By Su Butcher, Professional Practice Manager at Barefoot & Gilles Architects

Twitter has a reputation for being trivial, yet thousands of professionals in construction, finance, business and law are using it. Some of these professionals use Twitter as a powerful strategic networking tool. Why does it work for them and how do they do it?

I run a practice of architects in London, Essex and Suffolk and have been using Twitter effectively for two years. I use it for marketing, PR and professional networking. In this article I’m going to explain why and how it works so well.

Twitter for Professional Marketing and PR

Any marketing strategy should consider including an active online presence because so many people are using online tools, and this includes your constituency. Twitter is big; current unique monthly users of Twitter are at 28m and around half are between 35 and 55 years old with an average age of 39. This demographic includes a wide range of professional people including fellow consultants and property developers, for example. One of my contacts on Twitter runs the sustainable materials arm of a multi-million pound materials supply company. With some simple searching I have found over 1000 architects, and estimate that the UK Construction industry is represented on Twitter by about 20-30,000 active accounts. These people are talking about your business, and you should be listening and responding.

But big isn’t everything, activity must also be targeted. Twitter is an open, dynamic network of people driven by the will to find topics of interest, so rather than being contrived, finding your targets in a huge audience becomes easy. Demonstrate expertise in your subject (e.g planning policy) and become a magnet for other people who want to read and share, your content.

Twitter is indexed by Google, but it is better than SEO alone, because it is part of the Social Semantic Web — a network of collective knowledge systems fuelled by social interaction. Where SEO creates search results generated by simple keywords and phrases, Twitter generates conversations about your content which prompts people to share and investigate further. The quality of the traffic which reaches your website is therefore more targeted and opt-in.

When I set up my first Twitter account the traffic to our company website increased dramatically, but the new traffic did not come only from Twitter, it also came from other search engines (Search traffic increased by 79% over the previous six months). In addition direct traffic (people typing in our company web address) increased, as did referrals from other websites. Professional people using Twitter were talking about us more online and offline because we were engaging with them.

The social and dynamic aspects of Twitter mean that it helps you build credibility for your company by reflecting not only your expertise but also your personality. Twitter is a conversation largely between individuals, even on a corporate scale, and individuals are your best advocates. People share your good news quite naturally because they are interested.

One of the ways we use Twitter to market ourselves is by promoting our clients and their projects. We are the architects for the hugely successful Salthouse Harbour Hotel in Ipswich and our recent photo shoot of their new extension was broadcast on Twitter by Architectural Photographer Andy Marshall. We both share articles about the Salthouse (including recent reviews in the Independent on Sunday and the Guardian) and help drive traffic to their site, to our respective websites and to pages that tell the story of the project. Another example — we are supporting fundraising for a new Children’s Hospice in Ipswich for East Anglia’s Childrens’ Hospices, a building we designed, by writing about the construction and mobilising fundraising through Twitter back to their facebook page and to our own Posterous Blog about the hospice project. Everyone benefits, and the Treehouse Appeal has raised over £1m in five months.

Building your Professional Network using Twitter

Most people start using Twitter because their existing contacts invite them, and Twitter is like your real life network, but it is much broader and more flexible. As you build a presence your network takes on a life of its own which reflects your activity on the platform, so the quality of your network reflects the quality of your engagement on Twitter.

Unlike Linkedin, Twitter is a truly open, dynamic network. Following is not mutual and is simple to do and undo, so people naturally collect into groups around topics of interest. Unlike closed communities online or offline, these groups are wide open to search, and have blurred edges — they are constantly changing. This makes Twitter a good tool for finding new, relevant and quality contacts.

How do people find your interesting content on Twitter? They use Twitter search. The most competent set up detailed advanced searches using the advance search on Twitter for subjects of interest, geolocation and so on. Then they pick up the RSS feeds and add them to a reader, or put the searches into hootsuite or tweetdeck and make columns. If you have a budget you can buy in more complex services like Radian6 to monitor all social networks. Then when anyone talks about your topics you can read a list of just those messages and start engaging with a self-selected audience.

So Twitter doesn’t have to be a time waster, it saves time because people (whether by search or recommendation) find you more quickly and are unhampered by the geographic boundaries and time constraints that real life networking opportunities have.

Twitter creates new relationships but they must be developed into relationships of trust — this isn’t a get rich quick scheme. Some relationships flourish right on Twitter, many benefit from linking back into a blog or community (where more complex discussions are held and people can become subscribers or members) or to LinkedIn where you may choose to build a select network of those most important to you. Link all your online networks together using Twitter, so people can find you there and elsewhere. Wherever possible take relationships into real life, through the telephone and face to face. Twitter is an extension of your real life network, and the overlap needs to be nurtured.

Leveraging your Professional Network on Twitter

My Twitter network brings me unsolicited leads. Project opportunities yes, but also introductions to people needing just the sort of help we can give, and opportunities to promote our practice in print and online for free because we are recognised as having expertise which is of interest.

How does this happen? To find suppliers, clients and opportunities one begins in the same way; by creating a relationship of trust.

Professional networkers don’t push themselves at people and this doesn’t work on Twitter either. Instead by demonstrating expertise, interest and approachability on Twitter, you are making your company available for enquiries, and people know you won’t do the hard sell. What is more, new arrivals can check out your footprint of activity, see who you engage with and how, follow your links and get a good first impression.

When you need to find help or source a supplier, suggestions are quickly forthcoming from unexpected places. Twitter makes it very easy for people to reply to you quickly, much easier than email, and much more visibly, which can generate more recommendations. I’ve sourced a range of products and services confidently on Twitter, and my footprint online reassures suppliers that I am trustworthy. We have even used Twitter as a recruiting tool.

To summarise

• Professionals are using Twitter; drill down to find the network you can use.

• Traffic to your website will be more targeted; engage on topics where you have expertise.

• Twitter is conversations between individuals; make your presence have personality.

• Promote your clients on Twitter to promote your company.

• People are searching — use the same tools to listen to your constituency efficiently.

• Connect to the real world - move good contacts off Twitter and onto your blog, linkedin or pick up the phone.

• Use your network to ask for help, and create a culture where others ask you to help them.

• Your activity builds your reputation and leaves a footprint — manage this to your advantage.

There are Solicitors, Accountants, IFA’s, Architects, Quantity Surveyors, Engineers, Developers, Project Managers, Surveyors all using these techniques to spread their influence, build credibility and benefit from flourishing, dynamic Twitter communities. We hope you’ll join us there.

Find out more about how Su uses Twitter and other online tools for professional networking by subscribing to her blog at www.justprofessionals.net , and join her on Twitter at Twitter.com/JustProfs and Twitter.com/SuButcher

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