How to Build Influence with Twitter – Mark Schaefer

Mark-Schaefer-PinterestThe trend with most businesses these days is to gravitate towards Facebook as a main tool for their social media and marketing needs. But have you considered all that Twitter has to offer as well?

Twitter can be a powerful resource for your business once you learn to utilize all of its functionality. By using Twitter’s advanced search function, businesses can do their own market research and be able to reach more of their ideal customers. The often under utilized “Twitter Lists” allows you to organize Twitter into streams that you can check whenever you like to see what’s going on and what people are talking about. And when it comes to advertising, Twitter is not only very inexpensive, it offers a really unique feature that isn’t offered by any other social media platform.

Mark Schaefer is a globally recognized blogger, speaker, educator, business consultant, and author. He specializes in marketing strategy and social media workshops and his clients include both startups and global brands such as IBM, AT&T, Johnson & Johnson, Dell and Pfizer. He is the authority on all things Twitter and has shared with us practical tips to build influence and use Twitter as a competitive advantage.

Rich Brooks: Hey everybody, this is Rich Brooks of The Marketing Agents podcast. You know, it’s been a long time since we’ve talked about Twitter in the show, which is my favorite platform. And by a long time, I mean ever. So I was really glad when Mark Schaefer agreed to be on our show. Mark is a globally recognized blogger, speaker, educator, business consultant and author who blogs at {grow}, one of the top marketing blogs in the world. He teaches graduate marketing classes at Rutgers University and is the author of 4 bestselling marketing books, Social Media Explained, Return On Influence, Born To Blog and The Tao Of Twitter, the bestselling book on Twitter in the world. Now Return On Influence was named to the elite “Top Academic Titles” of the year by the American Library Association, which declared it “an essential and pathfinding” book. Those were their words. His books have been translated into 12 languages and can be found in more than 600 libraries worldwide. He is the cohost of The Marketing Companion, one of the top 10 marketing podcasts on iTunes. Mark, welcome to the show.

Mark Schaefer: I’m delighted to be here, thanks for having me.

Rich: Now, you’ve written on social media, Twitter, blogging and online influence. Just curious, how did you find yourself in this space?

Mark: Well, I grew up in traditional marketing roles with big companies and started my own company in 2008 – started to consult, started to teach – and at this point, this is when social media was really starting to expand and grow and become mainstream as a business tool. And I knew to understand this I really had to immerse myself, to talk about blogging, to teach somebody about how to use Twitter effectively. You have to do it. And so I started immersing myself in it and the more I did that the more fascinating it became. It was just so interesting and really a lot of fun, so that’s kind of what I’ve become known for I guess.

Rich: Ok. Now, a lot of small businesses when they’re just getting started in social tend to gravitate towards Facebook if they’re B2C, they gravitate towards LinkedIn if they’re B2B. Many small business owners that I talk to just don’t “get” Twitter, and therefore they don’t want to invest their time there. Maybe the most they do is they set up their Facebook to basically spam over on Twitter. What do you say to these people?

Mark: Well you know it’s different for every business, there really isn’t any cookie cutter solution. And I would hesitate to demand that any business do anything without really looking at it. I would use this filter, Rich, if you’re a business that can benefit from personal networking – if you go to trade shows, if you go to local networking meetings or Chamber of Commerce meetings – then it’s likely that you can benefit from Twitter. A lot of people don’t see it that way though, and it took me a long time to realize the business benefits of Twitter that can come from networking. This is networking on steroids, and I started my small business that way by going to all the networking meetings and driving an hour and eating your cold chicken sandwich, meeting all these people while we’re trying to sell something to you. And then I discovered Twitter and social media, and from the comfort of my own home, I can connect to people who I never would have had an opportunity to connect with before and really build meaningful relationships that lead to business benefits.

Rich: Alright, excellent. Now you’ve recently released the 2nd edition of The Tao of Twitter. What are some of the big changes that you’ve seen in the past couple of years that got you to rewrite a revised edition?

Mark: That’s a great question. Twitter has changed a lot. And the way I put it, it’s become more muscular. The first edition actually, I self-published in 2011, and then it was launched by McGraw-Hill in 2012. So between 2012 and now, I don’t think there’s been a marketing platform out there that has changed as much as far as the advertising opportunities and the commercial opportunities, than Twitter. So we already talked about the personal relationship and the networking capabilities, but there’s also very, very powerful opportunities for marketing research, even for small businesses.

Rich: Can you give us an example of how a small business might, because I know that sounds great, but for somebody just sitting at home they might be saying, “Yeah, that sounds like a BIG business kind of thing. I don’t think it’s going to work for my small business.”

Mark: Ok, I’ll give you an example. A lot of people really have no idea how powerful the advanced Twitter search function can be, for example.   So last week, I was talking to a fellow who was a real estate agent in Toronto. I’ve got this little thing on my site where you can sign up for an hour of my time so I get lots of different businesses, small businesses of every kind. So let me give you two quick examples. The realtor from Toronto said, “I don’t really understand how to use Twitter. So I said, “Let’s just do something.” So I did this search on Twitter for ‘people who are using the words “moving to Toronto” in their tweets.’ And I think we found something like 24 tweets in a 48-hour period. These are people who are moving to Toronto, these are all potential client’s looking for a realtor. He said, “Oh. I understand it now. ” I did this with a friend of mine who has a pizza business, and I said, “Let’s look at all the different ways people are talking about pizza.” Now for the realtor in Toronto, he doesn’t care where people are talking about moving to Toronto, but for a local pizza business, you want to find people within let’s say 10 miles of your zip code. You can do that on advanced search. I said, “Let’s look at how many people are talking about pizza within 10 miles of of your zip code.”, and we saw that on average – this is a medium-sized city of 600,000 people – somebody mentioned pizza in a tweet every 15 minutes. And they were talking about how hungry they were and how they didn’t have much money and all they could afford was pizza, how slow their competitor’s delivery trucks were, how someone had dropped their pizza face up on the floor. But if you tweeted that person back and say, “Wow, I can’t believe you dropped this pizza, we’re going to send a new one right away.” What kind of buzz do you think that would create? Well, the person who says, ”We don’t have much money, we’re so hungry right now.” What if you said, “Hey, we’ve got a special right now, come on down, I’ll meet you personally, I’ll give you a drink for free.”   So these are 2 examples, there are and lots of different ways to do that and my book is packed with ideas for small businesses on how to really turn this into business benefits.

Rich: I think those are two really good examples, and I’m sure most listeners can start to think about how they can use the advanced search in Twitter to do their own market research and be able to reach more of their ideal customers, so that’s great. Now one of the things you talk about in your book is Twitter lists. One of my favorite Twitter tools and always under utilized, in my opinion. How do you like to use your Twitter lists?

Mark: I haven’t looked recently, Rich, but I’ve got I think almost 100,000 people following me on Twitter now. And people say, “How do you make sense of this, how do you possibly connect with 100,000 people?” And the way to do it is through Twitter lists. So you can create a list of your customers, of your competitors, of your local friends, of people who you look up to, who you learn from, your teachers who are sharing very interesting and informative links. And so everyday you can just look at these lists – kind of scroll up and down – and see what are these people talking about today. And so it makes sense from this wall of noise. It organizes Twitter into really streams that you can check whenever you like to see what’s going on. And by the way, we talked about that search function, you can also save searches, so you don’t have to keep doing this everyday. If you find searches that are coming up with a lot of interesting leads for your business, you can save that and just check it everyday.

Rich: That’s a great idea. And I find here in Maine – Maine is kind of a state and yet it’s also a small town – that I have a group called “Mainers”, and it is one of the ways that I keep a pulse on what’s going on within the community. And then I’ve got another one called “Influencers”, and these are the people I turn to first when I am interested in finding out what’s going on in the world of social media or search or anything I’m interested in.

Mark: Yeah, those are great examples.

Rich: So I think that lists are something that a lot of people don’t use on Twitter, but like you said, it’s a way of really getting better signal to noise ratio. So you can really start to get a lot of information in a short period of time. Now I use Tweetdeck, what’s your favorite tool when you’re looking at the Twitter feed?

Mark: I’ve used Hootsuite – which is very similar to Tweetdeck – they’re both super good, they both have free versions, they both have mobile versions, you can’t go wrong with either one.

Rich: Now you said you have over 100,000 or so followers, do you also follow all of them back? Do you have a policy on this?

Mark: I have a philosophy, yes. For me, as a small business owner, the real advantage to Twitter is building these personal connections, so why wouldn’t I follow a lot of people back? I mean, I want to give them the benefit of the doubt that this is a legitimate person, they’re interested in me for some reason and so if you’re a real person that is working in something even in some insignificant way related to what I do for a living, I’m going to follow you back. Now if someone from Joe’s truck shop in Des Moines, Iowa follows me back, I’m thinking, “Well, I’m not sure I get that one.” I’m honored that they follow me but I probably won’t follow back. If it’s a bakery in San Antonio, maybe they’re following me to learn from me, but normally I wouldn’t follow someone like that back because I really just don’t see the connection. But most people that are in business or in sales or marketing or HR or if they’re bloggers, if they’re students, I’ll follow them back.

Rich: Alright. Now of course, everybody’s got their own philosophy, like you said. And one of the things for me is I’ve tried everything. Back in the day when the automated tools were very popular, I would automatically follow everybody back , and then within a week I found I was following about 200 porn accounts. So I stopped that, and then I used to go through it manually, and then that just got to be overwhelming. For me, personally, my rule is – because I don’t actually see my new followers anymore, I shut off those alerts – but if you talk to me, I’m almost invariably going to follow you back. So, everybody’s got to have their own philosophy. I like your philosophy a lot, I think it would work really well for a lot of people, and I’ve sometimes thought of doing the same thing. But I do like – just to recap what you’re saying – it’s about building those connections. So it’s not always a numbers game, even though obviously you have a lot of followers. It’s more about making those connections, because that’s really the thing that can move the needle on your business.

Mark: That’s exactly right, and another question that a lot of people ask me is, “How many followers are enough?” And some people listening out there might think, “Oh my gosh, 100,000 followers, that seems ridiculous.” Well, I mean, that’s all organic. I don’t do anything to grow that.   People know me from my blog and my books and my speeches, so I get hundreds of new followers every week. And that’s kinda cool because my potential audience is vast, I’ve got people from all over the world. Now, if your business is local – you’re the corner bakery in San Antonio – then if you’ve got a couple hundred followers, if they’re the right followers, that’s perfect for you. You don’t need 100,000 followers. So you just have to put it in context, there’s no right answer as long as it’s working for you.

Rich: Alright. Now you said something that I questioned when you first said it. And what you said is you were talking about the Twitter advertising platform, and you said, “No advertising platform has changed so much.” When people think of social ads they think of Facebook and all the things that are going on on Facebook. So why are you so keen on Twitter ads and how do you think we should be using them?

Mark: Well there’s a couple reasons that small businesses should look at Twitter ads now. And I want to emphasize I don’t have any financial state to Twitter, but I truly believe that this is a great opportunity for a couple reasons. First of all, relatively speaking, Twitter advertising is very inexpensive right now because they have such a huge inventory of potential ads. I just was reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about this that was mentioning how inexpensive these ads are, and at some point the inventory is going to be taken up and that’s when the prices start going up. But right now it’s a good value. So that’s number one. Number two, you can get highly targeted demographics just like you can find people on a local level within 10 miles of your zip code who are talking about pizza. You can find those people to display your tweets to as well. So number two is you can create very, very targeted exposures for your advertising. The third reason – and this is something that I’m finding even a lot of experienced people don’t know – you only pay for your promoted tweet if someone engages with it. Meaning, they click on it, they click on a link, they forward it, or they favorite it. And that’s when you pay some small amount., it could be a few cents per tweet. Now, if the person retweets it to thousands of other followers, and those people retweet it or engage with it, you pay nothing. You only pay for the original audience that Twitter exposes your tweet to. So if they retweet it and hundreds of thousands of other people see it, that’s a bonus. And that is a really unique feature of advertising on Twitter that isn’t offered by any other social media platform.

Rich: So it sounds like what we want to do if we are going to advertise or promote a tweet, is that we should do something that’s going to be very shareable. Either because it’s funny or it provides a lot of value or it’s interesting or whatever it may be, because then we’re going to get a lot more bang for our buck.

Mark: That’s a great insight, Rich, I think you’re exactly right. And that’s good advice, not just for Twitter advertising but anything you do on social media. You need to earn your audience, you need to attract attention by providing something interesting, entertaining or valuable. So that’s a good lesson for any sort of exposure on the social web.

Rich: Yeah, the other thing I’m thinking is I know a lot of big name, influential people love retweeting and favoriting – especially retweeting things – where they’re mentioned. So maybe I should spend my Twitter dollars on asking some of these big name people who like to retweet their own mentions, and spend my advertising dollars there. I can get a lot more bang for the buck.

Mark: That might work.

Rich: Let’s talk about hashtags for a minute. Hashtags are great, you can use them to start a conversation or be part of a chat or just use it for punchline of a joke. How do you recommend that businesses use hashtags to gain visibility or to make connections?

Mark: Well here’s an idea that would work for almost any business. One of the most popular forums on Twitter is called a “Twitter chat”. And there are Twitter chats available for almost any topic, and so you can find Twitter chats about nursing or about education or about cooking. So first of all, it’s a fun way to connect with like minded people. Now to find out more about Twitter chats – of course I’ve got a whole chapter on it in the book – you can also Google, “list of Twitter chats”, and you can find a curated list of all these thousands of chats by topic and you can see what day and time. Now, so the first idea is it’s a good way to find relative people to follow. So let’s say you’re a recruiter for an engineer, there’s probably a civil engineering chat on Twitter, wouldn’t it be a good idea to find those people, to follow those people, to get on those chats and connect and build relationships. The second idea is, wouldn’t it be interesting to maybe start a Twitter chat of your own? So maybe you’re in Maine and you’re only interested in finding people to connect with in Maine. Why not start a Maine-specific Twitter chat, and promote it and do it well and see who connects and shows up. It could be a way to build your network and maybe even find new clients.

Rich: Absolutely. And maybe it’s just because of the people I’m connected with, but I often see #beerchat. So I’m just wondering…

Mark: I’m awestruck right now.

Rich: Yeah. So I’m thinking, when you’re talking about the chats obviously anybody can create a hashtag, but these chats, are they usually specific to a time? It seems like that’s a common way of hosting a chat.

Mark: Yeah, I think that’s important because you need people to be able to find you. And the interesting thing about Twitter chats is there’s a chat that shows up in my stream every once in a while called “media chat”. A lot of my friends are on this and they’ll hashtag #mediachat. And then I’ll start seeing these tweets #mediachat, and I’ll say, “Oh, I wonder what that’s about, I wonder what they’re saying.” And then if you click that hashtag you can see the dialog, you can see the stream. So starting a chat or participating in a chat is also a good way to promote it.

Rich: Absolutely, all right. First of all, I always like to ask a question because I’m selfish and I know things for my own needs. I’ve got a conference coming up, Agents Of Change Digital Marketing Conference, we have a hashtag #AOC2014. Do you have – I know a lot of people are putting on events these days, whether they’re small events or big events – do you have any recommendations on how an event can use Twitter, either leading up to the event or during the event or maybe even as a wrap up after the event, as a way of really building community?

Mark: Well, let me give you – there are lots of ideas – but let me just give you two. There are lots of ideas on that topic in the book, but here are two. Number one is to really encourage people both before and during the conference to be aware of the hashtag and use the hashtag. It’s a great way to amplify the message. And when people are excited about an event, it’s likely that they’re going to be talking about it, tweeting about it, looking forward to attending, and remind them to use the hashtag. That’s going to help everybody. During the event, once again encourage people to tweet about it, to post about it and use the hashtag. And you might talk to your speakers ahead of time and remind them to: #1) put the hashtag at the bottom of every slide as a constant reminder of what the hashtag is, try to make it easy to remember but just put it out in front of people, and also to think about creating tweetable moments in their presentation.

Rich: Hmmmm, I like that.

Mark: So let’s say you’re giving a speech and you want to say, “I want to cover the 3 aspects of blah, blah, blah.” Why not have a slide that is very easy to remember, very easy to tweet – because remember, people are trying to listen to you and they’re also trying to type something into their smartphones – so help them. Almost spoon feed it to them that every couple slides put some words up on a slide that are easily tweetable. And maybe even encourage people from the stage. Say, “If you’re tweeting, if you’re following this, if you’re sharing this, here’s something that’s easy to tweet and easy to remember about what I’m talking about today.

Rich: That’s some great advice. Now Mark, I know that we’ve just scraped the surface. I know that there’s a lot more that our listeners are going to want to hear and learn about. So where else can we find more out about you online?

Mark: You can find everything about me at And I couldn’t call it “Schaefer” because nobody can spell Schaefer. But at you can find my blog, you can find my podcast called The Marketing Companion, you can find my books and lots of other free resources to help businesses of every size.

Rich: That’s great, and of course as always, we’re going to have all of those links in the shownotes. Mark, I appreciate you taking the time today, I’m going to be looking for you on Twitter and add you to my “Influencers” list. And thanks just again for your time.

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