NOTE: This is part 4 of Business.com's Twitter for business case study where we share interesting, valuable insights about B2B online marketing through our @B2BOnlineMktg Twitter account and, in the process, build awareness of Business.com as a key online resource for solutions to business challenges.
At four months into our B2B Twitter experience we've been more successful at developing a following and engaging our target audience of B2B marketers than I initially expected. These gains have come through a combination of focus - rather than trying to tackle the entire world of B2B social media opportunities all at once, we tackled two blogs and two Twitter accounts with two FTEs - consistent measurement and a healthy willingness to test a wide range of Twitter tactics rather than just following existing "best practices".
Here's an update on Twitter metrics from our first Twitter post on March 2, 2009 through July 6. After that, we'll look at a couple basic characteristics of business Twitter users with the highest follower count and what this means for building a large, engaged business audience on Twitter.
Key Stats for @B2BOnlineMktg at 120 Days
Tracked clicks on tweets: 8,209
Top 10 @B2BOnlineMktgtweets by number of clicks over the last 30 days (replaced original ow.ly link with [link] so we don't mess up tweet tracking):
- 9 Internet marketing calculators - bookmark this one! [link](via @smallbiztrends) #socialmedia #ppc #seo (55 clicks)
- ...And @markwschaefer's list of B2B social media superstars: IBM, GE, Cisco, Boeing & Ingram Micro - [link] #b2b (55 clicks)
- New B2B lead gen study shows social media becoming important lead driver (up to 15% of total). [link] #b2b (45 clicks)
- Social media metrics - 9 key metrics for measuring the impact of your blogger outreach. [link] #b2b #pr #wa (44 clicks)
- 9 tips for creating banner ads that drive better ROI from @InbarChap - good B2B display advice. [link] #b2b (43 clicks)
- 64% of C-level execs conduct 6+ searches per day to locate business information. [link] #b2b (38 clicks)
- How marketing goals impact use of different online ad types - Excellent chart from MarketingSherpa [link] (37 clicks)
- Who's watching your online reputation? Good advice for B2B companies getting into social media. [link] (37 clicks)
- Time for self-reflection...Why your B2B marketing is so lousy - [link](via @admazing) #b2b (35 clicks)
- Marketing a Software-as-a-Service / SaaS solution? Here are 10 essential tips for better results - [link] #b2b (33 clicks)
A Look at the "Pro Business Tweeters"
One of our goals when starting on Twitter was to learn the fastest route to a large, engaged group of Twitter followers. We had some advantages in building our @B2BOnlineMktg account, like thousands of subscribers to our B2B search marketing newsletter that we could make aware of our Twitter presence, but we intentionally didn't use all our promotional power to drive followers. As I've said before, we also didn't use the "spam-and-cull" approach - following hundreds or thousands of Twitter users, seeing which ones automatically follow back, culling out those who do not, following another set of users, and so on - because we want a large and ENGAGED following. What good are 10,000 Twitter followers if none of them pay any attention to what you're tweeting?
To start getting a handle on how to build a large, engaged group of Twitter followers, we followed a number of more experienced B2B Twitter accounts with 5,000+ followers and started watching for patterns. Among these "pro business tweeters", there were two starkly different groups in terms of the Twitter Follower-Friend Ratio:
Follower-Friend Ratio ~= 1
- roughly equal number of followers and following
- attract followers interested in tweet content and/or building their own follower count (i.e., great targets for the "spam-and-cull" approach to building a Twitter following)
- wide range of people and backgrounds but usually have multiple years of Twitter experience
- tweet a lot of thoughts/observations, some links to interesting content they've found and retweet a limited set of other pro business tweeters
Follower-Friend Ratio = 5+
- attract followers interested in tweet content only since its obviously unlikely that these accounts will follow you back
- usually following <300-400 other Twitter users, and often much less than that (<50)
- may be big brands or social media/Twitter-specific companies with a large customer base already on Twitter, publishing companies with the reach to attract a lot of followers to a Twitter account or long-time Twitter users who chose not to automatically follow other users back
- may or may not tweet a lot of thoughts/observations, heavy focus on links to their own or other relevant content they've found and retweet a limited set of others
The follower-friend ratio caught my eye because, after reseaching many of the existing B2B social media "best practices," it was clear that there were two very different, and often conflicting, perspectives on the right way to engage in social media. The first is a view of social media as an interpersonal medium governed by interpersonal rules. For example, if someone wants to be your friend, the polite thing is to shake hands, say "hi", and try to be friends - most people would consider it just plain rude to walk away. Those pro business tweeters with a follower-friend ratio around 1 seem to be following this norm and with automatically following someone back. Since there's no obvious, objective benefit to blocking a follower if you decide not to be their friend, follower and following counts grow together.
The other group with a follower-friend ratio on the 5+ range seems to be viewing social media as a mass communication medium governed by mass communication rules, and the pro business tweeters in this group are often larger companies, business media and/or experienced execs at mid- to large-sized companies. From a mass communication perspective, its perfectly acceptable and even expected for the relationship to be one-sided or interactive only on demand (such as when a customer has a question). After all, its utterly impossible for someone to follow 5,000+ other Twitter users, let alone 500, and pay attention to all their tweets. If you think reading and processing 100 emails a day is a challenge, try 5,000 tweets.
You see these same styles with newer and much smaller Twitter for business accounts as well - some follow hundreds of others to kick start their own follower base (and then worry about how unfollowing may hurt their reputation) while others follow very few but seem to attract a lot of followers themselves.
Thoughts on Building An Engaged Business Twitter Following
If you've though of using Twitter for business and/or find your existing business Twitter presence stalled out with little follower engagement, here are some thoughts to get you on the right track:
Twitter is a viable business communication channel, end of story - From what I've seen in the past four months, Twitter has a role as a business communication channel for most B2B companies. Whether Twitter figures out a way to monetize its business or not is irrelevant because, if Twitter fails, some other micro-blogging platform will take its place. If you've already tried Twitter for your business and struggled to make it work, its most likely because the B2B social media rules are still being written. Don't give up, and keep your eye on this list of B2B social media resources for the straight scoop.
Twitter for business is mass communication- I'm sure I'll get hate mail for this one but if you plan to use Twitter for business, and you have more than a few hundred prospects/customers/influencers combined, you're kidding yourself if you think interpersonal norms can govern how you use Twitter or other social media for your business. Why? Because Twitter is incredibly inefficient for forming interpersonal relationships. 140 character tweets are efficient for finding interesting people/content, maintaining contact with existing "friends" (as was the original purpose of Twitter) and asking/addressing simple questions. Establishing more meaningful business relationships through Twitter, though, is highly inefficient - people connect on Twitter, then want to take the conversation elsewhere because going back-and-forth through 140 character bursts is a quick road to carpal tunnel syndrome. For the vast majority of businesses out there, "mass communication" is the model you should follow as you plan your Twitter strategy.
You have a business contact list, so use it - As a business on Twitter, you don't need to build a following like an individual would. This is a key advantage for business Twitter users that's either forgotten or, more likely, ignored out of some combination of a misplaced desire to not disrupt existing communication channels and the sheer revulsion many B2B marketers feel when considering how a P2P or B2C trend may apply to their business. Get over it. Establish a basic Twitter presence, make your prospects and customers aware of this new channel, and let them use it.
Focus on tweet quality over tweet quantity- I covered this finding in my interview with Mark Schaefer about Twitter for business, but we've found that tweeting interesting things (e.g., tweets with links that more people click on) has a much bigger, positive influence on follower growth rate than does tweet volume (e.g., making sure you tweet very frequently to keep your tweets in front of your followers). In other words, the best practice for getting people's attention and interest on Twitter is the same as it is across other business communication channels - talk when you have something important to say. Blanketing your followers with tweets doesn't work any better than does blanketing the media with press releases about non-issues or hammering a direct mail list with irrelevant offers. One more reason to look at Twitter as a mass communication channel for business rather than a medium ruled by strict adherence to norms of interpersonal interaction.