The swine influenza outbreak makes Twitter more useful and somewhat useless, at the same time. The difference comes down to the care you took when you chose whose updates to follow. Businesses can learn a lot of from this, but mostly how to brand themselves in this new, social media.
“Following” someone in Twitter is subscribing to their “tweets” or comments. My take has always been if they add value to my day, I will follow them.
As the news about the swine flu news started breaking, it became clear that there were people you trusted, some you did not and those who you weren’t quite sure about. Naturally, all social media sites are just word-of-mouth at the speed of the Internet. Anyone with a mouth, a phone and a Twitter account can say anything. Despite that, the information for the most part on Twitter has been amazingly accurate. There are several reasons this doesn’t get to be like the game of telephone.
One is that a trusted network can help you get to the authorities on the subject. Hint: @CDCemergency is the real CDC, and @AboutSwineFlu is a clever, albeit opportunistic retweet or forwarding of information with swine flu in the title.
Thanks to @CDCemergency, I learned about and listened to the audio of a press conference on the outbreak. I learned quite a bit listening to detailed explanations as the New York Times and NPR asked their questions of the CDC doctors.
A recent study by MarketingProfs, LLC finds that a key driver of Twitter users is to “learn new things from people.” Combine this with ComScore data that shows most Twitter users are over 35 years old, and it becomes understandable why users take time to build what equates to a “professional network” of their choosing. They can – and do – add and remove people at will; No harm, no foul.
If you know the average user is on to learn new things, you can understand why they engage in conversations, ask follow-up questions and don’t want to get your sales pitch. You can understand why they will invest several weeks in finding the right people to follow. Many will not invest the time to build the network and never find the value in these tools.
So again, if their goal is to learn, what should your goal be? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
Add value to your follower’s day by teaching. Following the updates of the right people will do the same for you.
This also explains what, to me, is one of the more surprising aspects of Twitter: The TweetUp. These are meet-ups of Twitter users. If you’ve ever gone to a conference with amazing attendees and found the best information and discussion was happening in the halls between sessions – then you know what a TweetUp is like. It is like being in the halls and you determine the conference topics.
Twitter reminds me of my years in radio. You never see the audience but they are there and know about you – at least the parts you are willing to share. It is this type of personal and professional branding that carries a lot of weight in these communities.
On the other hand, this becomes challenging as very few people are one-dimensional. Some keep the branding that way, but even CEOs and CMOs that tweet show their human side. Sure, limit your family and location information, but have fun and keep your branding reasonably consistent.
Many users use the Twitter search tool to find people with similar interests. It takes a while, but once you get the hang of it, you can find some interesting folks.
Before you actually start following people, look at a screen or two of their tweets. Is the content they shared relevant to you?
Do they have a profile listed, and perhaps even a web site? This would help you learn more about you, like if they are trying to sell you something or if their ideas are compatible with yours.
Are they using Mr. Brown Box, the stock avatar? This frequently indicates a newbie. Everyone is new sometimes, so this is not a sin, but it doesn’t help you learn more about the person.
Finally, what is the proportion of followers to those they are following? You don’t want to go with someone who is confusing followers with the ability to influence. Generally, if the user is following 30 percent more people than are following them – that’s fine.
Now the other half of the equation is what will you share? Where is your passion? Bring it. This is the time and place to grow.