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Social media is a wonderful way to spread the word about your business and by using it in your marketing mix new products and services may "go viral" in a cyber-instant.

But platforms like micro-blogging site Twitter also have a downside when unhappy customers or disgruntled former employees and competitors send out negative tweets to the Twitterverse.

It's important to understand how to use Twitter to address a negative Internet reputation and rebuild the positive.

Stay Alert

Rather than be surprised when customers start to mention your negative Internet reputation be sure to be aware of what people are saying about your business.

Monitor your social presence using tools such as HootSuite or outsource that task to a service company that provides complete online reputation management so you instantly know when there is a problem brewing.

Prepare Lists

Create lists in Twitter of people, businesses, or media so you can communicate direct information quickly and easily.

Tweeters don't have to be following you to be included in your lists but you can easily track groups of tweeters with similar interests.

If you are a local business, be sure to create a list for your city or state, as well as one for media personalities and news writers.

Interact!

Social media is just that: social! It's not a print ad or news feed and tweeters expect others on the site to interact with them. Re-tweet interesting posts with a comment at the beginning, and thank anyone who re-tweets your micro-blogging.

Get a dialogue going by asking a question about a tweet or a tweeter's profile. Cyber conversations often lead to online friendships and build credibility. Tweeters are more likely to believe someone they "know" through good community participation than a random negative post by someone new who never interacts.

Should you have the unfortunate experience to develop a negative Internet reputation, there are steps you can take to address the problem quickly and easily.

Positive Tweets

Don't underestimate the power of positive tweets.

Rather than appear vindictive, focus on the image you'd like to have online. Write tweets that directly counter the negative item.

If the problem stemmed from a defective product, tweets about a new product design would build up the positive without playing the negativity game.

Frequency

More positive tweets than negative will show up when potential customers search for your business if you have sufficient frequency.

A good rule of thumb is to tweet several times per day. Remember to still interact, of course. About 80 – 90% of your tweets should be interaction, with only 10 – 20% being dedicated to sales or marketing information.

Software such as Tweetdeck allows you to schedule tweets in advance so if you're out of the office or in meetings you can still communicate with the Twitterverse.

Use Those Lists You Created

Now is the time to put those lists you created earlier to good use.

Mention tweeters on your lists in new positive tweets and especially target your industry's thought leaders and Twitter Whales – tweeters with huge numbers of followers.

Get Help From Cyber-friends

Direct message the cyber-friends you've made on Twitter and ask them specifically to retweet a positive tweet. You'll find they do so almost 100% of the time, based upon the credibility you've developed earlier.

Twitter can be a powerful marketing communications tool, as well as helping to reverse a negative Internet reputation. It only requires a little advance preparation and using the platform strategically. Remember, Twitter is not a billboard!

Sarah Boisvert

Sarah Boisvert is an author who has written for business and online marketing sites including FabLabHub.net, Reputation.com and 3DPrinter.net. She also writes on new technologies in manufacturing.

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