Thursday, May 31, 2012

Help! What is Twitter?

There you are, in a conference, and you see someone bent over her iPhone, typing madly. You approach and ask, “What are you doing?”

“I’m live-tweeting the conference!” she replies.

“Oh, that’s nice,” you say, suddenly very, very aware that here is another person using Twitter and you still don’t know what it is.

So let’s start at the beginning, the dictionary definition:

Twitter: a messaging service limited to 140 characters per message.

Ta-da! Is that it?

No. That’s not everything.

Twitter is a:

  • Tool for online chatting
  • Marketing channel to promote content
  • Crowdsourcing resource for asking questions
  • Recruiting service
  • News source
  • Networking pool
  • Search engine

But can it really be all those things? Sure. You just have to know how to use it. 

The Basics

Let’s start at the beginning, with Twitter starts with you setting up an account and selecting a username. (Mine is @kehutchinson, if you’d like to follow.)

Every person who has a Twitter account can send out messages, at a maximum limit of 140 characters--not words, characters. This includes spaces and punctuation. If you visit the page of any individual Twitter account, you can see a timeline of those messages.

But visiting each individual account page that you’re interested in is very tedious. So what you can do is click on the “Follow” button to subscribe to that person’s messages, also known as tweets. You can see all the messages from the accounts that you are subscribed to by visiting your home stream, on the main Twitter page when you’re logged in to the site.

Deciding Who To Follow

Depending on how you want to use Twitter, who you follow will differ. Let’s start with the idea of using it as a news source. Say you want to get local, national, and industry specific news to help you stay informed about what’s going on in the world. For an industry, let’s assume you’re a marketer in Boston, like me.

If you regularly read a news site, visit that site and look around for the little blue Twitter icon to find that person’s handle. I depend on the New York Times, so I follow @nytimes. For business news in my region, I follow the Boston Business Journal at @bbjnewsroom. Add in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, iMedia, and the Boston Globe, and you’ve set up a tidy way to follow the news. To go more in depth, looking for marketing/business authors, like Guy Kawasaki, Chris Brogan, or Greg Verdino. And once you start adding those kind of people to your list, Twitter can start recommending new people for you to follow.

I’m Following a Lot of People, How Do I Sort Them?

So you’ve decided to follow some news sources, some friends, and some random people that provide good content, plus one or two other accounts that you found. Now you’re following 100 people, and that stream on your homepage is getting awfully crowded. That’s where Lists come in.

To create a List, click on the profile icon and select Lists from the drop down menu. Then click Create List. Now you can name a list something like “Local News” and add all the people you follow related to that topic in the list. Sorting accounts into lists helps you from being overwhelmed with information.

What’s This Hashtag Thing?

Ah, the hashtag. Formerly known as the pound sign, it’s this symbol: #. Twitter uses hashtags in front of words to index messages. Since accounts can be mashed together in anyone’s stream, if you want to follow a conversation or chat group, you should search for all the chats that use a common hashtag. There are many chat groups that “meet” on a regular schedule on a particular topic, and you can search for a the chat’s official hashtag to see all the tweets in that chat. So, if you were interested in chatting with brand managers, you might search for #brandchat to see the running commentary from that group.

Or, say you’re interested in learning about the recent developments in the Middle East. You could search for #arabspring or #syria to find tweets related to those topics.

How Can I Tweet To Just One Person?

There are two ways to direct tweets on Twitter, one private, one public. If you have a message to send someone, say, you want to tweet your phone number so a new lead can call you, but you don’t want the world to see your information, you’d send what’s called a Direct Message (DM for short). On a profile page you can click “Direct Message” to send one of these, or you can type the letter “d” in front of that person’s username in the main message box. Then the message will only be sent to that specific person.

If what you want to message isn’t sensitive information, but you want to call someone’s attention to it, you’d use what’s called an @reply (spoken as “at reply”). This simply type your message and include somewhere in it @username and Twitter will link the tweet to that person’s account. I’ve modified the settings of my account so that I get a ping on my iPhone when someone mentions me in this way, so I don’t miss any good conversations.

Is That Everything?

No, of course that’s not everything. The best way to really know what Twitter is about is to actually build an account and start following people and sending tweets. It’s truly a “learn by doing” system. But this should get you started.

Do you have specific Twitter questions? Leave a comment and I’m happy to answer them!

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Basics of Facebook Marketing

It’s not new anymore to use social media as a channel in an overall marketing mix. Look around the web, and there’s a plethora of social networks available, from the general and ubiquitous (Facebook) to the niche focus and exclusive (Spotify).

So when you’re considering how to add social media to your own marketing strategy, it’s important to consider what networks are going to help your brand the most.

First off, I’m going to tell you that social media marketing isn’t free, and it takes more time to do well than most people think. You can do it in-house and pay the salary of that person, or you can hire a freelancer or agency to help you manage it. It’s time consuming, because it’s a variant on content marketing, which means generating lots of content, hopefully good content.

So let’s consider the major networks for social media, and how they might help your business. Today, let’s look at the elephant in the room


This is the big one that people think of when they hear the phrase “Social Network.” It’s huge, everyone knows about it, it’s integrated into every corner of the Internet and it’s heading for its IPO.

Marketing on Facebook can take a few different avenues to reach an audience of potential consumers:

Pages: Previously called “Fan Pages,” these are similar to the individual profile pages of users, except that they can be controlled by more than one Administrator. Pages feature a profile image, a cover photo, and a timeline of the company or organization. You can post pictures, links, and status updates to a Page.

Facebook Ads: Like display ads, Facebook ads appear alongside a user’s News Feed and in other relevant locations. They feature a thumbnail and a few lines of copy. You can tailor the content to an audience that is broad or narrowly targeted. Facebook ads have a notoriously poor ROI in terms of clicks, but they are visual and infinitely customizable. Costs for Facebook advertising have also recently risen precipitously.

Working with Pages

Most marketers know what to expect when they buy a print ad to run in the Business section of the New York Times. You’ll get a specific block on a specific page, that you can completely control the creative for (within publisher’s terms, of course), and it will be seen by the people who purchase the paper that day. It’s a very regimented process.

Facebook is anything but regimented. Let’s start with Pages. Like anything else on Facebook, a Page is a living, breathing section of the site, and it requires you to constantly monitor what’s up there. If you don’t put up any content at all, no one will visit the page, or interact with it. So first of all, you have to put up a cover photo, and write in some information about your company/cause/product. In traditional advertising, this would be the end stage, where you’d sit back and measure. But in Facebook, you can’t let anything sit for too long.

If someone “likes” your page, any information you put on that page will show up as an item in that person’s news feed. Depending on how many friends/pages that person subscribes to, your update will be part of a flood of information. Studies have shown that after the initial “like,” most people interact with brands via the news feed updates, rather than returning to visit the page. It’s important to remember not to flood your subscribers with updates, but also not to leave the page completely alone. In the 24 hour cycle of Facebook, leaving a page without any updates for over a few days gives the impression of abandonment, and often users will flee, like rats off a sinking ship.

When using Facebook Pages as part of your marketing mix, treat it as you would your email program. Set up a schedule for posts (some social media tools like Hootsuite even let you schedule posts for the future, automating the process), and also consider what types of posts you will make. Keep your content focused on your brand/product—those are the most effective ways to engage your users. (Stay away from “How was your weekend?” prattle. Users will already hear this over and over from their friends and acquaintances, and doesn’t give them any value from your page.)

A 2011 study found that posting 5-7 times per week on your brand’s Page will only reach 16% of your fans. Remember to keep your content current and on-message.

Working with Ads

Building a Facebook ad is simple, and can be done in minutes. These ads can be hyper-targeted, but are not very customizable. As pictured here, ads are limited to a small square of text and thumbnail image on a white background, in Facebook’s branding style. So you need a picture that will look good in a tiny size; compare the Pop Salad “video” shot with so much going on it’s hard to make out the context with the bright red, simple image of the Dansko clogs in the Zappos ad.

I pulled this screenshot from my Facebook profile, so you can take a guess at what these advertisers are targeting. Elizabeth Warren already knows that I “like” her page, and is hoping to get me to join her campaign on a more active basis. I don’t shop at, so more likely those shoe ads come from targeting women in their early 30s, possibly in the US. The “Approachable Paris” ad most likely targets people who have listed Paris in their interests. (I also have an app listing all the places I’ve been in the world that has Paris tagged.)

So when you are building your ads, and you consider who totarget, think hard about who your audience is. Facebook offers a truckload of information about its users: the site could tell you that I’m married with no children, two advanced degrees, live in Boston, MA, and I love bicycling. It’s hard to get so much data on your email list recipients.

That said, Facebook ads can be very expensive, and aren’t a good match for every business/product. I work for a domain registrar, and I spent half a year tinkering with Facebook ads before realizing I was just wasting my budget. I didn’t get any more clicks that I did from just having a Facebook page in the first place. And also, those ads get expensive very quickly. If your budget is small, you might want to skip Facebook ads and focus on the content development for a Facebook Page instead. Even big budget firms have begun pulling Facebook ads, citing poor return, like General Motors, who yankedtheir $10 million budget for Facebook ads last year. And keep in mind that half of Facebook users never even click on ads at all.

Deciding How to Use Facebook

Like any marketing channel, Facebook has to be carefully examined for your audience in order to be used effectively. Start with the basics:
  • Define your audience (age, location, gender, interest)
  • Is your audience on Facebook? (Even if you don’t buy any ads, you can use the Ads tool to estimate the size of your targeted population on the network.)
  • What kind of content does your audience like? (Look at past efforts to see if they respond more to sales/offers or information or something else)

Once you have this information, start building a plan for using Facebook, first with a Page, and then, if you want to spend the money, on display ads. Make sure to watch those ad campaigns very carefully to make sure you’re not wasting your budget!