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Utilising Twitter for Your Website

Twitter (external link) has taken the web by storm and has become the latest-and-greatest communication tool. Whilst you may not use Twitter yourself, you cannot deny that millions of people are now using Twitter and where there are millions of users, there is an opportunity to market yourself, your website, and your business. Like RSS and email, Twitter is another tool to drive traffic to your website if utilised properly. For content websites, it provides another avenue for readers to receive updates about the latest content on your website. For online stores and businesses, it provides an avenue to communicate with customers and to announce product releases, specials, and more. Twitter also allows you to create a more loyal customer base that feels more connected to your business.

What is Twitter?

For those who are not familiar with Twitter (external link), it is a micro-blogging service centred around the question "What are you doing?". Twitter allows for people to stay up-to-date with the more minute events of their friends' lives. Users post "tweets" that are limited to 140 characters that tell everyone "following" (subscribed to) them through Twitter what they are doing. In turn, users follow other users to see what they are doing. The important part of Twitter is that it makes people feel more connected to each other because it allows them to keep up with the lives of others outside the traditional, delayed mediums of communication (telephone, email, etc.). Twitter has also evolved into a messaging system where users use Twitter to talk directly to one another, similar to instant messaging. Twitter is an extremely unique communication tool and every user uses Twitter differently to fit his own communication needs. If you do not see the point of Twitter, do not worry because most people do not understand Twitter until they start to use it themselves.

But why should you bother with Twitter?

  • Profit. Dell (external link) made $1 million in revenue through Twitter over the past year and a half by posting their computer deals to their Twitter account.
  • Increase Traffic. SitePoint (external link) led a huge promotion, giving a free PDF book download to everyone who followed them on Twitter. Now they have over 20,000 followers who all receive updates about every article and blog entry posted on their website.
  • Communicate with Your Customers. Comcast (external link) and Network Solutions (external link) use Twitter to communicate with their customers and to help them with various service issues.

Not only can Twitter drive revenue and traffic to your website, but it can also help to build a feeling of closeness between your website and your visitors. How your website can benefit from using Twitter depends on your specific website and market. For example, Lowter is a content website, so we use Twitter to help drive traffic to our website. If you are still sceptical about Twitter, remember that using Twitter is so effortless you have very little to lose!

Creating a Twitter Account

The first step is to create an account on Twitter for your website. This will only take a few minutes. Head to Twitter's signup page (external link):

Screenshot of Twitter\'s signup form

For the "Full Name" field, fill in the name of your website. Next, for the "Username" field, fill in the URL you would like for your Twitter account. For example, if your username is "lowterdotcom" then your Twitter URL will be http://twitter.com/lowterdotcom. Try to make your username something easy to remember and something that people will directly correlate with your website. If your actual website's name is already taken, a common practice is to place the words "dotcom" after your website's name. Finish the signup process by filling in a password, an email address, and the security CAPTCHA. Presto! You have a Twitter account for your website.

The last step to setup your Twitter account is to add a profile picture to help better correlate your website and its Twitter account. Your profile picture will be seen next to all of your tweets on Twitter's website and in most third-party Twitter applications. It is a good idea to use your logo so that your Twitter followers can quickly identify your tweets.

Twitter settings link in the upper right-hand corner

Login to your website's Twitter account. In the upper right-hand corner, click "Settings".

Twitter picture tab underneath username

On the Settings page, select the "Picture" tab from the menu bar beneath your name. You should now see a form field that allows you to select an image to upload from your computer.

Twitter picture upload form

You should upload a small, square image of your logo. If your logo will become unreadable at a smaller size, you will have to improvise and find a way to identify your website with a smaller image. For example, at Lowter we use the "L" arrow in our logo as our Twitter account picture. Opera uses the red "O" of their logo. Since the image is generally only displayed at smaller dimensions, you should upload an image no bigger than 100x100 pixels. The biggest I have seen a Twitter account picture be displayed is on the Twitter profile pages at 73x73 pixels. After you have selected an image, click "Save". Now your website's Twitter account is properly configured.

Twitterfeed

Chances are that your website already has an RSS feed that announces your latest content, product releases, sales, etc. Twitterfeed (external link) is a neat service that automatically posts your RSS feed entries to your Twitter account. It is simple to setup and alleviates a lot of manual updates you would otherwise have to make about new content.

Screenshot of Twitterfeed\'s homepage

Twitterfeed uses OpenID (external link), which greatly simplifies the setup process if you already have an OpenID. If you do not have an OpenID, take a few minutes to create one (external link) before continuing. After you login (external link) and are redirected back to the Twitterfeed website, click through to the setup page by clicking "go to my twitter feeds". Next, click "Create new feed".

Screenshot of Twitterfeed\'s RSS feed setup form

Fill in your Twitter username and password so that Twitterfeed can access your Twitter account. If you are worried about giving away your username and password, this is standard practice for all third-party Twitter applications due to API limitations. Be careful which applications you give your password to, but Twitterfeed is safe and you do not need to worry. Fill in your RSS feed's URL, how often you want Twitterfeed to check your RSS feed, and what you want each tweet to include (title, description, etc.). You can also prefix each tweet with a string of text. You can leave the other settings as is and click "Create".

Now your RSS feed will automatically post to your website's Twitter account!

Manually Tweeting

The key to a successful Twitter account is to keep it maintained. No one is going to follow your website's Twitter account if it only posts what is already in your RSS feed. This is where manually tweeting comes into play. You can post about non-content related updates to your website, such as feature upgrades or bug fixes. You can also communicate with your visitors who are following you on Twitter to help them or just to get to know them.

It is good to post manually to your account, in addition to using Twitterfeed, because it gives your website's account a less robotic and more personal feel. Manually posting is also good because it entices people to follow your website on Twitter because they are getting something extra not available in the RSS feed. However, they still receive the RSS updates, which will help to drive traffic to your website as you publish new content.

Also, if for some reason your website does not have an RSS feed, you could manually post Twitterfeed-style updates about new content on your website. However, I would recommend that you get to work publishing an RSS feed too!

Getting People to Follow You

As with RSS, just because you have a Twitter account does not mean that people will instantly follow you. If you know particular visitors to your website use Twitter, you can follow their accounts, which may or may not entice them to follow yours. Following a bunch of people may lead you to having more followers yourself, but that is not always the case.

Screenshot of SitePoint\'s subscription box with links to their RSS feed, email newsletters, and Twitter account

You also need to have a link to your website's Twitter profile on your actual website. The best example of this that I have come across is SitePoint's subscription box with links to all the ways to subscribe to them. You could also post an announcement in your actual RSS feed or on your website's news section.

Building up a following on Twitter certainly is not easy and it is highly likely that you will only have a few followers. However, using Twitter is so effortless and requires so very little of your time that you do not have much to lose. If the few minutes you put into Twitter every day yield only a handful of subscribers, you are not at a complete loss. Part of growing your Twitter account is being persistent about its maintenance.

Summary

With automated RSS posting and manual tweets from yourself, Twitter can become a valuable tool to increase the traffic to your website. Just remember to maintain your website's account and to work towards enticing people to continue to follow your website's Twitter account!