Do not use Twitter for business

This guest post by the always excellent Graham Jones, Internet Psychologist, was originally published on 2 July 2010. Like many of Graham’s posts it is thought provoking and rang a bell with me. He has kindly agreed that we can share it with you here:

Yesterday I sent out a simple “tweet” saying I was off to give a presentation that would warn people that Twitter should not be used for business. Within moments the broadcaster and communications consultant James Lush had replied saying he’d be fascinated to know why on earth I was saying such a thing. Well, this morning I delivered my suggestions to the Business Leaders Group where several CEOs and Managing Directors had gathered to find out whether or not social networking could help their business.

So, I rose to my feet, took a deep breath and suggested the un-suggestible. In fact, James Lush was not the only person who wanted to know why I was daring to say Twitter is not for business. Several people I met this morning at the Business Leaders Group said the same thing. They want to know how could I say such a thing when there are plenty of examples of companies making money using Twitter.

But therein lies the twist in my tale. The companies making money from Twitter are not using it as a business tool. Far from it; they are using it as a social tool.

Consider life before Twitter – if you can remember back far enough, before the internet. How did you go about getting new business in those days? And how did you go about getting more business out of existing clients? Unless you are in the fast moving consumer goods industry, business has always been about relationships. You got more business from existing clients by socialising with them – having lunch, playing golf, going down the pub, even, perhaps, going to their daughter’s wedding. But whatever you did, you didn’t discuss business – politics, yes, other people, certainly and “putting the world to rights”, of course. But business – pah! Who wants to talk about that? Yet, despite no talking about business you got more of it from these people.

And, in the past, when it came to getting new customers, what did  you do? You took every opportunity to get to know them. Instead of filling their minds with “buy this” messages you sat down with them, chatted to them, asked them questions about themselves. You were trying to extract as much information out of them as possible to see where you could “fit”. But the encounter with potential clients was always social, not “salesy”. Indeed, if it were focused on sales, what happened? You were accused of being a “hard seller” using …tactics”. In other words, as soon as the conversation turned to business, that’s exactly what you lost. When the conversation was social, you gained business.

Now, fast forward to Twitter. What happens when you see a tweet that is a business conversation, when it is sales focused? Almost certainly you ignore it; you might even get angry and stop following the individual. You will, of course, find an endless array of “social networking gurus” forcing social networking guff at you on Twitter, which makes it seem that these “experts” know a thing or two and therefore if your business does the same thing you’ll be OK. Wrong. Come back in a year and see how many of the “gurus” are still in business….mmmm….I wonder?

The successful businesses on Twitter are not using their tweets to focus on business. Instead, they are simply being social; chatting, holding conversations, being friendly, even showing altruistic kindness. When you see Twitter merely as a system to hold conversations, as a social tool, your business will do well out of it. All the time you see it as a business tool it will fail you. So, don’t “do business” on Twitter, simply socialise – just like you used to do before the web came along.

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  • Interesting post Robert. I was at a twitter course a few months ago and people were asked had they done any business from Twitter? 20 people were on the course and not one hand went up.

    The presenter then when onto explain how a sandwich business in Manchester was using it to communicate their ‘specials’ and encouraging their customers to communicate their order requirements before a certain time so that the sandwich business could get their order ready for them to save them time on collection.

    There could be other possibilities like this it would be useful if you could get your subscribers to report them.

    I think with a little inventiveness you could use Twitter as a business application I also agree with your comments about social interaction as being a strategy as well.

    Regards

    Mark Wheatley

    • Thank you for that feedback, Mark.

      I have built many excellent relationships via Twitter that have been very valuable. I have also gained an amazing colleague who was following me on Twitter, then responded to a blog post, which had been promoted via Twitter. Her response got my attention, we made direct contact, then met, and now work together and I don’t know if I would ever have found her another way.

      In addition I have been interviewed by people all over the world who discovered me on Twitter and have been asked to write articles for some excellent publications.

      Many of the people I have connected with on Twitter have opted to join my mailing list and now receive regular tips and articles by email, all of which builds profile, brand, familiarity, trust and advocacy, which in turn builds clients down the track. It is also a massive driver of traffic to my blog/website. A single tweet has been known to drive up to 400 visitors a time to my site. So I have indirectly gained lots of business via Twitter.

      None of this takes much time and it requires no cash outlay. So yes it definitely has a very big business application, and I have no doubt that it works best if carried out as a series of social interactions, as Graham says.

  • An excellent post, as we come to expect both from Graham Jones and from your site Robert.

    Networking is all about engagement and conversation. Graham gets this across very well, using the social analogy perfectly. One of my favourite phrases about networking is one I heard ten years ago, and it’s become even more pertinent in the days of Twitter and other social networks.

    That phrase was ‘pursue the relationship, not the sale’ and I think Graham’s blog encapsulates that perfectly.

    • Yes Andy, I agree on all fronts. Graham is certainly one of my favourite bloggers for his considered and thought provoking viewpoints, and the way he manages to articulate what social media is really about so well. Pursue the relationship not the sale is most apt. Thanks for your comment. Appreciated.

      • Brilliant article. Thanks for tweeting Andy. Although I agree with every comment made if handled strategically (and wisely) Twitter can “help” business. It can build contacts and networks – the perfect example is Andy Lopata’s tweet on this article. The tweet that says “I’m in Starbucks” is neither clever – who cares! – nor strategic.And finally I love the comment on social networking gurus. I am surrounded by them! None can monetise or build revenue for their supposed skill set yet all tell me how they can help me. For a fee of course!!

        • In terms of helping business, the current (and highly viral) Old Spice advertising campaign must have driven sales of Old Spice through the roof.

          The Old Spice campaign started with some excellent TV ads which instantly put the brand back on the map for lots of people. You need to see it for yourself, so visit: http://www.youtube.com/user/OldSpice

          The social media innovation comes by getting people to talk about the campaign all over the social networks, creating a massive viral effect. Let’s say you spread the message to your followers on twitter with a message referencing @OldSpice, the Old Spice team will pick up your tweet. If it’s good enough they will respond to it.

          But they won’t merely respond with another tweet, instead they will put together a video response, a mini-commercial for Old Spice, which they then publish on YouTube. They’re shooting 100 of these commercials a day. And the buzz it is creating is unbelievable. You can see on their YouTube site how many hits they’re getting. Some of the videos have been viewed up to 6 million times. As I said it has put Old Spice back on the map again for millions of people in a matter of days. It is very creative.

          This article reveals a little more about what they’re doing. http://www.fastcompany.com/1670314/old-spice-youtube-videos-wieden

          This just demonstrates one of the big business benefits of using Twitter creatively, as in this example.

          • i think, perhaps, that reality is being warped a little to make a point when Graham says that conversations that succeed in building relationships with clients and contacts are social not business.

            In my experience (perhaps it’s just me), the social side and the business side mix in a good relationship. Absolutely: the discussions are not pushy or “salesy”. But they do often cover business. To be frank, my clients and prospects have plenty of friends they can be purely social with. With me, they want some business insight too. So I find a blend works best. Sometimes our discussions are purely social. But plenty of times we discuss business too. What kind of trusted advisor would I be if I never talked business with them?

            In my experience, there are two very distinct ways of using Twitter – and both can be successful.

            Some folks have large followings. You and I would be in this camp Robert.

            That means that when we tweet something of interest, it’s often a “broadcast” – and it’s purpose is to bring visitors to our websites who’ll hopefully find what they encounter to be useful and they’ll sign up for our newsletter where we can interact with them more deeply.

            Others have a much smaller contact base on Twitter. They use it as a tool to chat and to build relationships with that smaller group. And those relationships can grow surprisingly strong.

            When I hear people complain that too many people just post what they had for breakfast on Twitter I often smile. The truth is that human relationships are often founded on just this sort of trivia. When you’re chatting at work round the watercooler, how much of it is you giving useful business tips to each other as we’re told we should do on Twitter – and how much of it is about what you saw on TV, how bad the traffic was, or what you’re going to do at the weekend? Trivia is a key part of building relationships.

            Now this second way of using Twitter can be highly effective (as long as your target clients and others you want to build relationships with are on Twitter, of course). But it actually takes quite a bit of work. It’s just like building relationships in the face to face world. You need to keep in touch and converse often.

            Personally I find the latter approach quite difficult nowadays. Once I got a lot of followers (and followed a lot of people myself) it became really difficult to keep up these in-depth conversations. I don’t know how others in the same position feel – but it seems to me like you have to go down one route or the other: either using twitter to primarily broadcast to a lot of fans (with some interaction) – or to have heavier interaction with a much smaller number of contacts.

            Ian

          • Wow Ian. What a response. Thank you so much for taking the time to elaborate your thoughts in this depth. Much appreciated.

            I have to say I agree with you on all fronts. For me the advent of Twitter Lists changed everything. Most of my Twitter following, and conversations, are carried out using lists. My main list is my “inner circle” list. These are the people whose conversations I follow closely and with whom I interact the most. If I spot someone I would particularly value interacting with, they get added to that list. And yes, I broadcast a fair amount. But I also interact as much as I can, if I have the capacity to do so. So I hope I achieve a good mx of both.

            Once again Ian, thanks so much for your quality insighte.

  • Hi Robert – and thanks for your insight on using lists. I’ve not really got into lists much – seems too daunting to try to have to figure out all the names of people in my “inner circle”. But I am sure it’ll make me much more productive if I do.

    Cheers,

    Ian

    • Buying lists can be quite a challenge. And in many ways it’s getting harder, not easier. Building your own responsive list is the best solution ultimately. It takes time and you need to be patient, but in my experience you can get 7-10 times the response rate that you’d get from a cold list. I’ll write about it sometime.

  • Very interesting post Robert. I remember I use to have a follower on twitter who pumped out 400 tweets a day, all with sales pitches of buy this and buy that. I sent him a direct message to lower the tone and got no reply so I deleted him from my list.

    I completely agree that twitter should not be used to push products and services, rather it should be used to inform and educate people where valuable information resources can be found. It is also a great tool to show our human side.

    I agree with what Ian Brodie said about combining both social and business results in a good relationship which can go on to foster trust between both parties.

    • I absolutely agree with you Peter. I also switch off such blatant product promoters without further ado. It’s just spam. Your comment is excellent. Thank you!

    • This title caught my attention and I found myself afraid to read the article! I use twitter a lot for business purposes and think of facebook for personal connections. However, I got to breath a deep sign of relief once I read the whole article. That’s exactly how I’ve been using Twitter… to share wisdom and knowledge through quotes and what I call “Louise-isms”.

      Thanks for a great article!

      • Thanks for your great comment Louise. Seems like you’re doing exactly the right thing, and that’s always nice to know 😉

  • Hi.

    When tweets are just sales focused, you wonder if there is a human face, a person behind them.
    In my trade, gaining new customers and repeat custom is done by building relatonships. Being personable, laughing, chatting, listening and talking to customers about “them” wins everytime. ( No, “are you going on holiday?” questions though. Ever. lol)
    I know if I continually talked sales, then I’d lose their trade. Too many tweets focused on buy,buy,buy will not win any awards with potential customers.
    Humans thrive on good relationships not the hard sell.

    • You’re absolutely right Wendy. And that’s one of the reasons why your venture will probably be a great success.

  • As a creative/filmmaker/composer/writer etc. who tweets amongst other creatives, I’d like to add one caveat to this discussion: We discuss business ALL THE TIME…BUT, not from a hard sell tactical position. We LOVE our industry despite (or maybe even because of) it’s inherent challenges and difficult odds, and we REALLY REALLY CARE about what we do, so our discussions range from the creative to the strategic, to “do you know anyone who can (insert job skills here)”. We are all generally out looking for the next road to financing or paid gigs (whether we utter it aloud or not) but we are also simply happy meeting new like minded people in our craft and trying to establish a creative community that supports each other in a rapidly changing tech/biz environment.
    Our businesses are INTERESTING and not necessarily just to us, because what we do leads to entertainment for the masses. There is nothing as big of a turn off as the “push sell”, the “standard” biz term boring/buzzword B.S., and the endless stream of instant “gurus” who are ironically push selling on Twitter and elsewhere. So take off your effin suit and tie (metaphorically and literally;) and be a real freakin human for a change;) You can still put em back on for that meeting with the suits but on Twitter you are overdressed.

    T.Reed – Composer/Producer

    • You’re spot on. Nothing wrong with professional business related exchanges (even with suit and tie off) on Twitter. It’s at the heart of what Twitter is about. It’s the naked hard sell and product pushing that’s unacceptable.

    • If anything should be used for business in these economically challenging times, it is social media. Who do you know cannot benefit from FREE publicity? Who do you know cannot benefit from having someone else “wave your flag?” Make no mistake, there is a skill involved here. Not everyone using social media to build their business does it properly. Of course, not eveyone using traditional advertising does it right, either.

      Twitter works quite well for businesses when those using it know how to proceed. That means you have a plan – a design that is going to implemented. Rather than hope for success, you expect it.

      With the death of Tim Russert back in 2008, Twitter showed the world it was more powerful than any centralized media source – including CNN and the New York Times. Twitter defines the present tense. But, how is that even possible? It’s not simply a matter of software and programming wizardry. It’s possible because people around the world first agreed to help build the infrastructure. Then, those same people volunteered their time to help make it work. People, not the technology, are the fuel that drives Twitter and the social media train in general.

      If anything, all those folks across America who want a better future for themselves should be doing what Twitter has already done. And, what is that? Make themselves indispensable. How is that achieved? It is achieved by building an infrastructure that is based upon volunteer participation and provides a “potential benefit” for all those involved.

      I plan to do that very thing to help put Broward Couty, FL back-to-work. See http://www.squidoo.com/TJC.

      Lamar Morgan

  • I just wanted to say a big “thank you” to everyone who has commented on this article and taken part in the conversation. I really appreciate the time you have taken to add your thoughts. And I am glad to see that we all largely agree – it is all about human relationships.

    I was at a meeting the other day when I mentioned that the internet was not what most people think it is – a network of connected computers. I got a dumbfounded look when I said that…! But then I added that the internet is a network of connected human beings. It isn’t about computer to computer connections – that’s just the tool we human beings use to connect with each other. Without human beings, the internet does not exist…!

    And that’s why I think it is such a shame that so many companies and so-called “internet marketers” focus all their attention on what the technology can do, rather than on what people can do with it.

    It is refreshing to see that everyone who has commented here is so well focused on the human side of the internet and Twitter in particular.

    • Agree 100%. Gary Vaynerchuk likens social media to shrinking the marketplace back down to when we all knew our local butcher, farmer, grocer. Social media is making the world smaller again and corporate “stiffiness” isn’t going to work for much longer.

      Cheers!

      • Hi Dean, yes I think that is a very good analogy. I appreciate the comment.

  • Hi Robert: Thank you for this post. This really clears up questions I have about social marketing! I found this to be extremely helpful! I am looking forward to reading more of what you have to offer. – Cody Horton

  • Twitter is a fantastic site for connecting people, and I must admit that initially I thought it would be great for marketing my products.
    I created an account and started to send out automatic tweets containg affiliate links to products but it was soon apparent that people immediately ‘switch off’ to this approach.
    Now I tweet to people directly, engaging them ‘personally’ in conversation, getting to know them, commenting on their tweets/ideas and I must say that this approach has brought me much more in the way of nusiness than the Hard sell.
    I totally disagree with the Blog post title – ‘Do NOT use twitter for business’ …I say,by all means DO use twitter for business – but don’t make it about your business alone.
    Make it personal ….
    Good brainfood though and thanks for posting it.
    I will be sharing it.

    • Hello Cliff, thanks for your comments. What you say demonstrates that there is little or no tolerance for unwanted sales messages, otherwise known as Spam. Yes of course you should use Twitter for business. But not for spamming people. I’m happy with the title of the post. It has a nice twist to it when you get into the piece and read on … 😉

    • Karen King

      Sorry you are wrong about social media you just end up with lots of timewasters and wasting time – this has been the experience of many you can never beat local selling or your own website to which u drive traffic. Too many people come to rely on twitter which puts them in a very powerful position over your business if you are dumb enough to think they dont scratch the backs of some and not others you deserve to have your time wasted. Out of 7 of us with businesses on twitter 0 of us have seen any real benefit apart from wasting lots of time tweeting and chatting to freeloaders. If your going to use twitter put a window on it with all your contact details and tweet once a day or you will find what u earn against the time u spend “networking” is negligable, most people are on twitter for social reasons, as was pointed out in a thread below – there are so many millions of tweets going past people per hour they ignore them, great for business! Its not FREE publicity its hours and hours of tweeting etc and you know what they say when things are free they are also worthless. Take the time and effort to build your own website or online networking via skype etc – twitter is for twitts x

  • The other thing I’ve found to be an issue in my professional life (unrelated to my blog) is that clients get confused about your intention if you’re not clear about using social media (not just Twitter) only for social reasons.

    The first thing I did in one recent work contract was clarify the usage of the company Facebook page so clients knew to contact the company for specific questions. This also helps in the age of strict privacy laws.

    • Hmm. Sounds like you are speaking about “business” from the exclusive perspective of a social media consultant or a professional service provider. I’d argue that global companies MUST use Twitter for business and use it wisely. Twitter heightens and accelerates customer service and crowdsourcing. Speed has become a differentiator between great service and even greater service. And crowdsourcing drives innovation; it helps companies solve critical mission issues faster and more effectively.

  • I was very interested in this article.
    I work for an established ecommerce dev company which is brand new to Twitter. My boss wants me to establish a following and relationships on Twitter but as I’m getting started, I find myself questioning the value of it. I’ve had a personal Twitter account for years and I know that it is awesome for networking. Yet I question whether anyone would hire a company to perform web development for them, just because they saw them on Twitter. I know that obviously I can take my relationships off Twitter in order to deepen them, but I’m still doubtful that this is a good strategy. I want to deliver results to my company and not waste their time and money.
    Any suggestions for me?

    • Thank you for your comment Naomi. You raise an excellent point. No, people would NOT hire a company to perform web development for them simply because they see them on Twitter. It is a big mistake to think that. The fact that someone might see you on Twitter, on Facebook, on LinkedIn or on a billboard mean nothing in themselves. You’re just one of millions, even hundreds of millions trying to be seen above the crowd. But if, as you so rightly say, you use Twitter (or Facebook, LinkedIn or other social networks) to develop and nurture relationships, and in the process come across as more helpful, likeable, knowledgeable or competent than the alternatives, then you can do generate quite a lot of business via Twitter.

      In the last 2-3 weeks I have probably gained £30-40K worth of business (and it might end up being 3 times that amount) from people with whom I have interacted on Twitter. In one case we have interacted intermittently for about a year. In another it was much shorter, but an exchange on Twitter lead to an email exchange, which led to a meeting.

      I believe you are thinking in exactly the right terms. Use Twitter as one of many ways to build a relationship. Don’t expect people to swoon and send business your way just because they see you are there. They won’t. I guarantee it. But build those relationships, and it will be very lucrative down the track. And I am tempted to guarantee that too … but of course that depends on the quality of your interactions, the questions you ask, and what you share!

  • Thank you Robert and Ian for this considered conversation. I am starting out on Twitter so this is very useful input.

    I agree with Ian that clients expect to talk business with their trusted advisors. At the same time, as a prospect for some of the businesses I follow, I am turned off by the constant stream of ‘personless’ tips and aphorisms and like to hear something a little more personal. However I have also learnt not to use my experience as a norm.

    I also wonder how far you can go with the interesting material. I have tried a number of different approaches. I tried a single site for all my interests and then different sites for different interests and now I am thinking about going back to one. Multiple personalities on Twitter is a lot of work.

    What is your thinking on keeping multiple, very different conversations going in Twitter? I suppose it is difficult to generalise but I wonder if you have guiding principles in this regard. Do you think clients and prospects find this distracting?

    • An old boss of mine used to go to the races on Saturday and come in with a heap of new business on Monday. Now he wasn’t going to the races touting for business, he was going ‘cos he loved everything about it.

      But the key is he brought in new business, everybody could clearly see the cause and effect.

      The issue with much of social media is that direct correlation is often missing.

  • An old boss of mine used to go to the races on Saturday and come in with a heap of new business on Monday. Now he wasn’t going to the races touting for business, he was going ‘cos he loved everything about it.

    But the key is he brought in new business, everybody could clearly see the cause and effect.

    The issue with much of social media is that direct correlation is often missing.

  • Karen King

    I spent several months building my tarot business on Twitter KarenKingTarot just posting lovely pics n card spreads built to 900 followers then twitter decides to suspend my account – gone – customer service is disgraceful, in fact they just don’t care about your business – Do yourselves a favour and leave twitter alone for business it didn’t generate as much business as other avenues in fact very little and like all internet social medias there is no face to face u never know who u are talking to, lots of fakes etc. My advice is this stay off twitter it does not enhance your busness but in 10 seconds my business window was wiped out because 100 saudis followed me in a coupe of hour period – anything that puts limits on your business does exacty that. I won’t be returning to twitter 8 months of work just down the drain. Be warned there is no contact details for twitter so if your in the middle of doing business and they decided too many peope have followed u your will be eliminated as will your business. Stick to advertising and local business most people on twitter are not looking for business its “social” media in that title lies the answer. TWITTER IS RUBBISH FOR BUSINESS n those saying they are earning fortunes I frankly don’t believe its all hype and nonesense. Hope this has helped you make your decision not to put your business on twitter x

  • Karen King

    http://itbswatch.com/2011/05/06/why-twitter-is-useless/
    Sorry you are wrong about social media you just end up with lots of timewasters and wasting time – this has been the experience of many you can never beat local selling or your own website to which u drive traffic. Too many people come to rely on twitter which puts them in a very powerful position over your business if you are dumb enough to think they dont scratch the backs of some and not others you deserve to have your time wasted. Out of 7 of us with businesses on twitter 0 of us have seen any real benefit apart from wasting lots of time tweeting and chatting to freeloaders. If your going to use twitter put a window on it with all your contact details and tweet once a day or you will find what u earn against the time u spend “networking” is negligable, most people are on twitter for social reasons, as was pointed out in a thread below – there are so many millions of tweets going past people per hour they ignore them, great for business! Its not FREE publicity its hours and hours of tweeting etc and you know what they say when things are free they are also worthless. Take the time and effort to build your own website or online networking via skype etc – twitter is for twitts x

  • Sarisenoglu Ege

    After all, all the strong connections we have made so far in twitter will serve our business as well. Business is all about people connections. So it is a win win situation I believe for both parties. The greatest upside of twitter is the ease of contacting people we do not know of. We can join any cocktail party.