the real twitter lane

Social media is a two-way street. There’s the message you put out about your business, and the message that others put out about you. There are all different ways a customer might choose to discuss your business online, and it could be good chatter or bad.

Here are four rules to responding to your Twitter audience.

1. Give Thanks

Aren’t you pleased when someone retweets something you’ve written? Tell them that. You can say something as simple as, “Thanks for the RT!” Or if you can build it into a larger conversation, even better.

Besides being the polite thing to do, it can help you grow your followers. Sometimes Twitter users see your tweets via keywords and not because they follow you. A direct reply can convert them into a follower, and it builds a one-on-one rapport.

In this example, we responded to a company that retweeted that first tweet of ours. We even asked a question to continue the conversation.

And the business owner gave us a fun reply.

2. When They Comment, Reply

If you speak to a group and someone replies to you, do you ignore the reply and go on your way as if nothing was said? Probably not.

Social media is not that different than an in-person conversation. If you post an item on Twitter and someone replies, acknowledge them. You want them to reply. That shows they’re interested and engaged with your brand. If others see your friendly reply, that may encourage them to interact with you as well.

You can acknowledge a reply either favoriting it, retweeting it or following the business, but writing a thoughtful response will likely make the biggest impression.

Here’s a great example of this.

But keep in mind, not all comments directed at you will be in reply to what you wrote. Someone may call out your business, in a positive or negative way, by @mentioning you on Twitter. Unless they look like spam, be sure to reply to these comments, too. This bring us to….

3. Handle Negative Comments with Grace

When a negative tweet is aimed at you, especially a strongly worded one, your instinct may be to fire back a tart response or ignore it. Do neither. Instead, reply in a balanced manner.

If you reply graciously, these negative comments can help your business rather than hurt it. A gracious reply in the face of adversity speaks loads of your character.

Also, respond promptly. Aim for within 24 hours, if possible. If the issue can’t be resolved with a single reply on your part, move the conversation offline. Direct them to a phone number or email address that you’re comfortable sharing publicly.

Check out Zappos’s reply to a complaint.

And then the person who complained turned around and complimented them.

That’s an impressive — and very public — positive turnaround.

But feel free to set parameters for yourself. If someone is using inappropriate language to make their point, you may want to avoid engaging with them. There’s a difference between negative comments and abusive ones.

4. Look for Mentions of Your Business Not Directed at You

We’re getting into slightly advanced territory now, but it’s good territory to get into.

Some comments are obvious – they’ll be directed to your Twitter handle. Others will take detective work. Customers may tweet about you or your website but not @mention you.

There are many ways to track this sort of information. You can go right to Twitter and do an advanced search for your company name or your homepage and discover what’s being said about you. You can also track your URL in Hootsuite, a social relationship platform that has a free option. There are many other similar options out there as well. If you want an especially robust, streamlined way to track mentions, consider a paid service, like Dex Media’s Digital Presence Management tool.

Once you’ve found these comments about you, connect with the commenter. If they’re unhappy about a service, correct the problem. More often than not, they’ll be impressed you went to the effort. If they say something kind or are simply sending a link to your website out into the world, acknowledge them.

What are your tips for interacting with customers and potential customers on Twitter?

Check out our infographic on the best social platforms for you!

Photo by Duncan Hull via Flickr