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Overcoming The 3 Biggest Hurdles To Using Twitter

Overcoming The 3 Biggest Hurdles To Using TwitterDo you like Twitter?  I sure do, along with almost 200 million people.  And while I like Twitter, I love the Event Profs group on Twitter.  I am writing this post in the hope that it will ease the learning curve for newcomers to Twitter, and especially new members to the Event Profs community.

There are great reasons to engage with Twitter.  In conversations with trade show exhibitors and my company’s Exhibiting Consultants, I extol Twitter’s benefits:

  • Relationships: Twitter may have started as a way to follow people you know, but it’s blossomed into a great way to start and deepen true relationships with some of the most interesting people you’ve never met before.
  • News: Twitter is a non-stop headline machine.  It’s an endless flow from news sources you didn’t know existed.  News that is specific to your industry, expertise, and hobbies.
  • Learning:  People on Twitter share links to many how-to articles and blogs that sharpen your skills and widen your knowledge.
  • Business:  As you deepen relationships on Twitter and publish content that brings visitors to your website, the sales will come.
  • Fun:  On Twitter you can find interesting people, new ideas, and even a great community.  It’s great fun to participate in all three at once.

Yet even when people hear these advantages to being on Twitter, they still resist.  These are the 3 objections I hear the most:

  1. “I don’t understand Twitter.”
  2. “I don’t know how to get started on Twitter.”
  3. “I don’t have the time for Twitter.”

Let’s look at these three reasons for not getting on Twitter, and how to overcome them.

1. “I don’t understand Twitter.”

Unlike other social media sites, when people first visit Twitter they are bewildered.  I believe that’s because, in order to keep messages within 140 characters, there is so much shorthand going on that newbies don’t understand.  And I’m not talking about texting abbreviations, like “How R U?” or “LMAO!”  Twitter has shortcuts users have developed to get more said in fewer characters:

@name:  The @ sign has been very elegantly used for email.  In Twitter, it’s called the Twitter handle, and is similar to an email address.  My Twitter handle is @SkylineExhibits as that’s the company I work for.  Many Twitter handles are odd looking because users have shortened their name to fit in the 20-character limit, or because their name was already taken they had to invent a new one.

Also, Twitter is like email, except everyone can read it.  For some that’s a big shift, that they would actually hold conversations in public.  It’s hard to grasp that people can operate that way.

Also, the @name confuses new Twitter visitors because not only do you have to know that it’s someone’s handle, but that the @name gets used in several different contexts.  Here are some examples:

Replies to an unseen earlier message:  Rather than type out a longer reply, people just give a short reply, much like they would in email.  But when you don’t see the previous message, you see something like this that makes no sense:

Tweets that are short repliesMultiple people referenced: Like email, you can send messages to more than one person at a time.  If you don’t know what’s going on, it can look like just nonsense:

Tweets to multiple=Mention someone without writing directly to them: Here @3deventplanning mentioned Skyline in their tweet by including @SkylineExhibits.  But they weren’t sending me a message; they were just referring to the company Skyline.

 

Tweets that mention you indirectly

Retweets or RTs: When people want to forward a tweet they like from someone they follow, they either type RT and the @name of the person whose tweet they are forwarding somewhere in their message, or use the RT function of whatever interface they are using.  So instead of writing “I am forwarding this tweet from @tracibrowne to you my Twitter followers” you see the much shorter “RT @tracibrowne.”

Shortened URLs: As you probably know, a URL is the “address” of a web page.  An average URL length leaves little room for a message, and some URLs are so long they wouldn’t even fit in within the 140-character Twitter limit.  So most Twitter users shorten the length of the URLs they share by using free websites like http://bit.ly or http://ow.ly.  For example, bit.ly shrinks this URL from 133 characters: http://www.skylinetradeshowtips.com/6-things-to-say-when-your-boss-asks-%e2%80%9cwhy-are-we-spending-so-much-on-trade-shows%e2%80%9d/ down to only 20: http://bit.ly/a6ZLdo.

However, when a person first views Twitter, it’s highly unlikely they know about URL shorteners.  So they see something like this: http://bit.ly/cE5E3w and have no idea it’s a link to a webpage (no .com ending) and plus it’s in blue text while the message is in black.  That’s highly confusing at first.

#Hashtags:  Hashtags let Twitter users include in their tweets a shortcut that tells readers their tweet is about that subject.  For example, if I want people to know that I am directing my tweets at people who are attending or interested in a trade show, such as Blogworld, I can include that show’s hashtag, which was #bwe10.  When online, the hashtag then becomes a live link (again, with blue text).  Users can click on the hashtag and get updated to a continuously-updating Twitter page with all the recent tweets about that subject.

And it does shorten the tweet.  Instead of including “this message is for attendees or exhibitors going to Blogworld 2010” I just say #bwe10.  So 67 characters becomes only 6.  But to a newcomer to Twitter, it’s just gibberish.

Also, some Twitter users include hashtags to make a tongue-in-cheek joke or statement, ending their tweet with phrases such as #thatisall or #imjustsaying.  Once you’ve seen enough of these, it’s no big deal.  But to a newbie, it’s another incomprehensible aspect to be deciphered.

So based on the points above, let’s look at a single tweet and “translate it” to the longer text it represents:

The text is written in these 135 characters:

RT @moonlightbasin: Booths at the 2011 @siasnowsports show are already sold out. Highest attendance in 6 years?http://ow.ly/3brkK #snow

But it really means, and what a more experienced Twitter reader understands, can be translated as these 364 characters:

I am sharing this previously tweeted message from Moonlight Basin (of Big Sky, Montana): Booths at the 2011 SIA Snow Sports Show (whose Twitter handle is @siasnowsports) are already sold out. Highest attendance in 6 years? Click on the hyperlink to read the story at http://www.tsnn.com/blog/?p=4525 and click on the blue #snow to see all recent tweets about snow.

That’s the first big hurdle; just understanding what is being tweeted.  Once people understand the lingo, they get caught up on the next big hurdle, how to get started.

2. “I don’t know how to get started on Twitter.”

When people say they don’t know how to get started on Twitter, they actually have two problems: They don’t know who to follow, and they don’t know what to say.  So let’s tackle both of them:

“I don’t know who to follow on Twitter.”

Twitter makes it easy to follow celebrities on Twitter, yet that’s not going to help you find people you can truly network with or drive future business.  (But it will be fun, and funny, especially if you follow Conan O’Brien, whose Twitter handle is @ConanOBrien.)

What Twitter has (but made hard to find) is an advanced search that lets you sift through the 190 million Twitter users like a database to more precisely find people who care about what you care about.

To find it, go to https://twitter.com/search-advanced.  There you can search on words people put in their tweets, or the hashtags they use, and even where they are located.

So for me, a business-to-business marketer in Minneapolis / St. Paul, I can search like this:

Twitter advanced searchAnd then Twitter shows me these recent tweets:

Twitter advanced search resultsThe picture above shows just a few of the pages of tweets that came from the search.  Many of these messages – and thus the people tweeting them – are relevant to me.  If I want to follow one of them, I just hover my cursor over their Twitter name, and when the window pops up (like in the picture below), then I click on the “Follow” button.

Follow someone on Twitter from Advanced SearchBefore I follow someone, I click through to their Twitter page.  I read their most recent tweets (interesting content, good conversations?) and their biography.  I also check the ratio of their followers to people they follow, looking to avoid people who follow 10 but have 10,000 followers.  If they pass the smell test, then I click on the “follow” button.  And then I will see all their future tweets in my Twitter stream.

You can duplicate this process for yourself, searching on words that matter most to you, such as your job title, your industry, your product, your clients’ titles, the hashtag or name of your biggest trade show, your hobby, and more.  You’ll find great people to follow that, after “listening” to for a while, you can send messages to.  And if they follow you back and then you write about similar things yourself, they may reach out to you first.  You will have Twitter stream that is much more interesting to you.

“I don’t know what to say on Twitter.”

At first you don’t have to say anything at all.  Just listen.  Listen to what people are talking about, and how they are talking about it.  Get comfortable with the lingo.  But when you read something you like, go ahead and retweet it.  Better yet, add a few words on why you like it.  That will help get a dialog between you and the tweet’s author started.

Retweeting is the easiest of the three-step E.I.R. formula invented by Jenise Fryatt, one of the most well-loved (and followed) members of the Event Profs community on Twitter.  EIR stands for Engage, Inform, Retweet.

Here’s what she wrote in her blog about EIR (click here to read the entire post):

ENGAGE

This just boils down to talking to people. If you’re shy, remember; people are on Twitter to connect. If they post something, it’s an invitation to respond. They want to hear from you.

It’s not too fun to spend your time and energy posting things that never get responses. If they post a link that you enjoyed, reply to them, thank them and tell them why you enjoyed it. If they make a comment you find funny, reply and tell them. If they post a picture you liked, reply and tell them why.

You can also just post a comment yourself about what you are doing or what you thinking, but please try to make it interesting. Nobody wants to know that you’re rushing off to take little Johnny to soccer practice. But if you just got back from the U2 concert and Bono crowd surfed right over you, by all means tweet! Inquiring minds want to know!

INFORM

Twitterers tend to be information junkies. We can’t get enough! So, if you want people to take notice of you on Twitter, there’s no better way than to tweet links to information that is useful to them. It’s very likely that anything you find useful, your followers will find useful too.

But if you want to be more specific about the type of followers you attract, make sure you are tweeting information that’s useful to them. For instance, I’m particularly interested in connecting with people in the events industry, so most of the information that I tweet is about that. I subscribe to the RSS feeds of events industry related blogs, and follow Twitter searches and Google news alerts on events industry keywords, so that I can find the most up to date information that my followers (and I) will find useful. I tweet between 10 and 20 links (on events news, social media, self improvement and things I just find interesting) per day.

RETWEET

This might be the easiest yet the most important thing you can do on Twitter. One click, and you’ve forwarded useful information to your followers while at the same time supporting and publicizing a fellow tweeter. Remember when you retweet, you are saying that you think what this person tweeted has value, thus implying that the person himself may be good to follow.

Retweeting allows you to promote someone AND inform in one click! So don’t be stingy. If you see ANYTHING that you think your followers would appreciate, retweet it. The good turn you do someone today, will likely come back to you tomorrow.

Thanks for letting me share your excellent advice, Jenise!

After learning the lingo, then figuring out how to do it, people still toss back the final objection: Time.

3. “I don’t have the time for Twitter.”

This is the toughest objection of all.   I can offer a few ideas on how to make it easier than you think to use Twitter.  But most of all, I can offer the perspective of the converted.

At first I signed up and did little with my Twitter account, and much like I’ve written above, I didn’t really understand Twitter, nor did I know what to do.  But I kept after it for a while, getting more comfortable with the hashtags, the shortened links, the @name handles.  Eventually I reached a tipping point, where the unknowns were gone, and all that was left was the value.  The biggest help was finding the Event Profs community of energetic, supportive, informative, innovative and fun people.  And so Twitter is no longer something I have no time for, it’s something I make time for.

So that’s what I suggest to you: keep at it for a while, and when you get frustrated, keep at it some more.  I hope you have that same “a-ha!” moment, but even sooner.

While you are persevering through the learning curve, consider these tips to save you time:

Easier access: Don’t try to use only your phone to access Twitter.  Use www.twitter.com, or even better, use a free website like www.hootsuite.com or www.tweetdeck.com to make it easier for you to read your Twitter stream and track tweets using keywords that matter to you (such as what helped you find good people to follow in the advanced search above).

Pre-Schedule Tweets: Sites like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck also save time because they let you pre-schedule your outgoing Tweets.  For example, if I want to tell people about a blog post I put out on Monday, I may pre-schedule tweets about that post to go out on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  So I only have to think about it that one time.

Take it easy on yourself: You don’t have to keep up with every message on your Twitter stream.  It’s like a river next door that you can wade in every once in a while, not a river you have to drink in its entirety.  Don’t worry about missing something important.  If someone sends a message directly to you (called a Direct Message) then Twitter will email you the message.  But you will find that you want to return to Twitter more often to see if someone mentioned you or retweets your tweets.

Twitter will save you time outside of Twitter: Because of the great new ideas and up-to-date news you can funnel your way once you’ve followed the right people on Twitter, you will end up saving time by acting on the latest information and knowing where the trends are.

Remember, with almost 9% of the U.S. population on Twitter every day, your clients are likely already on Twitter.  So it’s worth your time to get there, too, and engage in the dialog they are might be having about your industry, your products, and your company.

I hope this (lengthy!) blog post has helped you better crack the Twitter code, showed you how to get started, and given you more motivation to do so.  And if you are a new member of the Event Profs community, I hope to “hear” from you on Twitter in the near future!

If you are now ready to jump into Twitter, start by clicking to follow Skyline Exhibits tweets.  If you have a friend who has been reluctant to join Twitter, email them this post you just read on how to start using Twitter.

Learning Social Media is just one of the new responsibilities added to Exhibit Marketer’s day job.  Discover more in the new white paper, The Evolving Role Of Exhibit Marketers, by clicking here now.

About the Author

Mike Thimmesch was Skyline Exhibits' Director of Customer Engagement, for over 25 years. He is now retired and spends his time freelancing, traveling, and enjoying time with his family.

9 responses to “Overcoming The 3 Biggest Hurdles To Using Twitter

  1. Excellent post! Like the previous comment, I have been avoiding Twitter. You made the “on ramp” so much easier. Thank you.

  2. This is awesome Mike, thanks. We are just beginning to explore social marketing to make our brands more relevant to our customers and when Facebook and Twitter were mentioned most of the sales force looked a little lost.

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