Eric Enge and Michael Gray Discuss Twitter

Podcast Date: February 26, 2009

Michael Gray Picture

The following is a written transcript of the February 26, 2009 podcast with Michael Gray of Altas Web Service and Eric Enge:

Eric Enge: Hi, this is Eric Enge with Stone Temple Consulting, you can see our website as www.stonetemple.com. I am pleased to be here today with Michael Gray of the Atlas Web Service; you can see his website at www.atlaswebservice.com, where he offers a variety of consulting services, and you could also see his blog which is rather well-known at wolf-howl.com. How are you doing today, Michael?

Note: Michael Gray tweets as @graywolf and Eric Enge tweets as @stonetemple.

Michael Gray: I am good, how are you?

Eric Enge: Let's discuss the basic uses of Twitter and the different ways that people can use it.

Michael Gray: There are lots of different ways to use Twitter. I wouldnít say that there is really a wrong way, but some ways are definitely better than others. The first level is people who just use it to follow their friends. Maybe they have five, ten, fifteen people that they follow and that they just use it so they can send status message back and forth.

They may just be having normal, everyday conversations, but this level is usually used by people who have been separated by geography. Itís actually a big way for all of them to share information with each other, but itís a very small little thing. It is typically not a big amount of information that is being shared or anything thatís really important. Itís mostly a personal thing.

The next level is people who are just interested in communicating with other people online. Maybe they have friends that they have met through other forums or newsgroups or who share the same interest. Maybe they play the same online games or they are the part of the same community. And again, those people are almost always separated by geography.

The next level is people who are trying to engage a larger part of the community. Maybe there are people who are really interested in iPhones, and they like talking and sharing other apps, doing little hacks and finding out the best things to jailbreak, that sort of thing. They are just on talking with people in a larger part of the community who have a specific interest. As it moves up, we get people who are just interested in talking with other people online.

Maybe these are people who work from home and they donít have a lot of interpersonal interaction in their lives, and they are just looking for people that they can talk to and discover interesting things from and share links with throughout the day. At some point, we start to cross into the commercial territory, but this is kind of fuzzy because there is not always a hard line here.

People who have an online business or a website, sort of foot and bolt camps where they have personal and business related interaction. Maybe they are dropping links to their blog, maybe they are talking about some of the services they are selling, maybe they sell photography and they are posting their pictures or maybe they make videos and they are trying to get people to watch them online. . And again, itís sort of a mix somewhere between business and personal.

That hybrid model is probably where youíll find the most activity, where most people are. They will talk about their personal lives and then they will mention things that they are doing with their business websites, or something like that. There is sort of a cross promotion there.

Next, we get into the level of people who are strictly business. These are people who are on Twitter on a company account. Itís either one person or multiple people running an account, and they are using it for some level of business. And there is a lot of variation within this particular group.

They could be using it as a customer service avenue where they are looking for a people who happen to have problems relating with their service, so they are scanning for specific keywords and trying to solve those problems. Maybe they are selling products and they are looking to help people solve their issues. For example, someone who sells spyware software may be scanning Twitter looking for people who are constantly complaining about spyware. Then they drop little hits to them about how to fix a particular problem. That sort of thing.

Probably the farthest away from that is the strictly commercial level, where people adjust them Twittering out sales promotion, different things that they want to get to get a conversion on there, maybe itís products that are on discount, maybe itís like liquidate, they just run a really cheaper discount or liquidation things like that. Something like Woot is a very good example of that, where they are just Tweeting out products, and thatís it.

Eric Enge: So, when someone is that commercial do they get much of a response?

Michael Gray: It depends, being a commercial account is pretty tricky. Youíve got to setup that expectation when you start the account. If you start out being an extremely personal blogger and you switch to strictly commercial, you are probably going to get some resistance. If you are a thought leader in the space and you mix in some commercial links, sometimes you do get some backlash.

An example of this is a Guy Kawasakiís feed. A lot of people go there and are expecting just to hear Guy give information about businesses and creative stuff like that. But Guy also has a couple of websites, Truemors and Alltop, where he will go through and Tweet out anywhere from four to 12 links to any of those things every day. Some people get pretty upset because they are expecting to hear Guy talking about business, not Guy pimping himself. So, he will get some backlash, but he just tells them, ďhey, itís me, I am doing these, so youíve got to kind of manage that expectation.Ē If you are just doing sales it really helps if you are a very well known brand so people will care.

Woot is well-known online and they are online just to sell their product. You are going to start out from day one and you are probably going to have a lot of resistance. The way to overcome that is to give out good, time-sensitive deals. If itís a unique deal that you can get that no one else can, you would do better with that, depending on how good the deal is.

The more unique and more valuable the ad is, the better off you will be with a commercial account. Most people donít have the ability to offer those deals, so they have to find a balance between being helpful, giving out information and mixing in a little commercial material.

Eric Enge: So, where are you in this spectrum?

Michael Gray: Most of my accounts are mixed accounts. My main account, which everybody probably knows me for, is for experimenting more than anything else. I will try a lot of different things, and sometimes people probably wonder what the heck I am doing. I talk with people on the account and thatís fine, people can ask me questions and that sort of thing, but there is a lot of experimentation going on there as well.

Sometimes, you will think I am hitting the bottle or something, but there is lot of experimentation going on, so take some of the things you see with a grain of salt. The other accounts that I run are all commercial accounts, but I donít have anything thatís strong enough to support a commercial brand on its own. And, I just donít think that thatís necessarily where most people want to be. You get a lot more interaction if you are willing to engage people at some level.

I think one of the most important things that people can do is always answer back. If someone asks you a question that has to be answered, you should really answer it. Itís not only common courtesy but itís just a really good way to interact with your community. And again, I think itís really an outreach program and itís a great way to build a profile thatís useful to people.

One example is an account called BBGeeks, and it is all about BlackBerries. Basically what they are doing is scanning for people who are having problems with their BlackBerries. And if they have an answer to their problem in their blog, they will Tweet the person back give them a link to find the solution. Sometimes they will send them to a competitorís website or an informational website. They have a series of questions and answers that they have links for and thatís just a really easy way to help someone.

Eric Enge: How much time does it take to get somewhere with an account? I mean, you have spend a lot of time on it, correct?

Michael Gray: Sure. Getting an account of the ground is probably the hardest part because there are lot of people who are looking at Twitter for a short term gain, and basically they will go in and they are just looking for spam. So, you canít go in and make thousands of friends and expect people to take your accounts seriously. Youíve got to grow it gradually and you have to learn how to work the tools better over time.

There are a lot of tools out there that let you Tweet at specific intervals. Say you know you are not going to be in front of you computer tomorrow, but you want to make your account still look like itís alive. There are programs that you can use that actually will help you do that. The easiest way to do that is to use something like Twitter mail and LetterMeLater. Basically, what it does is set out a secret Twitter account and a secret email account that you use to send an email to your Tweeter account at a scheduled time. Another service that I have been using is Easy Tweets. Itís probably a lot more integrated than a lot of the stuff out there, but the downside is that itís is a paid service. With this you really have to decide how many accounts you are doing, how much time it will save you and whether or not you want to pay for it. If you are running more than one, itís probably worth looking at a commercial solution, but if you are only running one account, you might be able to get by with some of the free tools.

Using searches is another key feature. You can go in and setup things like a Tweet-beep to monitor for particular searches, and it will send you an email once it hits a certain threshold. You can also use an RSS feed for search. So, if you want to go through and look for everybody who is selling accounting software and everybody who is selling accounting software that they hate, you can go through and setup an RSS feed for that.

All you have to do then is scan the RSS feed once a day. This way you donít have to be sitting in front of the computer all day monitoring that kind of stuff. If you use tools to make it, you can check-in two or three times a day and respond as needed. Again, as the account grows and gets more active, and you get more followers you may have to devote a little bit more time to it. But once youíve got the background down on what keywords you are looking for, you really can do it in probably an hour a day.

Eric Enge: That isnít too bad an investment, depending of course on the return you get out of the whole exercise. What about strategies for building followers?

You talked about good content, but you can go beyond that, right? Youíve got to seek people out and communicate with them proactively at some level too?

Michael Gray: Sure. Now, when you are an SEO, probably one of the best things that people do is recommend what to start with. They say you are going to need link, and where you should start looking for them. So, you mine the backlinks of your competition. You should just take that same theory and apply it basically to Twitter.

If you are running in a particular account and it happens to be a travel account, you can go out and find the big travel accounts on Twitter like Jet Blue and Southwest, and you start mining their backlinks and following the people who are actually there. There is a debate as to whether you should follow all of your followers or not. Some people say itís right, and some people say itís wrong, but that decision is up to you. The thing that they will say is, if you are running a commercial account, the object is to get people to follow you.

Following people back is probably just the smart thing to do. Now, are you going to do that manually? Thatís up to you, they are getting in a lot of programs that help you do that automatically so that you donít have to. It just depends on how much time you have to invest, how many accounts you are running and whether or you want to use it or not. But, mining the backlinks of your competition is probably the smartest place to start. And then, I would almost always follow anybody who asks you a direct question. Thatís just because in the end, itís an easy way to get somebody to follow you.

Eric Enge: Right, it makes sense. Now, what about this notion that someone follows you and later they drop it. Do you go back and proactively stop following them?

Michael Gray: Here is the way the followers work: Twitter tried to combat spam because they had a bunch of people who would go in, follow a million people and several people would follow them back. Then, if youíve followed enough people and youíve got enough followers, you would show up on any of the top Twitter people list.

You were able to get thousands of followers without doing any work. Twitter had to make it a little harder; so they imposed some limits as to how many people you are allowed to follow. You are now allowed to follow as many people as you want up to two thousand, so you can basically have one person following you and you can follow two thousand people. Now, that looks really odd and it makes you look like you are a spammer when you do that. So, I wouldnít recommend anybody go anywhere near that particular level.

Go slower and in smaller steps. And again, Twitter is actually taking some steps to try and combat that. If they see a lot of activity, they will go and flag an account. Then you will have to ask for a manual review for them to let you back in. So, add your followers slowly in the beginning. Once you hit that two-thousand level, you are blocked.

The only way you are able to get past two thousand followers is to have at least two thousand people following you. You are allowed to follow approximately 1.1 times as many people as are following you. Until you get more than two thousand followers, you are not going to go beyond this. So basically you are able to grow your follower account by 10% per day.

Itís up to you if you want to un-follow people when they stop following you. If you are trying to grow an account and you are using some sort of software to follow people, you are probably going to have to drop the people who arenít following you. You have to play the numbersí game.

Eric Enge: Right, absolutely. They are basically limiting your ability to grow.

Michael Gray: Right. And, they sort of put a governing mechanism in, and I understand why they do it. But, youíve got to understand what your motivation is. I wouldnít sit there and say, ďoh this person un-followed me, sod I am going to un-follow them tomorrow.Ē Thatís not necessarily the way to do it, but if you are looking to grow your subscriber base you are going to have to start dropping your followers. Thatís just a reality of the game.

Eric Enge: Right, absolutely. So, let us just focus some more on the types of commercial purposes. What are your thoughts on networking and using it as a tool to meet people?

Michael Gray: There are lot of people who are doing these things they call Tweet-ups , which are basically meetups of people are at a particular event. Usually itís a group of people who have a particular shared interests and they are all going to be in the same area doing something together. I have even seen Tweet-ups before movie premiers where a bunch of people get together, hang out and talk about the movie, and then they go to see the movie that night.

Thatís another interesting little thing. Itís basically a way to try and build your brand within the particular community. Itís hard to attach a dollar value to something like that because there is no real conversion. But if more people knew you when you come out of that particular event, then thatís probably a good thing.

The key thing everybody wants to know is who are the ďA-playersĒ in their space. If they are on their radar and they write an interesting post, A-players will hopefully link to them and mention them, that sort of thing. Thatís a game that everybody is playing, where interacting within a community is a good thing. So, if Robert Scoble is an A list player in the tech space, whether you like him or not or whether you think he is important or not, is irrelevant. If he has enough people following him and he Tweets something about you, a big mass of people are now going to know who you are and go follow that link. And thatís really the ultimate goal of this, to get him to Tweet about you.

Eric Enge: The re-Tweet process.

Michael Gray: Now here is an interesting thing with re-Tweets. I will give a little secret to everybody who is reading. If you are looking for people to re-Tweet what it is that you are Tweeting, do a search for the words re-Tweet, or people sometimes abbreviate it RT, and whatever your keyword is. So, if you have a website that says movie reviews, go to the Twitter search and search for everybody who says Ēre-Tweet movie review.Ē That will give you a list of people who found movie reviews interesting enough that they re-Tweeted them, and you should probably friend all of those people.

Eric Enge: Right. They might be interested in your topic and get some of them to follow you. , You might get a re-Tweet out of that, and now you are exposed to their audience.

Michael Gray: Right. And, it kind of grows exponentially. If you can get a really good network of re-Tweeters following you that can really grow your exposure. Itís that old Malcolm Gladwell thing; youíve got to get the connectors.

Eric Enge: Yes, well absolutely. So, just to go back to who you mentioned before, if you know what Robert Scoble re-Tweets and you have something related, then you might be able to get into his huge network.

Michael Gray: Yes, he has something like 60,000 people following him, so if even one tenth of those people go and re-Tweet your link, thatís a huge amount of traffic to your website. Hopefully people might think itís interesting and subscribe to your blog or start following you. Eric Enge: Right. Now, is that the basic strategy for using Twitter to get traffic to their site?

Michael Gray: Thatís one of the basic strategies. The key is to give away an interesting bit of information. Youíve either got to solve someoneís problem or, if you are doing something commercial, give them a really good deal. The better the deal, the more likely someone is to re-Tweet it. If you are going to tell somebody, ďhey, there is a cruise next week and itís $5,000 a person,Ē you are probably not going to get any re-Tweets.

But, if you offer them a 7-day cruise for $200 because the ship is having a hard time filling space, you are probably going to get a lot more people re-Tweeting because there is value-add there. So, youíve just got to measure what it is that you are giving out. There are a lot of people that say you should never ask for a re-Tweet. I am of the opinion that no one is going to know you want to be re-Tweeted if you donít ask. A lot of people have that personal threshold that doesnít let them actively sell. If you are trying to get something across and you want someone to do something, you should suggest it at the very least.

Eric Enge: Do you have a suggested way of doing that?

Michael Gray: If you are going for the re-Tweet model, there are a couple of things you have to keep in mind. One is to leave some space. Twitter basically gives you 140 characters, so you want to leave some extra space so that people can re-Tweet, add your name, or add their own little message onto something. Donít max out at 139 characters because thatís not going to be as effective. Somewhere in the 100-character range would be ideal. Youíve just got to try and be as direct as you possibly can.

And you have to practice that a little bit, but itís a skill that you just pickup slowly over time. And again, ask people to re-tweet if they find the information helpful, thatís a really simple way to do it. There are some people who a little bit more not straightforward about what they do.

One example that I love to bring up because itís always so amusing, is Matt Cutts at one point posted a link to a Digg page and said, ďmaybe someone should call their congressman about that.Ē Now, when I read something like that, I put on my Judge Judy hat and say you donít send me to a Digg page unless you are looking for me to Digg an article. Matt just claims that he was really, genuinely interested in the local politics of that particular case, and I will leave that up to everyone who is listening and reading to decide. But I am of the opinion you donít send me to a Digg page unless you want me to Digg something.

Eric Enge: Well then, the advice might be that if you really do have an interest, you should be a little more explicit?

Michael Gray: Yes. Now, the one thing I will say about social media is that there is an upside and a downside to it. If you ask most normal people to stumble or vote something up, they will do it. Sometimes within the SEO world, there are quite a bit of haters there. So, if you have an account and you are known as an internet marketer or an SEO, I would be extremely careful about asking people to Digg, mix or stumble upon your stories, just because there are a lot of people who hate on you. They will specifically go and watch your account just to figure out who your clients are, what websites you own and they will specifically go and down vote you.

Eric Enge: Other traffic strategies for Twitter?

Michael Gray: Donít push your followers too much, and also be aware of time-zones. If you are Tweeting something at five in the morning, there are probably not a lot of people who are going to see your Tweet. Most people are now following more and more people, so they are not going to go back and look through all of your Tweets.

Tweet your important stuff during primetime, when people are at work. Be aware that there is an east coast and the west coast. Sometimes if I find something that is important, I prefer to Tweet it two or three times a day, just so people all across the country can see it. The other thing I will say is donít Tweet only about yourself. If every single thing coming through your Tweet profile is a link to your blog, thatís probably not adding a lot to the space. Tweet other peopleís stuff in there too. Sometimes just Tweet out stuff that is interesting or funny, just to make your scream a little bit more interesting to be a part of.

There is a little bit of a debate over whether everything should be a single-person account or multiple-people accounts. If you are running multiple-person accounts, let people know at some level. I know a lot of the bigger, commercial accounts like Jet Blue will change their status to say now Tweeting Jennifer or something like that. This is just so people know who is actually there so they donít come back and say, ďhey, you told me to do this four hours ago,Ē and the person at the other end of the screen has no idea what you are talking about.

So, if you are going to be doing that kind of thing and you are big enough, let people know. The other thing is to be aware that this is the social space and some negativity goes on here sometimes. . You do sometimes get people who donít know where the line is and they cross that, so be careful about what information you are giving out. Never give out anything too personal, such as your phone number or your address. For 99.9% of for the population on Twitter this is not an issue, but there is always that possibility.

Eric Enge: Right, your troll?

Michael Gray: Yes. Youíve got to be aware of that.

Eric Enge: What about using Twitter as a tool to build links, is that something that can work as well?

Michael Gray: It is hard asking directly for links. You are probably better off working it on a social angle and just saying, ďhere is an interesting piece you wrote that helps you do this.Ē Asking directly for links usually doesnít work. Twitter does most of your things through a tiny URL that is no-followed, so you are not getting any real link juice through there.

I believe search engines are monitoring that sort of thing and toolbars are actually capturing the URLs that are going through there. There are actually some services that will go through and reverse-engineer some of the tiny URLs to let you know how much things are being tweeted. This way you can gauge the effectiveness of a website. If you actually put someoneís URL in Quarkbase, it will go through and scan Twitter to see if people have tweeted that particular URL. So, if you are looking at someoneís website, maybe you want to see if this person is someone that you want to try and engage a relationship with based on how active they are in Twitter. If the person is active in Twitter and you are looking to grow, there are some keys that will tell you if you should try and engage this person a little bit more or not.

Eric Enge: So the way I think about it is absolutely donít go and directly ask for links, but if you have built a good following and you are able to periodically get other people to re-tweak your stuff, then it is like a PR mechanism.

Michael Gray: Yes, it basically just carries forward. Again, if you know that there are bloggers or reporters who have Twitter streams and they are covering your sector, do what you can to get your URL in front of them. I have a couple of different bloggers who have picked up things in front of them and linked to it because they thought it was an interesting piece. So, it is definitely worth doing.

Eric Enge: Yes, well very effective overall. Any additional key tips you want to give people before we wrap up.

Michael Gray: Donít be afraid to push hard, but donít push too hard. You donít want to come off as being super-aggressive, but you should definitely get involved. Go through your referral logs, see if there are people who are re-Tweeting your stuff who are sending you traffic and make sure that you are friends with them. Go out of your way to thank someone for re-Tweeting your link. Thatís the kind of thing that people appreciate.

At the end of the day, it is a social mechanism and people are involved. People on the other end of the screen are guilty of the same things we are. They like to have their ego stroked, and every time you mention them you make them feel good. Controversy is a tricky angle, not everyone can pull it off effectively. It is very powerful if you can find out what other people are monitoring. If you happen to be a pro-Bush person, whenever an Obama speech is on, go ahead and aggressively engage the Obama supporters.

That way they are going to start re-Tweeting your name out there and thatís going to get you some exposure. Again, youíve got to make sure you know what you are doing, you have to know where the line is and you have to have thick skin.

Monitor the key words that people are searching for in your subject. If you are a TV blogger, look for people who are blogging about Lost when Lost is on. If you are an entertainment blogger, look for people who are Tweeting about the Oscars when the Oscars are on. Use those hash tags sometimes, which is when you put the numbers on and you put the word after. People would use them to group everything together. Basically, the hash tag is your way of saying that your tag is part of this subject. Do everything that you possibly can to be creative about getting traffic.

Eric Enge: So, if you are in Twitter and you want to find all the people who have searched or Tweeted on the Oscars, what exactly are the mechanics of doing that?

Michael Gray: There are two ways you can do it. There is a service called hash tags, and you will go back to hash tags, put in the word ďOscarsĒ and it will show you everybody who has used the Oscars hash tags. The way that is easier and probably going to get you some more people, but not as refined, is just going to the Twitter search mechanism and typing in the word ďOscars.Ē It is going to list everybody thatís in there doing it. There are a couple of Twitter monitoring services that monitor for trends on Twitter.

So, if you are looking to play that game, you should definitely be subscribing to those and they will tell you what is actually hot. Again, there are a couple of services like Twitter grader and Mr. Tweet that are trying to match people together who have similar interests. Sometimes they work, sometimes they donít; it all depends on how big your particular niche is. If you are playing in a big area like an iPhone, you are probably not going to have a problem finding anybody, but if you are doing something like a knitting school, it is probably going to be a little harder to find people who are interested in that particular thing. Sometimes people just arenít there.

Eric Enge: Excellent. Anything else?

Michael Gray: Oh, I think thatís pretty much it. Again, the opportunity is here. Donít squander it just Twitting about what you had for lunch and what you are doing with your cat. Use it to find ways to grow your exposure or find ways that you can turn it into commercial enterprise. As an example, I had a commercial account that I started last year.

I pretty much ignored it and it babied up three hundred followers. I had some free time studying in January, and I started working the account. I basically went from 300 followers in the middle of January to just shy of 7,000 at the end of February. I worked the account, I got people who are re-Tweeting commercial links and I e got people who are re-Tweeting affiliate links. So again, if you are willing to put the time in to experiment and try different things, it can work.

Eric Enge: Great, well thanks a lot, Michael. I appreciate it.

Michael Gray: Thank you!

About the Author

Eric Enge is the Founder and President of Stone Temple Consulting (STC). STC offers Internet marketing optimization services, including SEO, Social Media and PPC optimization, and its web site can be found at: https://www.stonetemple.com.

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