Welcome to the World of Twitter

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Seven years after Twitter's inception, pool and spa pros still aren't taking advantage of Twitter. Here's what we know and why you should change your social media strategy now.

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Watch these step-by-step videos on how to create your Twitter profile and send out your first tweet today.

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Ask any pool or spa professional how customers learn about his or her business, and more than likely the answer will be, “Word of mouth.” Today this phrase has a whole new meaning. Consumers no longer restrict their opinions to their immediate neighbors, friends and family. Now they share “likes” with the entire world through social media.

This is especially true with Twitter. The social networking service launched in July 2006 and has experienced exponential growth, especially in the last two years. In December 2012, the San Francisco-based firm announced it had surpassed 200 million monthly active users worldwide. These individuals are sending upwards of one billion tweets every two to three days.

While users run the gamut from popular food brands to famous actors and dads with a penchant for fishing, most members of the swimming pool and spa industry have yet to tap into Twitter. In fact, in an exclusive Pool & Spa News survey, 75 percent of the participants did not have a Twitter account for business purposes. The top two reasons cited were a lack of understanding for the tool, and an unclear vision of how using it would fit into a marketing campaign.

Yet the industry simply can’t afford to ignore Twitter any longer. According to a study from Forrester Research, 53 percent of Twitter users recommend companies or products in their tweets, and 48 percent of these consumers follow through with the buy. To help the reluctant, uncertain and self-proclaimed digitally challenged overcome their fears or skepticism, this first of a two-part series will explain the basics of Twitter and offer a step-by-step guide for using the free social media platform.

Dispelling myths

At its core, Twitter is not about selling, it’s about engagement. Establishing relationships with customers, friends, industry members and even competitors is the primary purpose behind all social media, Twitter included.

In addition to creating important affinities, when a company uses social media, it also showcases itself as part of the modern world. When researching a product, today’s consumers not only expect that every business will have a website, they also look for Facebook and Pinterest pages as well as active Twitter use. If they can’t find you, they move on to the person who has established a strong, compelling online presence. Moreover, the average annual income of half of the overall Twitter users is $60,000 or higher, well within the bracket of individuals who may consider purchasing a luxury item such as a hot tub or swimming pool.

Members of the pool and spa industry have many misconceptions about Twitter with one of the most prevalent being that it’s a young person’s game. While it’s true that only one quarter of users are over the age of 25, this number will continue to increase as more adults embrace technology. Research shows that 40 percent of younger baby boomers (ages 47 to 56) own a smart phone, with nearly 30 percent of older boomers (57 to 67 years of age) also owning a smart device.

These days, business owners are looking to lighten their load, not add more work. Many in the industry have slimmed down their staff or handle marketing operations themselves, and having to worry about social media is one more item to add to a growing to-do list. Luckily, sending out a tweet takes no more than 10 minutes, and often less.

Getting started

The first step toward becoming an expert Twitter user is to set up an account, a process taking roughly 15 minutes. To help make the registration process as simple as possible, Pool & Spa News has created a video tutorial that walks users through each step.

Before getting started, there’s a few items that new users should have readily available.

> A digital image suitable for an avatar. This can be either a headshot, company logo or any other photo that best represents your brand.

> A second image to use as the background of your profile. Have these files saved to a location that’s easily accessible during the set-up.

> An email address to use when establishing an account. Twitter can “sync” to Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail and AOL, a feature that comes in handy when searching for individuals, companies or brands to follow. It’s a good idea to select an account with a lot of business- or industry-related contacts on file.

> A short statement about yourself or your company. This can only contain 160 characters, including spaces. It may be helpful to look at a few examples and have this component prepared before beginning to set up an account. Have the statement placed in a Word document so it can be easily copied and pasted into Twitter during the tutorial.

Once all the pieces are ready, click here to view the videos on our YouTube channel. 

Understanding the lingo

By now, you should be signed up on Twitter. After one look around, you probably thought, “What does all this mean?” Although you may not understand many of the tweets in your feed now, in no time, you’ll be speaking the same language.

Before beginning to tweet regularly, it helps to have a good grasp of the culture. Because each tweet is only 140 characters or less in length (118 if a link is included), the online community created a shorthand, or vocabulary, that is used universally. The first step is to understand the symbols.

> @mention. As discussed in the video, the “@” sign precedes a user’s handle, so, when referencing a user, whether it’s a company, friend or non-follower, be sure to include an @mention in your tweet. This simply means that a particular user handle is appearing in the message. For example: Enjoyed @erinfansley Twitter feature. The user who is mentioned, Erinfansley, is then notified of being mentioned in a tweet. This is a great feature for sparking conversations.

> Hashtag. One of the most commonly used symbols on Twitter, the hashtag has had a large effect on popular culture. Today, nearly every television show, sporting event and well-known brand have hashtag campaigns. In short, a hashtag marks a subject or topic in a tweet and makes it searchable. A great example of how the industry has used a hashtag occurred last year leading up to, during and after the 2012 International Pool|Spa|Patio Expo. Twitter users in the industry used the hashtag #poolspapatio to interact with each other and share news from the show floor. Of course, the more Twitter users there are in the industry, and the more the hashtag is used, the more popular or trending it becomes.

> DM, or direct message. This simply means a tweet is sent privately to a specific individual instead of being publicly tweeted to followers. Users will often do this if they wish to start or continue a conversation without it being shared with the rest of the Twitterverse. However, you can only send a direct message to your followers, although you can receive messages from all users you follow. To use this feature, select the Direct Message option from the “gear” icon. You can also draft a tweet and insert “D” or “DM” at the beginning of the tweet before the @user handle.

> RT, or retweet. This means that instead of creating a tweet from scratch, you are retweeting someone else’s message. A retweet is a great way to show appreciation for another user’s content. To do this, select “Retweet” at the message you wish to share. Keep in mind that when you RT, the original tweet takes up part of the 140 characters you are alloted. This is why many experts recommend limiting tweets to 120 characters or less, which allows room for someone to RT a post and add a short comment.

With a limit of 140 characters per tweet, space is at a premium, so when it comes to Twitter, basic grammar rules don’t apply. Leave out punctuation as well unless it’s truly needed to convey meaning. Instead, use the characters available to send a message with value, rather than worrying about periods and exclamation marks. Another way to save space? Alter a message so that its meaning is still understood using shorter words. Try replacing “you” with “u” or use “w/” instead of “with.” (For more, see Short N’ tweet sidebar.)

Go forth and tweet

Now it’s time to start tweeting.

Keep in mind that when it comes to Twitter, quality is more important than quantity. If a user tweets 20 times in a day but doesn’t say anything of value, he or she won’t gain any new followers, and may lose the ones they have. Yet, tweeting on a regular basis shows consistent activity and will increase engagement.

Try setting a schedule with realistic goals. Maybe tweet every morning while reading emails or the day’s headlines. (In fact, the headlines you read could be from a Twitter feed.) But don’t set limits for times or content. Strike while the iron is hot.

Twitter etiquette

As in any business environment, there are unwritten rules that experienced Twitter users tend to follow. Here are a few pointers to help newer tweeters gain — and keep — more followers.

> Retweet frequently. Don’t be shy about using the RT function. Odds are the user will return the favor and may even become a new follower.

> Give thanks. Be sure to show appreciation for all new followers, retweets and favorites.

> Respond to comments. And though it’s tempting, avoid using an auto-respond tool. They are impersonal and tend to turn people off. Customize every interaction. This is how to grow followers organically, by engaging and acknowledging comments and activity.

Now what?

You’ve taken the first step toward Twitter success. Remember, the point of Twitter is to connect and discuss, so don’t follow just anyone. Select people or companies that are meaningful to your business. Take a look around Twitter and start to follow individuals or companies that may provide insight regarding the pool and spa industry, social media and marketing, and any other applicable topic. Naturally, you’ll want to follow your customers, friends and family, so search for them, too.

Whatever you do, don’t get hung up on the numbers. It’s the quality of followers and tweets and not the quantity that matters most. The typical Twitter user has no more than 50 followers.

This is just the beginning of what Twitter has to offer. In no time, you will unlock the potential of this tool. In Part 2 of this series, you’ll learn some of the best tips for using Twitter for your business from leading social media experts.

For now, practice using Twitter and build your audience. Make sure you regularly engage users with valuable content, for content — whether it’s news about your company or the world, images or videos — is king. Soon, you’ll be sitting on the Twitter throne.