Measuring the ROI of B2B Social Media

Any time people start talking about social media for B2B companies, the question always comes up about how do you measure the ROI, or return on investment, of it. There are lots of opinions of the value of this calculation on both sides of the argument. On one side, if you can’t measure the monetary value of what you are doing in either increased sales or reduced cost, it is just not worth doing. And the other side of the argument is that social media is a way of communicating that companies cannot ignore, and measuring the ROI of it is like measuring the ROI of having a telephone. I have even recently heard someone compared it to measuring the ROI of pants.

But no matter which side of the argument you land on, social media marketing is a highly measurable activity, and like other marketing tactics, unless you establish goals of success from the outset, you will never know if you have succeeded. So before we go any further, we must ask the question, are you currently measuring the return on investment of your traditional marketing programs? If not, establish parameters for those measurements before scrutinizing your social media programs, because ultimately you want to measure your social media success as a component of your marketing success. And you need to establish commonalities across all channels.

The following thoughts about measuring social media and its ROI are based on a presentation by Kim Williams that I sat in on at ConvergeSouth this past weekend in Greensboro, North Carolina. While this post is not exactly a summary of his session, the measurement approach comes from his talk.

Each of the following four sections are stacked vertically and shaped like a funnel, with Reach as the largest section at the top, narrowing as it moves down to conversion. This idea matches a sales funnel where the top is total awareness to your message and the bottom is where people take a final action where they become a lead or a sale.

Reach
Reach is the largest category and includes your whole audience. This is made up of everyone you have contact with: email subscribers, Twitter followers, Facebook Likers, LinkedIn connections and followers on any other social platform. Track the growth of each one of these numbers. Set goals for how you want these numbers to grow, and pay attention to what makes these numbers grow. These are the easiest numbers to both track and grow, but they also have the least business value.

Engagement
Engagement is the quantity of the reaction to social media messages. Again, most of this is easy to measure, as it is things like Twitter re-tweets, Facebook wall posts, blog comments, LinkedIn Group comments. This is how people are responding to your content, whether by sharing or adding their own thoughts to the conversation. One way to understand engagement is to test different content, for example tweets, and measure the effect of how it drives traffic or elicits action.

Sentiment
Sentiment is the quality of reaction to the either the content you post online or content others post online about you. These can be positive, neutral or negative. The majority of comments online are neutral, but the negative ones are the most important, as they most likely require action. And while many tools can find and score the sentiment of online comments, this is one measure that requires human intervention to make sure it is correct.

Conversion
And finally, the bottom of the funnel is the conversion. You need to measure the value of the reaction to the reach. In most B2B environments, this is a lead, but in some instances this could be a sale. Once someone becomes a prospect or a customer, social media has been shown to be very successful at retention of those customers. The measurement of these leads, or sales, must be a part of all marketing efforts so you can properly understand the success rate of social media versus other channels.

ROI
Once you have your established metrics for each stage of the social media funnel, you need to develop an equation to measure what each category costs. Since many social media sites are free, companies don’t always think about the time involved as being a real cost. But to truly understand numbers like cost per lead, you must factor in creative time to develop messaging, engagement time, monitoring time, as well as the cost of any paid tools or outside resources required. The total cost divided by the number of leads, or other number that represents conversions, is the cost per lead. As these leads go into the normal sales funnel, and get qualified, you will see the return on your social media investment.

How have you measured the cost and return on your social media investment?

5 Ways to Use Twitter to Be a Better Panel Moderator

Yesterday I moderated a panel on B2B social shopping at the Lift Summit in Atlanta, and I wrote and scheduled some tweets first thing in the morning, before I went to the conference center. Let me first say that scheduling tweets is okay. So long as you are monitoring Twitter for a response, there is nothing inherently wrong or inauthentic with writing tweets at a time that is better for you and posting them at a time when it is better for your followers. Advantages of pre-scheduling these tweets are that I didn’t have to worry about wi-fi, power or trying to tweet while I am moderating.

I am not someone who watches Twitter while the panel is going on, so none of the below suggestions relate to that. While it is something that I should do to gauge the response from the room, or even take questions, I prefer to focus on the panel. Based on the previous sessions, most tweets were content based from people sharing what was being said, rather than commenting on how it was said or why. Additionally, we had lots of interaction with the audience, so in this instance, we were covered on that side too.

The role of the moderator is to make sure the session moves along and provides relevant and interesting content to the audience. The following suggestions help in that process.

Conference Hashtag
Make sure you know the conference hashtag. This is the word or phrase preceded by the # sign that appears somewhere in tweets from the conference. Generally the organizers will promote the upcoming conference with a hashtag. If they do not use a hashtag leading up to the conference, it is up to the attendees to establish this. It can be based on a previous year’s conference, or just the most logical abbreviation or short phrase that is unique that represents the event. If you are establishing a hashtag, make sure you search Twitter for that hashtag before you start using it. Encroaching on an existing hashtag can cause confusion to conference attendees. Using a hashtag on all your tweets, especially the pre-scheduled ones, is the best way to make sure attendees see your tweets, if they are following the hashtag. Anyone tweeting from an event should use the hashtag, as it is the best way to connect with new people at the conference.

Announcement of the Panel
My first tweet was scheduled at the start of the conference. It announced that I was looking forward to my panel, which included the session name or topic, listed the panelists, provided a link to the schedule and included the hashtag. This tweet reminds attendees about your upcoming session. If it is a big conference with simultaneous sessions, it is helpful to include the room where you session is taking place. This also let my followers know that I was at a conference and provided a link to the schedule. If the conference is of interest to them, they can follow the hashtag and keep up with tweets from all day, not just my session. Since some of your followers are in the same industry as you, everyone benefits from them knowing that you are someone who speaks at conferences. People are always looking for speakers at events, and this gets you added to their list of possibilities.

Twitter Names
I scheduled a tweet similar to the one above, but was focused on the Twitter names of the panelists. This went out at the start of the session. This makes it easy for the attendees to identify the speakers in their tweets, or follow them on Twitter. Sometimes signs are posted in front of speakers with their Twitter names on them, but it is always easier to use them if you can copy and paste from a tweet. When scheduling these, be liberal with the time you choose for it go out. Sometimes sessions run a little bit behind, and you don’t want to focus on changing the scheduled time for a tweet when you should be thinking about the upcoming session.

Reference Links
As you prepare for the session with the panelists, there will be some links that provide good background on the topic. If there are just a few links, you can schedule a few individual tweets with those links. Make sure you let attendees know that you tweeted out these links, so they know to look for them. If you have lots of reference links to share, consider creating a folder on a social bookmarking site, like delicous.com, and you can schedule the tweet with a link to that folder of links to post at the end of the session.

Thank Yous
You should always thank the panelists, organizers and even the audience for their attention. Scheduling these kinds of tweets to go out at the end of session is just a way to make sure you thank people. It is easy to get distracted talking to people after a session, and forget to do, so this is a good way to make sure you express your gratitude.

Bonus: Soundbites
This something that I have not done, but I have seen other people do this. While you are preparing for your session, and speaking with your panelists, you will understand what their key ideas or contributions to the discussion will be. You can schedule tweets, maybe one or two from each panelist, with a key point that you expect they will make during the session. The two biggest caveats for this method are getting the timing right and getting the words right. If this tweet goes out before they say their key point, or they use totally different words, this may not make sense, so be sure to let your panelists know you plan on doing this.

Are there other ways you have used Twitter to be a better panel moderator?

5 Ways for B2B Companies to Engage on Twitter

Just as B2B sales relationships aren’t built over night, sustained B2B Twitter relationships – often the basis for industry insight, lead generation and media coverage – require a commitment to engagement. When considering and crafting Twitter contributor, monitoring and legality strategies to support B2B sales efforts, it’s also important to think about how your company can leverage two-way communication.

Here are five ways to approach B2B Twitter engagement:

1. Original content

While it may seem like a no-brainer, it’s easy to get so caught up in sharing other Twitter users’ original content – such as industry news articles or upcoming conferences – that business accounts can lose any sense of value for existing or new followers. If you don’t have a blog that’s being updated on a weekly basis, re-purpose eNewsletter content, news releases or field updates. The more non-promotional, the more valuable.

If nothing else, take Twitter at its micro-blogging face value: With a blog editorial calendar-like mentality, draft 140-character tips, observations and FAQs that act as mini, distilled blog posts.

2. Retweets

Sharing information on Twitter that you found valuable for your B2B operation helps to both demonstrate your stake in the industry and recognize users you follow on Twitter as valuable sources of information. Retweeting customers, trade and national media outlets, and industry associations helps to build affiliation, trust and camaraderie. When appropriate, offer your own commentary on the tweet or its linked information. However, always attribute the original source for each tweet.

3. On-the-ground updates

The beauty of Twitter is its mobility. While live-blogging and video blogging can sometimes be difficult, Twitter allows users to update followers from wherever they are. For B2B companies that employ sales teams spread out across multiple regions or that attend trade shows to support lead generation, this is a key point.

Instead of posting tweets from a cubicle, utilize Twitter to post “from the field” tweets that offer up information no one else could post. While your competitors might be tweeting about the same trade magazine article in everyone’s feed reader, tweets such as “Just had a great conversation with the manager of Smith Inc. in Atlanta” or “About to head into a keynote speaker presentation – what questions would you have on IT policies for B2B companies?” show your company has its hands in issues and events across the industry.

4. Hashtag monitoring

Just like your company should know the keywords that bring visitors to its B2B website, it should identify hashtags and keywords that your target demographics use to share and find information. People rarely follow broad search terms such as #socialmedia, #business or #distributors. Instead, they focus on niche qualifiers around specific industry terms, weekly Twitter chats, locations and conferences.

Once you know what hashtags are most often connected to the types of information your company is interested in, set up searches on Twitter to passively pull in tweets that mention them. This gives you an opportunity to follow Twitter users who tag their tweets, reply to questions that your business is qualified to answer and get a general feel for how your target audience behaves on Twitter. Twitter clients such as Tweetdeck and Hootsuite make hashtag monitoring easy, but you can also set up RSS feeds using Twitter’s search engine.

5. Personality tweets

Just like you wouldn’t attend a networking event and talk exclusively about your company, tweets don’t have to be straight-up product, company and industry oriented all of the time. Think of Twitter as a cocktail party, where comments about the weather, family, pop culture and general observations help color conversations. Although Twitter gets a bad rap as that “What I Had For Lunch” tool, your followers can better relate and engage with you if you present yourself as a real human being with real interests – that might be outside of your everyday industry updates.

“Personality tweets” often work best when the account is managed by one person clearly referenced in the profile bio, as consistency in tone and voice can help to manage followers’ expectations. However, if your account has multiple contributors, mark tweets with users’ initials to build a similar foundation for personal connections.

What other ways is your B2B company engaging with followers on Twitter?

Find a B2B Social Media Internal Champion

As social media finds its way into more B2B marketing plans, being a lone advocate for customer engagement and sharing valuable content online can be a difficult situation. If you are charged with creating the social media part of that plan, it would help if there are others within your company who understand the value of social media and can spread the word. These are not necessarily executive level champions, although those need to exist if you are to be successful, but people in other departments who have begun using social media. Here are some ways you can find other internal champions within your company.

1. Talk to Colleagues
Depending on the size of your company, you may already know who in your company is using Twitter or has an industry blog, however, if you don’t, start by asking others. If someone is using the social web to connect and communicate with others in the industry, it is very likely people in your company are already aware of it. Since a big part of social media is sharing, these bloggers are certainly sharing their posts with colleagues.

2. Host a Lunch and Learn
Company meetings to present information and share the latest topics relevant in your industry are great ways to find other social media advocates. Present a basic social media overview, and those already using it will attend to see what you have to say. It will be obvious by the questions and comments that some people are already adept at using social media, so make sure you seek those people out after the meeting. That is, if they don’t seek you out first.

3. Seek Out Smartphone Users
Keeping up with social networks, especially in a corporate environment, is easily done on a smartphone. While many corporate folks are constantly checking their email on their BlackBerry, look for those who seem to be checking Twitter, Facebook and maybe even checking in using location-based apps on their smartphone.

4. Search Twitter
Use Twitter search tools to find people tweeting about your company and industry. Sometimes it will surprise you to find that there are internal people talking about your company to the industry. They understand the platform and are building an industry network to communicate with. These are people who can assist in the company’s social media success by sharing relevant company information and explaining the value of social media to others within the company.

5. Search Industry Blogs and Forums
In any industry there are people thinking and writing about relevant industry topics. By searching blogs, forums and other online spaces for your company mentions and other key industry terms, you may find a leading industry blogger who works for your company. If they do not identify with your company by name (for example, a leading technology company), don’t assume they will move their blog within the corporate marketing space. There is value for both them and the company to be an independent blogger. You may also find company employees blogging about non-work related topics. As people who understand the platform, they may be willing to start blogging on a company site about industry topics.

6. Ask the Intern
It is a common misconception that younger employees are fully versed in social media, but that is not always the case. Even so, don’t overlook company interns as people who can help execute social media plans, with guidance, of course. They are also a good resource to identify others who are using social platforms.

What are some other ways you have identified social media practitioners within your company?

What is Your B2B Company About?

Every day you meet people in real life and on the web and you tell them what your B2B company does. I recently heard a study that Americans are more likely than people from other countries to define themselves by their job, so it is very common to answer the question “What do you do?”. Visitors to your social profiles and web site are also asking that question by reading your company’s social profile descriptions and the about page on your company website. People usually call their description of their company an elevator pitch, but I want to expand the definition of it and show the importance of this in more instances.

Start with Keywords
You already know what your company does, but can you describe it succinctly? And can you describe it using keywords that would others use to describe it. You can call this the Googlization of the elevator pitch, because like any good marketing approach, it is about consistency and repetition. What terms do customers and prospects use in searching for your company? Incorporate those keywords into the description of the company. It is not about jargon or buzzwords, but using real words that real people use. Once you know how others describe you and how they find you, you can create a real statement that describes what your company does.

Share it Internally
If you ask 10 employees to describe the company, you are likely to get 10 different answers. This doesn’t help your company build its consistent awareness in your industry and local community. Your employees are the ones marketing for you every day when they attend conferences and networking events. “What do you do?” is the first question every one asks when they meet someone new. I do it too. It is the easiest way to start a conversation because everyone has an answer. And that answer matters. Would you describe yourself as an account manager for Kansas City’s leading innovative provider of customer-focused printing solutions? Or would you use words that make sense in conversation? Once you develop your company description, make sure to share it with employees so they can be clear in describing what they do.

Home and About
A company website still provides the definitive description of what a company does. The consistent message, using the keywords so prospects can find you find in search, but that still makes sense when people read it and say it, needs to be on the home page and the about page. Too many times, long-winded copy describes processes, solutions and other details on these key pages without ever providing a concise description of what a company does. If your company does something remarkable, or even blog-worthy, someone is going to come to your website for a short phrase that describes what you do. Bloggers and speakers are always looking for examples and they rarely contact a pr person or look at a press release. If they can’t find a description easily, they may change their opinion of the company or not bother writing about it at all.

Don’t Get Cute with Twitter
The Twitter bio field can hold 160 characters. Make sure you use them wisely. Already have a description of your company that describes what you do concisely? Put it here. If you are big brand and everyone knows what you do, this is less important. But no matter how many people know what your company does, there is no reason to have a bio like, “Keeping it real from inside the walls of our place.” Sure, there’s a link to your company website or blog (or at least there should be), but don’t make someone click that link to find out what you do. You want them to click the link because they want to find out more, not to find out the basics, because they probably won’t.

Google Searches Facebook?
B2B companies are still finding their way on Facebook, but there are definitely examples of successful pages on the world’s largest social network. Since these pages have always been public and searchable, there has never been any question about privacy and the sharing of personal data. Businesses are on the web to be found. In addition to the title of your page, the most searchable spot on a Facebook page is that box in the upper left below your logo. Put your company description in that box so everyone understands what your company does, including search engines.

Represent Your Company on LinkedIn
And since all B2B social media approaches need to include LinkedIn, make sure you use this consistent description on all employee profiles and on the company profile. If you have read this far, I don’t think I need to tell you why. You already get it. Consistent message, search benefits, multiple outlets.

Have you worked to update your company description and make it consistent across all web channels? What have your biggest challenges been?

5 Steps for Selling to B2B Customer 2.0

We introduced you recently to Customer 2.0, the savvy, vocal and socially engaged buyer who favors online communications to discuss products, trends and personal issues with both peers and businesses–across multiple social channels. Sales teams and professionals are experiencing a new era of customer engagement – one with abundant visibility into the professional and personal lives of their prospects. There has been no better time for B2B sales professionals to join in the conversation and engage with prospects.

The inevitability of Customer 2.0 means that sales professionals must adapt their sales processes as rapidly and as often as the modern customer adapts and familiarizes with the online social setting.

Here are five simple steps you can put into place now, for near and long-term success in selling to Customer 2.0.

1. Determine your target audience
One of the key steps in social selling is realizing you have access to a lot more personalized data about your prospects than ever before. B2B sales professionals traditionally have had less luxury identifying potential customers via large demographic trends (as compared with B2C sales). Now, B2B sales professionals across all industries must shift from a shotgun approach to a rifle shot approach, focusing on the individual, segmenting prospects based on unique customer needs and interests. Leveraging social information emerges as the key to successfully building a customized and personalized database of your customers.

Action: Simple methods of identifying your target customers include searching social networks for keywords, demographics and interests that apply to individuals and companies most likely to use your product. Some of these new intelligence sources include LinkedIn groups, Twitter lists, Facebook profiles and blog “tag clouds.”

2. Identify their preferred social networks
Consider this the modern way of determining whether telemarketing, direct mail, print advertising or cold-calling is the proper fit. You might be thinking, “Most of these are things that marketing is in charge of doing.” And you’d be right. One key change happening is that all sales professionals are having to act more and more like marketers – and you’re on the front lines.

Online networks have a lower the cost-per-contact compared to these traditional methods, since time becomes the primary investment rather than marketing program dollars. Technologies are available to help expedite this process and identify your prospects’ social networks. But whether your process is automated or manual, locating where they communicate will streamline the process of gathering information and maintaining the most up-to-date prospect intelligence for your sales team.

Action: If the prospect is socially active on more than one network, they will likely include multiple links on their LinkedIn profile that will direct you to the platforms they prefer, including personal Twitter feeds, company profiles and even personal blogs.

3. Listen!
This is the most important component of selling to Customer 2.0. Put simply, what are they talking about? Your prospects are not just VPs of business development or directors of supply chain management – they are parents, siblings, sports fans and friends. Selling to Customer 2.0 requires learning about their personalities and preferences outside of their day job.

Unfortunately information is abundant and tracking the activity of dozens of leads is tedious. Hence, you need to leverage 2.0 technologies and processes to more efficiently stay abreast of Customer 2.0. Dennis McDonald noted, “When salespeople can pick and choose what information they want to see and subscribe to, they can use Web 2.0 tools to select the information that makes the most sense to them and the tasks at hand.”

Action: Consider implementing a technology that facilitates social media listening. Companies with social CRM capabilities can easily follow prospects on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

4. Monitor conversations, updates, complaints, preferences and shared relationships
While listening is an essential step to gaining personal insights about your prospects, keeping record of their business-related updates and discussions is what’s ultimately valuable for making the sale. Do they advocate a product or regularly discuss a specific topic? Look for clues about their company, personal transition, travel schedules and more. How is the state of their company compared to where it was a few months ago? Have they recently released funding news, new products, partnership or new hires? Alternatively, has their company made cut backs, received negative publicity or showed additional signs of financial instability?

Action: Sales intelligence technologies are an integral part of streamlining and organizing this data. Sales professionals and teams that find the most efficient way to monitor, track and update information about their prospects will ultimately find this organization of information (some of which can be accessed through automated technologies) to be the catalyst for driving more sales in less time.

5. Engage
As Jason Sadler from IWearYourShirt.comnoted, “Don’t mass email companies. Take the time to contact them individually, say something about their company or mention something you’ve seen them in.” In other words, spamming a department alias is likely to disappoint, but reaching out to individuals with personalized insight will likely result in a conversation.

Don’t forget that most B2B prospects and customers are not yet as socially engaged as B2C customers, so the sales person needs to be more proactive in engaging prospects on blogs, Twitter feeds, LinkedIn groups and other social conversation platforms.

Action: Engagement has evolved from cold calling as the only option, to bite-sized and frequent back and forth discussions between social peers that lead to trust (a sales asset) and familiarity. Keep this in mind as you determine how you plan to introduce yourself and your product. Be brief, reference the information you’ve gathered from their social networks and be confident knowing that you have more information about their business needs than the majority of sales professional pitching similar products and services.

4 Ways B2B Companies Can Translate Tweets

Twitter is a global platform with more than 60% of users outside the United States and one way B2B companies can grow their business is to monitor and engage with customers and prospects in other languages. In some instances that means reading and writing tweets in languages that you do not understand. There are a variety of tools that embed translation into their interface, and here are some of the most popular.

Tweetdeck
Lots of people use this desktop client to manage their Twitter experience, but many don’t know about the built in language support in Tweetdeck. Start by going to Settings > Services and choose your primary language. Tweets in other languages will be translated into this language when you choose to translate them. Note that all translation is powered by Google and these machine translations frequently miss the subtleties of language, especially in social media.

When you see a tweet that is not in your primary language, move your cursor over the profile picture to bring up the menu of other actions you can take on an individual tweet. Choose translate. You can also choose untranslate to switch the tweet back to its original language.

Tweetdeck also helps you translate your tweets into any Google Translate supported language. After writing your tweet, click the translate this update button and choose the language you wish. Click send to post your translated tweet.

Hootsuite iPhone app
If you are looking for quick way to translate incoming tweets to your native language while on the go, the HootSuite iPhone app includes one button translation while reading any tweet. There are actually two buttons. One translates to the primary language that you set for the app, while the other translates to English.

Twaitter
Another tool that has built in translation is Twaitter. This web-based tool is designed around scheduling your Twitter updates, but it also has Google Translate services embedded into it. After typing an update, click translate, choose a language and Twaitter translates. Send or schedule the update.

Tweetmeme
And finally, yesterday, Tweetmeme announced translation support for their popular retweet button (used here on SocialMediaB2B.com). They too have incorporated Google Translate tools, which can automatically detect, and suggest, translation into your native language. It is easy to undo if you don’t like the translation. If you tweet in a language other than English, we would love for you to tweet this post in your language using the Tweetmeme button and let us know how it works.

Are there other translation tools that allow you to connect your B2B company to people who do not speak your language? Let us know below in the comments.

4 Things Social Media Has Done for B2B Marketing

As more and more businesses get a handle on social media and social media tools, it is interesting to sit back and realize what the ‘social media revolution’ has done for marketing our companies in the past few years. The changes have been drastic and rapid. For some it is a welcome change and others are still uncomfortable and resisting the shift in how customers are looking for products and services.

As consumers and companies are searching for a B2B solution, a majority of their research is done online. They search Google, read blogs, reviews and interact with their online network looking for the information they need. As B2B businesses, our job is to a) be found when they are looking and b) provide information that lowers their risk and addresses their pain-points so they realize they should do business with us.

As the social media revolution charges on, here are four major points on how all of this has changed how we market our businesses.

Re-learning how we do things and have always done things – Social media has taught us how to question the way many of us have marketed ourselves in the past. Social media provides almost instant feedback to our content. We can hear firsthand what things people relate to and what things they do not. We can assess this data and react to it.

Marketing can be done effectively from inside an organization – With advances in technology and the way people communicate, we as businesses have regained some control over our own marketing. Marketing no longer means a perfect brochure, a polished press release, static website or an outsourced television spot. Marketing means interacting in real time with your network online with your blog, posts, updates, tweets, eBooks, podcasts, online videos and more. All of which can be produced in-house if you have the appropriate skills and tools.

With power comes risk – With regaining power over our own marketing comes more risk and responsibility. If your business is going to take over a good portion of its marketing, you need to be prepared for this changing landscape. If you are depending on more online marketing with your company blog, Twitter account or Facebook page, then you need to carefully consider all of the content, comments and reactions to that content. If your employees are going to help you market your business with social media, you need to lower your risk by properly educating them on how you want these tools used and the risks associated with them. This education could be done in conversation, with social media seminars and workshops, or a full review of your companies’ policy on social media use.

Education and Customer Service is Marketing – Marketing comes in many different forms. As we discussed above, it isn’t so much a polished message but it can be lots of different things. Marketing can now be more about educating potential customers or using social media for customer service than about the carefully crafted message. Listening and responding to users needs is much more powerful than the best crafted marketing message.

These points are just scratching the surface on what social media and social technology has done for B2B marketing. I think as the social media landscape matures, we will see even more advances in how we market our companies, show return for our online efforts and help us connect with new potential customers. What other fundamental changes have you seen in your marketing landscape due to the new ways your customers are looking for information?

6 Steps to Find your B2B Audience on Twitter

We all know Twitter is a great tool for connecting and sharing information. But using it to find the right audience for your business can be a bit difficult, especially in the B2B environment. So how do you go about finding this elusive crowd? Here’s several options using both Twitter search and third party tools to help you find and follow meaningful connections.

1. Determine your keywords and key phrases

If you already have a list, you’re ready to start. If not, go to Google Adwords Keyword Tool, enter in a couple of your main keywords and gather a list of keyword ideas. Include your products, services, industry terms, competitive keywords and anything else that will match you with your potential audience.

After you have your keywords, here’s how to proceed:

2. Search in Twitter by keyword

a. Go to Twitter Advanced Search and search on your keywords and phrases.

b. Do the obvious- review the results and follow anyone interesting.

But then take it a step further:

c. Use the RSS Feed of the results and subscribe to it in Google Reader. Continue to monitor the feed for other interesting people to follow. Then use this feed of information to your advantage to…

3. Optimize your tweets for inbound opportunities

a. In Google Reader, select your Twitter search feed and click the “show details” link at the top right above your feed entries. Note the time of day and day of the week where the most activity is taking place for that keyword/phrase.

Google Reader - Show Details

b. Write tweets with those keywords/phrases in the copy and schedule them to be delivered at the most popular times (use HootSuite or some other Twitter tool with tweet-scheduling capabilities). This should help you generate interest not only on Twitter but it may also have additional traditional SEO benefits.

c. Write tweets using your keywords as hashtags and send those at the most popular times too. In general, using hashtags consistently will help you connect with those interested in similar topics.

4. Use Buzzom to search Twitter Bios

a. Visit Buzzom.com. Login with your Twitter account and leave the default “Bio” boxed checked under the search field.

b. Search on a keyword or phrase. Or better yet, search for a position or title of a person that usually buys your products or services. Use quotes for an exact phrase match (i.e. “Customer Service Manager”).

c. Review and follow those in the returned results. You can also bulk follow by selecting ALL.

5. Use Twellow.com to search Business Categories

a. Go to Twellow.com and create an account.

b. Search by category and follow.

c. While you’re there, create your own profile and add it to appropriate categories so others can find you.

d. Also try Twellow’s Suggested Users feature to find possible matches.

6. Search and follow by Hashtag

a. Go to Blastfollow.com. BlastFollow enables you to follow Twitter users en masse.

b. Enter in the hashtag of an event, keyword, keyphrase, etc. and click the “GetUsers!” button for a tally of users mentioning that hashtag.

c. Enter your Twitter Name and Password to follow everyone who tweeted that hashtag. Note that as soon as you enter your information and click “Blast!” you’ll immediately start following everyone who tweeted that hashtag. This tool is especially awesome if you are at an event with a unique hashtag. If you are worried about following people you may not want to, go to Twitter advanced search, search by hashtag there and review/follow those listed in the results.

This is by no means a comprehensive list and based on the number of Twitter tools out there I’m sure there’s other options that perform these same functions. But hopefully these steps will provide opportunities for you to find your audience on Twitter. If you have any other methods please feel free to share them in the comments.

B2B Companies Need a Trackable Short URL Service

Today I received a direct mail piece from a B2B company which included a short URL link to a survey. This was one of the first short URLs that I have seen in print, rather than on the web. Short URL services provide re-directs to long, complex web addresses with a substitute, shorter version. The redirect is permanent, so long as the service remains in business, or at least the re-direct database remains active. These services really took off with the explosive growth of Twitter and its 140 character limit.

The good thing about the short URL in the printed piece was that second part, after the service name, was customized with a company abbreviation. This is a good bit of branding, and makes it easier for customers to type in the URL, since this appears on a printed piece. The bad part of the short URL was that they used tinyURL. This was one of the original short URL services and all it does is create a re-direct. As new services were developed, they added more features, most notably, click tracking. This important metric shows the number of times a link was clicked. Services like bit.ly also display all tweets that included any short URL linking to the post or page and the time of the clicks. The number of tweets, or retweets, is another metric worth tracking if you are trying to get readers to share your content. It helps you understand what content gets shared the most.

Since metrics tools measure in different ways and have their own idiosyncrasies, it is good to have multiple sources for the same information. When you compare clicks from your short URL program to page views in Google Analytics, for example, the number of clicks is always higher. There are a variety of reasons for this on both sides of the equation. Sometimes clicks from Twitter clients are counted because the program opens the short URL and shows the full URL, even though the user did not click on it. And Google Analytics only counts views from browsers with javascript running. There are other reasons Google Analytics numbers are usually lower than other sources.

Here are more short URL tools, including ones that do more things, but include URL shortening as a feature.

So in the end, if you are using a short URL service, whether in print or on the web, make sure you use one that tracks clicks or other relevant data, because otherwise you are wasting an opportunity to better measure your results.