There’s a lot of advice about how to use Twitter for business, but most of it is aimed at marketers and customer service representatives. This advice is generally not appropriate for leaders, because it’s time-consuming, low value, and a distraction from their key responsibilities. But leaders should use Twitter – they just need to use it properly.
In January 2013, the Digital Policy Council reported that three out of four heads of state were Twitter users. Whether they are tweeting directly or not (and they are most probably not), this certainly shows they care enough to have a Twitter presence. The same should apply to business leaders and thought leaders, who should use Twitter to share their strategic messages and ideas with the key people in their networks.
The problem for most leaders is that the general advice about using Twitter is not appropriate for them. Of course, they shouldn’t be tweeting about what they had for lunch – that’s obvious. But what’s not so obvious is that they also shouldn’t be trying to get as many followers as possible, tweet 5-10 times a day, spend all day watching what their customers are saying, or engage in back-and-forth conversations with followers. That doesn’t make sense for them, because it’s not part of their role.
Instead, leaders should use Twitter as another channel for sharing their key strategic messages and ideas, sparking relevant conversations, and connecting with key stakeholders.
If you’re a leader, here are seven practical things you can do to use Twitter effectively.
1. Get a Twitter account!
This might seem obvious, but it needs to be said. Get your own Twitter account, in your name, and set it up with a brief profile and photograph. Even if your organisation has other Twitter accounts, get one for yourself. This will represent you, and will be a vehicle for you to share your ideas and messages.
2. Invite people to follow you
Announce that you’re on Twitter, and invite people who are already in your network to follow you. For example:
- If you have an e-mail newsletter, announce it to your subscribers.
- If you are a CEO, invite employees, media outlets, and other key stakeholders.
- If you’re a business owner, announce it to your customers.
Don’t make a big deal of this, and don’t try to “sell” them on the idea. That’s undignified and inappropriate for a leader. Simply announce it, and know that the right people will choose to follow.
3. Follow people you like and respect
Don’t try to follow too many people; it will clutter up your incoming tweets and will make it too easy to miss something important. Instead, look up the people who matter to you, and follow them if they have Twitter accounts.
The people you follow will depend on you, of course, but they could include: thought leaders and other experts in your industry, peers and colleagues who share valuable information, selected media outlets and journalists, bloggers who write about your industry, and perhaps even competitors.
4. Be ruthless about culling irrelevant tweeters
If you’re not sure whether somebody is worth following, follow them anyway; but drop them from your list unless they continue to deliver useful information. You have enough other things to deal with in your day anyway, and some of them are out of your control. This isn’t, so be ruthless in “unfollowing” people who don’t consistently deliver value.
5. Retweet selected tweets
When somebody tweets something that’s worth sharing, retweet it so the rest of your network gets it. Do this selectively and infrequently, so your network knows that you only share the highest-quality material, which enhances your reputation.
Be aware that what you retweet carries your implicit endorsement (even if you don’t intend it to be that way), so be sure you’re happy for it to be treated this way.
6. Share links to other people’s material
You don’t only have to share other people’s tweets. If you find relevant articles, blog posts, slide shows, infographics, or videos online, tweet about them, with a brief description and a link to the original material.
Again, your tweets carry an implicit endorsement of the material, so check it carefully first.
7. Share YOUR key ideas and messages
All of the ideas above will help build your reputation with the right network of people on Twitter. That’s all leading up to the most important thing you can do: Share your own key strategic messages and ideas on Twitter. These might only be 20% of your tweets, but they carry more weight because they are directly from you.
If you need more than 140 characters (and you usually do!), write a blog post or record a video, and tweet a link to it.