Twitter: still the best free marketing tool around

Twitter: still the best free marketing tool around

Written by guest blogger Dave Thackeray.

You may know I rather enjoy the sound of my own voice. I don't dress up in Christmas garb to share marketing advice unless there's a camera on me - and it's for a good cause, such as Professional Academy.

In recent times I've been reassessing my abilities and how best to apply them to the world of work.

And I've started on an uncertain course. I say uncertain - startup experts might prefer to say 'agile', with a frisson of 'potential to pivot'.

This voyage takes me back some years to when I edited Europe's most widely-distributed travel magazine - Holiday. I am obliged to use the word distributed since noone paid for it (would they?) and it only plopped on to the hallway floor of RCI members.

I'm producing and hosting a regular travel news show. We're starting radio-only, and possibly moving into the darker, costlier realms of video. But if there's one thing I've learned during my travails in marketing, it's to start simple - and sometimes stay that way.

Who as a business owner or freelancer hasn't taken on a job they wouldn't in a million years have accepted as an employee? We have to pay the bills, therefore we can turn our hands to anything, goes the fated parable.

Back to basics with your twitterSo this time it's back to basics.

I have trodden this path before. It failed. I didn't have the passion, nor the compunction. But it, like so many marketing failures of the past, gave me inspiration to do things differently. If there's one thing I do well, it's tenacity. So here we are again, the whiter Daz.

If you think too hard and deeply about starting any venture today, you'll kill yourself as your head explodes with all the opportunities and all the obstacles standing between you and becoming a sustainable success.

The concept behind my new adventure is simple: I want to establish myself as a marketing savant for a particular segment of the travel industry. As a writer and presenter, as someone with the executable ideas based on experience and refined creativity.

Would I start a radio show with money in mind? Absolutely not. Though I've developed a considerable reputation as a podcast presenter and 'consultant' (hate that word), I'm aware though we've seen recent quite unique triumphs in this realm (Serial being the latest darling - though only achieving vicariously and on the coattails of its parent show, This American Life), the chances of being garlanded purely for your audio output are rarer than ladders for carpet fitters.

I guess I better come back to the reason I started writing this article. There are few niches these days without recognised protagonists on social media. Good luck if you think you're going to find them on Facebook. That's a lot of advertising pounds you'll be investing before knowing whether you'll be that 'overnight success' in five years' time.

I covert twitterAnd this is why I covet Twitter.

There are some dodgy businesses out there who will automate the procuring of followers and the followed using tools like TweetAdder. As well as being a gentle breach of Twitter rules, these auto follow systems give you no indication of the quality of those you're to follow.

Unsure who to start following beyond key phrases traditionally applying to your business? Who are those personalities talking to your target audiences?

I figured pretty quickly those travel magazine editors Tweeting on behalf of their brand would have followers, and be following, people of interest to my show. We're both in the media game, and we both want to engage with people obsessed about travel.

Dave Thackeray's Twitter ListSo you go to their Twitter accounts and click the Followers and Following labels. And you scan those rivers of Tweeps for fascinating characters. You follow them in a click, and if you're particularly smart, assign them to Lists so you can use Twitter distraction-free later.

The secret sauce of Twitter is Lists. Follow people to make them know you care, and then siphon them off into Lists so you only need read what you want to see. Twitter has kept rather mute about this brilliant feature. I know not why - you have a tendency to be turned off by Twitter by simply following thousands of people, since your feed rapidly becomes a torrent of pixels impossible to manage.

How about making an impact on those starting to follow what you have to say? Twitter Cards let you stand out from the crowd; because unless you're in the tech sector, believe me when I say that most people use the proprietary Twitter app on phones or on their computers. Which means when your Cards pop up in their feed - boy, they're going to know about it.

This is where Twitter suddenly starts to make sense to anyone passionate about learning and listening - the two cornerstones of any business' success.

Twitter's where you can have one-on-one conversations with people whose schedules are packed tighter than Donald Trump's wallet. Within minutes of finding a couple of presidents and CEOs I was engaged in gentle banter with them. I don't now only know the names of their chihuahuas and children's tailors - they know about me, and what my mission is.

That's the beauty of Twitter. It's a one-to-one platform, an intimate way to share everything that is human with everyone else. To be yourself, to guarantee that there'll be lots of people out there who feel like you, who together you can all build tribes and communities and support causes and make a stand against terrible things.

But I can't leave this wonderful place without mentioning the one thing above all that puts Twitter on my list of most useful things ever invented. And that's its potential as the delivery mechanism for peerless customer service.

I've always said you need someone in your business who can spend hours a day on social media. None of that time is wasted; set up your dashboard correctly (you don't need anything more than Tweetdeck, a free Google Chrome browser extension) to follow key influencers you've popped in Lists,  check out what your competitors are saying and sharing, and analysing Twitter hashtag activity (another, like Lists, underused feature giving you serious commercial advantage in spotting trends and patterns emerging ahead of the pack). And being there in the afterglow of a compliment, or those challenging minutes after someone negs your brand when you're in the golden light of turning their hostility into loyalty with a few well-placed words of encouragement or resolution, can do more for your business than any marketing campaign you're sending out 'because you have to'.

By eating my own dog food as prescribed above, I've brought on board more than 100 followers in the first week. My debut show is out, I have half a dozen guests lined up to appear and share those episodes with their followers. And by curating content personalised to my most influential followers, namechecking them and tagging interested Tweeps in photos (super-advanced feature - get in touch with me @DaveThackeray if you need more info on this), and scheduling curiousity-inducing Tweets using inexpensive tools such as Buffer, I'm making a serious dent in the Twittersphere.

More importantly, anyone can. Have your followers' needs in mind, pamper their egos, know your target audience and how to find them, and Twitter can be the most powerful marketing tool in your customer-creating arsenal.

And don't forget to follow @ProfAcademy for many more tips and great articles like this. You'll be glad you did.