A lot of people are suddenly atwitter about Twitter. The number of users has surged past 2 million, and more companies, such as Cisco, Comcast and Dell are beginning to understand the power of communicating with their customers in bite-sized chunks of 140 characters or less.
But there also can be a bitter side to Twitter. Whether or not companies choose to get involved, Twitter is becoming an increasingly important space to monitor for conversation about your brand, employees discussing work, and “brandjacking,” where someone is posing as a spokesperson for your company.
Here's a quick corporate guide to Twitter, including best practices for monitoring and engaging in the community:
1. Understand how Twitter works. Like every community, there are norms and expectations for participation. Read the Terms of Service and watch how other people are using Twitter first.
2. Don't assume Twitter doesn't affect you. There are more than two million people on Twitter, including a disproportionate number of bloggers, reporters, influencers, engaged consumers and even public officials. People tweet about companies frequently. You should be actively monitoring – before a potential crisis occurs.
3. Protect your brand. As with other online platforms, opponents and critics can disparage or even hijack your brand. You can minimize this risk by monitoring Twitter and proactively registering account names related to your brand (e.g., Twitter.com/brand or Twitter.com/tagline).
4. Create a plan. Develop guidelines for employees and designated spokespeople, including guidance on what they should and should not discuss. Create a process for channeling information requests that do not fall within these guidelines.
5. Be transparent. Authenticity is a critical value for participation. Clearly define who you are and why you are on Twitter. To verify your credentials, link to a page on your company's Web site that says, “Yes, this is an official communication” from your Twitter bio.
6. Get personal. Twitter asks its users a simple question: “What are you doing?” Companies on Twitter should engage personally, as an individual representing the company, rather than as a monolithic corporation or a series of stodgy media statements.
7. Be consistent. Tweet on a regular basis. You do not need to tweet every thought, but you should invest the time to actively engage the community and respond to your followers. One rule of thumb is to tweet as often as you eat, not as often as you breathe – three to four times a day.
8. Include links. Twitter limits communications to 140 characters but you can use services such as TinyURL to create short hyperlinks to additional information.
9. Ask for help. When in doubt, ask for help. Don't be afraid to ask questions about how Twitter works or how it might affect you. The community is receptive to companies that are sincere about tweeting.
10. Remember these best practices (Twitter-style in 140 characters or less). Understand the community & how it affects you; think before you act; be transparent, consistent, and personal; link to information and ask for help.
Monte Lutz is VP, digital public affairs at Edelman.