ways: to all subscribers, directed to one person, or sent privately to one person. Updates are 140 characters maximum. (As a reference, the text immediately preceding this parenthetical note is 139 characters long.)

When you first open your account you are missing the most important component of a useful Twitter account – people whom you follow and people who follow you.

How do you find people to follow?

Below are six suggestions for finding people to follow, but first a little business-focused contemplation. Think about your purpose and motive. This will help you focus on following the right kind of people. Two important business questions are:

Do you want to follow people with similar interests, in the same industry?


Do you prefer to develop a group of followers who will benefit from your products or services and possibly hire you?

Most people tend to reciprocate followers, so keep the Golden Rule in mind. Follow the kind of people whom you want to be followed by.

  1. Follow a couple of people you know, such as the person who introduced you to Twitter. Follow me @fairminder
  2. Follow their friends. Observe conversations and then choose new followers from among the people others are talking with.
  3. Upload your contact list to Twitter to find people on Twitter whom you already know. Follow #2 above again.
  4. Visit TwitterPacks. It lists all kinds of Twitter folks according to special interest.
  5. Search on Twitter for your city or town name along with the state, and review profiles to find new people to follow.
  6. Visit this TweetScan. It's a more advanced twitter search site.

Number 2 above is a successful method because it includes some measure of social validation as you move from friend to friend of friend, rather than guessing whom to follow. You know the old saying, "Birds of a feather flock together"? It really does apply here.

What should you say?

Twitter is a microcosm of life and has the potential for an equally wide range of subjects to be shared.

Feel free to jump in and send an update to someone in response to an update that you read. Or simply answer the question that Twitter poses: "What are you doing now?" Keep it interesting and related to the purpose and motive you established earlier. What you read on Twitter may inspire you to start a new conversation.

Here is a small sampling of what you may find or contribute on Twitter.

  • Breaking news – News of the Chinese earthquakes hit Twitter long before traditional news outlets.
  • Interesting links to a photo, audio, video, website, blog, forum post and more.
  • Local meeting information – I enjoyed many meetings discovered on Twitter.
  • Messages of encouragement – Tragic personal news can generate condolences from around the globe.
  • Absolute rubbish – Not so interested that there are now three spiders on your wall.
  • Tech help – Many have received answers to tech questions right away.
  • Friendship – A listening ear, someone who will respond.
  • Weather updates – Timely, accurate reports from far and near.
  • Affinity groups – For example, fitness groups encouraging each other.
  • Sports scores – We love those Red Sox.
  • Reviews and recommendations – Comments on books, movies, products, etc.
  • Directions – You are likely to get a helpful reply from a local.
  • Polls – Simple polls that gather interesting information.
  • Discounts and special offers – People and companies send out both.

So what happened with me?

I followed people, wrote updates, joined conversations, offered sports scores and website-related advice, asked for technology help and sought out talented people to help serve the needs of my clients. It was especially fun when I later met Twitter friends in real life. Now the Following and Followers numbers on my account are approaching 1,000.

What most people seem to be interested in is how money was made through Twitter. It began by sending a helpful update that was well received.

Shannon sent an update that said, "Hey, check out this website I just designed." I did and then sent along a few suggestions for improvement. Shannon said he really appreciated these suggestions. Keep in mind that his update was not directed at me and I didn't know him then. It simply went zipping by at a time when I was "on Twitter."

In fact, he asked me to be an advisor on his next project. I agreed and he was so pleased that he paid me 50% more than he had originally offered. He subsequently went so far as to write an unsolicited blog post recommending my services. Wow, all this born out of 140 characters.

As the conversation expands, it is not out of the ordinary for it to move from Twitter to email, IM, telephone and in-person meetings.

Initially Twitter did seem like it was for the birds. I understood Twitter no more than I can understand the birds outside my window right now. Friendly folk on Twitter and in real life showed me otherwise.

I hope that you will also learn that Twitter is not for the birds, but a valuable tool for your business and social tool box. Come join the conversation! I promise to reply.

Jim Spencer
JBS Partners
"Fairminder" on Twitter

[Jill's comment: Thanks, Jim! My Twitter experience has been similar to Jim's. I think hardly anyone can grasp its potential the first few times they try Twitter. Most of us had to be convinced by other tweeters to give it another try, as well as to hear some of the ways in which it was useful and valuable. My hope is that you will give Twitter a 2nd or 3rd or 4th try after reading this article and have a better understanding of how you can use it. Oh, and please feel free to follow my Tweets. I'm up past 1,000 followers and it would be cool to hit 2,000! – Jill]


Post Comment

 Phil Campbell said:
Nice Post - while your at it follow me too! :) -
 Justin Seibert said:
Nice article, Jim and thanks to Jill for putting it up. It's been interesting to follow twitter as folks begin to get more comfortable (experimenting) with it. Not that the phenomenon is limited to twitter, but the one thing I'm still having trouble wrapping my brain around is folks like ijustine.
 Andy Komack said:
Jim - great article! I just referenced this article in a post I wrote in early June, titled "Something to Twitter About" (linked to your article from a comment box). I believe that my signature for this comment links directly to the post.

I was also (very) skeptical about the benefits of using Twitter for business when I started, but I've had enough positive experiences that I see value there. However, my volume of Tweets does not necessarily show this - I find it difficult to post things that are simple updates on my life, which is how many users build up a large twitter stream and gain a large number of followers (which in turn gives them more reach when they DO want to make a business connection).
 Dr. Pete said:
Nice discussion of the business value, Jim. I just gave an impromptu talk on Twitter Saturday at an unconference, and people were amazed to hear about the networking value and how online conversations can drive offline relationships. This is just the tip of the iceberg, IMO.
 Rich Brooks said:

Good post; didn't know about TwiitterPacks until now. I found that Twitter really didn't take off as a biz tool for me until I got off the Web site and started using the stand alone apps. On my computer I prefer twhirl, and on my iPhone I use Twitterific b/c it was the first one I found. I also sometimes use so that I can post my status to the many social networks I've now joined. Twitter becomes much more interactive once you start using these tools. (And more of a time suck!)

I also wrote a "Twitter for Business" article a few months back. If anyone's interested in reading it, you can find it here:
 Jim Spencer said:
@Phil - you just crack me up. I am following you.

@Justin - Thanks for you note. The more use engage w/ people on Twitter the more sense it makes. Being hesitant is natural at first. I think the biggest risk is your time.

@Andy Thanks for your kind words and reference. I followed a lot of SEO's in the beginning expecting to learn a lot. Nada. There are a few nuggets, but rarely. Twitter primarily helps you to get to know people and for them to get to know you. If you don't share the little details, then ppl aren't getting to know you. Some ppl are shy, private or scared, that is ok too.

@Dr. Pete - Right on! Twitter and social media is the driving force behind many many new friends around the world for me. On the business side I have found more new talent to work with than customers, but I have found both.

@Rich There are a ton of interesting apps for Twitter. I will start writing more on my blog about them. I have hundreds bookmarked. I agree and chuckle about your comment. Me too! Your article has good value. Thanks.
 @eldevlin said:
Great article. I resemble this scenario (of starting out). I still have not found the value of this for business but I believe that is largely because what I do (presently) is such a unique niche market. (I have seen it work for other people's businesses.) Even so, Twitter is so much more than a marketing tool (as you've explained here.) I had received hardware & software help, found vendors, laughed, found friendship and real life buds with similar interests to gather with. The Twitterverse is large and there is something in it for everyone.
 Paul Sherland said:
Thanks for the info Jim and for pointing me to it, Jill. I'm a Twitter novice, but you've given me some ideas to get more involved. I'm presenting several seminars covering online word of mouth to small business owners over the next couple of weeks, and I'll reference Jim's thoughts in the material.
Thanks again!
 creativechickie said:

This article is a great starting point for all Twitter newbies - me being one of them. It's the five W's and the H written in an engaging, encouraging tone. The scary thing about using Twitter as a newbie is we want our Tweets to be relevant and interesting. So without a plan or reason why, It's kind of scary to hit the submit button. Your article provides a big drop of courage for newbies. I'll definitely be encouraging clients and friends interested in trying Twitter to read your article first.

Thanks for the outlining the steps.