One of the toughest challenges in doing Twitter API consulting is convincing clients that they do indeed have to use Twitter. At this point everyone knows about Twitter, and has a general idea of what it does, but I keep finding that clients expect to treat Twitter apps like a normal, brochure-style website. They think someone will build them a custom app or integrate Twitter functionality into their existing site, and then they can ignore it while it does its magic.
It just doesn’t work that way. Back in 2007 when social media marketing was reaching its initial peak, engagement with customers was the theme repeated over and over. That idea seems to have been lost with the mass market adoption of Twitter. Now businesses want to join in, but they don’t understand that Twitter is a retail environment, not wholesale. It isn’t a matter of just posting commercial tweets or following users in an automated manner. You need to treat people on Twitter as individuals. Even if it isn’t practical to actually engage with each user individually, the client needs to at least present the appearance of being a human who is interacting with other humans. This means reading and posting tweets by hand. Automation can play an important role, but unless the client actually uses Twitter they just won’t get it, and they won’t be able to get its benefits.
The big challenge is helping the client understand what Twitter communication is about. This is its own medium, with unique idioms and communication styles. The difficulty is that when a client tries to read tweets for the first time they are put off by the inanity and profanity that is so common. The general reaction is “How can anyone read this garbage?” They are right, there is a lot of garbage in the general Twitter stream.
What a consultant needs to do is make the valuable tweets stand out from the background noise. One of the first things I do when working with a new client is start aggregating tweets based on some appropriate keywords. After a week’s worth of tweets and user data are available in the database, I use various metrics of popularity to identify the key influencers in this particular space. Then I create a simple display page that only shows tweets from these influential users. This filters out the crap, and allows the client to see just how much valuable market intelligence there is on Twitter waiting to be acted on.
The other benefit of this initial set of aggregated tweets is that it allows the client to start learning the true vocabulary of their users on Twitter. Most clients are focused on keywords and phrases that are successful in SEO and Adwords marketing, but Twitter’s 140 character limit forces users to be much more concise and adopt different idioms from what they use to search Google. A common three or four word phrase used for searching may be condensed to a six letter hash tag. That is why I also do textual analysis of the tweet database to see which tags are used most frequently by people who tweet with the client’s keywords.
It generally takes a couple of weeks, but once clients start to grok the power of Twitter as a marketing and customer engagement tool, they can be much more active partners in any consulting project.