Managing the Marketing Delta: Twitter as a Secret Weapon

Here recently, I’ve been feeling pretty sorry for my friends in marketing. Because this has to be one of the hardest times to be a marketer ever.

Oh, for sure, there are amazing tools out there. Crazy-awesome technology that you can use to learn more about your audience or better connect with your customers. Analytics for everything. We don’t have to wonder anymore…we can measure it.

But that brings the inherent challenge of staying on top of new technology all the time. I’ve begun to think of this as the marketing delta. (Delta is used in math to signify change.) Keeping up with the constant change is challenging enough, but it leads to a secondary problem that is potentially much worse: Deciding how to spend your limited focus.

I could go on all day about the problem, but I will tell you that my solution isn’t really a secret weapon. It’s Twitter.

For years, I’ve helped friends who aren’t finding social media effective, showing them how I use Twitter for research. Here’s what I do:

  • I follow the big names in my field. For content strategy, that means folks like @halvorson, @mbloomstein, @melissabreker, @jcolman, @karenmcgrane.
  • I follow leaders in related fields like user experience design, product development, and marketing. Much of my work is related to health care, so I follow people in health care communications, the science of behavior change, neuroscience, and more.
  • Once a month or so, I check out the most recent tweets from several trusted thought leaders. One of the tricks of Twitter is that if someone @ replies another user, you only see it in your timeline if you also follow that person. But if you look through directly at the tweets of a user, you’ll see everything they’ve said publicly. With this tactic, I often find other good folks to follow–the people that my trusted thought leaders listen to and talk with.
  • I actively seek out people who are leaders in other fields, sometimes related, sometimes not. I follow leaders in journalism and new media, business management, public speaking and presentations, the Internet of Things, programming, network security, and several other fields that are at best tangentially related to my current work. I don’t necessarily want to learn something specific, but you’d be surprised how often these wild-card accounts are the ones I get great information from.

With these kinds of people populating my Twitter stream, I dip in and out a few times a day. Unless I’m following a live-streamed event, I rarely spend more than 20 minutes a day on Twitter total. But I have it open all the time, and I just take a look from time to time to see what the chatter’s about. With this process, I learn about things that I’d never see otherwise.

I also trim the accounts I follow from time to time. Again, once a month or so, I skim through my timeline and ask myself these questions:

  • Do I normally ignore this person’s tweets? (Sometimes I’ll follow someone because of a specific event or issue, and once it’s over, their tweets aren’t useful to me anymore.)
  • Does this person only tweet links, with no explanation of their value? This is one of my biggest pet peeves on Twitter.
  • Does this person waste my time with social media contest entries or lots of irrelevant hashtags? Those kinds of things might be fun for some, but I’m in this for business and that kind of clutter wastes my time.

If you’re managing a significant need for research in your own field, Twitter is a great tool to consider. (And undoubtedly my interests are particularly well-represented there, because I work in digital communications. But don’t assume that your field isn’t, even if you’re in something very different.)

Whatever your delta, don’t let yourself get overwhelmed with the rapid pace of change. Do a little research, devote a bit of regular time to staying on top of the latest trends, and spend the rest of time focusing on what really matters.

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