Answered: How do I set up a business twitter account?

So, you’re going to set up a business twitter account.You may have got lumped with this task because you’re the only person in the company who actually uses twitter. Or it could have just been most appropriate for your job description. As someone who’s advised a few people about setting up their social media profiles, I’ve realised that I’ve started saying the same things over and over again, so might as well put them all in one post.

Getting started: Your profile

When people choose to look you up on twitter, your profile can often be a deciding factor as to whether they follow you or now (for both business and personal accounts). Giving enough information will let them know who you are and that they can trust you.

What’s in a name?

When you’re setting up an account, it’s worth thinking about the name. If you’re a sole trader (or your name sells the company) you might want the account under your name. However, if other people are involved (and may man the account), it’s worth setting up a proper account.
If you can get the name of your company, GRAB IT. Even if you don’t use it immediately, it’s like a domain name in that people will often guess first. If you can’t get it, consider adding ‘org’ or something related to your location (e.g. ny/nz/london/ncl) to differentiate you.

I picked the wrong name!

You can easily change your twitter name (providing the one you want is available), and it will retain your following/followers. However, all old mentions will be lost, and there can be a bit of confusion if you don’t tell people you’ve changed your handle.

Recommendation: get the name you want as early as you can. If you do change, point it out to your followers so that they know.

Some tips:

Add a URL and location

If you have an official website, put that in the URL field as it’s a natural funnel (and credibility checker). Similarly, if you have an official location, add that as it helps followers to know which country you’re in (especially if you’re looking for hires!) especially in regards to time taken for replies. If you don’t have one place though, either put multiple locations or have a bit of fun with the field.

Have a descriptive description

Say what you are/do succinctly. If you have one or two people with twitter accounts of their own, add them to the profile (it also helps with credibility). If there is an element of customer service involved with your accounts you might even consider adding hours the account is manned.

Don’t be an egg.

As in, do set up a proper profile picture. It can just be your logo. However, some businesses regularly change them (Tyneside Cinema changes it based on what they’re showing at the time).

Managing multiple accounts

There’s nothing worse than tweeting something personal from an official account (there are various horror stories about this). Most apps (including the official Twitter ones) allow for multiple accounts. One potential gotcha is if you have notifications on for iOS, selecting the account will take you to the account for that notification (I’ve had a few near misses here as I’ve forgotten I’ve changed accounts).

However, if you’re web only, it’s not so easy. If you’re really conscious of not getting accounts mixed up, I suggest using different browsers for different accounts (e.g. using Chrome for your personal account and Firefox for your work one etc).

Recommendation: don’t make it easy to use the wrong account by accident. Use an app, or different browsers.

Connecting your services.

In a post-Google Reader world, Twitter is one of the main ways of sharing news. This means that you should make it easy to share news through twitter.

Website content management systems such as WordPress make it easy to connect your twitter account to the system (e.g. with their Jetpack extension) so that any new blog posts or news items are automatically posted to twitter. (Sadly, showing your twitter accounts in other places aren’t as easy as they used to be, but that’s another story). Take the time to connect things to save you having to do everything manually.

Services such as Hootsuite or Buffer allow you to schedule tweets ahead of time. Don’t go overboard with them, but they can be useful if you have potential clients in different timezones.

Conversation is a two way street.

If there’s one thing to be aware of with twitter is that it’s about conversation: it’s not all about you. If people ask you questions, you should probably respond to them within a day if possible. (Despite popular belief, it doesn’t have to be instant, though it helps. And you should have someone monitoring the account if you offer time based services like transport or even online hosting).

Early social media leader Tara Hunt used to talk about being “memorable, useful, and interesting”. (Actually, some of her old suggestions are even more relevant today). Be prepared to follow other relevant people and companies (or put them on a twitter list if you’re not keen on that) and even retweet other tweets that might be of interest to the people that follow you.

Don’t retweet every nice thing said about you. Especially if you choose to ignore any bad tweets. (One nice way to get around this for testimonials it to favourite them and then direct people to the list for testimonials. Hostgator used to do this up until recently).

Don’t flood their twitter stream. Share interesting links that aren’t related to your work.

Finally, make sure you know how @replies work. If you start a tweet with a @ and a twitter account name, only people who follow you *and* that other account will see it. If you want it to be seen by all your followers, put a . before the @ or rewrite your tweet.

Strategy

Think about who will be following you, and tweet accordingly. If you’re aiming at fellow business owners, share useful links relating to your work. If it’s people who are fans of your brand, keep the tone there.

Your twitter account should also have the voice of your company. For example: if you’re known for being reliable and trustworthy, your tweets should reflect that language (e.g Sage and Mint). If your brand is a bit more chatty and informal like, then your twitter account should reflect that, as with the Innocent or Moo twitter accounts.

Where can I get more tips?

There are a number of sources to help you navigate the business twitter world.

Live-Blogging Conferences, Sketchnoting, Live-tweeting: What’s Best?

Last week was SXSW. I wasn’t there, but I saw my twitter stream fill up with livetweets, sketchnotes, storifys, and the odd blog post. Over the last few years, I’ve tried them all and even made my own twists on them. It seems like a good time to reflect on them and the pros and cons.

At the beginning: Blogging

It’s funny to think of blogging as an old format, but in relation to some of the trends in ways to share information, it is.
I’ve done blogging on and off for ages. When I moved to the UK I told myself I’d never attend an event without writing it up (whether this was an act of insanity, I’m not sure. But I have generally done it!).

The biggest problem with blogging is time. I came to the conclusion that if you didn’t write about an event that evening, or at most 24 hours after it happened, you’d never do it. (This is particularly had with Newcastle events and the expectation of drinks afterwards!) I also had a particular baptism of fire after taking on the crazy task of doing conference blogs for Johnny Holland starting with UX Australia 2009—with the caveat that the daily report needed to be up the day before the start of the following one. (I did one other conference solo, but thankfully  was part of a team for the others ).

Looks Good: Sketchnoting

Sketchnotes have been around for a while, but recently started picking up steam with Eva Lotte-Ham’s beautiful examples and subsequent books.
I started flirted with sketchnoting in my pre-iPhone days back in NZ, when I was often stuck at a lecture without a wifi connection.

Sketchnote

Sketchnote from Sustainable Outreach 09, also see my blogpost on the Locus Research blog

It is fun, particularly when you start messing around with media. I later found a way to do digital sketchnoting, and had a lot of fun with making a typeface of my own handwriting and then making Illustrator PDF sketchnotes with type and a Wacom. (You can see the results in my posts from BHCI 2011)

Jayne Wallace

Notes from BHCI, also see PDF

However, no matter which way you skin it (physical or digital), there’s a lot of double handling and extra preparation involved (be it having a Wacom and space with you, or a good camera and lighting to snap shots of your sketchnotes).

I’ve also come to realise that they are, as per the name, sketchnotes, beautiful looking notes, but notes all the same. As great as they look, it can be difficult to pull out the overall gist of a talk beyond the illustrated pullquotes, and near impossible to see the flow of the story if you didn’t see the talk.

Live-tweeting: great with a computer, but watch for that 140.

I’ve been doing live-tweeting since Web09 in 2009 (which I did also blog about). I even did a writeup in 2010 about live-tweeting.

Twitter

2011 me haz l33t tweeting skillz. (Also, remember when we all used Tweetie?)

It is a useful way of pushing info out, and if you’re fast on your fingers you can also grab links for later. Still, part of the struggle becomes keeping an eye on character limits. And up until recently, you were keenly aware that your tweets would effectively disappear after a couple of weeks. This is where storify became useful….

Storify: great with many voices, a bit silly otherwise

I’ve also compiled presentations with storify (both as myself and other people). These are particularly interesting when you start to have a backchannel discussion about what’s going on.

Storify

Example of storify reporting, here for two doctoral students

But when used lazily, they are just a collection of tweets, and I find that the effort used to give context between tweets can sometime be better used just writing a blog post, particularly if you’re the main person doing commentary on a piece. Still, it can be a useful means of pulling information together, particularly when there are a number of talks one after another. On one particularly insane conference, simultaneously live-tweeted and storified talks, which I then used later on to write short reports. Suffice to say I was pretty shattered after the event.

What I Do Now

So, having done all of these things, what do I do now? If I’m at a meetup or something without too many talks, I tend to tweet salient points and images, and then write a proper report after. If I have no wifi I’ll just write notes in Evernote and then write it up (as many of the meetups I go to are in evenings, I’ve had many an occasion of my iPhone dying on me!). If I’m at something that’s pretty intense (i.e. a full day conference) and have my laptop, wifi, and power, my workflow consists of simultaneous twitter and storify (particularly if others are tweeting as well). Depending on how interested I am in writing up the event, I’ll either just give some narrative structure to my storify links, or use them as a basis for writing blog posts.

I still admit that this is a pretty torturous process, probably as I’ve never really done journalism training let alone live reporting. I’ve seen at two pros (Ben Kepes of Idealog at Web09 and Martin Belam of Emblem at EuroIA11) live-blogging conferences and consistently publishing posts about a speaker by the time the next speaker was about to start (from what I saw, Kepes wrote as he went and published during the talk, whereas Belam listened and then wrote a succinct summary in the coffee break).

What I Haven’t Tried

I’d be the first to admit that this isn’t a complete list by any means, I can name a few other means of reporting that I haven’t tried.

I’ve kept an interested eye on the communal notes that have been taking place at Webstock for the last few years. While they’re interesting (particularly during the conference, when you see the document literally shifting before your eyes), what I have noticed is their similar resemblance to sketchnotes: they’re notes, not a commentary, and often with questions as they go along. They also suffer from the feeling of not being cleaned up as say a Wikipedia article might be.

There are audiovisual options as well. I’ve seen people excel at doing vox pop style interviews (Christian Payne aka Documentally’s use of Audioboo comes to mind). It could be that there’s a niche for short audio/video summaries of talks and the like, particularly as the videos from conferences usually take a few months to appear.

Finally, there is a growing redux culture in local areas after a conference, or more recently, to wrap up a conference (though in regards to the latter, a talented plenary speaker will often weave in comments based on what has already happened in the event—Bruce Sterling is pretty good at this). I’ve never been a fan of five-minute madness style endings to conference, but was interested in this year’s Interaction conference getting three people to give summaries/slidedecks of what they considered the conference themes.

My Concerns: We’re Losing Narrative

One thing that worries me with the ever growing popularity of sketchnotes is the triumph of note taking rather than reporting (or at least an attempt at it). Of course, people have always taken notes, just keeping them to themselves in the past. My worry is that we’re creating a mass of data without much reporting—how many people really look at all those sketchnotes/unannotated storifys after an event?

As it turns out, I’m not the only person worrying about disappearance of blogging in relation to design events and the like. In a recent interview, Jeremy Keith spoke of the change:

Nowadays, most people have given up on blogging and just tweet stuff, so now is the perfect time to be establishing yourself as someone who can write. When I think about all the people I admire as designers, they tend to be really good front-end developers (and I don’t think that’s a coincidence) but also great writers. When we’re hiring at Clearleft, I always look to see if someone has a blog. If someone writes about design – or whatever they’re interested in – that’s always a few bonus marks in my book.

If I had one plea to the design and tech crowd, it’d be that as amazing as tweets and sketchnotes are—in fact, they’re an amazing way to find out about and follow events you aren’t able to attend—they are no replacement for making sense of what you’ve heard in some sort of redux, be it a blog post, audio recording, or presentation afterwards.