Nov 8, 2009

Twitter For Sustainable Business - You're Doing It Wrong!

James "Jamie" "Jim" "@jsutandyo" Sutandyo from @causecast talking at Op. Green Con. #OG09 talking about Twitter #crazymeta

Causecast played a few roles in the Opportunity Green Conference held at UCLA this weekend (attendee, booth-holder, video-maker w/ EcoFabulous, and panel guest). I was only supposed to be around Saturday to shoot some interviews, but with a press pass with my name and tickets normally valued some insane amount, I snuck back in Sunday and schmoozed up some more.

Our man James spoke on the closing panel called "Market Leading Social Media," but could have been titled "Twitter Strategy." By now Twitter's reached its critical mass and though everyone's publicly sick of it for a full year, it's still in a lot of ways reaching maturity. Like a puppy with fully-grown feet, Twitter keeps stumbling as it tries to run full-gait, and conferences like these acknowledge and address that.

Everyone onstage did a great job of really emphasizing that social sites are *social* and about community, and they're only tools to build relationships on a human level. This is very trivial info, but very, very easy to forget. Should a company twitter feed be personable? Relate to product news or customer service? Be a conversation or automated? Yes, these questions are still being asked because the answer keeps depending on the context.

The problem I had with the panel, though, was that no one really took a step back to acknowledge what "Twitter" was specifically or you need to ask what you want to get out of it. In Causecast's case, we're at least 50% editorial, so we use our Twitter primarily to share editorial content: our own and spreading around the links of our network. Causecast wants to be "your one-stop shop for all things cause," and they do that by being a central source for all cause-based news. Do I want a conversation with CNN or Huffington Post? No, I want updates, at-a-glance facts and summary commentary of impact. It's really important for us when a disaster happens somewhere in the world that the average user will instinctively think, "2,000 homes have been flooded in Laos, how can I help?" and they go to Causecast to take action. If Causecast's Twitter are filled with @ replies and short prose on good leadership, it's not a reference for me as a reader or a source to necessarily trust. Our Twitter excels when we talk news and action, not asking to join our Facebook Fans 3x per day.

That said, the majority of attendees at the OG conference were not news outlets. From my understanding they were either small-business products or consultants (selling current business "green" practices). So how can a company that sells sustainable beauty supplies sell their products in 140 characters? They don't. And they shouldn't. Twitter is not a sales pitch. Twitter is a reference, and what the small business should be doing is using it as a platform to make themselves the expert in that field. Beauty supplies: link to news about studies of harmful chemicals in household products, celebrities switching and endorsing new products, etc. Be the expert.

Say you run an eco-conscious consultancy firm that retrofits businesses and buildings with green functionality. If I hire you to help with our remodeling and PR front, I want to know I'm dealing with someone who knows what they're talking about. Who keeps themselves up-to-date in all things green architecture. If I suggest insulating with straw bale based on an article my friend read in a magazine, I want you to tell me why or why not this instant, with examples of why it's obsolete or how your way gives me an additional tax benefit in this state as of last month. If you tweet about your three consultancy packages every day, you're echoing what I can already read from your site. And I especially don't want half of a conversation with someone else from last week.

I want a consultancy that tells me waterfree-urinals have a $200 rebate from California State and that they save me 6,000 gallons per year and $1,500 per unit, so it'll pay for itself with installation within 5 months per unit. Your tweet leads to CA Gov. site that was just published last week. To your site? Not necessarily. Maybe if you had a section where I could choose models or schedule times to install. But maybe as I'm researching different consultancies to choose from for our remodeling do I bring up in conversation if waterfree-urinal installations come with the package you're selling me. It's because I'm trusting your research and knowledge, not your starving for attention. Starving for attention doesn't mean you tweet the latte you just bought, but that you like to link to links and fit your name somewhere in there.

Twitter is a tool for your community, but there's many kinds of communities and you need to know what community you want. Do you have six doctors you visit, or is your dentist a different person than your optician? I know my nutritionist is looking out for me, but I don't want her to give me psychological advice. And at the end of the day, my baker's a really nice guy but I really just want him to sell me good bread.