Twitterquette for Small Business

Reading Time: 4 minutes

virtual handshakeI have noticed lately that many a small biz (in Chilliwack and elsewhere) tentatively launching into the Twitterverse, perhaps some thinking that they are going where no small business has gone before. I have to tell you that is not the case. If you are just now making your way into the broad expanse of social media virtual landscape known as Twitter – well you are not too late for the party but you are definitely not an early explorer of the galaxy. Here are a few tips to help you catch up with what many of early adopters have discovered.

Your bio matters

The more you can fit into your Twitter bio the better. Experienced tweeters will check your bio and if it’s empty or hard to understand or is in some other way lacking details, they won’t follow you. You are a scary stranger who may be just waiting to attack or spam or something. Ok, it may not be that. It is most likely just a matter of good practice. The most common advice about following accounts on Twitter is – Check the bio and only follow if it looks both legit and interesting. So fill out you bio completely, add a picture, what your business is about and what city you are in – always helpful.

You background page matters too

When people click on your profile in Twitter they see your whole page so make it look good.  Here is a great design blueprint with image dimensions for pretty much all the popular social media platforms. Bonus tip – if you are doing this yourself and don’t have Photoshop you can use Pixlr a free online photo editor or if you don’t want to go through that mildly steep learning curve you can, in a pinch, use Powerpoint. I use a combination of Powerpoint, Pixlr and Snagit to get just about all my graphic editing done.

Manners matters most

Once you are using Twitter, how you present yourself becomes the most important thing. Social media is grounded in cooperation ethics and reciprocity is a good strategy. People support people who support them. When someone follows you – a potential customer, client or champion of your cause if you are a non-profit – it’s like a virtual handshake. They are holding out their hand as if to say “Hey, nice to meet you”. Not following back is like turning your back on someone that is trying to say hello.

Why follow back

There are a few solid reasons for following back. One is that when you follow someone on Twitter it allows them to send you direct messages (DMs). Ironically, this is one of the reasons businesses cite as why they don’t follow back. The other reason some businesses use to explain not following their followers back, is that it increases the “noise” in their home stream. These may be valid excuses for massively popular businesses, brands and celebrities. If you are a small to medium size storefront type of business; these reasons don’t hold up and do more harm than good.

Laura “@Pistachio” Fitton, inbound marketing evangelist for HubSpot, and lead author of Twitter for Dummies says:

As a business, not following someone back means you’re telling them, ‘Thanks for your support, but you’re not important enough to us to be willing to listen to you privately.’ ~ Open Forum

One of the best reasons to follow back is so that customers or clients who have something less than positive to say can message you privately. Shaw Cable does this really well by the way. Notice how many people they are following.

Shaw cable twitter profile page

The other reason businesses don’t follow back, as mentioned above, is the fear of noise.


In any business – or non-profit – the act of genuinely listening and hearing what customers, clients and supporters are saying, is critical. Twitter is no exception to that basic rule of engagement. Think of Twitter as an extension of your store or office. Luckily Twitter and applications like Hootsuite make it really easy for you to listen online.

Your home “stream” or “feed” in Twitter is where the tweets and retweets sent by the people you follow will show up. “Noise” is all the unwanted and less than relevant posts that can show up in your home stream, making it hard for you to “hear” what’s important. It’s a valid concern and it’s easily addressed. Use lists on Twitter and  filtered streams on Hootsuite. Here are some on my lists on Twitter. You can create as many lists as you want, make them public or private and you can put people on more than one list.

Chilliwack lists in Twitter

Hootsuite’s dashboard makes it really easy to follow – listen to – just what’s important and relevant to you, across multiple accounts. You don’t have to try to listen to “everything”. Hootsuite makes it really easy to create list, search and hashtags streams, that are filtered based on what you want to listen for.

Hootsuite dashboard streams



Old Spice Twitter feed

Once you have introducing yourself and listening down pat the next thing to master is communication. What you say, how you say it, your tone, how often you communicate with your followers should give your followers a good sense of who you are as a brand. Sure you want to promote your business or cause but to do that effectively requires a creative blend of personality, useful content and just plain being nice.

Check out this Hootsuite post about how some of the worlds biggest brands represent themselves on Twitter. My favorite example is Old Spice. They have one of the best Twitter accounts around. You might not have their budget or even their sense of humour on some days but you have to admit – this kind of engagement is good business.

Bottom line

The bottom line in business, and in not-for-profit organizations, is always related to doing what works. On Twitter and other social media channels genuine engagement is what works. Engaging your customers, clients, supporters, and champions is more likely to work if your online interactions are as respectful, interesting and engaging as your face to face interactions.

So, get out there, dress to impress, say hello, shake some hands, have interesting conversations, offer something of yourself and support others the way you hope they will support you.


For more great ideas about using Twitter for business check out this Social Media Examiner post.


For specific information about how your business can rock the Twittersphere contact me today.

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Engagement and Feedback with VoiceThread

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I’m a student of engagement and feedback. I think they’re related on micro and macro levels and are on a continuum. A micro engagement could be a small as a glance exchanged between two people. A macro engagement could be – no it doesn’t have to do with a ring – a community wide, civic engagement activity that spans months or even years.

Feedback is similar. Micro feedback can also be a glance or a “look”. You know, the one your mom gave you when you were about to misbehave in a restaurant. Macro level feedback can be as large scale and long term as a longitudinal research project about health outcomes or educational initiatives.

I also think that feedback on a micro level can improve outcomes at a macro or community level. The sum of the parts kind of thing.

In behavioral health, many counsellors use a system of feedback called My Outcomes. I’ve posted on it before but due to the originators of the system restructuring their organization the links may be broken, so here’s a link to their new site and video. Don’t let the medical profession type language scare you off. The system itself is easy, effective and brilliant. I used it for the last few years that I worked as a counselor and even the most street entrenched of my clients loved it. They loved it because it offered them an opportunity to tell me clearly what they thought and felt about our relationship and time together.

I have also used the MyOutcomes tool (which comes in a paper version that any individual can use for free on Barry Duncan’s website by the way) to get feedback from groups that I’ve facilitated. And to be fair here is link to Scott Miller‘s resource page. Miller and Duncan co-created the system and then had some kind of change in their relationship, each taking a different path.

In thinking about feedback, engagement and then having a Twitter conversation with @pmacoun that began with the cool things he’s doing with claymation in his classroom which eventually lead to swapping VoiceThread links. His first link is this charming story created by his daughter and captured on the VoiceThread mobile app. The second link he shared was to a really awesome example of digital storytelling by Grade One students at Aspengrove School in Nanaimo, BC.

The VoiceThreads got me to thinking about my own experiences in elementary school and I had an epiphany about siloed curriculum and classes in high school being evil, but will save that for another post. It also got me thinking about how I would like to see VoiceThread used for feedback and community engagement. See, if you stick with me long enough I eventually get back around to the point 🙂

Wouldn’t it be amazing to start a VoiceThread for each child in a class at the beginning of the school year and use it to provide both a space for reflection (for older kids) and for a space to provide ongoing formative feedback in the  tone of appreciative inquiry?

Lets say Johnny is a grade three student. At the beginning of the year his teacher would take a picture of him or better yet a short video. Johnny could add comments, his teacher could say something she has come to appreciate about Johnny, other teachers and even his classmates could add a comment or two. This could be done monthly with a new picture or video each month or just one picture and lots of comments. The link could be shared with parents right from the beginning. They could also add comments.

At the end of the year each child would have ten months worth of positive affirmations about them to take with them into the next year. The VoiceThread could be burned onto a DVD for those families that struggle with internet access. (I work with a lot of economically challenged families and virtually all have a DVD player). Innovative schools could even sell additional copies to grandparents. I have seven grandchicklets and I promise you, I would purchase something like this from each of them.

This is a way to provide feedback that builds learners up and is a way to engage multiple people in that process. It’s kind of like the pat on the back process where at the end of the year each child draws an outline of their hand an it’s passed around so others can write something they like about that person… this is the digital or 2.0 version.

I would also love to see VoiceThread used for larger scale, macro if you will, community engagement. Imagine using it to gather informal feedback about a school or class initiative. Or using it to share a special project or story about a class in general. Because of the way VoiceThread works you can control who has access, it can be moderated and it can be left open for adding comments, for as long as you want.

Ok, I rest my case. Leaving you with the VoiceThread that won me over in the first place. Click the arrow in the bottom right corner to progress through all the slides. The third slide has some interesting ideas about formative and summative assessment.

Update: Here is the workshop archive for May – June 2015, from the VoiceThread blog.

What other ways can you think of to use VoiceThread or other kinds of collaborative technology to engage community or provide feedback?

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