There’s a great scene in “The Hunt for Red October” when one naval officer says that the Russian ships followng the submarine are pinging away with their sonar, but no one is listening. What they’re doing is driving the defecting Russian toward hunter subs that will kill him.
Your use of social media also can be a “driver.” But that may not be what you want.
You know what it’s like when you’re gathered in a social group and one person dominates the conversation, not allowing others to comment, question or participate in any way. She essentially is “driving” as well: she’s driving everyone else away.
Think of your Twitter posts as if they were part of this social gathering. You wouldn’t dream of making nothing but one-sentence statements about whatever topic you think is relevant for the moment. People would stop and stare to begin with and then would start to ignore you.
But you have learned not to do that. Instead, you perform a mixture of communication functions: You listen (mostly, since you’re only a fraction of the people represented), you give feedback, you remember stuff that you want to pass on later (though with Twitter you can pass it on now), you quote others, you give your opinion about what’s going on and, finally, you make a few of your own comments.
How conversation should work
That’s how conversation on Twitter should work as well.
Choose your friends (those you wish to follow) wisely, listen to what they have to say and then make some comments. That’s not as easy as it sounds, since most of the tweets you’ll see are simply not comment or response worthy. But you’ll find a few that are, and that’s where you can start.
Even if the person who made the comment isn’t following you, you can still get their attention (though it might take a while) because the form of your comment will be in the form “@this person” followed by your comment. When you click replay, Twitter automatically sets it up for you and those characters count as part of the 140 you get. This person is likely to check her @Mentions on a regular basis and will see your comment when she does.
If you are mutual followers, this could come more quickly and an almost real-time conversation can ensure. The different between this and other forms of chat is that everyone that is following either of you will see the postings, though only those who follow both will get all the conversation, unless they go an check. For them, it’s like listening to a one-sided phone conversation in the next booth.
And you may find that others will join in as well. That’s the nature of Twitter. (Of course, you could use a hashtag-based discussion and purposefully get more people involved.)
Another way to get a conversation started is by asking a question. “Does anyone know how to . . .?” may get quite a few responses, unless the question is too difficult. If you get replies, be sure to acknowledge each reply by replying individually: “@bobtheanswerman Great idea. I’ll try it next time I’m fishing.”
You can even point out some of the comments made by your followers: “Did everyone see how @bobtheanswerman deals with dead worms?” That may get some of your followers to click on over to his site and become his followers. Perhaps he’ll return the favor as well.
Sometimes your followers will retweet what you have to say. Twitter makes it easy to find out when this happens by checking out the “Retweets” heading and the “Your Tweets, Retweeted” subhead. When this happens, it’s good practice to do an @bobtheanswerman with a “thank you” message.
What you get out of listening
By following the tweets of your customers, you’ll learn quite a bit and specifically, one would hope, what they need from you. You can mention these tweets in real face-to-face talk when they come into the store; they will be impressed that you noticed.
But perhaps you’ll be able to answer some of their questions about your products or services as well. It’s okay for conversation to be useful.
You also may learn about general trends that are important to your business or about problems that others are facing.
The fact of the matter is that much of what you will hear in any conversation, live or online, is not worth paying attention to. So you’ll need to find ways that work for you for separating that out.
That said, with your own questions or comments be sure to include the @nameofperson prefix whenever you want a tweet to get to someone. And if it’s something personal or time sensitive, use the “direct message” function. (Unless you have a phone number; then use the phone.) Most people have their DMs set up so that they get an email notice that they have a DM.