By Graham Jones

Imagine going into a pub — go on, it can’t be that difficult for you..! You arrive with a friend and you order a drink and a meal before finding somewhere to sit. You sit down and on the table next to you is a lone man. As you sit there trying to talk to your friend about the holiday you are planning, the man on his own next to you is talking very loudly to himself, about himself. Now, what kind of man is that?

Yes, probably “the village nutter”. You really are not that interested in him or what he has to say and you find him rather annoying, no doubt.

Now imagine another day, another pub. You go up to the bar, you order your drinks and your food and you find somewhere to sit. On the table next to you is a person on their own. They are busy eating their lunch, while reading the newspaper. They quietly get on with that, while you chat to your friend about your holiday you want to have.

A little while later, the individual next to your table puts their newspaper down, smiles, makes eye contact and leans across saying “Excuse me, I hope you don’t mind me interrupting, but I couldn’t help hearing you are planning a holiday in the South of France. My brother owns some villas down there and I wondered if you would like his website address.”

So, what kind of person is this? Are they the village nutter? Or are they potentially helpful? True, they might be a bit “nosey” eavesdropping on you in that way, but the chances are you would at the very least say “thank you” and make a note of the website address. You may even get into conversation with the lone luncher and could go as far as swapping contact details, perhaps even finding common interests and decide to meet up again. Or you might just take the website address of the holiday villas and then turn back to your respective tables. But you certainly don’t find the interruption annoying, unlike the person talking loudly about themselves to themselves.

The problem on Twitter is it is full of “nutters”. It is crammed full of people talking about themselves to themselves. Do you really care if someone has just had a cheese sandwich, or if they have been to the loo three times today? Who cares?

But what if you wrote on Twitter “Cannot decide where to go in France for my holiday. Any ideas?” And then how would you feel if someone wrote back “My brother has some villas in the South of France, here is the website address...”

You would probably respond, you would follow the link and you may even find the intervention useful. When Twitter is used to talk loudly about yourself or your business it turns people away from you. But when Twitter is used as a listening tool, where people keep an eye out for keywords and topics they can comment on or answer, they are perceived as useful.

Interrupting people with details of your personal activities is not that interesting..! Neither is any kind of disruption in an individual’s day when you break into their flow and offer something for sale. After all, if you were back in that pub with your friend and someone suddenly burst in, rushed up to your table and said “Please buy my book, it’s on special offer today”; you would no doubt be taken aback and think the person somewhat rude.

It’s the same on Twitter. When suddenly you receive a message saying “Buy this...”; it is just like some twerp bursting into your happy lunch and thrusting some unwanted item in your face.

So, how should businesses use Twitter?

Step one is to use it as a listening tool. Find out what people are saying about you, your industry or your business sector. You will be able to answer their questions, or point them to useful resources on the web, including on your own website. In that way you will gain followers who see you as a useful source of information or an expert in your field. Several studies show that the number one reason people use Twitter is to find out useful information. Provide that and you are three quarters of the way to success.

Once you have a loyal band of followers you can use Twitter to market your products and services, but the best way of doing that is to point people to blog posts and articles on your website. Then, use those articles to sell your products and services. Assuming the information is also useful, you will sell items with a much higher conversion rate in this way, than you could do via Twitter alone.

But is it worth the effort? Actually, if you are not using Twitter you are missing out on potential sales. Dell is well known for selling more than $6m worth of computer equipment directly through Twitter and Starbucks even managed to get 1m people into its stores on one day directly as a result of tweeting. Don’t tell them Twitter is not for business.

Research conducted by HubSpot www.hubspot.com shows that 41% of companies who have used Twitter for lead generation have managed to acquire business directly as a result of their tweeting activities. Business to Consumer does slightly better on Twitter than Business to Business. Even so, four out of ten Business to Business companies using Twitter have managed to generate income as a result.

But the study from HubSpot reveals some interesting details. It shows that small businesses do five times as well out of Twitter as large businesses. The research also found that when you combine a blog post with Twitter activity, you dramatically increase all sorts of measurements — including Google ranking and income. In other words, writing articles or blog posts and then tweeting them on Twitter is the best way to generate income using these social tools.

One other interesting fact discovered by HubSpot relates to Search Engine Optimization. In one month the “average” Twitter account with 150 followers generates 35 business leads using tweets. But if you manage to get 50 or more SEO keywords in the top echelons of Google, the average lead generation is 24 a month. In other words, used well, Twitter brings you in more business leads than SEO.

It should be remembered, however, that Twitter is a “social” system and therefore you need to be “social” — which could be more time consuming than SEO. It means holding conversations, saying “hello” to people who follow you and generally engaging with the people who look at your tweets, click through to your web pages and show they are interested in what you have to offer.

Otherwise you are rather like the elusive sales person in the shop where you have decided to buy something, but an assistant is nowhere to be seen. What is your reaction? Generally, you are fairly negative and probably choose another shop. Similarly, what if you went into a restaurant and were ignored as you tried to get a table?

It is the same on Twitter; if you ignore people who follow you or who engage with your material, they will soon walk away. You need to treat your Twitter followers with respect — and then they will engage and possibly buy from you.

So, how can you do all that — and still manage to find the time to run your business? The answer lies in a program called HootSuite. This lets you sort your Twitter activity into tabs and columns. That way you can “listen” to particular keywords and topics easily. You just create a column for your keyword and anyone who has tweeted about that subject will appear. You can then choose whether or not to engage. If you create a “useful information” reply — just like the helpful person in the pub — you might get continued engagement with a new follower, you might get some income as a result and you might get a new reader for your blog. Either way, something will happen — much more than if you randomly interrupted people with tweets about the sandwiches you are eating or a “buy now” message...!

Top Twitter Tips

1. Listen more than you speak on Twitter; use HootSuite to monitor what people are saying about you and your topics

2. Engage with people — remember it is a conversation

3. Make Twitter part of your daily routine — fifteen minutes every day is all you need to generate real business

4. Follow your competitors and your suppliers so you can see what they are talking about

5. Follow your customers so you can keep in close contact and deepen your relationship

Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who helps businesses understand how their customers behave online. See: www.grahamjones.co.uk

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