Friday, November 12, 2010

EB Friday Hotlist: More on Microblogging and How to Keep a Positive Brand Reputation Online, Part 1

This is the first half of a two-part article about how average users' mistakes on Twitter can be learning tools for handmade businesses looking to establish their social media presence.  I encourage you to check out each linked article and to check back on November 19, 2010 for the second part of this story.

Check out HautTotes on Twitter.
I've written about Twitter before and it still remains my favorite social media tool.  Since I'm currently on a semi-vacation from my jewelry business, my Twitter has definitely become more of a personal and less of a business account.  I comment back and forth almost daily with fellow fans of my favorite TV shows as they air, read hundreds of tips and tweets about the LSAT (December 11 is fast approaching!), and react to current events (midterm elections, anyone?)...all more often than I get to talk about handmade.  My Twitter started as a personal account anyway and really only developed into a business tool after starting Elle's Beads.  I really wanted to start a new account to match the all of my other branding, but the name @ellesbeads was already taken and Twitter won't let users snatch up inactive names.  I decided to stick with the commonly given advice that primarily talking about things other than your shop can actually drive business to your shop, so my @ellexmarie Twitter became a part of my marketing strategy.  Time will tell if that was a good idea for me.  I think Haut Totes is truly the master of "Twitter for handmade businesses" with almost 30,000 followers to date.  From what I notice in my timeline, she seems to have a nice mix of work and personal life, with the bulk of her tweets focused on encouraging followers to engage with her brand.  It goes to show that what some social media experts say and what actually works for each individual business doesn't always mesh.

If you're like me (i.e. not really at the 10,000+ follower level or even in shouting distance) and don't already have a strong customer base or online following to funnel into Twitter, you're probably reading forum posts, blog articles, and e-newsletters written from these aforementioned social media experts about how to navigate Twitter and increase your followers.  There are tons of them out there - and by them I mean both articles and self-declared experts.  For this blog article, I'm taking a different approach than I did last time.  While I still stand by my advice that using hashtags effectively and filling out your profile information can increase your following, not doing those things will probably not keep people from buying from you.  The things that will are the focus of this post.  I want to talk about how you can keep the followers you already have and avoid damaging your business with your tweets.  This is based on what the experts say, actual real life situations, and my personal experience using Twitter both primarily for business and primarily for social interaction.
Be careful with what you say.  

Obvious, right?  I didn't say these tips would be rocket science. :) Whether you're running a business or just chatting for fun, what you say on Twitter can really come back to bite you in the butt.  Don't think so?  Remember when Facebook started and then slowly expanded and became more popular?  Remember when law enforcement, employers, and school officials started accessing it and then started holding people
Photo by edvvc
accountable for what they posted (text, pictures, video...even outright confessions to crimes) by arresting them, firing them, or not accepting them into their universities?  If you weren't around when this all developed, that's okay.  Technology has progressed significantly over the past few years - I'm pretty young but I remember using pay phones at school because personal cell phones (the small ones that could now fit in a purse) were a luxury.  Forget the iTouch - I was so unbelievably excited to get my first portable CD player because it didn't require cassette tape rewinding like the Walkman.  And yes, if I wanted to keep a recording of a song I either had to wait for it all day on the radio and hit the record button on my radio-cassette player (aka "boom box") at just the right moment or I had to get my mom to take me to the store and purchase the tape or (by the time I got to middle school) the CD.

Anyway, now I'm digressing and feeling nostalgic.  If you don't remember the advent of the home computer, the internet, and the subsequent social media explosion dominated by MySpace and Facebook, here's a recent (as in this month) story for you to relate to: Check out what happened to this student who posted a comment on Facebook that landed him in jail, barred him from finishing college, and is basically killing his dreams for the foreseeable future.  While I doubt you or the average Facebook user will ever have these kind of consequences for what you post, it's important to bring up because there are more common, lesser consequences for less egregious behavior as well.  There are tons of personal problems you could encounter, but for the purposes of this discussion we'll focus on the repercussions for your business.

Alex Payne's tweet caused considerable backlash.
Twitter is a social media tool just like Facebook and, just like Facebook, text and photos (think TwitPic for example) as well as links to anything and everything are posted all the time.  It's easy to get complacent in the midst of all that information sharing, especially considering the fact that a very small percentage of tweets are replied to or shared by other users.  However, if you're running a business you're likely including your Twitter link on things like your mailing list emails, your Facebook fan page, your blog, and your shop.  If you want it to be a useful tool for business, you need new people to follow you and share your content.  To facilitate this, your timeline is probably "unprotected," which basically means that all of your tweets are public and users don't need your approval to view them or to follow you.  What this all means practically is that potential, current, and former customers as well as fellow artisans and competitors are following you or finding links to your tweets through your shop, mutual contacts, or even search engines like Google.  Yeah that's right - public tweets are indexed, included in searches, and sometimes show on the search page in real time via a scrolling widget (see screenshot below).  Here's what you don't want to have them see:
  • Anything absolutely stupid.  Again, if it has the potential to get you in trouble with law enforcement, your boss, or your school, just don't mention it on Twitter.  Go old school and do what I did before Xanga and Live Journal became cool - write it down with a pen in a real-life paper journal and keep it off the internet.  Remember too, it's not always the case that an offending tweet is inherently stupid and it may even be something you'd say out loud to a friend in real life.  Just take a few seconds to think
    Did you know that your tweets are in Google and Bing?
    ahead about how people may react to it or take your statement personally.  And most importantly, just like anywhere else on the internet, people can take screenshots of comments they see online, access search engine caches (i.e. images of your deleted tweet) for days and sometimes weeks, and even get around your password protections if they're really savvy.  Do not ever make the mistake of thinking that having a protected account is the same thing as privacy or that deleting an offending tweet will erase all traces of it instantly.  The internet doesn't work that way.  Think before you tweet.

  • Criticism directed towards a customer.  This is dangerous for two reasons.  The first should be obvious.  That person could come across your rant and decide to do everything they can to oppose you if they haven't already - from leaving scathing feedback to starting an active online campaign against you (I've seen it done).  Alternatively, if they are a reasonable person and would have accepted your genuine attempts to correct their dissatisfaction, you pretty much end all chance of that working out when you attack them on Twitter.  At best, you've just lost a customer and lost any business that customer might have referred to you.  The second reason is also pretty easy to figure out.  People are generally turned off by that kind of negativity.  A potential customer is going to think "Gee, look at the way she's talking about Customer X.  I don't want someone talking about me like that!  I bet she has poor customer service if that is how she treats people!"

  • Controversial topics.  Now this is going to be different for different people.  While I originally stayed away from tweets like these, I do now post about my support for LGBT issues, women's rights, and progressive political causes.  I've probably lost a few followers for that, but I don't mind.  My support
    for different issues, especially those affecting LGBT persons, is clearly reflected in both some of my work and in some of the charitable causes I'm involved in through Etsy.  If you are someone that has a problem buying from someone that holds these types of convictions, you're not going to purchase from me whether or not I'm tweeting.  And for the record, I seem to have a diverse group of Twitter followers who have all types of different belief systems.  So there is nothing wrong in theory with voicing your personal opinions on your business twitter, but keep it calm.  Don't attack other users for their views, don't bully, and try not to alienate large portions of your potential customer base.
The rest of this article is scheduled to post next Friday.  After that, the Hotlist will be on hiatus as I will be enjoying the Thanksgiving holiday studying like a mad woman for the December LSAT.  I will likely spend all of December finalizing law school applications and waiting impatiently for my test score.  Weekly BEST features will still be posted each week, but they will be scheduled in advance.  I still encourage you to post your comments!  Thank you for your understanding and I look forward to learning from and with you in the new year.  Have a safe, happy, and super profitable holiday season.

Until next time,