Tipping Pitches: Technology: Follow the Growth of a Twitter Account


Friday, October 30, 2009

Technology: Follow the Growth of a Twitter Account

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Please follow ACS_UT and be a part of its growth!

[Update (11/2): See updated stats.]

Watching a Twitter account develop is an interesting phenomena. Figuring out what works and doesn't work. Going through the growing pains of not having any followers. Then not having any productive followers.  Then finally (hopefully) breaking through.

No matter how much you know about Twitter, building an account is fluid. Trial and error. What works for one person may not work for you. Audience and subject matter are key.

My @JonLoomer account is still a baby. I've technically been "on" Twitter since March, but I didn't fully commit until the end of September (as this data from TweetStats shows):

March (18 tweets)
April (five tweets)
May (12 tweets)
June (four tweets)
July (0 tweets)
August (1 tweet)
September (69 tweets)
October (438 tweets)

Based on statistics I've heard, my account was a classic case of one that would die. If you're not engaged within the first three months, the likelihood you will ever engage is extremely low.

Although I've always been up-to-date on Twitter and know as much as a person possibly can without actively managing an account (I've been a hands off Twitter ambassador), there is no better experience than hands-on experience.  It was critical for me to go through the process of growing an account before implementing a strategy for our organization.

But there was a hurdle I needed to get over first. I'm a big Facebook guy, but Twitter and Facebook are very different animals. With Facebook, I can control who my friends are. I even then control which of my friends can see what.  I have privacy.

With Twitter, you are making a choice to reveal yourself -- or as much of yourself as you are willing -- to the world. I had a difficult time with that concept.

But beginning in late September, I took the plunge.  Both with Twitter and the creation of this blog.

Mixed results. Quite painful for a while. But I think I'm finally getting over the hump. Or to the hump.  Not quite at a place where I feel like I have a strong core of followers, but we're getting there.

In the beginning, I really had no clue which accounts I should follow. I took a lot of online advice. Followed a lot of people. Tried to engage. Followed people who really didn't interest me, but tried to act interested.

Trial and error. Now, through the end of October, I am very happy with the information that comes through my Twitter feed. Good, strong base. Mix of sports and technology.

The Birth of ACS_UT

As VP of Strategic Marketing for American Cancer Society Great West Division, I have been determined to implement a potent Twitter strategy. The problem, inevitably, has been resources.

Initially, I created 13 accounts -- one for the Great West Division (ACS_GW) and one for each state within the division. Whether or not we used all of these accounts, I wanted to "squat" on them. I did my part to add to the millions of dead Twitter accounts.

We got off to a decent start, but ultimately none of the states being managed have had the time necessary to properly engage. And it was difficult getting buy-in to use these resources without first running a test to show the benefits. And given these accounts were showing little benefit as new accounts, it has been an uphill battle.

And so, my team and I took over a single account, ACS_UT, for American Cancer Society in Utah. Although it's been around technically since August, we only started committing to it during the past week or so. Total of 81 tweets so far.

Baby's First Steps
Our first goal is to search out people to engage. I find this to be far more useful than tweeting information into space. Find people who may be interested in what we have to offer. Build relationships.

We're doing this in a few ways. First, we're using directories to find people in news and cancer communities in the state of Utah. We are following many of these people.

Second, we're listening. This is the biggest key for brands -- whether non-profit or for-profit -- in the early going. It is the best way, as far as I can tell, to be productive with a new account.

Since we are currently focusing only on Utah, we are using an advanced Twitter search to find everyone using several key words inside the state. This leads us to people we can follow and engage with.

Ultimately, we want to be a resource. We want to provide help and support to those affected by cancer. Whether newly diagnosed, a cancer survivor, or a caregiver, we want to be there for these people.

So it is a little sensitive. We are reaching out to people who may be in need, but not wanting to cross the line of being pushy. We're here for you. If you need any help, please let me know.

Currently, we have 20 followers and we're following 89 people. Still very small. It's a grind for now, but we know it's a marathon and not a sprint.

General Strategy
While we will use Twitter as a platform to push information, educate and inform, the focus now needs to be on engaging and building a community. If you don't have an audience, you're broadcasting to an empty room.

So initially, our focus will tilt heavily towards listening and reaching out. Finding people to help. Eventually, we want to get to the point where people know who we are and will be able to search us out.

Listening will still be important, but it won't take up 90% of our strategy like it does now.

It is also important for brands to have personality, and this is especially important in our industry. So, when we updated our profile recently, we put the spotlight on the person managing the account, Linda. We feel people will better connect with a face than a logo.

We're also testing out the various tools available to determine what works best for us.  I want us to tinker with as many tools as possible to confidently recommend a specific strategy down the road.  OneForty.com has been a great resource.

First, we want to get onto as many directories as possible.  We're using sites like TweetFind, WeFollow and Twellow to get listed where people search.

Second, we want to find people and organizations with similar interests.  We're using some of these same resources above as well as Mr. Tweet, WhoShouldIFollow and others to help track down users to engage.

Third, we're figuring out the best software for our needs.  The group as a whole is now using TweetFunnel, but we don't want to assume this is our best option.  We are considering alternatives like CoTweet, PeopleBrowsr and others to manage multiple accounts and access analytics.

Software also includes desktop applications like TweetDeck, Twhirl and Seesmic.  I personally prefer Seesmic, but we like some of the options that TweetDeck provides for our purposes.  Ultimately, we want an interface that provides geo-targeted tweets by people we aren't following mentioning specific keywords.

The problem has been getting a geo-targeted search within a desktop application.  I have not been able to find this.  We want to limit our search to Utah, which is something we can do with the Twitter Advanced Search.  Anyone know of a desktop application that provides something similar?

Of course, we are also using a link shortener, bit.ly.  Ideal for keeping our character count down as well as tracking clicks.

A lot has been said about frequency.  I have heard some statistics indicating the ideal number of daily tweets is 23.  Currently, we're tweeting around eight times per day, but that doesn't include direct messages.  We'd like to get that number up, but it comes down to both resources and audience.  Right now, we're still struggling to find our audience.

There will also come a time when we will manage a blog.  However, I feel it's important to first generate a strong, engaged audience before creating the blog.  Since we do have access to many different content streams with ACS, we do have content.  Once we have a solid base, we'll begin directing people to an ACS Utah blog.

That may be backwards of the way some do it, but it's something of a chicken-and-the-egg dilemma.  Do you create a Twitter account before a blog?  Do you create a blog before a Twitter account?  Do you do both at the same time?  I feel like our situation is rather unique in that 1) our organization provides us with plenty of content already, and 2) the value of our account comes largely from reaching out and helping, rather than broadcasting information (though that is an aspect of our strategy).

End Game
This test is meant to help us put together a robust strategy going forward.  Do we use 13 accounts or focus only on one account for the division (likely)?  How long does it take before our hard work pays off?  How many resources are needed?  How many hours are required from them?  How should their time be spent?  What is our voice?  What tools and software should we use? How will we measure success?

I will continue to track the progress of this test here on my blog.  But I'd love to get your feedback.  What has worked for you?  Given our needs and resources, what do you think we should do differently?

It will be a struggle.  But as I tell Linda, we battle through the pain.  Focus on progress, even if it's slow progress.  Give it three months.  That, I think, will be a major landmark.  If we see major progress after three months, this strategy has life.  If we don't, we need to reassess.

Please follow ACS_UT and be a part of its growth!


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