Twitter without the BS

Why is it so hard to get practical advice on using Internet promotional tools?

Everything in Internet marketing seems to come wrapped in a ton of hype and BS and few appear able or willing to strip things down to their basics. And believe me, it’s no easier for me.

Finding a straight, concise answer about anything in Internet marketing is ridiculously hard whether you’ve been at it for 16 years or 16 minutes.

Twitter is a perfect example of this.

First, the news media made it look ridiculous.

Then, the Internet “gurus” piled on with claims that it’s really the most powerful marketing tool that’s ever been created – but only if you know the “right” way (their way) to use it…which they’ll be glad to teach you for an unreasonable fee.

Everything a serious-minded person needs to know about Twitter

1. Twitter’s popular and it’s been adopted by every major media outlet. A percentage of your customers use it. These facts alone signal that anyone who has anything to promote needs to use it.

2. Twitter is dead easy to use, both for publishers and consumers of information.

3. Twitter’s just another channel with its strengths and weaknesses. It contains no inherent magic. If there is “magic” in it, it comes from using it intelligently.

4. Twitter is not something to build a business on. Yes, it’s easy to “game” the system to generate large numbers of “followers” but, like 99% of the things taught by the Internet marketing fad pimps, this approach is a total waste of time.

5. Twitter is a truly great research tool and a great keeping-in-touch-with-those-who-want-to-hear-from-you-tool.

How to think about Twitter

1. Twitter is a web publishing platform. It’s a free way for people to set up their own easy-to-use web sites. It’s a stripped down version of a blog. (Some people accurately call Twitter a micro-blog.)

2. Twitter limits posts (”tweets”) to 140 characters – about the length of a headline or classified ad. You can say and do a lot in 140 characters. Ask any poet or copywriter. Get over it. Being limited to 140 characters is not an issue.

3. One of the key Twitter skills is to learn how to shrink a long address into a short one so you have more room to get your message across. Here’s the tool I use for that:
http://twtr.us/twtr.html

How to use Twitter

1. As a publisher, the most important thing to keep in mind about Twitter is to have a clear purpose and consistent public face for each of your Twitter channels (assuming you need more than one.)

For example, if your topic is investing in gold or ski resorts in the Alps, stick to the point. Don’t start ranting about completely unrelated issues, personal or global.

A little “personality” from time to time is fine, but too many off-point posts and too many fragmentary (and incomprehensible) posts of half a conversation are going to confuse and put off busy, serious-minded people (the kind of people who buy and get things done.)

2. A lot of people use Twitter for “personality” marketing. In other words, their posts are chock full of off-topic reports and obscure shout outs to god-only-knows-who.

If you think you’re a fabulously fascinating person and the world can’t get enough of the minutia of your everyday life, have at it, but I don’t recommend it.

3. What I do recommend is making sure that every post (or “tweet”) counts.

Somehow the mistaken idea has spread that Twitter is supposed to be a stream-of-consciousness medium, that whatever is on your mind at any given moment is fair game for a Twitter post. This is not communicating, this is a form of verbal diarrhea.

4. Craft your Twitter posts. Think about them.

Ask yourself: “Is what I’m about to post useful, interesting, on-topic, and in character?”

In other words, run your “tweets” through a filter, the same way you connect your mouth to your brain when you’re speaking.

I’m not saying that each and every post has to be a home run or that you have to agonize over every one, but unless someone is wildly in love with you, be aware random, off-topic, minutia gets old really fast.

How to get readers

The purpose of writing is to have readers.

There are two ways to get readers (called “followers” in Twitter):

1) tell everyone you know about your channel and send them to it (do this consistently) and

2) reach out on Twitter.

If you already have a large circle (you’re a celebrity, you have a big mailing list and/or you have a lot of traffic to your web site), it’s easy to build a big Twitter following fast. Just let people know about it (repeatedly) and don’t publish crap.

If you don’t have any of these things, you’ve got to do it the old fashioned way by reaching out to relevant folks.

Note the word “relevant.” One of the scams currently taught by the Internet marketing “gurus” is to randomly follow thousands of Twitter users. The idea being that some of them will reflexively follow you back and thus you will develop a large “following” and appear to be popular. Not a good idea.

Here’s a better idea: Follow people and info sources that you’re genuinely interested in.

How to reach out on Twitter – and how not to

It’s easy to find Twitter users who might like to be readers of your Twitter channel.

Click on the “find people” link on Twitter and enter keywords that are likely to turn up people and organizations that are in sync with what your Twitter channel is about.

For example, as a hobby (which also makes money), I run a jazz video web site.

After I let my list and site visitors know I have a Twitter channel, I went to the “find people” page and entered logical keywords for my niche: jazz, jazz club, jazz fest, jazz fan etc.

Then whenever I have some spare time, I “follow” another 100 channels in this category. Some will follow me, some won’t. I really don’t care. I only follow channels I’m genuinely interested in or people I’m very certain would find what I’m doing interesting.

One point: I don’t suddenly follow 1,000 or 10,000 channels overnight.

Why?

Two reasons: 1) because that’s not how normal people use Twitter and 2) Twitter doesn’t like it.

You may say – as many Internet marketing “gurus” do – who cares what Twitter likes? Well, there are two reasons:

First, you’re a guest on their service. Why not be a good guest instead of a greedy slob?

Second, you’re a guest on their service which means they can throw you off any time they want for violating their terms of service agreement.

Given how much totally bogus crap has been written about Twitter “how to” – much of which has become “common knowledge” – I recommend reading Twitter’s short, clear and very reasonable Terms of Service agreement.

You can read Twitter’s Terms of Service Agreement here

Summing up

Twitter is, in spite of all the hype and misinformation, definitely worth your time and attention.

It’s a great way to keep up with news on a wide variety of topics, to see what people are thinking and talking about, and to serve your readers.

The key is that writing for Twitter is like writing for any other medium.

Is what you are writing about interesting, useful, and/or entertaining? If it is, you can carve it on a rock and it will work. If it’s not, then neither Twitter nor anything else is going to help you.

Is your Twitter channel focused and consistent so people know what they’re going to get when they sign up for it and then get what they expect when they do?

It’s not rocket science and it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s just Twitter and my hats off to the creators for stumbling on this thing and making it available to the world. It’s a net contribution.

– Ken McCarthy

P.S. This year’s System Seminar will be in Chicago, April 9, 10 and 11.

For more info: The System Seminar

P.P.S. If you want to follow me on Twitter, you can do that here: Follow Ken on Twitter

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