7 Twitter myths busted

Today’s guest post comes from Tom Pick, a marketing consultant based right here in the Twin Cities. Sadly, Tom and I have never met face-to-face. We live in the same damn town and we talk more on Twitter than we do in real life–how’s that for “social” media? 😉 I’m sure we’ll rectify that soon, but for now, I wanted to let Tom have the stage today. Oh, and if you don’t read Tom’s blog right, go check it out at Webbiquity–just had a post a couple week’s ago on the top 50 women on Twitter.

Most Twitter users go through a similar cycle: from viewing it as inane, to starting to get it, to the “lightbulb moment” to quasi-addiction (or more than quasi in some cases). For a service so simple—people with some modicum of tech savvy and some level of common interests sharing 140-character bursts of insight, news or links—the intricacies of Twitter mastery can be maddening.

To help those who’ve figured out that Twitter does indeed have value but still struggle with how to maximize it, here are seven common misconceptions in need of correction.

Myth 1: The torrent of information is overwhelming. How can anyone possible absorb all of this?

Truth: That belief isn’t technically a myth, but it is thinking about Twitter the wrong way. Twitter—at least once you get beyond a relatively modest number of followers—isn’t like a drinking fountain, where you need to capture every drop lest you are wasteful. It’s more like a creek (or stream, or river, or really big river, depending on how many people you follow); you dip your cup of attention into the flow of knowledge from time to time and drink your fill, but let the rest flow downstream. If there are a few people whose musings you really don’t want to miss, create separate tabs for them in a dashboard like HootSuite or TweetDeck, or add them to a Twitter list.

Now, unless you’re a celebrity, you should check every direct message (DM) and @ message directed to you, and respond to those requiring it, but these will be far less than everything in your stream.

Myth 2: Twitter is a lead generation / sales tool.

Truth: In the vast majority of cases—no. Twitter can drive direct sales in a few very specific circumstances such as a restaurant tweeting about lunch specials to a local audience at around 11:00 a.m. But for most businesses, Twitter is most suitable as an engagement and information-sharing platform. Trying to use it in a direct marketing or hard-sell manner is far more likely to cost you followers than to gain you leads or sales.

Myth 3: I should only share my own content.

Truth: People who talk only about themselves are boring; that’s equally true on Twitter as in real life.

To grow and maintain a worthwhile Twitter following, you need to be interesting and engaging. Tweeting (selectively, of course) and retweeting content produced by others accomplishes both goals. It enables you to share a much larger volume of interesting content than you possible produce on your own, and it helps build relationships with those whose content you regularly share.

Myth 4: Marketing materials are content.

Truth: Generally speaking, no. Assuming you have prospective buyers following you on Twitter, think about where most of them likely are in their buying cycle relative to your product or service. Typically, Twitter followers are learning about solutions and vendors, at least in the b2b realm. The platform enables you to provide differentiating thought leadership type content (e.g., how-to articles) that demonstrates your company’s expertise.  It’s not a good place to flout brochures and product sheets (see myth #2 above).

The exception to this is if a prospect directly asks you for this type of information through Twitter. In that case, by all means DM them a link. But don’t assume your entire following wants to see your case studies, brochures and the like. These materials are most valuable later in the sales cycle, at which point you are likely communicating with the prospect through other channels, such as email.

Myth 5: I should follow everyone who follows me.

Truth: While in real-life social situations it’s rude to ignore someone who’s trying to get your attention, it’s different on Twitter. There is no requirement, etiquette-related or otherwise, that you follow all of your followers.

If you spend a long enough time active on Twitter, you will inevitably be followed by some number of spammers, hucksters, bots and just plain oddballs. Make your decision on whether or not to follow other accounts based on their relevance and value to you. Are their Tweets interesting? Can you imagine yourself retweeting some of that person’s content? Does it seem likely they may retweet you at some point? Is this someone you may do business with at some point, either as a buyer, seller or partner? If you can’t answer “yes” to any of these questions, there’s no need to add more to your Tweet stream.

Myth 6: Success on Twitter is all about how many followers I have.

Truth: Success is about engagement, not followers. There are many ways to artificially inflate follower count without really achieving much benefit. One strategy is to build large lists of Twitters using Twitter directories; following the first 2,000 names; unfollowing (24 hours or so later) any of those Twitterers who didn’t follow back; then repeating with the next 2,000 names on the list.

Sure, you’ll be able to brag about having a huge follower count, but is this useful?

Far more effective is selectively following people you find interesting, discovered through directories or Twitter search. Then follow the people those Twitterers recommend. Then interact, and share useful and relevant information. Your Twitter following will grow organically from there. You’ll never pass Oprah this way, but you’ll have an engaged group of followers than can actually help you accomplish business goals.

Myth 7: To be more efficient, I should automate as much of my Twitter activity as possible.

Truth: Unless you’re CNN, no one cares about your broadcasts. The point of social media is to be social—interact. You can’t automate a real-life conversation with a customer, prospect, partner or industry influencer; it’s no different just because the interaction is online.

To be fair, you can automate certain tasks (e.g., automatically submitting a new blog post to your various social media accounts using a tool like HootSuite), but be careful not to let automation substitute for engagement. And whatever you do, do NOT automatically DM every new follower with some spammy welcome message; that’s a great way to annoy people and lose followers quickly.

There you have it. Mythology belongs in books and on movie screens, not in your social media activity. Social media doesn’t have to be difficult—but it does have to be real.

Tom Pick is an online marketing executive with KC Associates, a Minneapolis-based marketing and PR firm focused on B2B technology clients. He’s also the award-winning writer of the Webbiquity blog, which focuses on B2B lead generation and Web presence optimization.

Note: Photo courtesy of Rosaura Ochoa via FlickR Creative Commons.

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24 comments on “7 Twitter myths busted

  1. Great post! I’m always surprised how obsessed people get with gaining followers instead of engaging with the ones they have. #7 is really timely for me. I just wrote a post today about automation gone rogue. Too many people use automation with a “set it and forget it,” when in reality, it’s anything but!

  2. Great post, Tom. Couldn’t agree more. Twitter (and other social media, for that matter) is about engaging the customer or prospect, not selling. It’s about adding to the experience. Like Melissa, I’m working on a piece now about Twitter and the importance of building a quality following; not just a big following. I think the priority is to have a clear goal in mind for your efforts on Twitter, and those goals should be more about building relationships than directly moving product.

  3. Tom Pick says:

     Thanks Melissa! While there are certain tasks (e.g. monitoring) where automation can certainly help, it has to be used carefully. And sparingly.

  4. Tom Pick says:

     Absolutely. Of course, at the end of the day, social media has to produce results for the business. But the sale or lead has to be the outcome of providing value, not just self-promotion and pitches (which usually backfire).

  5. *quote*”you dip your cup of attention into the flow of knowledge from time to time and drink your fill” – Best Blog line EVER! Thats was a great, great read. Absolutely brilliant.

  6. Gail Gardner says:

     Yes, an excellent metaphor for each Twitter “stream”.  Twitter is like a conversation around a water cooler. You don’t worry about what you missed when you weren’t there – and you don’t need to worry about what flows by when your attention is elsewhere.

    I agree with most of what you’ve written and especially that success is about engagement – being engaging and creating relationships over time.

    A couple of things I do differently:

    If someone asks publicly for a case study or a sales page or brochure I don’t see any reason not to share that publicly. Others may want to see it. (To find out how many use a URL shortener that tracks clicks.)

    When in doubt, it doesn’t hurt to follow people back. You can always unfollow them later if need be. Businesses that try to vet every new follower will end up unknowingly slamming the door on potential clients and wasting a lot of time unnecessarily.

    Far too many social media consultants are selling “I’ll get you x followers” as a metric to measure productivity or success – and that is neither. What matters is how relevant your followers are to what you share and do – not how many you have.

    That said, having many followers creates an “illusion” of influence and importance – and many people who might ignore you when you have a few hundred or thousand followers may be quick to interact and support you when you have 10s of 1000s.

    If you choose to be an influencer it is wise to have more followers than the average business. Have one power account for that and individual accounts by niche and geographic location. Handling more than one account requires a tool. See this post on Managing Multiple Twitter Accounts comparing Hootsuite (most preferred), TweetDeck, CoTweet (easiest to learn), Seesmic, SocialOomph and Pluggio to decide which is best for you. (Note that there are now new solutions that manage multiple social networks and some of these have expanded.) 

  7. gmather says:

     Very nice piece.  Thanks for posting.

    –  @gmather:twitter 

  8. gmather says:

     Very nice piece. Thanks for writing.

  9. very nice sand picture))))

  10. Jim Nichols says:

     Your first “myth” actually proves the point you aim for it to debunk: You and everyone else don’t care about 99% of the tweets you get. It’s sheer hubris for most Twitter users to believe that THEIR tweets are going to be the exceptional ones that get noticed. Truth is, even your friends won’t absorb most of your tweets, and they’ll follow even fewer of your links. (I’m using “your” generically here.) I enjoy Twitter. But from a practical marketing standpoint, almost every tweet is the equivalent of a quiet remark in a crowded and cacophonous stadium.

  11. Dan London says:

     Great post. It is amazing how many people think #6 is a huge thing. It is like web traffic; you can have 200,000 people visit your website, but if they don’t buy anything or generate revenue for you in some manner it is worthless. If your Twitter followers don’t engage with you, or provide value, the # does not matter.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Great piece, especially myth #6. It becomes so easy to focus
    your energies on getting new followers. I’m not sure if it’s just because of
    human nature, more seems like it should be better, or maybe the analytics such
    as Klout that make it temping to get more followers to try and  increase one of your scores. Regardless, your
    point that Twitter should be more of an engagement resonated loudly with me.

  13. Brittany says:

    What a great post! I think creating lists in a social media dashboard (like http://sproutsocial.com) is a great tip to make the overwhelming amount of content more manageable so you only see the tweets from users you’re really interested in! Making my lists now…

  14. darrensproat says:

    Great list, Tom…the information available to me on twitter is like trying to suck on a fire hose 😉 and, as such, I have been using lists to separate content types, etc. and have become very good with search/discovery of information.

  15. Great job Tom, Thank you for the tips, I learn a lot of things. Yeah right you have a very good discovery of information.

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  18. Ammar Ali says:

    I love your myth #5. It’s actually not a good idea to follow back everyone who follow us. But there’s nothing wrong in doing that if we find their twitter worth following 🙂

  19. Arain says:

    thank you for these busting these twitter myths – good job!!

  20. Mike says:

    I agree that success is much more related to engagement rather then followers, I am new to twitter so thank you for your advice.