Andrea Learned

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On Twitter, Reaching Out Is the Hardest Part

9132009462_279e877e3dWhat keeps people, especially those in the business-to-business (B2B) world, from using Twitter? Being on a mission to identify those barriers for senior level corporate leaders especially, I see the biggest obstacle as the discomfort in reaching OUT first. The vulnerable truth is that it may take a few months of actively sharing the wisdom of others to build the powerful foundation of Twitter that will deliver the engagement potential you’ve been hearing about.

Traditional business culture has created this sense that everyone should already know how great a given business is – and be dying to hear its every broadcast communication – because, well, just because. Add to that, the traditional competitive nature of worrying about how your numbers look (the dreaded social network follower count deathgrip) , and this is where the reality check comes in.

First, the number of people following you means nothing. Second, studies now show that while plenty of companies are tweeting, many still do not understand, or practice, the engagement angle. According to a Brandwatch study: 25% of top brands still use Twitter for broadcasting rather than engagement. As Christopher Ratcliff put it in his recent Econsultancy post: “ The brands that succeed are the ones that engage directly with their followers in a personalised manner.” This surely goes for both B2C and B2B, but I’d argue that it is even harder for the B2B world to stomach.

Reaching out is personalized and human scale.

Admittedly, it’s hard for a B2B corporate account to “engage” human to human. A savvy community manager can – sort of – build social network relationships that will suffice. However, the greatest authenticity and relationship building potential emerges – and the reaching out becomes natural – when an actual human manages his or her own individual Twitter account. This cannot occur if you assign the management to a social media manager, I promise you.

Cheering other people (who are behind the brands) on, celebrating the writers of articles (more than the publication) and sharing research conducted by professors (and not the university) is a fantastic way to reach out while learning. It is then human nature for people to thank each other and form mutual, person-to-person, admiration societies that elevate and amplify industry wisdom. The one I gain so much from myself – the sustainability and corporate social responsibility community – is a fantastic example. (Follow hashtags like #csr or #sustainability to see).

Typical human insecurities will strike.

Being a determined but new person at an already jumping party is not fun. So, think of Twitter in terms of cheering on positive industry trends and spreading helpful research rather than obnoxiously stepping in front of an influencer and saying “I’m here!”  And, try not to think competitively, i.e.: “if Company V is a competitor, why would I share their news or retweet their links?” On Twitter (and other social networks), nothing works better for building trusted relationships than becoming vulnerable, and saying “great work” wherever it emerges, and in doing that long before the other party may have noticed you at all. Trust me.

Make tweeting a habit.

Dave Stangis, a savvy Twitter-using corporate leader friend in the sustainability world, recently told me that he sees two things that keep people from finding Twitter useful: 1) Fear of doing something wrong; and 2) Not creating a habit of it. Dave experienced a very slow start with it himself, which is surprising, given how active and engaged his participation is now. Where many corporate types would not be willing to get past that sense of “wasted” time, like a regular morning run, all practices take a while to embed.  If you don’t force yourself to get on Twitter come hell or high water, using Twitter will only ever be the easy broadcast channel for boring corporate news. No one will engage with you, and you will prove your case about how Twitter “doesn’t work.”

You have to be on it to understand it.

Easing onto Twitter takes faith, with no immediate evidence of “ROI” to help you stick it out. Of course, it will help to have an intention or strategy of who (to engage with), where (which network) and what (is worth sharing) – but that is for a future blog post.

Meaningful engagement for both you and your company happens with surprising people – just like it does in your own offline social circles. Reaching out in a whole new community can be cringe-worthy, so, yes, you can justifiably avoid it and chalk it up to being “too busy” with your regular job. Or, you can discipline yourself (great New Year’s resolution!) to lurk and learn on Twitter. Notice those who are sharing informative or insightful links, and start to thank them for it. You’ll see how it isn’t an “add on” at all, but a tool to integrate into your thinking.

You may be surprised by what comes of that slow start; a.k.a. the hardest part on Twitter. From my own experience, and from what I’ve heard from clients and peers, I can almost guarantee that reaching out will draw incredible new connections and enriching conversations your way. Turning those around to again share and help connect others to one another gets easier and easier, and all the more powerful for your industry leadership pursuits. Have I convinced you the reach is worth it?

Special thanks to WeatherallPhotographyInc for use of the image.