Home Blogs How I made Twitter my 'dirty whore' and got suspended

How I made Twitter my 'dirty whore' and got suspended

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I can not count the number of posts I have read on how to profit from Twitter. It seems that everyone has a theory, except the good people at Twitter, of course, who have yet to develop their own revenue model.

Most advice that I have read, so far, talks largely about raising brand awareness and delivering brand equity – two things that are exceptionally hard to measure.

In fact, I suspect the latter was invented by advertising people to justify advertising campaigns that delivered little or no bottom-line results.

As a bootstrapping entrepreneur, I have very little patience for marketing campaigns that can’t give me a definable and measurable result, which is why, I thought it might be helpful to write a post about how we, at Anthill, and I have personally used Twitter over the past 12-months for business related purposes.

Let me start with a confession.

Suspended from Twitter

In July, my personal  Twitter account (@jamestuckerman) was suspended for ‘suspicious activity’.

I have no problem admitting this because, at the time, I was testing and trialling every possible Twitter application I could get my hands as a way to better understand how this social media phenomenon was being employed and how Anthill could perhaps use it to extend its community.

I also don’t mind admitting that I have placed myself at the receiving end of criticism by some of my Twitter followers for not using the platform to share enough of my own personal views. In one instance, I deliberately orchestrated what I defined at the time as a Twabble (as Twitter squabble) with the fake @stephenconroy, then blogged about it.

To set the record straight, here is how I use Twitter, as I explained to Twitter in July:

Hi Twitter,

I’m been suspended for a ‘spam’ investigation (@jamestuckerman).

I’m not sure why I have been suspended. But I use Twitter for two reasons.

As the editor-in-chief of an Australian  business magazine…

(1) To find out what small business owners in Australia are talking about. I use a number of tools to refine who I’m following, because I don’t want to follow anyone from outside Australia, I don’t want to follow just syndicated messages. I want to follow Australian small business owners who ‘retweet’. This provides me with a snapshot of what people are talking about in Australia.

(2) To syndicate content from my blog and the magazine. I probably don’t send as many personal updates as I should but I don’t think my followers are following me to learn what I had for breakfast. I suspect they are using it as an alternative RSS feed. I don’t automatically follow people who follow me. I don’t follow people to get more followers.

I look forward to your feedback. I hope that you can resolve it as soon as possible.

James Tuckerman
Editor-In-Chief
Anthill Magazine

Within a matter of hours my account was reinstated… along with thousands of other users who, I later discovered, had been mistakenly suspended following a Twitter glitch. (A “Twitch”?) Apparently, there was nothing too suss about my activities after all.

The incident was no big deal from a commercial perspective because I had used my personal account as the guinea pig. Or as one brazen Anthill reader recently asked, over drinks at the pub, “So, you whored-out your personal account?”

I suppose I did (and will probably continue to do so). But not in any dark or seedy way, as the analogy might suggest. Like many others, I just wanted to understand the social media platform better.

Unsuspended from Twitter

So far, I have explained that I use Twitter for:

Research: There are some excellent tools who monitoring what the real world is talking about, such as TweetMeme and TrendsMap (by Anthill Cool Company Awards winner, Stateless Systems). Also, bit.ly is also now using its platform to identify videos that are trending into viral memes, called bitly.tv. However, I have personally created my own tracking devices by only following Australian Twitter accounts that talk about a number of subjects. I use a combination of Twitter APIs to achieve this.

Syndication: The greatest (and the most frequent) criticism I have received from my own style of Twitter usage is that I don’t share enough personal information in my tweets and largely use it to syndicate Anthill posts and other posts I find interesting. Recently, I let my guard down and reacted with a barbed comment after I was accused of ‘fooling’ someone into following me, and then because I failed to live up to their expectations. I honestly don’t know how this is possible. If I was a brand or a company that might be possible. But, as I’m beginning to realise, a person can now be a brand too.

Another important way that we use Twitter is to gain:

Customer feedback: I’ve noticed that recently we, as an organisation, have been quicker at responding to incoming tweets than email enquiries. Why is this the case? I suspect that it’s because the incoming tweets are under 140 characters (and, therefore, cut to the chase) and, because our responses must also be under 140 characters, Twitter provides no room for lengthy excuses.

Those are the broader ways that we use Twitter for business. But they don’t (yet) have a measurable impact on our bottom line. So, here’s how we make money using Twitter.

Twitter for (our) business

There are three ways that we use Twitter for our business that can be linked to measurable outcomes.

  1. The first will be familiar to most (it’s all about web-traffic).
  2. The second is pertinent if you have a product to sell (it’s all about promoting a sale or a discount).
  3. The third is new to Anthill and still in testing (it’s all about third-party advertising).

Using Twitter to generate web traffic

If your website is important to your business and you do not have an analytics system to monitor incoming traffic, you are a buffoon of the highest order.

To be honest, you should not be running a website (or perhaps even a business). If you are a marketing manager and don’t use analytics to measure your web traffic sources, go fire yourself now. You give the profession a bad name.

Do I sound harsh? I hope so.

The past year has been a big eye-opener for me, moving from a print to a digital advertising platform. The number of advertisers that we have encountered this past year who do not measure their incoming traffic simply shocked me.

In the old days of advertising, it was humourous to say, “I know that half my advertising works. I just don’t know which half.”

These days, it’s no laughing matter.

We measure everything we do, from the largest changes to the smallest tweaks. This is a steadfast rule that has fuelled our growth from a print magazine with a website to one of Australia’s leading digital media companies (with print capabilities). And this obsession with measurement includes incoming traffic from social media platforms.

Here are our statistics:

twitter-traffic

We use Google Analytics to monitor and measure the bulk of our web activities.

What you’ll probably notice is that incoming traffic from Twitter represents 4.46% of all our incoming traffic. Further, ow.ly is one of the tools that we use to syndicate our stories through Twitter. Add these numbers together and we can attribute 6.85% of all our traffic to Tweets and Re-Tweets containing links to anthillonline.com.

Astounding!

To achieve this outcome, we have developed a multi-faceted strategy that involves more than mere RSS syndication. If you’d like to know the detail, we’ll be running a Masterclass in Sydney on 4 February. Why am I telling you this now?

Well, read on.

Using Twitter to sell products and promote discounts

My note above about our Sydney workshop offers a timely segway into the second way that we use Twitter for business.

Whenever we have a product to sell or a discount to promote, Twitter offers an additional channel. And, so far, it’s proven an effective one. But only because we are not using Twitter for this sole purpose.

In fact, we have defined our own ratios (content:promotions) and, once again, these have been developed in ways that can be tested, from unfollows to comments.

However, the truest test of all is actual sales. And how do we know when our sales come from Twitter? We use tracking links and discount codes.

For example, when invited to purchase a ticket to any Anthill event you will be offered a discount. The only requirement is that you enter a promotional word, like… Twitter. Such a word will trigger a discount and give us a way to track our sales.

Here is a list of ticket sales for our Online Marketing Seminar (distinct to our Masterclass) by discount code:

event-discount-codes

We use a product called Eventbrite to manage ticket sales (and highly recommend it).

In fact, here’s our referral code, should you wish to test it out: https://www.eventbrite.com/r/anthillonline

What you’ll notice about this table is that more ticket sales came from an affiliate of ours (Design Victoria) than through our own website (Anthill) and that seven tickets came from social media channels Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

This structure can be used by any organisation with something to sell – so long as that organisation is able to build a feed of interesting, compelling, re-tweetable content that’s likely to attract its target customers in the first place.

Using Twitter as an advertising medium

I mentioned above that I’ve been contemplating a new service. It’s called ad.ly. Essentially, it’s a third party service that will pay Twitter users to tweet their ads.

Here is our referral code, should you wish to test it out:  http://ad.ly/refer/831920864

We first heard about ad.ly through Robert Scoble’s Scobleizer blog.

According to Scoble:

I’ve heard of some celebrities getting paid $30,000 for week’s worth of tweets. One guy, with 50,000 followers, claimed on his Twitter stream tonight that he was getting paid $3,000 a week.

It reads like spam bullshit, a possible Pandora’s box for Twitter. Scoble doesn’t like it and feels compelled to explain why, echoing many of my first impressions.

To paraphrase Scoble:

  1. It blurs the line between editorial and advertising.
  2. We just don’t know enough about audiences to price ads properly.
  3. If Twitter becomes infested with instream ads it will piss everyone off and those systems will be destroyed by greed.

Despite my initial reaction (which was similar to Scoble’s), I’m not sure it will do any of these things.

Will it really blur the line?

On the first of Scoble’s points, ads can (and should) be identified as ads, if their purpose is not already clear. One of the Twitter advertisers mentioned in Scoble’s blog post uses the #ad hashtag to let his followers know that the tweet is a paid advertisement.

A small hashtag might initially seem unclear but consumers are quick to figure these things out, so long as the publisher discloses its intentions and stays transparent, like we do when publishing a post submitted by an advertiser, whether paid or not.

(This post we disclosed as being submitted by an advertiser, yet it still prompted 17 re-tweets).

You can value it

On Scoble’s second point, the market will figure this out for us. Apparently an advertising tweet through my own personal Twitter account is worth $15, while an advertising tweet through @anthillmagazine is worth $27. This makes sense because the Anthill account has far greater reach (and most probably more influence).

It’ll piss people off… if you let it

On his third (and most contentious) point, all I can say is that each medium will logically find its own balance. Television stations have been able to establish through trial and error what content to advertising ratios viewers are willing to tolerate.

Radio stations are still finding the balance, with some new stations offering ‘no more than two ads in a row’, while older stations continue to run their ads in long blocks.

The difference here is that individuals will be forced to monitor their own ad output and, I’m guessing, will be more responsive to follower reactions as a result.

And that’s got to be a good thing!

In summary…

Twitter is no different to any other content channel. It’s no different to a television or radio station, a magazine or a newspaper, a blog or large news website.

Individuals or organisations that are able to attract audiences, broker attention and find ways to monetise the channel will prosper. If the same people and groups get the balance wrong, they will be penalised (i.e. people will vote with their feet).

The difference is that the cost to set up a Twitter account — your own media channel — is vastly less than any traditional medium (i.e. zero capital outlay). And this has attracted an abundance of tyre-kickers and also-rans.

But those who recognise the value of Twitter as a medium to create and share new content, or simply broker the content of others, will find ways to profit from the experience. But the trick is in identifying clear goals and then finding ways to measure the outcomes (without getting suspended in the process).

online-marketing-croppedIf this subject interests you, register for Anthill’s Online Marketing by Design Seminar or Masterclass in Sydney.

Using the promo code SHARABLE when prompted for a hefty discount.

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