If you're clueless how to use Twitter for business, just copy my husband

When you own a business people tell you you have to use Twitter.

And yes, most businesses should at least have a Twitter presence. But if you haven't been using Twitter personally prior to starting your business, figuring out how to get started can be intimidating.

There is a decided difference in how businesses and individuals use Twitter, yet I think most business owners feel as though their business Twitter feed should have the voice of a real person. This is partially because sole proprietors are real people. But also, we're bombarded with the "be authentic" message coupled with examples of brands that do this well:

@ColonelTribune
@SocialPS
‎@innocent

The truth is cultivating an authentic business/brand voice is really, really hard, because it involves years of listening and engaging on social media either by the brand or by the person tweeting on its behalf.

The time and effort it takes to really be authentic on Twitter isn't attainable for a lot of busy small business folks, so instead of attempting authenticity, business owners rely on social media scheduling tools to auto-tweet messages they want to share. Stuff like:

  • Our latest blog post!
  • Product update!
  • Come to an event!
  • Look, we were in the newspaper!

Sure it's a bit tone deaf, but it's fine to use Twitter this way as long as you don't expect the same engagement you would get from cultivating a more authentic presence. 

But is there a balance? How can someone who has never previously used Twitter suddenly jump in and start using it effectively for business in a way that serves the business' bottom line and engages authentically like you're always told to do?

My advice — seriously — is to use Twitter like my husband.

My husband, Jem, is a philosophy grad student turned software developer who is interested in progressive politics, fantasy football and geekery.

He joined Twitter in 2008, just like me. Unlike me though, he didn't post his first tweet until 2011.

Jem didn't sign up for Twitter to build a personal brand. He uses Twitter to curate a news feed on topics that are important to him. He follows people who tweet and share articles about things he cares about but would have difficulty following on mainstream channels. He rarely composes tweets of his own. 

If you're a business owner looking to get some quick wins from the platform this might sound extreme. You're not going to spend three years "listening" to conversation without saying anything, nor should you. But Jem's approach is a useful guideline for businesses starting out with Twitter because he can teach you how to listen. And listening ultimately teaches you how to create content.

Several years ago I kept noticing how, even though I was a social media manager, Jem used Twitter more than I did because his feed was actually relevant to him. So I decided to clean up my feed. I had been following 1,500+ people, some from as far back as 2008. So I decided to pare down to following just over 300 people, like Jem.

"This transformed the way I used Twitter. It became more useful. It was easier to engage in conversations because I actually saw the conversations I wanted to engage in. I found content that I wanted to bookmark, read, reply to, and share. I was also following people I wasn't afraid to engage in conversation with because I felt like I knew them, even if just digitally. 

To use Twitter like my husband

Make Twitter feel like a place you want to hang out

  • Clean up feeds you already have that feel crowded and cluttered
  • Follow only the accounts that post content that is relevant to you
  • Follow people you are friends with
  • Stop following people who annoy you

Use Twitter to curate a news feed

  • Follow accounts that post industry insights you want to follow
  • Use Twitter to find content that is useful to your audience, too

Once you've done some listening — it doesn't have to be for three straight years! — you can start to create content for people like Jem who are selective about who they follow and why.

Create content that is:

  • Useful. Understand your audience: specifically, what they use Twitter for and what they want from a business in your specific industry that they follow on Twitter.
  • Timely. Share things when they are appropriate and don't auto tweet at times that don't make sense. Know when the Superbowl is and understand what your audience likes to read during work hours versus the weekend.
  • Respectful. Don't share the same thing over and over again to try and "increase engagement." Remember the people following you are real people looking for useful content and to make connections.

Twitter is an ongoing conversation. You may not be talking to my husband, but you're talking to people like him who are looking to you to inform them and enrich their lives.