How To Build a Ground Swell for Your Startup Using Twitter

NateRiggs by

Back in the summer of 2009, I was on a team that launched TweetMyTime, the first Twitter application that used marathon-timing data to automate social content sharing for marathon and half-marathon racers while they ran. The application debuted during the 2009 Nationwide Better Health Marathon in Columbus, Ohio, and got a good amount of attention.

One of the main drivers in the launch of the app was our team’s use of Twitter to build awareness for TweetMyTime. Overall, among the five timing stations for full marathoners and the three timing stations for half marathoners, we sent a total of 7,047 tweets for 1,787 participants during the race.

The burst of content on Twitter during the weeks surrounding the race also increased the attention on TweetMyTime from bloggers and the traditional press, leading to coverage for our application by both local news stations and national running publications.

In this article, I’d like to share a five-point framework you can use to take advantage of Twitter as a channel to build fast awareness as well as potential adoption around your own startup. I’ll walk you through both human-use and the use of automation, and will point you towards tools that will help you maximize your effectiveness in each area.

1. Build with Frictionless Sharing in Mind

One of the keys to TweetMyTime’s success was found in applying the concept of frictionless sharing. The idea behind this approach is to build an application that, with the users’ permission, integrates with Twitter’s API and automatically publishes content to their profile based on their actions inside the application or on the Web.

Today, popular applications like Pinterest, Spotify, Foursquare, and many others use frictionless sharing to increase the amount of Tweets and other social updates created by their users about their brand.

When designing your website or applications, keep this form of automation in mind as a possible tactic you can employ to build fast awareness. But be cautious. Careless use of frictionless sharing can lead to oversharing and cause a backlash from your audience.

2. Collect Third-Party Content at Listening Posts

As a social business marketer and blogger, I start each of my days spending time in two places — my e-mail inbox and my Google Reader account. Via e-mail, I make a point to subscribe to multiple aggregate news sites based on my content interests.

One example of a current aggregate I use is Market Vox, which provides me with interesting stats, trends, and research on what’s happening in the digital world that I can post and share with others. According to Hootsuite analytics, people with similar interests often share these updates I’ve posted with their own networks, as well.

In spending about an hour skimming through clutter, I’ll select anywhere between 10 and 25 articles and posts that I will actually read deeply so I can vet them, find important nuggets, and figure out the best times to distribute them.

3. Automate a Consistent Content Distribution Scheme

Once I have my content ordered in the way I want to deliver it throughout the day, I begin scheduling distribution. It’s important to consider that each update has a relatively limited shelf life on Twitter. Also consider that Twitter as a network is in constant motion with millions of tweets per day.

To build awareness for your start up, you will need to think about covering 12-18 hours of time each day with dripped tweets. For instance, Guy Kawasaki typically shares more than 50 to 70 articles per day on Twitter. While you may not need to produce that many tweets to get some attention, higher frequency of updating is absolutely crucial to raising awareness and getting attention.

To help make this more manageable for your team, consider using some of the following tools:

  • Hootsuite browser extensions: helps by easily scheduling and sharing content
  • SocialFlow: an automated platform used to distribute tweets based on what keywords are hot at any given time
  • TweetAdder: a desktop application that allows users to build a targeted following based on keyword searches that also includes some content automation features — use carefully

4. Focus on Consistent and Timely Follower Response

This is, in a sense, the most beneficial part of using Twitter. Every tweet shared from your account is a chance to have a one-to-one conversation with another Twitter user.

By focusing on maintaining these one-to-one interactions with as many users as possible, in both public mentions and via direct messages, your startup can activate the serendipitous aspects of Twitter that can lead to traditional media attention and unseen opportunities for partners and customers.

So, how does it work?

Consistent one-to-one attention strengthens the connections you have across the social graphs of your followers, increasing their propensity to share. Increased sharing works to create memes wherein your content can spread virally across Twitter’s vast landscape and often live for days or even weeks as the meme moves through the system, all the while driving click-throughs and conversions.

5. Identify and Build Relationships with Advocates

After a few months of focused Twitter use, you’ll begin to notice specific users who are consistently paying attention to your content and business, and hopefully engaging with your handle more frequently. These potential influencers are your brand advocates and it’s up to you and your startup to appreciate and recognize them for the efforts they make to help promote you.

Even early tools like Tweetstats can show you which users you communicate with most frequently. Influence metrics like Klout and Peer Index (while still somewhat controversial) give brands a glimpse into how far specific Twitter users might be able to share their message. The approach by Klout has been to reward influential users with Klout Perks from the brand.

While this approach does have some traction, it is in no way a replacement for putting in the hours on Twitter required to build real relationships among your startup’s follower base.

What Now?

Start with strategy in mind.

Twitter is merely a tactic among your arsenal of online communication tools. Make sure to have a clear understanding of your startup’s target audience, business KPI’s, and the types of content and stories you can share that will peak the interest of the audience you are targeting as customers. Once you have that figured out, then move to translating a part of that strategy for execution using Twitter.