It’s time you wrote your first tweet

Really? Do I have to?

I get it. You’ve watched this whole social media thing from the sidelines — in both awe and disgust. Selfies, hashtags, replies, follows and likes. All of it feels a tad plastic and a little more than overwhelming. Does anyone even talk to each other anymore? And then there’s the incessant flow of information. Everything you ever wanted to know about anyone washing over you like a torrential rain. With all of the constant drops hitting us in the face, it’s no wonder we can’t focus on something worthwhile. We’re being bombarded with the good and the bad and the ugly.

Who really wants to follow a conversation with J.K. Rowling and Neville Longbottom? Or know what (the artist formerly known as) Prince ate for lunch? Who cares how Lady Gaga feels about Taylor Swift?

Or worse, you wake up and realize that lots of people in the world really do care about what Prince at for lunch. This makes you feel like an alien visiting a bizarre planet with a bizarre culture that likes to eat bacon in bizarre ways. It makes you want to crawl back into bed, assume the fetal position, and wish for Doc Brown’s flux capacitor, a shiny new DeLorean, and some leg-warmers.

1985 looks nice, right? Anywhere and anytime without social media and reality television and computers in our pockets.

Back to the future

But here’s reality.

You’re a small business owner. You’re an entrepreneur. You’re making something and doing something that fixes a problem in the world. It fills a hole. It satisfies a real need that other people have. And, chances are, you’re pretty damn good at what you do.

If you want people to find out who you are and what you do, you need social media. You need Twitter. You need Facebook. There’s a very tactical reason: mentions and conversations about you and your business in social media increase your search engine ranking (especially with Google).

When people are looking for someone like you, they can find you a lot easier if you’re active in social media. And there’s a very practical reason: social media — done right — connects people to your business. It ties them to you. In a way, it creates a fan club.

Like most entrepreneurs, you rely on word of mouth to sustain and grow your business. You’re looking for satisfied customers who will come back for more and spread the word. When one of their friends needs an oil change or a photographer or a writer or an accountant or a really great cook, you want them to say those three magic words:

“I’ve got someone.”

Social media is one of the least expensive and most powerful ways to make that happen.

It’s tweeting time

Now, we’ve covered some of the first steps to getting on Twitter and using it for your business. So, we won’t go into a lot of details here about how Twitter works and who you should follow. We’re gonna assume you’re all signed up, you’ve had your morning cup of coffee, and you’re staring at that empty status box and wondering what you should say.

Here are three common types of posts (we call them tweets) that will help you get started. By the way, the 140 character limit? Don’t think of it as a limit. We like to think of it as Twitter doing us a favor. If we had to write 300 words every time we wanted to tell the world about a really cool T-shirt we found online, we’d never post anything.

The Reply

replyThis is the easiest type of tweet to craft, because it’s based on something that someone else wrote. You’re basically commenting on their status. Typically, it happens in one of two ways:

  1. You see someone post something you think is really, really great or really, really dumb and you want to tell them.
  2. Someone asks a question and you want to give them an answer.

For example: @someonecool asks a question like, “Hey, where are the best pancakes in Missoula, Montana?” You, being an expert in such things and following people who talk about pancakes and Missoula, can reply “@someonecool Paul’s Pancake Parlor. Tell ’em Large Marge sent ya.”

How do you reply?

It’s pretty straightforward. Make sure you’re logged in and click Reply next to the tweet you want to comment on. A new post will open up with their @username at the beginning. Don’t delete it. Just type your reply after the @username and they’ll see it when you post.

Then get ready. They might reply back. You might have a conversation on your hands.

The Retweet

retweetOK, remember when we said that a reply was the easiest kind of tweet to write? Like, four paragraphs ago. We lied. When you retweet something, you don’t have to write anything at all. All you’re doing is reposting what someone else wrote. You can add a comment if you want, but most people just repost it exactly as is. You give the author credit of course. The people who follow you on Twitter see where the original tweet came from, and they see that you retweeted it.

For example: you come across a smokin’ deal at Paul’s Pancake Parlor. Someone you follow might write something like, “OMG, if you talk like Yoda, you get 2 free sourdough pancakes at Paul’s Pancakes on Tuesdays. Amazing.” You see this and love it so much, you share it with everyone who follows you on Twitter. It’s easy to do. You just click Retweet.

And now all of the people who follow you know about this geekilicious deal at Paul’s every Tuesday.

You might be wondering why anyone would retweet. Seems lazy. What does a retweet do for my business? If I’m not creating content or linking to my website or replying to a potential fan or customer, is it just noise?

Not at all. Here’s why it works:

It helps establish who you are and what you care about. If you retweet stuff that’s related to you and your business, even if it’s not specifically about your business, it still says something about you. If I’m a car mechanic, it makes sense for me to retweet news about car manufacturers and upcoming models. If I’m a real estate agent, it makes sense to retweet posts about my city and local development efforts.

It’s a way to promote someone else. When you retweet, the original tweet’s author sees that you did it. They like that. And they look at who you are. Maybe they follow you. Maybe they don’t. But chances are good they’re going to look at your profile and your website and found out more about the person who just promoted something that they wrote.

Retweeting is like patting new friends on the back. It’s a great way to connect with others on Twitter.

The Share

shareThis is all you, where you post something original. It could be something about you, your business, or your family. And if the navel-gazing personal stuff makes you uncomfortable, it could be something you found online (or offline) that you thought was great or useful and you want to share it with your Twitter tribe.

 

Replies and retweets are useful for building relationships and establishing your brand. People will follow you because you help promote who they are and what they’re doing. But, what you share — your original content — is what keeps people around long term. It becomes the main reason they follow you.

Let’s say you’re a chef at a local restaurant. One way to show people that make the best scones and soup this side of the Rocky Mountains is to tweet about food and how to prepare it. Share recipes and pictures of your food. Promote other local restaurants. At first glance, it might seem counterintuitive to share your secrets or promote the competition, but people will follow you and reply to you and retweet you because they’ll recognize you as an expert. Someone whose got the scoop on the local restaurant scene; someone who knows an awful lot about making food delicious.

Think about the ways that you can establish yourself as a subject matter expert within your field. Share content that fulfills that goal.

One quick warning about sharing original content: don’t always make it about you and your business. Share things that other people are doing. Educate your audience. When you learn something new and interesting, tell them about it and let them know where you found your information.

You’ll figure out the right general content/sales content mix over time, but a good ratio to start with is 80-percent general, useful content and 20-percent sales content. Be useful, be helpful, and you’ll build trust and credibility with your audience.

What’s your next move?

Is that everything? Of course not. Social media is as varied as human connection is varied. There’s not one way to do it. Don’t worry about getting the lingo right. Don’t fret if you’re still figuring out how this whole hashtag thing works. And don’t get hung up about posting something every single day on Twitter. You don’t have to be perfect.

Like anything else, it takes some practice and a consistency. Take 10 minutes a day and catch up on Twitter. See what other people like you are doing. See what your customers and potential customers are talking about. If you’re feeling up to it, post something. Reply to someone. Share a link to something cool you found online.

Who knows? If you keep up with it, you might get good at it. You might start to like it. You might stop daydreaming about DeLoreans and leg-warmers and what life was like in 1985.

Shawn Pfunder
Shawn's been working with freelancers, entrepreneurs, and business owners for more than 20 years. He's consulted companies large and small on communication, social media, and marketing strategies. At heart he's a small-business superfan. He believes that working for yourself is one of the most courageous and creative moves anyone can make. Currently, he's the Editor in Chief for The Garage. When he's not hanging out with solopreneurs, Shawn loves to write, run, and travel. He's passionate about teaching and he's convinced that a good story is the best way to do it — especially if it involves El Caminos, potato fields, and really loud music.