To the population at large, Twitter is perhaps best known as a place for reading and disseminating news or taking in the musings of celebrities and certain American presidents.
To Collective Arts Brewing Ltd., however, it’s also an invaluable tool for driving business. More so than other social media platforms, Twitter lets the Hamilton, Ont.-based brewery promote local partners and instantly communicate with customers.
“It’s easy to dive into communities,” says Toni Shelton, the brewery’s communications manager. “It’s really easy to connect and show love to bars and restaurants, artists and whatever. People are a lot more willing to engage on Twitter.”
Statistics show Twitter is indeed a vital service for small and medium-sized businesses.
About 42 per cent of online Canadians have an account, according to the Social Media Lab at Toronto’s Ryerson University. Twitter itself says about 57 per cent of Canadian users have discovered a small or medium-sized business (SMB) on the service, while half have visited or shopped at a website of a business they follow. Sixty per cent have purchased a product or service from an SMB because of something they saw on Twitter.
Statistics from the United States show users are well-educated and affluent, with about a third having university degrees and an income higher than US$75,000.
Taken together, the numbers suggest that small businesses can ill afford to avoid the platform.
Twitter is a different beast from other social media services, however, and must be approached as such, Ms. Shelton says. Consistent and frequent posts are key to succeeding because of the fast-moving nature of the service, more so than on Facebook or Instagram.
Ms. Shelton maintains two accounts for Collective Arts, which began operations in 2013 and now employs 100 people. The company distributes beer across Canada and to 15 U.S. states, Sweden and Britain.
Between its two Twitter accounts – the main channel, @CollectiveBrew, and the local-focused @CollectiveHam – the company has about 14,000 followers. Ms. Shelton posts about new products as well as news about sampling events and art exhibits.
She tries to post to both accounts daily, sometimes more often. She considers three posts to be a good day and admits to feeling anxiety on days when she hasn’t posted at all.
“A dormant feed sometimes bring up questions for people, like, ‘Why do they have Twitter?’ Be consistent or don’t have one at all,” she says. “They’re looking for content from you consistently.”
The payoff is the development of a community that connects with the brand, a harder result to achieve on other social media. “Strangers are more likely to comment than they are on Facebook or Instagram, where they’re worried about their friends seeing what they’re interacting with,” Ms. Shelton says. “Twitter is a more approachable platform.”
Experts agree that frequent interaction is the key to success on Twitter. Businesses need to respectfully respond to comments and be cognizant of who is following them. They also need to avoid publishing posts that seem like overt advertisements.
“You have to add value to [users’] experience rather than just use it as a megaphone,” says Sarah Stockdale, a Toronto-based business-growth consultant. “Your social media feeds are parties and you never want to be the awkward person at a party doing something that doesn’t make sense.”
Ms. Stockdale says photos, short videos and GIFs work especially well on Twitter – they take up more space in feeds than simple text posts and are more likely to be noticed. Businesses must also avoid seeming “hyper-professional”; spicing up posts with humour is a smart approach. “You have to have some personality,” she says.
Maintaining a Twitter account and building a business on the platform is fraught with the same issues as other social media for many smaller companies: It can be difficult to find the time or resources to devote to it.
As with the other services, experts say businesses need to either make posting to Twitter a priority or forego it entirely. “You have to put in the effort and the time to build community organically,” Ms. Stockdale says. Anyone looking for shortcuts is likely "to get a lot of [fake] bot followers.”
One trick to maintaining that necessary consistency, according to Twitter itself, is to plan ahead.
“We recommend you have some evergreen content ready to go in your back pocket for those very busy days when you might not have a chance to devote a lot of time,” says Michelle Slater, head of business marketing at Twitter Canada.