Are you familiar with Twitter, but unsure of whether it can help you grow your small business? While having a professional Twitter account for your business is a good start, it takes a deeper understanding of this social media platform and its various features before you can effectively use it to build a stronger online presence. In episode #99, Elizabeth Larkin, Gene Marks and special guest, Ryan Heisler, offer several strategies to help small business owners make the most of their Twitter account.

Executive Summary

1:45—Today’s Topic: Can Small Businesses Benefit from Using Twitter?

4:39—Twitter is best suited for either retail businesses or other service-based operations because of its capability as a customer service tool.

8:40—If you choose to use Twitter as a customer service tool, make sure that your public interactions not only mediate each specific situation, but that they also reinforce the public’s positive impression of your business.

10:03—Twitter is a powerful content distribution platform that can generate significant interest in your business’s upcoming promotions and events.

10:30—While Twitter is not the best platform for making transactions, it can serve as an effective branding tool.

15:14—Using Twitter to share other people’s content allows you to secure your position as a member of a like-minded community.


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Elizabeth: Okay, Gene?

Gene: Yes, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth: Back here again we have our favorite guest, Ryan Heisler-

Gene: Ryan is awesome.

Elizabeth: … our social media guru. Two episodes ago, we talked about hiring a social media pro. Last episode, we talked about how to basically spend your money and advertise your business on Facebook. So this episode we’re gonna talk about Twitter-

Gene: Twitter.

Elizabeth: … which is one of your favorite. You’re on Twitter all the time.

Gene: Yeah, Twitter and Facebook actually, my two big ones.

Elizabeth: And I’m constantly heckling you on Twitter.

Gene: Yeah, you do. Elizabeth has disagreements with some of my opinions on Twitter. But that’s what Twitter’s all about, right?

Elizabeth: It’s not just me, though. You have a ton of people who go after you on Twitter.

Gene: There’s a ton of people who disagree with things that I say on Twitter. I need to talk to my mom about that. She needs to calm down and just stick to her Canasta club. God, she’s always on Twitter.

Elizabeth: I thought she was the one harassing them when she was harassing … oh, it was you?

Gene: No, no, no. She’s the one harassing me.

Elizabeth: Okay.

Elizabeth: If you wanna follow us on Twitter, it’s @smallbizahead, and actually, if you tweet to Small Biz Ahead, you’re actually gonna reach Ryan first.

Gene: Yes.

Elizabeth: And you can also tweet Gene at @genemarks. And we will be right back with our Twitter questions for Ryan after a word from our sponsor.

Our Sponsor

This podcast is brought to you by The Hartford. When the unexpected strikes, The Hartford strikes back for over 1 million small business customers with property, liability and worker’s compensation insurance, check out The Hartford’s small business insurance at

QUESTION: Is Twitter Actually Worth it for Small Businesses?

Okay, I love this question because I wrote it. This is actually a question from me.

Gene: Well, that’s probably why you like it. Go ahead.

Elizabeth: Alright, so we got a question and it was very long, and it was about all these different social media things, so I tried to break it up. And I will do that, if you send in a question, and it’s super long, I’ll usually break that up into a couple different episodes. But this one is about Twitter, so I took this question and I kind of boiled it down to this. And the question is this:

Is Twitter worth it for small businesses?

And I’m gonna guess what Ryan’s gonna say. He’s gonna say no, but I’m gonna let him answer the question.

Gene: Before you even start answering that question, Ryan, again, what is your title at The Hartford? What is your official title?

Elizabeth: Our titles won’t make any sense to anyone else.

Gene: Yeah, but go ahead.

Ryan: It depends on which day you look at my human resources file, but it’s either Senior Digital Marketing Consultant or Senior Digital Marketing Specialist.

Gene: I like-

Ryan: Take your pick.

Gene: Fine. I guess my point is though that you’re a Senior Digital Marketing person at The Hartford. I saw this a couple episodes ago, but this is your job. You’re up to your eyeballs in social media. We’re gonna talk about Twitter now. But this is what you do. So if you’re listening and you’re trying to get an idea of what you need to be doing in your business with social media, here you’ve got this guy working for a huge company, and this is what big companies are doing, and this is what guys like Ryan are doing right now. Let’s get into it and let’s get back to the specific question about Twitter and whether it’s right for small … First of all, you do Twitter and Facebook, right?

Ryan: Yeah.

Gene: Do you like Twitter? Do you have a preference, just yourself?

Ryan: On a personal level, I love Twitter. As a small business owner, I liked Twitter for specific purposes, and we’ll get into that. For a large company like The Hartford, I think it’s important to have a presence there, but just for one reason or another, a lot having to do with the lighthearted banter we had to start off with it, Twitter has really mutated over the years in terms of who can shout the loudest. And now 280 characters rather than 140.

Gene: There’s a lot of angry birds on Twitter.

Ryan: Yeah, there are.

Gene: There are.

Ryan: And so between that and there’s a lot of bot activity that typically targets really large accounts. From that perspective, it’s much harder for us to operate there from an advertising perspective. So we use it from a presence perspective. We don’t use it from an advertising perspective at the moment.

Gene: That’s interesting. Should that forego a small business from using it for advertising?

Ryan: For a small business, I really think about carefully choosing your presence on social media based on what you’re trying to get out of it, particularly if you’re retail or some other service-based operation. I do recommend having a Twitter account if only for the ability to have customer service interactions there.

Gene: Good.

Ryan: More often than not, your Twitter interactions are going to be where the worst of people shows up. It will be the loudest people with 280 characters.

Gene: It does seem like people get angrier on Twitter than even Facebook. There are plenty of angry people on Facebook, too, but why do you think that is?

Ryan: Because of the nature of Twitter, the average half-life is a terminology that we use. Your average half-life of a tweet is 11 minutes. Putting that in perspective, that means that you’re going to have half the number of people who will ever see your tweet in the first 11 minutes that you’ve posted it, which means that fewer people tend to see what you’re saying even when you’re have thousands of followers. Which means if you go off the reservation with one tweet, it really doesn’t matter.

Gene: Yeah, right. So people aren’t afraid to make mistakes on Twitter because they know it jut disappears.

Ryan: You are shouting into a vacuum a little bit. Speaking of people making mistakes, you even saw this with large brands on Black Friday. McDonald’s puts out a tweet that says, “Insert Black Friday link here.”

Gene: Oops.

Ryan: Now they made a really awesome course correction, but then you also had Wendy’s, the true troll of the-

Gene: She is great though. The social media woman at Wendy’s is fantastic.

Ryan: The trolling ability of the social media team over there, they took advantage of it. But that’s really what tends to happen on Twitter. It does become a negative feedback loop. And so you have people who are more likely to say something a little nastier than they would if they put that complaint out there on a different platform.

Gene: So you’re scaring me, as a business owner, I’m thinking I don’t really know if I wanna be dealing with that. Should I not even be on Twitter at all if I’m subjecting myself to that potential abuse?

Ryan: Unless you have excellent service that is easily accessible on your other social platforms, Twitter’s simply the easiest way to do it. That has something to do with the way that Twitter functions. When you @ a certain account, without putting any punctuation or space before that first at symbol, it basically means you’re having a one-to-one conversation with that individual. The only other people who will see that interaction are people who follow both accounts. So it creates kind of a more personal relationship for you to operate within that service module with. You don’t get that opportunity on a Facebook where every comment is public. So you have to direct that conversation offline, which makes it less likely that people will ever know whether or not your social presence leads to a good customer service experience.

Gene: I think that it’s important to recognize the fact that some very large companies, airlines, for example, use Twitter as a customer service tool, and it’s a very important customer service tool for them. We should be considering that ourselves, right?

Ryan: Yeah, I’ve changed flights via Twitter, direct message.

Gene: Amazing.

Ryan: I’ve gotten my fair share of drink coupons.

Gene: That’s right.

Ryan: That’s always the first line of defense on an airline. “Will you take a drink coupon?”

Gene: Sure.

Ryan: You know when somebody says no to that-

Gene: This is serious.

Ryan: You really kind of have to look at it from the customer perspective of how easy is it for me when something goes wrong to interact with a particular individual?

Gene: Right. You know, it’s funny, you talk about the airlines, and I guess one of the warnings you have to give to business owners is that if they do wanna do customer service on Twitter, you do have to grow a little bit of a thick skin, and you have to prepare yourself for the Twitter community.

Ryan: I always go back to whenever somebody’s angry in a particular situation, very rarely are they actually angry with you on an individual level.

Gene: Right.

Ryan: But they’re angry, whether it’s the logo on a name tag or the logo on the front of the shop, or any other business, they’re angry because they’ve had a poor interaction overall. So it’s now more about how do I make that presence really work for me, to diffuse those types of situations, with the understanding that sometimes people are going to come at you and say some of the worst things you’ve ever seen. But they’re not angry with you on that individual manner, and taking that grain of salt will allow you to then say, “Okay, how do I take this situation? How do I correct it for this individual? And how do I do it in a manner that eventually someone else who saw this interaction might say, “Hey, this is a company I want to do business with because of their service.””

Gene: When I talk to people that are on Twitter and Facebook and people sort of define how they use it, Twitter is awesome for getting news. Recently there was a mild earthquake in our area, in the Philadelphia area, and if you immediately jump on Twitter and search earthquake, boom, everybody’s tweeting. It’s a great way to get news. It’s a great way, like you just said earlier, communicating with your customers. I don’t know if it’s a great platform for selling stuff, if you’re a business owner that wants to … Facebook, we talked in a previous segment about, you can sell stuff on Facebook and collect. What are your thoughts on selling things on Twitter?

Ryan: Twitter is going to be a longer tail sales process than it would be versus just straight product selling ad, or anything else. Twitter advertising is usually going to be more along the lines of some type of content distribution where over time you’re expecting your presence to lead to an affinity with the brand to then result in a purchase.

Gene: So it’s a branding and marketing exercise.

Ryan: It’s more of an influencer-style kind of opportunity. You see a lot of advertising where it’s, okay, download our guide on X, Y, and Z. You have that exchange of information where you give up your email address and some other information about yourself in exchange for this free guide, and the advantage for you as the business owner is, “Hey, I just got an email address that now I can market to somebody with or I can then use for the Facebook advertising that we talked about previously.”

Gene: Got it.

Ryan: So it’s knowledge of how Twitter integrates with other elements of what you’re doing.

Gene: Got it. We didn’t really talk about it much on a previous segment where we talked about Facebook. We didn’t get into video that much, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts on Twitter’s Periscope, if you’ve had any experience with it or if you think it’s a good tool for small businesses.

Ryan: More often than not, I think that Facebook Live is going to give a better experience than Twitter’s Periscope.

Gene: Do you know Facebook Live has their own studio in New York City that’s dedicated to celebrities. So like if Beyonce’s in town and wants to do a Facebook Live to her fans or whatever, it’s not for the common … but having said that, Facebook Live, like you just said, is becoming much more … it seems like it’s more popular than Twitter Periscope. I’m not so sure.

Ryan: A lot of that has to do with the way that Facebook has really marketed the product, as well as getting users to engage with it. When somebody goes and puts up a Live video, you get a notification saying whoever it is, is live, watch now. Whereas, Periscope you have to catch it in the moment. So unless you’re doing a lot of pre-activation in order to build an audience to show up on Periscope, it’s going to be less likely you’re gonna get as many eyeballs on it as you would if you were over on Facebook.

Gene: Alright, that’s fair enough. I thought that Periscope was gonna be more popular than it is, but I see Facebook really.

Ryan: I think of lot of what it comes down to is, is that Twitter over time has tried to make itself more and more like Facebook, and as it has done so, it has lost users. But that being said, Twitter has a learning curve. It’s hard to make sure that you’re getting everything you want out of it unless you invest the time to really the build knowledge base up with it. If you’re trying to get somebody there for the first time to engage with something, it’s much harder versus Facebook has however many billion users at this point.

Gene: I also finally think that Twitter, and I’m curious your thoughts on this, it is a great communications tool if your followers are customers, and you say, listen, and you could be the most boring business in the world, you’re selling paper and film, or you’re selling recycled products or whatever, but you say, listen, if you follow us on Twitter, whenever we have news in the industry, whenever we have an announcement about pricing, whenever we have information, safety problem, whatever, we’ll let you know. It’s just a great way … Obviously we know certain politicians use it to communicate with their communities, but it is a way to get the message across directly between you and your audience. I think that’s a pretty powerful thing.

Ryan: That goes back to what’s Twitter really good at? It’s really great at content distribution, particularly if you’ve built your followership to be people-interested specifically in what it is that you do, and it’s really good at service-based interactions.

Gene: Great, that’s perfect.

Elizabeth: Alright, I would love to end there, but I actually have a question for Ryan. So we’re gonna keep going.

Gene: Go.

Elizabeth: I have noticed a lot of people that I follow on Twitter, yeah, they share their own content, but they also share other people’s content. I feel like it’s a really good tool, let’s say, if you’re a small business owner, you’re a financial advisor, you’re a life coach, you’re an accountant. Let’s say you’ve made some Twitter friends, and then you share each others’ content. Is that a tactic for small business owners to take, and how helpful is that?

Ryan: If you’re trying to position yourself as an expert in whatever space that you’re in, sharing content from other brands that specifically you might interact with or do business with is always a good thing, because it really shows that you’re plugged into the overall community, and that your interest is beyond just the sales that you have, but really providing the service of, hey, I have this wealth of knowledge that I’m trying to share.

Gene: And educate your community. I do that with my community.

Elizabeth: Yeah, I was just gonna say Gene is actually a really good example of that, because you share other people’s writing and not just your own.

Gene: It depends on what the goal is of your Twitter account. My goal on my Twitter is whoever follows me I wanna keep them up to date of any news for and about their business that might help them, whether I’m writing about it or somebody else did, that’s the goal of it.

Elizabeth: If you have the time for that, or if you’re in an industry where it would be good for you to be seen as an influencer or someone that just-

Gene: Thought leader.

Elizabeth: Or a thought leader. I thinking, again, specifically life coaching, accounting, financial services, that may be something you wanna look into. And once you start retweeting or sharing other people’s content, they will respond in like.

Gene: Very true.

Elizabeth: Thank you so much for being here, Ryan. This was awesome.

Gene: You rock, Ryan.

Elizabeth: I wanna reiterate that if you wanna ask Ryan a question, or ask Gene a question, if you go to the show notes, there is a link that says Submit a Question. You could do it that way. You could also leave a comment. Or you could tweet at us online on Twitter itself. It’s @genemarks or @smallbizahead. Ryan will get anything sent to Small Biz Ahead.

Gene: Of course.

Elizabeth: Thank you so much, Ryan. Thanks for being here, Gene, as always. And we will be back in a couple days with our 100th episode, which will be about the best new business ideas.

Gene: Crazy.

Elizabeth: I know, it’s crazy.

Gene: 100.

Elizabeth: I know. Thanks, everyone.

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