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The Harvard Business Review explores what makes a great tweet

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 21-Jun-2012

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Twitter is a runaway success, with more than half-a-billion registered users, and a community that spans both business and consumer interests. But what makes a “great tweet”? The May 2012 edition of the Harvard Business Review highlighted some fascinating research into user perceptions from a survey covering over 1,400 users people who were particularly technology-focused and news-centric - so more likely to represent a B2B audience than the average Twitter profile.

Twitter BirdSome of the results are particularly relevant to those of us who want to use Twitter as part of an integrated business communication strategy. The study pointed out that despite the fact that Twitter users choose whom to follow, only 36% of tweets were regarded as “worth reading”. So what were the best and worst types of tweets?

Avoid cluttering up your tweet stream with these types of messages

Let’s start with the types of tweets you should avoid sending. The study identified 4 types of tweets that got particularly low ratings:

Worst of all were the tweets that simply maintain your presence with an inane remark like “good morning world”. Unless you’re Justin Bieber (and maybe even if you are), if you haven’t got anything relevant to share, don’t bother.

Next along in the hall of shame were personal messages that were publicly shared. Most users felt uncomfortable listening in to a private conversation. That’s what direct messages are for - so use them.

The other two poorly rated types of tweets were status updates and opinions or complaints, particular if the author was regarded as a serial whinger. I’d summarise the lessons to be learned from these four types of tweets to avoid as respect your audience, don’t be boring, and don’t tweet just to fill space.

What should you be tweeting about?

So - if you want to use Twitter to successfully communicate with a business audience, what should you be tweeting about? Here are the 4 types of tweets that got the most positive reaction:

Users rated tweets that shared relevant information highly, and here’s how you can make these messages even more effective: always bear your audience in mind, share information that they are likely to find valuable, and add your own brief commentary rather than simply rebroadcasting a link.

They also had a positive attitude to tweets that asked relevant questions of the community. Many saw crowdsourcing via well-chosen questions as one of the most useful features of twitter.

Self-promotion, as long as it is appropriate and not boastful, was also largely well-regarded, in particular if it was seen as being relevant to work. Event announcements, job opportunities and new product or service information all fell into this category.

Finally, funny, random or exciting messages - particular ones that made the reader think differently about something were also generally highly regarded, as long as they passed the “who cares/so what” test.

Always bear your audience in mind

In many ways, using Twitter effectively draws on disciplines that are familiar from other elements of the B2B marketing mix: understand your audience, anticipate what they are likely to find interesting, don’t be boring, and make them want to learn more.

For us, Twitter is now the third best source of high quality enquiries on our website (second, by the way, is LinkedIn and the best source is referrals). We’ve won business, gained blog subscribers and learned a lot from our participation (if you’re not already doing so, you can follow me at @bobapollo).

How is Twitter working for your business - and could any of the HBR study’s findings help to further improve its effectiveness? Be sure to share your ideas.

Topics: Business Social Media, B2B Marketing, Harvard Business Review, Complex Sales