With everyone talking about Twitter and tweeting, you went ahead and set up an account to see what it's all about. Someone told you that it could help you market your products and find new customers, but now you have no idea what to do withor how to make sense of it all.
It may look like a steady stream of random thoughts and mishmash of information, with many tweets that seem to be written in code. What's up with all those # and @ symbols, abbreviated words, and weird-looking Web addresses anyway?
You've probably already figured out that it's very different from other social media and traditional forms of communication. The 140-character limit is only the beginning of how it differs from other social media like Facebook and LinkedIn.
It may be tempting to write Twitter off as a fad, a platform that's only for uber-geeks, not the right tool for farm marketers, or simply something that's hopeless to figure out.
Not so fast. With just a little research online you'll turn up some intriguing statistics about who's using Twitter, how they use it and their interests. According to one blog (www.mindjumpers.com/blog/2012/08/demographic-of-twitter/ ), the fastest growing segment of Twitter users is young adults, age 18-24, followed closely by the 25-34 and 35-44 age groups.
Common marketing wisdom says that these are the ages when brand and company loyalties are formed. They're also the age groups that are looking for fun activities for themselves and their young families (think agritourism) or have preferences for sustainably produced products (think locally grown or organic produce).
Another good source of free Twitter intel is on a site called Beevolve (www.beevolve.com/twitter-statistics/). Particularly interesting are two "tag clouds" that graphically show the most common keywords used in Twitter users' bios. It might be helpful to include some of those words in your tweets.
Hopefully you're convinced of the marketing value of Twitter, but the question remains: How do you make it work? Here are a few tips:
1 I'm busy. How can I be tweeting all day when I'm on a tractor or out in the field most of the time?
Ironically, Twitter itself is not the best tool for managing your tweets or sifting through others' tweets. Instead, consider using a third-party tool like TweetDeck or HootSuite, just two of many out there that will link to your Twitter account and provide much more functionality. Both are available as a Web-based version and free downloadable software, as well as a smartphone or tablet app.
TweetDeck and HootSuite let you schedule tweets, so you can spend a little time queuing up a day's, week's or month's worth of tweets and they'll go out while you're busy running your operation.
They'll also shorten links for you so you can paste a link to your website into your tweets without it taking up most of your allotted 140 characters.
2 How do I get people to follow me? Why should I follow other people?
The simple answer is you can get other people to follow you by following them. When you click on the "follow" button, the other user gets an email notification that you're now following them. They can then choose to follow you back.
Other ways to increase your visibility on Twitter are to use hashtags (more on that later) and simply by being an active tweeter, which increases the chances that you'll be recommended to other users under "Who to follow." Retweeting others is another way to catch their attention, and if others retweet your tweets, their followers will see your tweets, too, and you might pick up followers that way.
3 How do I get my followers to pay attention to my tweets? How can I make sure that they even see them?
One of the best ways to grab a Twitter user's attention is to mention them. That means including their handle - it looks something like this: @username - in a tweet. They'll get an email notification and a notice on Twitter that you mentioned them.
The other way is to use hashtags: keywords preceded by a hash mark (#). Hashtags help users find tweets on topics of interest. For example, someone interested in agriculture can search for #agriculture to find all tweets using that hashtag.
Tools like TweetDeck and HootSuite let users create streams based on specified hashtags of interest. So, if you use those hashtags, your tweets will appear in their streams.
One caveat to scheduling tweets in advance is to not completely "set it and forget it." Twitter is interactive. You'll really start to leverage Twitter's power if you respond to mentions and retweets and get the dialogue going.
Of course, one of the best ways to learn about Twitter is to use it. Follow people and organizations that have common interests and see what they're saying, and then use that information to form your own Twitter strategy.
The author, a freelance writer, is a public affairs specialist for the USDA Natural
Resources Conservation Service in Amherst, Mass., and was previously director of
communications at the Massachusetts Department of Food & Agriculture. Read
past marketing columns by this author at http://farmmarketing.blogspot.com.