Should your business be twittering?

Twitter is the social networking site that burst on to the scene over a year ago. The premise is a simple one: registered users are invited to frequently answer the question "What are you doing?" in 140 characters or less.

These brief "tweets" on our daily narratives have traditionally been followed by friends or, for the many celebrities who have signed up to the site, fans. However a growing number of businesses have noticed the buzz (55m visits per month) and want in on the act. Should you be one?

Nobody is going to buy a car, say, on the back of tweet. In fact, viewing Twitter as part of a direct sales strategy would be missing its potential value. A better starting philosophy would be to consider the warmth we all feel for someone who is very good at keeping in touch. The ones who excel at this have a bit of news, are interesting or entertaining and ask questions. Imagine that positive aura as a back channel to your business activities and the benefits of posting on Twitter may start to make sense.

If Twitter is going to be a worthwhile use of your time, there are a few questions you will need to be able to honestly answer yes to. Is anyone likely to follow your tweets? Are you likely to have fresh news and comments that will make your page worth following? Do you have a website to which you can post links in your tweets and try to evolve followers into more valuable relationships as customers or subscribers / registered users on your site?

Based on these criteria, I have selected two sample local businesses who would do well to embrace Twitter: York City Football Club and the City Screen cinema. Both businesses would undoubtedly have people who would be interested in their news and would be keen to post comments if their views and thoughts were requested. For content ideas, the official question "What are you doing?" can be supplemented with the more generic "What's new?" or "What's on your mind?". So transfer news, injury updates, forthcoming cinema releases, other events would all be good things to Twitter about. And engage the audience by asking for their feedback and opinions.

There are, predictably, pitfalls with Twitter. Be mindful that colleagues and staff may view excessive posting in the same light as they would view someone who spends most of the day gossiping on the phone. So explain the value and be sensible about the number of tweets. Also avoid anything overtly salesy or anything insensitive or jokey, even if it might make for an entertaining post. It has to be based on developing a good buzz about your business. The sort of content that might go in to an in-house magazine would make good tweets: announcements, congratulations on a colleague's participation in a charity event, births, engagements and marriages.

If have registered on Twitter or decide to take the plunge, email us and let us know. We'll follow any York business that gets in touch and hopefully followers of BusinessYork on Twitter may choose to become followers of your business's tweets too.

Thanks for reading.

Email the author: Neil Ferguson