The Tao Of Twitter: Power Tips For Networking

Twitter's secret is that it is not intuitive, but it can be a powerful business networking tool once you learn to use it properly, says author Mark Schaefer.

David Carr

August 28, 2012

6 Min Read
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Now an authority on the business use of Twitter, Mark Schaefer admits he was puzzled at first, almost to the point of giving up, when he ventured onto the social networking service known for its concise message format. As he got to know Twitter better, he heard from plenty of people who were equally mystified by what to do when faced with that 140-character message box, Schaefer said in an interview. "The number one question I got asked was, 'Can you help me understand Twitter?' Twitter on its surface seems very easy to use. Yet it's not intuitive like Facebook or even YouTube. On those services, you post something, maybe you comment on it, maybe you share it--that's about as complicated as it gets. But it took me months to really figure out the rhythm and the value of Twitter."

Schaefer stuck with it, however, and he shared what he learned in his book, "The Tao of Twitter". Originally self-published, the book was rereleased in July by McGraw-Hill in an edition with about 50 percent new material. At this writing, the book enjoys a rating of 9.7 stars out of 10 on Amazon. Schaefer is also the author of "The Return on Influence", about building influence online and off, and he writes the {grow} blog associated with his consulting practice.

Twitter can be useful to any business that would benefit from offline networking--say, at a trade show or a chamber of commerce event, Schaefer said. However, its telegraphic nature, which is almost a command-line social media interface, does pose challenges.

"The language of Twitter is quirky," Schaefer said. "When you post a message, you use a lot of abbreviations to get it into 140 characters, and there's the whole hashtag genre, which is difficult for people to understand. I think that is a huge obstacle to adoption."

[ End of an ecosystem? Read Twitter Tweaks Developers With Tough Rules. ]

With "The Tao of Twitter," Schaefer's approach was to provide the missing manual for this social network designed for power users. It's as if everyone gets the quick-start guide to Twitter--like the computer manual that says how to plug in the keyboard and the mouse --without also getting the manual that explains how to make the product useful. He writes in the introduction, "Studies show that about 60 percent of the people who try Twitter quit after the first week, and I'm convinced it's because they never get past the first set of simple instructions: Set up a profile, follow a few celebrities, tweet about 'what you're doing now' and see what happens."

Many businesses are equally clueless, blasting out an endless stream of press release links without building any real relationships, Schaefer said. "The thing that most people miss and most businesses miss is that it isn't the technology, it's not the tools and the tricks--it's the mindset. They approach Twitter like another broadcast channel, and they fail. One young marketing guy came to me and said 'I don't understand Twitter! I'm marketing as hard as I can and I'm getting nowhere!' "

The trouble with that approach is that self-promotion is monotonous and is actually the worst way to market yourself online, whereas it's often the more casual messages that spark what turns out to be a valuable business connection, he said.In particular, Schaefer encourages a spirit of generosity, or what he calls "authentic helpfulness." If you're willing to give more than you get out of an interaction, those you come in contact with will be more likely to remember you fondly and be generous with you in return--which can lead to introductions and referrals, as well as direct business.

The other elements of his prescription include targeted connections (taking a deliberate approach to building your network) and meaningful content (making the most of those 140 characters).

Much of Schaefer's advice would also apply to other social networks along with Twitter, although he does devote a fair amount of time to the specific mechanics of the Twitter, such as the use of hashtags (those #keywords beginning with the pound sign), as well as @mentions and @replies referencing other users by their usernames or handles.

For that matter, much of his advice echoes the best practices for offline business networking. That's exactly the point, Schaefer said. "If you go to a real-life networking community event and all you do is talk about your business and your blog, then people are going to walk away," he said. Instead, successful business networkers make small talk about community activities and sports, waiting until they get to know someone better before they slip in a pitch for business. Or they wait until they are asked about what they do for a living, ready to respond with something interesting about their business.

In a case study near the start of the book, Schaefer describes a string of profitable business connections started from a tweet about football ("Go Steelers!") that got a response from a woman in his network who also had a Pittsburgh connection. Having broken the ice with that connection, they wound up trading tips and favors that led to more introductions and opportunities and business. "The original connection that led to so many different benefits didn't come from discussion about a blog post. It came from a tweet about sports. Isn't that how so many friendships start [and] how so many relationships start? That's how relationships develop in the offline world, and that's how relationships develop in the online world," Schaefer said.

It's worth noting in the Steelers example that Twitter may have provided a key introduction, but part of the story also revolved around Schaefer's use of his blog to showcase the work of his newfound friends, which eventually led to offline meetings and business dealings. Schaefer said his blog is really his main online marketing channel aside from Twitter, the place where he can air his thoughts more thoroughly.

"I'm a small-business person. I don't have a large staff to delegate things to, so I have to be pretty careful about how I spend my time. I spend most of my time on blogging. You have to look at your individual business strategies to determine what's best for you. I run a business need to establish my voice of authority and relevance internationally. A blog is great for that, and Twitter is a great way to build that blog community," Schaefer said. Twitter gives him a way to reach out and find his audience rather than waiting for his audience to find him. "Twitter is like the movie trailer, where the blog is the movie."

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard and

About the Author(s)

David Carr

Editor, InformationWeek Healthcare and InformationWeek Government (columnist on social business)

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