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Can you use Twitter for business successfully? Six mistakes to avoid

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Many CIOs acknowledge that they need to lead by example on social media and become more amenable to using Twitter for business, but where to begin? CIOs are especially gun-shy when it comes to entering the Twitter and Facebook arena, citing well-publicized social media fiascos and embarrassing incidents, like the time Oprah left her caps lock on or the time that the American National Red Cross was really excited about beer.

While those are obvious faux pas, many social media blunders are an easy fix. Here are six of the biggest Twitter-for-business mistakes and advice on avoiding them.

1. Lack of personality: People expect a corporate Twitter presence to have some polish and shine, but the best social media initiatives balance their message with a healthy dose of personality and individuality. Some professionals on Twitter or Facebook are shy about posting photos in their profiles, choosing instead their company's logo, which further hampers their ability to connect with their followers on a personal level. 

Success strategy: Remember: it's "social" media, so don't be afraid to be social. Aim for authenticity. "Tweet things that you're personally interested in. If you love the new Audi, tell us about it," said Jeff Willinger, director of social computing at Rightpoint Consulting LLC in Chicago.  Also, your profile photo will accompany every status update, so use an actual photo of yourself so that your followers can better get to know the person behind the account.

2. Too much information: One of the biggest gripes about Facebook updates is that people post automated system updates from games and polls, announcing to the world which Twilight character they are. You would never do that on a professional account, of course, but banal information can be boring to your audience as well. "Take this example that just popped up in my update stream: Meeting James out for coffee. I don't want to hear about that. Don't waste my time," advised Willinger.

Success strategy: Think of status updates as currency and use them wisely. "Every CIO is probably signed up for a couple of great newsletters and they probably see some fantastic articles that maybe their followers would be interested in," said Willinger.

3. One-sided conversation: Imagine this scenario: A customer complains on Twitter about her broken washing machine. The company ignores her. She then continues to tweet repeatedly to her followers about how awful your company is. The catch is that this particular customer has over a million followers. That's not a hypothetical scenario: It happened last year when Maytag ignored Heather Armstrong's complaint. Maytag eventually fixed the issue for Armstrong, but the lesson here is clear: If you're on Twitter and someone sends an @ reply to you, ignoring them is in bad form.

Success strategy: Reply to the people in your network. Have discussions. Pay attention to what people are saying to you. Use the @ reply and retweet functions or share with proper attribution when you see something great in your streams.

4. Failure to organize: The benefit of most social media platforms is that they allow you to easily have a discussion with everyone in your social network, but the drawback is that everyone in your social network is having their own discussions right back at you. When you get a more robust network, this can be extremely difficult to navigate or extract useful information from, which increases the frustration factor.

Success strategy: Willinger uses TweetDeck to sort his Twitter feed into subgroups: the subgroups of his particular interests, searches based on a key phrase like "SharePoint" or "cloud computing," and another group on the people he's really interested in following so that he doesn't lose them in the barrage of tweets from the 4,600 streams he follows.

5. Failure to commit to a social media plan:  Even Oprah is guilty of this sin -- the vast majority of Twitter users bail out after less than a month. "They sign up and expect it to work for them, but they don't work the system and don't see results right away, so they quit," explained Willinger. "The CIOs who are making it on Twitter, who are doing it well, are like rock stars."

Success strategy: Followers do not appear out of thin air. Engage them by demonstrating that you can offer something that they are interested in, be it a unique product, perspective or spin on business. Accept the fact that, like any project, it will take some time before you begin to reap the rewards of Twitter and Facebook, including gaining new Twitter followers in a snowball effect. Willinger compares social media efforts to a gym membership. "You can't sign up and expect to have lost 30 pounds after a few visits. You have to put in the time."

6. Automation instead of spontaneity: The adopters of social media are there because -- let's face it -- it's fun to use. Some companies or individuals use an automated responder to blast out a thank-you message and link to their followers, which is irritating for your contacts and also increases the chance that they will just drop you to avoid future spam. Similarly, if you only blast out links back to your own press releases, you'll not only train your followers to ignore you but you'll quickly exhaust the social capital that you've worked so hard to earn.

Success strategy: Use automated updates and self-promotion judiciously and be aware that if you're not adding value to your network, you're adding noise.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Wendy Schuchart, Site Editor.

This was first published in April 2011

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