Executive Careers Blog

On Twitter, Beware False Prophets


It's amazing how quickly the debate over the benefits of Twitter has shifted from "who's going to use it?" to "how best can we use it?"

Gone are many of the naysayers who questioned the effectiveness of marketing efforts on Twitter, to be replaced by legions of people keen to exploit the technology to build their businesses, but without much of an idea of how to go about doing that.

Having spent a fair amount of time of late getting to grips with Twitter as a tool for promoting in-house Vault content to a wider audience, I've read screeds of advice on the subject and come to a few conclusions along the way. (While I'm not going to list everyone or every thing that I've found helpful, I would recommend checking out anything written on the subject by the ever-reliable Guy Kawasaki. Especially this piece , which closes with Kawasaki suggesting that in the social media sphere everyone is just as clueless as the next guy: "The bottom line is that there’s only what works and what doesn’t," he says, "and you won’t know which is which until you try."

Now, having said that—and deferred to Mr. Kawasaki's infinitely superior knowledge of the field—I'm going to be so bold as to offer up a couple of thoughts on things I've come to realize plain don't work.

First, and most importantly, is the realization that Twitter isn't going to fix anything, or make miracles happen for any company. If you don't have a decent product, or an interesting piece of content to publicize, no amount of Tweeting is going to make it any better. In fact, any effort spent trying to promote a bum product is just effort wasted that could be being spent making the product better.

Assuming that you're a person or a company with something decent to say or sell, however, your next challenge lies in building enough of a following to really make a difference when promoting your product. The simple answer to this, at least according to the "get rich quick" crowd, is to blindly go out and follow the feeds of as many people as possible—the rationale being that many of the people will automatically agree to follow you back. Result: a ton of followers in a short space of time, none of whom have any idea who you are or what you do, and zero in the way of credibility.

As a marketing strategy, it's akin to a job seeker blitzing a room full of execs and stopping to speak only long enough to swap business cards. Sure, you come home with a bunch of contact details, but what are the chances that any of the people you've spoken to will remember you in a week. Meanwhile, the person who specifically targets the people she wants to talk to and spends a little more time building a genuine relationship is much more likely to see a payoff. Twitter is exactly the same: a small core of followers who are genuinely interested in what you have to say is much more likely to actually read what you post, and act on it, than a random sampling of the entire population of the "Twitterverse". The converse of that is that you're also much more likely to get relevant, interesting content flowing your way—something that is key to nurturing productive relationships and that will in turn lead to more opportunities to extend your network to the type of followers you'd want to target.

All told, having a presence on Twitter is simply an extension of a normal marketing strategy. You don't have to do anything special to promote yourself or your brand: just decide what image you want to convey of yourself, be consistent in how you do that, and target your audience. And above all, work hard at it. If that sounds painstakingly obvious, that's because the nature of good advice rarely changes—whether it's for dealing with the hottest trends or not.

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Phil Stott is a staff writer at Vault.com in New York. Originally from Scotland, he has also lived and worked in Japan, South Korea and Eastern Europe. He holds an MA in English Literature and Modern History, and a Masters in Research in Civil Engineering, both from the University of Dundee.

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