This Is Not How You Do Twitter: A Refresher on Twitiquette for Business

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I read this tweet recently and I couldn't decide if it was genius or the most idiotic thing I'd ever seen.

See what they did there? They force you to either re-tweet them or favorite their tweet just to respond to them. It got me to thinking that with Twitter now allowing the purchasing of Twitter ads and even the ability to buy followers, there needs to be a refresher course for the average Twitter user on what is okay and what's off limits when it comes to tweets, particularly for businesses.

These suggestions are generalities, obviously, but they help to illustrate the point that Twitter is a communal activity and the best way to get and keep followers is to participate in the conversation, not to try to dominate it -- pretty much how it is in real life, for that matter.

Your Twitter feed should focus on discussion, not marketing. This may be a difficult concept for you to follow, particularly if your job is in marketing, but Twitter was not built as a mechanism for you to simply go on and on about your business. If people wanted to hear about it all the time, they'd visit your Web site or call you. Engaging customers on Twitter is the same thing as engaging people in real life, just slightly nerdier. It is certainly okay to tweet about your business and talk about what you have to offer, but that should be a small percentage of your feed. Mostly, you should be talking TO people, not AT them.

Re-tweet interesting, funny and engaging tweets. Surprise, surprise, people like interesting stuff. I'm sure you do, too, which is why it's a great idea that when you find out something cool or read a story online, you drop it in your feed. Maybe it is related to your industry, maybe not, but if you like it and think others should read it, it qualifies. One of the worst things is a Twitter feed loaded with links to marketing material, RTs of company-related business and stories only about your business or industry. It's okay to engage people in ways that aren't specifically designed to sell them something. In the long run, they'll trust you more.

Don't ask for re-tweets unless there is a REALLY good reason (and never ask for favorites). Asking for a RT is just lame unless it is for a good cause. Asking a person to re-tweet a charitable Web site is fine. Asking him or her to re-tweet the special at your restaurant is bad form. Trust your followers to understand what is worthy of an RT and what is not. Believe me, if it is worth it, plenty will spread the word, particularly if you have already won them over with a solid Twitter feed.

Carry on conversations with followers. Twitter is about discussion. No one likes a one-sided conversation -- that's called a lecture. You are not here to lecture your followers 140 characters at a time. Providing good customer service and earning new business is as much about getting to know your customers as it is about telling them your latest special. Developing a good reputation on Twitter can easily cross over into the rest of your business.

Respond to people like a person, not an entity. This seems to be a difficult thing for stodgy, old-school marketers and sales people to get. Twitter is not about the hard sell. It is about acquainting yourself with potential customers and talking to them, you know, like a normal human being. Despite the "corporations are people" discussions from some sectors, your voice is important in this equation and the more personable you can be, the more comfortable your customers will be with you. If it isn't your strong suit to be gregarious and charming (or even comfortable talking), let someone else take a turn at the wheel. It will pay dividends.

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