Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Tweet this: Little changes that create a big impact

It's amazing how many mistakes can be made with just 140 characters. Fortunately, not all of them are major enough to make headlines. Still tweeters, both new and seasoned, are making some serious missteps, ones that can add up to fewer followers and a lot of lost time. As a graduate student in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern, I have been studying twitter and its impact on individuals and on brands. Here are some of my recent findings about learning to tweet effectively.

Think before you tweet.
Source: Lauren Hise

A recent study by Buddy Media shows that even the biggest brands can end up making major mistakes when it comes to Twitter. The company examined 320 Twitter handles belonging to some very prominent companies from December 11, 2011, to February 23, 2012, and organized some tips in a handy cheat sheet. What they found were companies guilty of tweeting too much, too long and with too many hashtags.

"User reach and engagement can vary drastically with just a few minor tweaks," said Gillian West, in an article for The Drum. "Primary success metrics included in the report were; reply rate - number of replies as a percentage of followers, retweet rate - number of retweets as a percentage of followers (include manual retweets), and, engagement rate - a combination of the replies and retweets in the number of followers."

Straight from the study, here are three ways that you can immediately improve the effectiveness of your tweets:
  1. Know your audience, then seek them out. What is your audience interested in? Who are they? Are they students or professionals? How old are they? These are just some questions that need to be answered before you can begin to market effectively. Fortunately, there are some services that will help you target, such as the age-verifier that Twitter and Buddy Media have designed to help alcohol brands. Still, a lot of those answers are going to have to come from research and discussion with your customers. Take it as an opportunity to not only learn but also to engage.

  2. Tweet during the day and on weekends when people are most likely to be paying attention. The study shows that the hours between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. are the busiest and are therefore the best times to tweet. Weekends, too, can be a great time to be on Twitter. Publishing saw 29 percent higher engagement on Saturdays and Sundays. 

  3. Use hashtags and links effectively, and remember that sometimes less is more. According to the study, only 24 perent of the tweets observed used hashtags, even though they are twice as likely to result in interaction. However, don't go overboard. Using more than two can actually cause a 17 percent drop in engagement. Tweets with links were also retweeted 86 percent more than those without, but make sure the links you include are good ones. An embarrassing 92 percent of the links studied by Buddy Media did not work. Finally, keep it short. Tweets that are less than 100 characters are the most effective (17 percent higher engagement) because they are easily retweeted by followers.
As you can see, there is a method to the Twitter madness, one that fellow social media scholars are still decoding. Fortunately, with just these few minor changes, you can make sure that your tweets and your time are being used to gain truly valuable interaction. 

Lauren Hise is a graduate student at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, with a concentration in interactive publishing. She received her bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in English, with a minor in Communication. Lauren loves web coding, reading, cooking, keeping up with the latest Apple products and walking her dogs on the beach. Twitter | LinkedIn

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