Twitter Basics, Best Practices for Promoting New Homes
This is the latest in a series on social networking and marketing new homes.
The elections in Iran. The death of Michael Jackson. Ashton Kutcher.
The three don’t have much in common — except that much of what is known about them first came to light on Twitter, the social media outlet that has captured the imaginations of millions around the world.
Twitter was used to push information out of Iran when other forms of communication were shut down by the Iranian government.
When Michael Jackson died, Twitter practically broke the story, sending fans to online news sites — and slowing the Internet to a crawl.
And with 3.6 million followers, Ashton Kutcher’s every inane utterance is broadcast instantly to a group that’s almost as large as the population of Los Angeles.
Such is the potential, the power and the puffery of Twitter.
Described as a “microblogging” service, Twitter enables users to create accounts and post 140-character updates on whatever they see fit — from what they ate for breakfast to where the next protest against an unjust regime will take place.
Messages can be sent and received via the Web, through cell phone text messages or through specialized software created for smartphones and desktop use.
Like Facebook and YouTube, Twitter is considered a social media site — but it has its own unique virtues.
“I think the major benefit of Twitter is that the conversations are in public and anyone can choose to spread your comment, message or link whether they are connected to you or not,” said Mike Lyon, a consultant and speaker on social media and a blogger on DoYouConvert.com.
“Facebook, for example, is a closed network. Only friends can comment and repost. However, on any social media site, the goals should be similar — build a community and develop relationships over time. There are short-term goals like a retweet and targeting followers, but ultimately, Twitter needs to be about building a community,” Lyon said.
According to comScore, which measures and analyzes digital and online activity, worldwide Twitter usage approached 10 million users in February, a more than 700% increase from the year before. From a sales and marketing perspective, this is a massive audience that can be tapped into using a high-impact, low-cost tool.
“Twitter is real-time micro communication,” said Allison Buffum, online marketing manager for SummerHill Homes, a home builder in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley. “It enables a marketing team to share interesting articles or quick snap-shots that might not otherwise be shared.”
“I've seen a trend in some other industries, such as travel, that are doing away with e-mail marketing and only sending promotions on Twitter. I don't think we're at that point yet, but it will be interesting to see how Twitter continues to change how we market,” Buffum added.
Social Media and Twitter: Marketing Tools That Connect
From a consumer perspective, Twitter and other social media sites like Facebook and YouTube offer opportunities to connect with friends and communicate with those who share similar interests.
Marketers see Twitter as a tool to connect and communicate, too, one that can achieve the goals of their marketing campaigns — whether they involve media outreach, building Realtor® relationships, attracting home buyers or all of the above.
Twitter can serve as its own method of distributing information and content, but it can also help promote activities on other social media outlets.
“A company’s Twitter presence should have its own communication points, whether it simply reflects what’s on your mind or links to relevant articles,” said Buffum. “It should also feed to other social media campaigns, such as, ‘Did you hear what happened this weekend? Read our latest blog,’ or ‘Have you checked out the newest photos on our Facebook page?’”
“We tweet interesting articles, but we also try to be mindful to tweet links to our blog or Facebook pages. We’re looking forward to our followers on Twitter or fans on Facebook sharing information about SummerHill with their friends. Referrals are very important in home building, and social media enhances referrals tremendously,” she said.
“The biggest value that we have seen from social media is primarily through media and Realtor® relations,” said Steve Shoemaker, director of marketing for Ideal Homes in Oklahoma.
Secondary to that, Shoemaker added, is connecting to current home owners followed by connecting to people in order to drive physical traffic into his company's model homes.
“At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about; I don’t care if it’s Twitter or old-school print advertising. At the end of the day, it's getting that traffic through the door that will drive the sale of homes,” Shoemaker said.
As with any marketing campaign, tracking response and return on investment (ROI) is an important component of measuring effectiveness and adjusting strategy. While simply having a large number of followers doesn’t guarantee a high response, your number of followers does give a good idea of the potential audience your message is reaching through social media.
With search.twitter.com, you can not only search all tweets system-wide for mentions of your brand or community, you can also create an RSS feed, a Web-based format used to transmit frequent updates, that will send you tweets that mention specific terms as they happen. This is a great way to monitor the conversation for discussions that you can participate in, or even just to find users who may be worth following.
Sites such as Twendz.com offer a more robust search functionality that adds additional statistics to a simple query and can provide additional background detail on the conversation surrounding your key topics.
“Tracking ROI isn’t going to be any different than tracking response from a newspaper ad,” said Jim Adams, CEO for NewHomesDirectory.com. “It’s all about how many connections you make and how many of those connections lead to business.”
Getting Started — The Basics
Starting a Twitter account is deceptively simple. Just visit www.twitter.com and click on the big “Get Started — Join!” button in the center of the page.
You’ll be asked to offer your Twitter screen name, which you can change at any time. If you’re setting up a personal account, you may want to use your real name or part of it.
For a business account, you might find it more appropriate and beneficial to use a brand name or company name in your screen handle.
Once you have an account, learn the basics of Twitter-ese:
- A post on Twitter is commonly known as a “tweet.”
- The “@” symbol goes before every Twitter user’s screen name, with no space; if you want to reply to a specific comment, use “@username” to do so.
- Your own user page has a tab in the right-side column that allows you to see “@” responses to your posts.
- For a private exchange, you can “direct message” another user by prefacing their name with the letter “d” and a space —“d username.” That will send the user a message that only they can read and reply to.
If you like a post from another user and would like to make sure your own followers see it, it’s common to retweet the post, which means copying the post and using the “@username” to attribute it, along with an “RT” to identify it as a retweet.
If you’d like your post to appear as part of a larger conversation, use a “hashtag” (or # symbol) to help it appear in the Twitter search for other items on that topic.
To start your Twitter community, announce the new account on the Web pages and e-mail lists that serve the groups you’d like to reach — a new community’s e-mail marketing list, for example.
Follow people who live in the geographic area you hope to cover — make sure that you use search.twitter.com to find Realtors® and media that serve the region you’re trying to reach. And it may seem a bit sneaky, but using the Follower list of your competition is an easy way to find people who will also be interested in your content.
Believe it or not, signing up and learning the rules are the easy part; it’s what follows that requires forethought and strategy. Without a plan, any social media campaign, whether it’s conducted using Twitter, Facebook or YouTube, can only accomplish so much.
“The greatest challenge is to define your objectives,” said Adams, of NewHomesDirectory.com. “What is it you want to accomplish? Start by asking yourself, ‘Who do I want to have listening to me?’ Then ask, ‘How can I entice those people to listen to me? What information would those people who I want to follow me want to hear?’ When you can clearly answer those questions, it’s easy from there.”
The Year of Tweeting Dangerously
While it’s best to get started with Twitter by jumping in and starting an account, it’s also important to move slowly at first until you understand the site’s unique rhythm.
Follow a number of accounts and spend a day or two just reading. Don’t attempt to read every message that everyone in your follow list posts; you can never stay caught up.
Twitter is more about the immediate conversation, not interactions that happened 12 hours ago. The only exceptions to that rule are “@” replies, which you should respond to whenever they happen, and direct messages.
To maximize the effectiveness of Twitter, be prepared to invest time in creating the account, building a following, posting content and engaging in the conversation. This is where portable applications can be invaluable, such as TwitterBerry for BlackBerry smartphones or Tweetie for the iPhone.
Monitoring your Twitter account via smartphone enables you to integrate the process into your daily life — checking tweets while you’re waiting in line at a checkout counter and posting responses in the evening during a TV commercial, for example.
You can stay engaged in the conversation without having to remain shackled to the computer.
Like any marketing tool, Twitter will only pay off with an investment of time and effort. As the site’s influence grows and more users participate, the potential for reaching home buyers, Realtors® and media through Twitter only increases.
“What does the future hold for Twitter? Ask me in three months,” said blogger Lyon, of DoYouConvert.com. “The answer might be different. The bottom line is that it’s not going away.”
Carol Ruiz is vice president of public relations for red rocket LA, a marketing and public relations firm based in Culver City, Calif., that delivers targeted and integrated communications for clients ranging from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies. Ruiz has nearly 20 years experience in real estate-related public relations. For more information, e-mail the company, call 310-841-0994, or visit www.redrocketla.com.