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Engage with Twitter

The fast-paced world of tweets, retweets and hashtags is there to help you start conversations with potential customers

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By Elizabeth Nash
Published: January 10, 2017
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Twitter is the social-media platform people turn to when they want to find out what’s going on right this moment. On any user’s home page you can scroll past update after update from friends, celebrities and, yes, businesses.

According to Twitter, 310 million users are on the site every month and more than 500 million tweets are posted every single day. With all of those updates, a company’s tweets can easily get lost in the noise without some helpful tactics and tricks. Here you’ll find out how to make your professional tweets stand out and how to connect with customers both current and potential.


Twitter terminology

Tweet: A 140-character message posted on Twitter that may contain pictures, links, GIFs or video. Tweeting (verb).

Retweet: A tweet that you repost to your followers. Always retains original attribution and can be used to pass along information to your followers.

Mention: Using the “@” symbol before a username alerts that account to the tweet: “Check out this new article

Reply: A response to another user’s tweet. It automatically begins with @username:  
“@ModelRetailer Just read the latest issue!”

Hashtag: The “#” symbol followed by a word or words that helps group topics: “Just got a new shipment of #modeltrains”


Twitter employs several devices designed to help you get in touch with more people and better interact with potential customers. Many of these —such as replies, mentions and hashtags—can be used together in one tweet, and you should always make sure to use at least one.

Keep in mind that the 140- character limit imposed on every tweet fills up quickly—some of which is taken up by links and usernames you choose to include within the tweet. You can trim down URLs by using what is known as a link shortener, such as Google’s service, which turns an unwieldy long link into a more manageable short one.

The illustration above is an example of a tweet, using mentions, hashtags, an image and a shortened link.

As you can see, there are two hashtags within this tweet. The first one is integrated within the headline sentence and the other is included because it’s relevant. Model Retailer is mentioned because that’s where the story came from, and Bachmann Trains is the manufacturer of the locomotive in the image. The link leads to the article about the products at iHobby. In order to include all of the pertinent information, you might have to retype a tweet several times in different ways.


Setting up a profile

When setting up a Twitter account, your first task will be to choose a username, or ‘handle.’ Your handle is the most basic way that customers will find you online, so make sure it reflects the name of your business. If that name is already taken, try adding your city or location, or some other signifier of who you are. Be wary of adding numbers or letters that are not part of your store’s name—potential customers could filter it out as spam.

Twitter is about keeping it short, and your profile is no different. You only have 160 characters to work with in the About section, so make it count. Skip the long-winded mission statement and quickly tell people about your store and what you can do for them.

Next you’ll tackle the images. As on Facebook, you have a profile and header photo. Using the same images as you do on Facebook can give your business a cohesive look and help with brand identity. (If you don’t have a Facebook, you should! Look to the July issue of Model Retailer for a basic guide that will help you get started.) Your profile picture should be your logo, and your header photo should be either one of your store or a regularly updated image of new merchandise or products on sale. Twitter suggests a profile picture size of at least 400-by-400 pixels, and a header photo that’s 1,500-by-1,500 pixels.

The next step is to find and follow accounts relevant to your business. Most model, board game, dice game, R/C, train and accessory manufacturers you stock in your store have Twitter accounts. In addition, you can find the accounts for other stores, distributors, conventions and professional hobbyists.



Having set up your profile, it’s time for the main event: tweeting. But before you start typing, ask yourself why am I tweeting? If the only answer is to push my products to customers, then you’ll want to rethink your strategy. If you use Twitter as a purely promotional vehicle, you’ll quickly run into a wall. Potential customers on-line are especially opposed to overt marketing. Instead, your job on Twitter is to establish yourself as the authority in the hobby industry.

You already know the products in and out and answer customer questions in-store all the time, so Twitter is the perfect platform for you to voice your experience and know-how, thereby creating a dedicated group of followers who look to your tweets to learn.

That said, of course you’ll talk about your store and the services you provide, but by moving that agenda to the back burner and focusing on your knowledge and expertise, you’ll create a trusted Twitter brand and find your customers more receptive.

With that in mind, how do you craft a post that will be innovative and enlightening, in 140 characters or less? The good news is that you don’t always have to be the one to start the conversation. People are already on Twitter talking about the hobby industry; all you have to do is jump into the conversation and keep it going. Regardless of your specific hobby, you’ll find people and companies tweeting questions, opinions and news from around the world and you can reply to any of them, whether or not you follow one another.

To find relevant tweets, look to the top of Twitter for the Search bar. Here you can find posts on the topic of any conversation you’re interested in: drones, model railroading, R/C, board games, sales, business—you name it. Type in the subject you’d like to discuss and suddenly see every tweet that mentions it. As you’re scrolling though the tweets, jump into a conversation where you think your knowledge could be of assistance.

Obviously, make sure to reply only when absolutely relevant, and to keep your tone professional. Spam is a very real issue across all social-media boards, and it’s important that you don’t accidentally flag yourself as a fake account by replying to tweets that don’t have to do with the industry. But if you’re in the business of selling R/C boats, answer the person asking if the latest model is a good buy. If someone is complaining about a broken drone, tell them you’ve heard good things about XYZ tool kit. If a person shares an image of their board-game night, say how much fun it looks and ask what their opinion is on another similar game. You’re simply replying with helpful information or engaging questions that may or may not have to do with a product you sell and getting potential customers to notice your business.

Within these replies, you can tag certain companies if the conversation is one you want the company to see. Some users have had success adding their personal name to messages when tweeting from the business’ account. This method is useful for businesses that have several employees tweeting from the same account, or for those that want to add a more personal touch to their tweets. Hashtags and links can also be employed when relevant. I would recommend exchanging a few replies with someone before sending them buying information about the products you sell. Establish yourself as helpful first, and then start selling.

Don’t be discouraged by those who don’t respond to you—move on to the next tweet. Keep your tone light, friendly and professional, and repeat what works.

If your brick-and-mortar business does not have an e-commerce platform and you’re looking to attract local customers, you can also use the Search bar to look at specific locations. This is a good way to discover what people in your area are doing, where they are shopping, and the kind of activities they are interested in. You can also use the Search bar as marketing research. Search for specific companies or topics to see how competitors are promoting their products and interacting with customers.

While replying to other people’s tweets is a surefire way to create engaging conversations, you’ll also want to generate tweets of your own. Although there is much debate on how often a company should post, a safe bet is between one and six times a day. Because a person’s Twitter feed is constantly being updated with newer and newer tweets, a post in the morning is unlikely to show up on a person’s timeline by noon. Consequently, you’re able to post more frequently on Twitter than Facebook without coming across as annoying.

Even if you can only tweet once a day, that still shows prospective customers on your home page that your business is alive and well. Platforms like TweetDeck, Buffer and Hootsuite let you compose tweets in advance so you can schedule several days’ worth of posts in one sitting.

You can post the same things on Twitter as you do on Facebook. Even if your customers are on both sites, chances are they are not on them at the same time, so crossover will not be overkill.

Twitter is also a good platform for reposting the same thing a number of times. You can tweet an important announcement multiple times a day and then several times over the next few weeks, if relevant. Remember to tag people and include hashtags.

While Twitter is a fast-moving world, you might not gain a huge number of followers right away. But it’s important to stay the course in order to slowly but surely build up that fan base. Quality, not quantity, is what’s important here because it will be that smaller number of dedicated users who re-tweet, mention, tag and talk about you to all of their followers—thereby building your potential customer base.


Elizabeth Nash is associate editor of Model Retailer.


Twitter in 10 minutes a day

• Respond to those who tweeted at you or sent you a direct message.

• Post something (or schedule many posts using TweetDeck, Buffer or Hootsuite).

• Choose a topic to focus on each day and search for it. Join conversations you want to be a part of.

• Scroll through your home page, liking, retweeting and replying for as long as you have.