Twitter for Business: Are You Sure?!

A couple of weeks back I had the great pleasure of being invited to take part in a round table event hosted by leading web hosting business UKFast. The event, held during social media week, was focused on drawing out advice from six ‘experts’ (well, five experts and me…) on what businesses should do to get a foothold in the Twittersphere, and I met some fantastic people who said some very wise and insightful things.

Having had time to reflect, what strikes me about the UKFast event is the amount of agreement there was in the room. Did we collectively come up with some good advice for those new to or struggling with Twitter? Yes, and you can get a taster of that in the video clip below, and more detail on the blog of one of my partners-in-crime Leanne Forshaw Jones and on the UKFast website. But did we break new ground? No. Maybe as it wasn’t necessarily the time or place, what we didn’t do was question whether businesses even SHOULD be using Twitter. And that, to me, is the pertinent question.

Now I’m a huge Twitter advocate. It is largely through the information shared via my amazing network of friends and peers on Twitter that I find myself as Head of Social Communications at one of the fastest growing PR agencies in the UK and working with global brands such as HISTORY and Rentokil. Without Twitter there is simply no way that I would have learned as much as I have over the past couple of years, or have been invited to take part in a social media round table or onto the judging panel of a major digital awards scheme. But I’m far from convinced that Twitter produces a good return for most brands, and it’s quite rare that I recommend it to clients.

There are three reasons for this. The first is measurability, or lack of it, but as I’ve written about this recently I won’t bore you again. The second is time. To be effective, Twitter is demanding of time and attention. It gets easier once you become established, but that first six to nine months is hard, hard work and extremely time intensive. It can be frustrating and, sometimes, downright depressing as you try and find your niche and build up a following. Talking to no-one isn’t fun, after all.

Leading on from this, the third reason is culture. Business, or more accurately The Boardroom, isn’t conditioned for marketing on Twitter. Management wants fast results; it wants statistics to justify every pound it spends. And quite right too. But unless you’re a big brand with a big budget, instant results simply don’t occur with Twitter. With Twitter you have to be open, transparent, honest, creative, inventive, casual. Pretty much any form of selling doesn’t work. And here’s the thing: what you start out doing on Twitter may not/probably won’t work.

It takes a lot of patience to get the formula right and, therefore, not inconsiderable foresight plus a leap of faith to pay someone to spend an hour a day chatting away online with very little, or indeed any, return for six months.

So by all means watch the videos that resulted from the UKFast round table – the guys know what they’re talking about. But please don’t plunge into Twitter without first honestly and very carefully considering whether you have the time, the money, the company culture and the patience to make it work. In my opinion, very few brands and organisations do.

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