Kristi Colvin (@kriscolvin) is a brand builder and product creator who’s passionate about using new technologies, like Twitter, to help people bring their dreams to life. She writes about Twitter at Twitterface.me.
Why IS IT that some people seem to build up followers, have lots of friends, get on some lists here and there of top users and people you should follow, and others don’t, but want to? In a previous post I discussed the 3 ways to use Twitter. This article specifically addresses the “social for business” use for those of us who use Twitter as a promotional tool for any reason. These people first have to be broken into two groups:
- Genuine Celebrities (Be They Globally Famous or Merely Geeky)
- The Rest of Us
We Have Different Expectations of Celebrities
Celebrities, such as Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Diddy, Martha Stewart, and even noted “tech celebrities” such as Robert Scoble and Guy Kawasaki, have a different experience than most of us, due to the number of people that want to follow them for various reasons or admiration. The Law of Reciprocity may or may not be used by celebs, but they attract plenty of attention anyway. You cannot compare yourself to them. When people find out they’re there, they often gain thousands of followers overnight.
The Rest of Us Are In a Popularity Game
People may not like it, but Twitter is as old-fashioned a popularity game as high school is, IF you want to use it to promote your business, products, services or special causes. It doesn’t matter if you have 50 followers, or 50,000, if you are a non-celebrity (remember, they are differently perceived than you), you will need to have some level of popularity amongst your friends and followers because you cannot extend the reach of your message without these people. By “being popular” I mean, you need to be liked and appreciated. This is not like traditional marketing - this is social marketing and being social requires a lot of interaction with other people. (Celebrities should pay attention to the rest of this article if they want their fans and followers to adore them beyond words. Acts of kindness are doubly appreciated when you admire the person already.)
This isn’t a magic “popularity” ingredient, nor can I ensure you’ll get followers by the droves if you take my advice. This IS however, a philosophical theory that can bring you benefits if you understand it and are able to take advantage of it in your self-promotional efforts.
I am not sharing this because I want everyone to think I have some super-sales twitter tactic for big-time business growth & thousands of followers or whatever the new crop of infamous “twitter marketers” are hawking. I follow lots of people, and I have seen (I think) virtually every kind of attempt to get followers and peddle one’s wares that exists. I see great businesses, big and small, that are sending out their info in an attempt to generate some interest in what they have to offer. And time and time again, I see some methods fail, or worse, suffer backlash from vocal users who like to point out shortcomings in others. I want to help those businesses understand how to use Twitter like I do (because after all, it works for me.)
Understanding The Law of Reciprocity
The simple way to describe the Law of Reciprocity is to equate it to The Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But most of us were taught that in grade school and it still doesn’t help us win friends and influence people on Twitter! The actual, mathematical theorem depicted at Wikipedia is no help at all (except for you super-smart-geeks!) and what I am talking about is not spiritual in nature, though many students of spirituality and “law of attraction” believers consider this an important aspect of the universal condition.
I have some diagrams here to help illustrate my point. Each little spot on the circles is a “topic” of conversation on Twitter.
What I see companies and self-employed people do on Twitter, all the time, is operate like this circle on the left. They tweet, retweet and link to only that information which specifically talks about their company, a company employee, or company news of some type.
They may be friendly, and branch out a little bit over time, but their circles of interest revolve only around their own product, services, company or cause. I don’t think many businesses realize how this is perceived by others - they don’t necessarily intend to be self-serving only, so this is not a criticism but a different point of view to consider.
Popular (non-celebrity) users, on the other hand, tweet, retweet and link to information of all sorts. If a follower announces they’re having a baby, have graduated college or are getting married, they often excitedly tweet congratulations. They share items of interest that they feel others might like, even if they have no use for them. They participate sometimes in fun and silly games like #FollowFriday (where people make suggestions for people they recommend following) or #80sPhotoWeekend (wherein some of us risked ridicule by posting pics of ourselves that should have gone unseen.) They get into conversations that people are having, debating everything from the state of the economy to the controversial social practices to the best way to tweet. They share opinions, spread good and bad news, help new followers get on board and generally have a good time with the people in their Twitter stream.
“BUT!!!” you might say, “I have no time for this! I am a busy business person who is all about business!” I hear you. I myself am neglecting about 12 other things simply to write this post. We are all busy. But this is NOT broadcast marketing. This is not a radio ad, tv spot, newspaper ad or direct mailer. This is social media marketing, and that takes the one thing we have even less of than we have money… it takes time.
I often refer to “pimping my friends” and have been told I’m an expert schmoozer… much of that is my particular, fairly social personality. I want to share information about the people, company and clients that I care about, but I know some folks don’t understand why they send me direct messages asking me to tweet something, and I ignore it. I do what I can, but can’t tweet things out I have no relation to, sympathy for, understand, or would use myself without seeming, rightfully so, fake. I try to share what I know about in line with the things people know I am interested in, mostly and just remain true to my character about it.
I recommend using Twitalyzer to find out where you stand in terms of being generous with others. If you enter my name, you’ll see I am not scoring very high on “Generosity” because I don’t retweet things as much as others do. Yet, many of my followers perceive me as generous, because they’ve witnessed me trying to help someone else. We all have our own ways of being helpful, but this information is good for me to know because I do in fact, read more links sent out than I retweet. I should step it up a bit and share those more! Seeing me help someone else, or retweet something for someone, creates the goodwill of the Law of Reciprocity - whether I have helped the person observing this or not. This is good to know, but this is where the Law also gets a bit complex. Coach John Agno explains it well at his site:
The law of reciprocity is not what can best be described as “transactional reciprocity.” Baker says that, “Many people conceive of their business dealings as spot market exchanges–value given for value received, period. Nothing more, nothing less. This tit-for-tat mode of operation can produce success, but it doesn’t invoke the power of reciprocity and so fails to yield extraordinary success.”
Baker explains, “The lesson is that we cannot pursue the power of reciprocity. When we try to invoke reciprocity directly, we lose sight of the reason for it: helping others. Paradoxically, it is in helping others without expecting reciprocity in return that we invoke the power of reciprocity. The path to reciprocity is indirect: reciprocity ensues from the social capital built by making contributions to others.
The deliberate pursuit of reciprocity fails, just like the pursuit of happiness. Acts of contribution, big and small, build your fund of social capital, creating a vast network of reciprocity. And so those who help you may not be those you help. The help you receive may come from distant corners of your network.”
In reality, understanding how these dynamics work is just the first part of the challenge. We must genuinely like people to benefit from social media, because if you like someone, your intention is naturally more reciprocal and less self-serving. If you have a bit of an introverted or anti-social personality, this may be hard. If you are very intellectual and suffer from an intolerance of small talk, even harder. It might be a good idea to enroll someone to help you and to tweet on behalf of your business if this is the case. Your spouse, best friend or loyal employee might be able to do a better job than you may with this technology and new way of marketing. Empower them not just to “toe the company line” but to BE social… to chit-chat, to talk about random thing, to share the good news, links and informations shared by others, and to show their unique personalities online.
It is not when you are focused on the Law of Reciprocity that it will work for you - it’s when you’re not. I have literally gone on a mini-Facebook rant and moments later received a direct message from a prospective client wanting to know if my company does social media optimization. I worry about some of the things I tweet because I am highly opinonated, but not too much. Everyday, people both follow me and unfollow me. Focus on getting to know the people who have done you the honor of following you BEFORE talking about your business.
Rather than trying too hard to promote your business, mention it when something appropriate comes up. Talk naturally about your day (a benefit of frequent tweeting) and that will include aspects of your work. Share advice when you see questions. When a need that has to do with your industry is mentioned, you might be the first expert someone thinks of, and you will now be familiar to them so their recommendation will go to you. That’s how it works. It’s not a “tactic”, not a “strategy”, but you, being normal, with strangers in a social space just like you would at a party or public event. But for the Law of Reciprocity to work you have to let go of the controls and rules about how you use this medium.
I have often seen Scott Stratten, aka @unmarketing on Twitter, share something that others retweet when they see it, that sums up this advice in 140 characters:
The Five Steps of Twitter Success: Follow, Reply, Retweet, Share, Repeat
I want to break these down and go into some detail, because a lot of businesses may feel they are doing this already, and don’t understand why it’s not working.
Follow LOTS of people with varying interests… not just the folks that you think will buy what you’re selling.
Reply to anything you see that you have an answer in your head for (within reason.) People LOVE to be acknowledged, and sometimes we put something out we think is funny or interesting or needed and it just falls flat. Reply to people often - it is the only way to truly get to know them and become friends.
Retweet things that both apply and don’t apply to you and your mission. If it seems beneficial to many folks, or it gave you a hearty laugh, those tweets are great candidates for retweets and have nothing to do with your business (but it promotes lots of goodwill!)
Share all kinds of information. If you pick up some things at lunch at the mall because there is an incredible sale, share that - let people know because it might help them too. I often share job information because I have a client in the industry, but mainly because thousands of people are desperate for jobs! I don’t retweet every single thing I see, or share it, but if there is a hot-button issue like that you can share about that helps others, don’t hesitate because it doesn’t seem “on-topic” for your purpose.
Repeat daily and be consistent. Don’t just login to Twitter to promote something and go away. Find the time to work it into your daily routine if you want to use Twitter as a self-promotional tool. How else do you expect people to find you? Twitter by far sends more people to my sites, blogs and information than any search engine or advertising ever has. That is probably because I talk a lot!
Note: this is study was conducted by Nielsen. I'm not sure of the error rate, who was targeted, what's considered a Twitter quitter (stops Tweeting, deletes account, stops following certain Twitters etc) however, the story is still interesting...what are your thoughts??
NOTE: See the important update to this story here.
David Martin, Vice President, Primary Research, Nielsen Online
Oprah embarrassed herself on it with a stuck caps lock. That guy from Punk’d competed with “the most trusted name in news” for audience. A befuddled Jon Stewart shook his fist at it in anger. Let there be no doubt: Twitter has grown exponentially in the past few months with no small thanks to celebrity exposure. People are signing up in droves, and Twitter’s unique audience is up over 100 percent in March. But despite the hockey-stick growth chart, Twitter faces an uphill battle in making sure these flocks of new users are enticed to return to the nest.
Follow Vs. Follow-through
Currently, more than 60 percent of U.S. Twitter users fail to return the following month, or in other words, Twitter’s audience retention rate, or the percentage of a given month’s users who come back the following month, is currently about 40 percent. For most of the past 12 months, pre-Oprah, Twitter has languished below 30 percent retention.
To understand why this poses a problem for Twitter, check out the chart below. By plotting the minimum retention rates for different Internet audience sizes, it is clear that a retention rate of 40 percent will limit a site’s growth to about a 10 percent reach figure. To be clear, a high retention rate doesn’t guarantee a massive audience, but it is a prerequisite. There simply aren’t enough new users to make up for defecting ones after a certain point.
Maybe we’re jumping the gun. Twitter is still something of a fledgling, and surely some other sites that eventually lived up to Twitter-like hype suffered from poor retention in the early days. Compare it to the two heavily-touted behemoths of social networking when they were just starting out. Doing so below, we found that even when Facebook and MySpace were emerging networks like Twitter is now, their retention rates were twice as high. When they went through their explosive growth phases, that retention only went up, and both sit at nearly 70 percent today.
Twitter has enjoyed a nice ride over the last few months, but it will not be able to sustain its meteoric rise without establishing a higher level of user loyalty. Frankly, if Oprah can’t accomplish that, I’m not sure who can.
Note from Bria: I hold onto the account cuz I have dear fellow bloggers that I speak to in R.T. (not RT) everyday. if it wasn't for them, I promise I'd have deleted the account fairly quickly. Should something better come along and I know it will-I'll delete my Twitter account expeditiously! Also...if you get your updates on your phone-u better have an unlimited text message package, as some Twitters TRULY and DISRESPECTFULLY LOVE to hear themselves talk. It takes away from the Twitter experience.
check out Bria's Own Words