When people think about using Twitter for business, it’s often promotion, digital ads, and building a following that come to mind. Indeed, Twitter can play a key role in marketing your business. But Twitter can also be instrumental in actively building your business, not just promoting it. We covered building in public, sharing your work authentically, and testing new business ideas in Choosing What to Tweet. In this section we’ll cover ways to get feedback on your business or work, and find collaborators, potential employees, and strategic partners.
Find Your First Customers
Before people quit their day jobs and cash in their 401K to start a business, it all begins with an idea. Often that idea keeps you up at night, looping through your brain and eliciting the same question on repeat: “What if?”
Before taking out an outsized loan to fund a business or rashly typing out a letter of resignation, you can ask Twitter. Often Twitter can be a better sounding board than friends and family who are unable to stay neutral and may provide overly positive (“This is brilliant! Sign me up!”) or particularly negative—or personal (“Nah. Should you be thinking of starting a business while you’re in debt?”)
Simply sending out a tweet about your business idea can be a form of rapid customer validation that helps you gauge the interest in a product or service. Sharing and explaining your business with a limited number of characters will help you think more clearly about your value proposition.
If the reception is positive, you’ll also get a glimpse into who your first customers might be. You can ask more questions about everything from pricing (“How much would you pay for this?”) or competitors (“What do you use now that serves the same purpose?”)
If the reception is negative or non-existent, it doesn’t mean you should abandon your idea. However “lukewarm response” is a data point you didn’t have before and will serve your next steps, whether that’s idea iteration or additional research.
Gain Valuable Feedback
Whether you’re starting a new company from scratch or releasing a new feature or product line, Twitter can serve as a great sounding board. Leveraged properly, the platform will enable you to you to learn from your customers and improve your product. Entrepreneurs who are active on Twitter can create a direct line from themselves to their customers; whether that’s to solicit feedback or provide customer support.
Teams that build continuous customer discovery into their DNA will become smarter than their investors, and build more successful companies.Steve Blank (@sgblank), entrepreneur, professor, author *
Getting feedback on what you want to build and release or how you can improve can yield useful feedback that informs your decisions. Following this feedback can yield better results than if you were to build and release something in isolation. You can opt to solicit feedback as a founder or employee, which has the benefit of personalization, or collect feedback under your company’s account, which may have the benefit of wider reach.
Half the advice I give to startups is some form of ‘talk to your customers.’Paul Graham (@paulg), author, essayist, co-founder, Y Combinator*
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Slack (@SlackHQ) has used Twitter to collect customer feedback, a strategy that helped propel them from a $0 to $1B company.
In general, learning from your users and gathering product sentiment is a key part of growing a business. Twitter is just one of many channels that will help you connect with your users and learn about the pain points they might be experiencing with your product.
If you’re growing and scaling your team, simply talking about your company is a form of employer branding. Most people value transparency in the company they work for. Providing insights into your company will help you attract talented people whose values and interests align with those of you and your company.
Some topics you can talk about to increase interest in your company and attract talent:
Your company values
Your business performance (revenue, growth, customers)
Interesting projects your team is working on
Future plans and ambitions
There are a number of founders who do this very well:
In the early days of starting a business, a founder is often a multi-department team of one: engineering, design, marketing, and sales. It’s likely you also need to task yourself with customer service. Your users are often on Twitter, and that’s where they want to get help. That’s where you should provide it.
This serves to both get customers their answers, and to be aware of issues with your product or service and provide reassurance. When you initially start a company, this advice can be invaluable in helping you prioritize fixes and building your project roadmap.
If you’re fortunate enough to have your team grow, you’ll hire for a customer support team. Many companies have an “All hands customer support culture” that encourages C-levels and executives to be cognizant of customers by doing customer support. If your company does this, they likely have to be trained how best to provide support on Twitter. Users often tag founders or prominent employees with their questions (or complaints!) about new features or bugs.
Companies that succeed often have founders with their ear on the pulse of customer feedback:
Mathilde Collin (@collinmathilde), the Co-Founder and CEO of Front, maintains an “everyone does support” ethos at her company, for herself included. She writes, “You will often find myself and my co-founder in the support queue or on Twitter answering customer questions directly. I know Patrick Collison at Stripe and Eoghan McCabe at Intercom do this as well.”
Great tools for providing social support on Twitter:
There are countless resources on how to use Twitter for marketing: growing your business through Twitter Ads, optimizing your tweet timing and frequency for improved visibility, and ideal sizing for graphics, to name a few (we won’t cover those here).
But what’s most important about using Twitter as a promotional channel for your business is the type of content you post. As a general rule: doing promotion well shouldn’t feel like promotion. That’s to say there really shouldn’t be a huge shift between a personal account and a brand account—both should aim to be interesting, informative, and adept at storytelling. Rather than selling, your company account should be helping, whether through original or curated content.
Here are three categories of social content that work:
Helpful. Share content that shows an understanding of the problems that your potential and current users face and aims to help solve that issue.
Your competitors are on Twitter too. You can use the platform to keep tabs on them and stay abreast of what they’re releasing and their brand and product sentiment.
Add competitors to a private Twitter list. Add both a company’s founders, leadership team members, and their company handles to a private list. This can help you keep a beat on the company and what they’re working on.
Query Twitter to see competitors’s mentions. Search for a company’s mentions to see what their customers are saying about them. This can provide you with hints on how to improve your own business or product and who their users are.
While you should track competitors, their behavior shouldn’t guide your decisions. Founders and companies who follow the (building-in-public)[#build-in-public] model will share failures, mistakes, and breakthroughs that can be helpful, but for the vast majority of branded companies out there, Twitter remains a promotional channel for sharing highlights and attempting customer acquisition and retention. Failing to understand this and blindly duplicating what you think a competitor is doing will more than likely waste your time and lead you astray.
A competitor can hype things that aren’t working or produce lukewarm results.
A competitor won’t disclose actions that give them a true competitive advantage.
A competitor’s Twitter following may not be reflective of their actual users or only represent a small subsection.
Here’s the problem with copying: Copying skips understanding. Understanding is how you grow. You have to understand why something works or why something is how it is. When you copy it, you miss that. You just repurpose the last layer instead of understanding all the layers underneath.Jason Fried (@jasonfried), co-founder and CEO, Basecamp*
An essential part of using Twitter for professional growth is looking for opportunities when you can move online interactions to in-person meetings.
This is one of the best things about Twitter! Of course it’s a privilege reserved for those of us who live in (or travel to) bigger cities. But I would highly recommend it. I’ve met up with people from Twitter maybe ~three dozen times and never once had a bad experience. A few “meh” experiences, sure, but nothing outright negative.Kevin Simler (@KevinSimler), software, data, and automation, Hexagon Bio, author*
Meeting Online Friends
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