Self employed guide to Twitter
Twitter is one of the biggest social networks in the world and has grown at an incredible rate in recent years. Figures from the company suggest that as many as 10 million people are actively using it in the UK, with a staggering 555 million registered users around the globe.
With numbers like that, it is certainly worth investigating what value your business can get from the site. Millions of people use it for professional reasons, from self employed freelancers making new contacts through to global corporations using it to enhance their brand.
Twitter in a nutshell
The first question for those unfamiliar with the site is, ‘what is Twitter?’ It is a simple concept where, basically, users can post short messages up to a maximum of 140 characters long. These messages, know as ‘tweets’, can include links to web pages, pictures and videos or just be simple text updates.
How to get started with Twitter
The first process is to set up an account, from then you need to start ‘following’ people so that you can read their tweets and then try to get other people to follow you so that your own tweets can be seen by others.
One of the best ways to start to attract followers relevant to your industry is to follow other people and companies within the same sector and then start tweeting. You will find that some people will follow you back straight away, while you will get more followers if you post useful updates, rather than just advertising yourself all the time, linking to other people’s content and by ‘retweeting’ – this is a quick method of sharing somebody else’s updates.
Following people or companies who you may consider to be competitors can be a good way to get started too. Here are some advantages:
• You get to see what they are tweeting and get ideas on how to use Twitter.
• You get to see who they follow and who follows them, and a lot of these will be relevant to you too so it helps you find other people to follow and interact with.
• You will see relevant tweets that you can retweet to your own followers, again helping build your reputation as a useful ‘tweeter’.
• You can also engage in conversations relevant to your industry, for example seeing questions that your competitors are answering, giving you the opportunity to provide your own advice and feedback to other users at the same time.
There are numerous ways to search for people to follow, both through Twitter itself and using third party tools and websites. The Twitter search function has improved a lot so you can search for companies even if you don’t know their Twitter ‘handle’ (this is the short @name that your account has). Free tools such as Followerwonk also let you search by geographic area and look for people relevant to your industry by searching their profile biographies. You can also search in Google for a company’s Twitter profile by searching for ‘company name + Twitter’, or visit their official site and look for the links to their Twitter page.
Keeping followers interested
Getting people to follow you is only part of the battle, you’ll also have to keep them interested. If you are using Twitter as a business tool then it is best to keep things relevant to your industry rather than updating people on your social life and day to day goings on. That said, it can help some freelancers to show their personal side, especially when mentioning social occasions where you may meet potential clients.
But keeping it predominantly business related will help build your authority and establish your credibility. Some ideas for relevant tweets are:
• Special deals on your own prices and services.
• Special offers from other companies that you feel may be relevant to your customers too.
• Links to news articles or blog posts you’ve written on your website. Twitter automatically shortens links or you can use a URL shortener such as bit.ly to help you save space in your tweets.
• Links to other websites. People will soon see through it if you simply link to your own site all the time, if you curate content from other sources then you are also providing a useful service to your followers. This also encourages others to tweet reciprocal links to your site too.
• Tips and short pieces of advice that people in your industry may find useful.
• Relevant industry events or networking opportunities. This shows you keep up with latest developments in your sector and also gives followers the opportunity to make contact in person if they are attending the same events.
How often should you tweet?
The bare minimum you should be doing is one tweet a day. There is such a high volume of activity on Twitter and people often follow many thousands of accounts at the same time, so unless you are posting regularly enough to get noticed, then your efforts will simply be lost in the crowds.
So long as your tweets are useful, updating it at least five times a day or more is recommended. Obviously it depends on the time you dedicate to it but there are tools and tricks for helping you tweet regularly without spending all day on the site. Hootsuite helps you plan out tweets and schedule them in advance so you can even load up a week of tweets on a Monday and then leave it to send them out for you at different times each day. Buffer is another timesaving tool that lets you store up links and tweets that you want to share and then sends them out at optimum times when the majority of your followers will be online. These tools also have iPhone and Android apps, as does Twitter itself, so you can quickly post updates on the move from your smartphone.
Advanced tips and tricks
As soon as you’ve got to grips with the basics, there are plenty of other techniques you can use to start boosting your numbers of followers even more and making the most of Twitter as a business tool.
The hashtag is one of the most influential Twitter trends, so much so that it has worked its way into popular culture. The habit of using the # symbol before a particular word or phrase was used to group together tweets discussing the same topics. The hashtag then became adopted as a way of searching for what was popular across the network.
So, if you are discussing something that is related to a particular topic, such as copywriting, you could add #copywriting within your tweet and it would show up to people searching for ‘copywriting’ on Twitter.
Adding pictures (or Twitpics) is a great way to enhance your Tweets. They can be viewed from inside Twitter and can easily be shared by others, even across other social networks. You can also add other rich media to your tweets, such as audio using sites such as Soundcloud or videos, for example through micro-video platform Vine.
Keep track of your follower list. There are plenty of fake Twitter accounts out there, many set up just for spam or for ‘selling’ followers to other Twitter users. These do little to enhance your account though and don’t look good if other people see them connected to you. Every so often check for dormant accounts and unfollow them. You can also unfollow those who don’t follow you back or never engage with you.
Promote your Twitter account elsewhere. You can add the Twitter logo to your own website with a link directly back to your Twitter account and add it in your other communication channels, such as a link on your email signature, your Twitter address on your business card and by posting your Twitter account details on Facebook and LinkedIn. There are also simple ways to ‘embed’ your Twitter feed on your own website so people can see what you have been tweeting about without leaving your own site.
If you want to know more about how to use social media to enhance your freelance career then check out our other guides: