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August 25, 2008

Random thoughts on associations using Twitter + a step-by-step strategy for getting started

Lindy's continuing the conversation about associations using Twitter. In a comment to her post, Bruce Hammond asks if any associations are using Twitter "to gain additional information about what their members are doing."

Brilliant question! Here's a guy who gets it.

This is absolutely key! Bruce understands the seemingly most under-utilized rule of social media: Lurk before you leap. Just as in blogging, to be most effective in Twitter, you should do more reading than writing.

Now, I'm sure you wouldn't consider doing this, Bruce: It would be pretty evil to compile member tweets in a database and mine them. However, following members' tweets, learning about them, responding to them, and generally making sense of what twitter-constituents think and feel would be just fine.

To address Bruce's question directly, I use twitter as an information gathering tool all the time. Like just today I was working on a marketing piece for our convention and needed some information: I asked members what they do NOT miss about their day jobs when they travel to conventions or while away on vacations. The other day I asked my followers to take a Twitter Poll to decide which subject line to use in an e-mail. And guess what? I changed my mind based on the responses.

I also just listen and observe quite frequently. Twitter is often a place for people to vent and you can learn a lot about members' pain from it. So here's a pretty obvious chain of events: Member voices a pain on Twitter > You determine that you can do something to fix it > You heal the pain > Member sees you (and your association) as a helpful agent > Member feels engaged > Engagement increases likelihood of renewal and Net Promoter Score.

Yes there are more and more associations on Twitter. Unfortunately, from what I can tell, most of them are treating tweeting like just another push communications channel. And if you treat tweets like just another push communications channel, well, duh, your members will look at it like just another push communications channel.

That's why I tend to favor NTEN's approach to twitter, outlined in Lindy's post. Personal experience tells me you'll get a lot more engagement by naming your twitter alias something like "AMA_Bob" than "AMAHQ". Listening first, then speaking, will also help. See my nine other Twitter rules.

In my case, I started using twitter before I ever conceived of a business use for it, and I'm still stuck on bkmcae. It may sound counter-intuitive, but I actually think I get better business results using my personal Twitter profile for a mix of business and personal uses.

If I were starting from an association Twitter initiative from scratch, this is how I'd go about it.

  • Set up a Twitter alias like "VAR_Ben" (sorry, that one's taken).
  • If you know some of your members are on Twitter, follow them (check out Lindy's tip) and ask them to recommend you.
  • Hit up and look for people who are tweeting about your industry.
  • Continue following people, but slowly. Add a few people per day, and don't let your following to follower ratio lean too far in favor of following. No more than 2:1, I'd say.
  • Thank people with @ messages as they return the favor on your follows.
  • Mostly listen and ask relevant questions at first.
  • Once you've developed a reputation and a good following, start pushing out some information, but your content should not be overly promotional. Make sure you're participating in the conversation.

Tagged: ; ; ;


Wes Trochlil said...

>>>It would be pretty evil to compile member tweets in a database and mine them.

Ben, care to expound on this? How is collecting and analyzing data freely given by your constituents "evil"? Is it evil to track phone calls from your members and mine them for information?


Scott Oser said...

I tend to agree with Wes. The more knowledge we can gain about our members the better we can serve them and the smarter we can market to them. I think there is a "big brother" line we don't want to cross but as long as we are smart about what we are doing I think it is beneficial to all involved.

Lindy Dreyer said...

Hey Ben,
Thanks for picking up where I left off. Your step-by-step strategy is excellent.

Wes and Scott have a point, but as a user, I wouldn't want to follow someone I knew was mining my Tweets. Twitter is first and foremost a social tool--data mining in this space could be akin to stalking. Then again, if you can provide value to your network by systematically tracking tweets, thumbs up. The irony...either way you word it, you're doing the same thing for the same results.

A simple example...Twitter Groups. Imagine being able to group your followers according to their interest just by listening to their Tweets. Then, when you do have something to share, you can push it to the folks you know will be interested.