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Aug 30, 2007 | 8 minute read

Twitter Marketing Do's and Don'ts: Interview With Ma.gnolia

written by Linda Bustos

Last post I covered some ways you can use Twitter for ecommerce marketing. (Remember that Twitter can be an inexpensive form of mcommerce as users can subscribe to mobile text alerts). As promised, here are some Twitter Do's and Do Not Do's based on Ma.gnolia's experience using microblogging for customer support.

(If you're not in the know, Ma.gnolia's about the best lookin' social bookmarking site on the web) Here's a summary of Ma.gnolia's Product Manager Todd Sieling's presentation at BarCamp Vancouver:

  • Make each tweet worth reading - no poly filler
  • Speak softly unless the house is on fire (remember Ma.gnolia's subscribers are receiving tech support and system updates)
  • Tweet responsibly, too many tweets will make your subscribers tune out
  • Be creative, but not at the expense of clarity
  • Follow everyone who follows you - except spammers
  • Read your community's tweets and glean whatever you can from what they're saying

Todd graciously agreed to answer some of my questions that I hope will benefit ecommerce marketers in crafting a spam-free, effective Twitter-relations program.

Linda: One of our readers, BeachBum, brought up the issue of Twitter spam:

"The only flaw is that spammers will overpower the system very quickly. Or more likely users will stop using the cell phone option because they are getting too many messages from their 100’s of subscriptions."

To protect yourself from gaining the rep of a spammer, you mentioned in your BarCamp presentation that it's important to keep your tweets to a reasonable number (2-3 per day), make every tweet worth reading and to "speak softly unless the house is on fire." Could you elaborate on that and do you have any advice on crafting tweets that stand out from the "noise" and get read?

Todd: There are a couple specific behaviors that can get lumped into the word 'spamming' so I'll be careful to separate them. There are some people who will use Twitter to announce link after link to ad-farm web pages that they control, trying to pump up page views and clicks for ad revenue. That's closest to traditional spam, but it's easy to stop because you just stop following whomever is doing this.

The other behavior is really an abuse of attention, where there are too many tweets (Twitter posts) for them to be useful, and that's the really risky one for a business. There's no magic number of tweets per day, as each service and audience has different needs. A community that expects a lot of breaking news or fast paced updates from a service will probably respond well to lots of tweets; those that are doing lots of things and your service is a small part probably won't like lots of tweets.

As for getting your posts noticed, it's not as hard as it sounds. When people scan a list of recent tweets, they're already in a mode of searching for something that will interest them. If what you have to say is important to them, and you say it clearly, it will jump out to their eyes. That's really one of the magic things about Twitter, is that we expect it would be hard to process all this incoming information, but you don't have to. You'll find the stuff that's important to you because of how we read and react. Being sensational with tweets just to get read betrays that natural process, and people will tune out the hyped language tweets before very long. Saying what needs to be said in simple terms and a tone appropriate to your brand is the surest way to maintain positive attention from people following you on Twitter.

Linda: Do you find you are limited by Twitter's 140 character maximum? What do you do when 140 characters just aren't enough?

Todd: Sometimes I find myself wishing for one or two more characters, but when I hit that limit I just look back and try to find places I can condense. Removing a grammatical word here and there might not be perfect writing, but it still gets the message across. Think telegraph instead of email and you'll find you can write in these short bursts quite easily.

That being said, there are some messages or supplements to messages that can't fit in 140 characters, and in those cases Twitter has you covered. Just paste in a link with your tweet, keeping in mind that the link characters count, and get a few words in on what the link is for. Twitter will shorten that URL and pass it along with your tweets. An example is when we do system updates in Ma.gnolia, we simply say we're rolling out some changes and then point to the change log on our wiki for the details. Readers who are interested can follow to the full story, while readers who aren't can skip it.

Linda: You also mentioned it's a good idea to "follow" everyone that "follows" you, but not to follow spammers. How do you recognize spammers, and what happens when you follow them back? Can they still see your tweets?

Todd: Spotting a spammer isn't too hard: there's a link in every post or almost every post, and there's very little substance to the tweets other than a request to follow the link. We don't follow, or stop following people when we see this. At that point their tweets don't show up in our stream, but ours will still be in theirs until they stop following us.

Linda: How would you handle a situation where a follower is not a spammer but may have posted a tweet that is embarrassing, inflammatory or otherwise just inappropriate?

Todd: It hasn't come up yet, but it would really depend on the situation. If it happened rarely we would let it stand. If the person is a valued member of our community and wants to sound off a bit, then good for them; we're human and that's part of being in a community of humans. If it becomes a regular thing, we would probably stop following that person.

I should clarify a bit, as the specific content would make a difference. If someone were posting racially or sexually offensive - and I mean really offensve, not just the mention of a race or something sexual - we would stop following them more quickly than if someone were posting lame jokes, not so much because we don't want other people seeing it in our stream but simply because we dont' want to associate with that person or read what they're saying. Each business or service using Twitter will have to find its comfort level with what its followers are saying, but as a general rule if you want to open up a communication channel like Twitter, you have to be ready to read things you might not want to.

This brings me to a final point on this issue: if people are saying embarassing or insulting things about your service, you should be listening and talking back, not un-following to get their words out of your stream. Trying to ignore negative comments will just feed the problem, and point to deeper ones in your customer relations strategy.

Linda: Some have suggested to build up your visibility that you should follow as many people as possible -- this builds up the "PageRank" of your Twitter page and increases the chance of people stumbling across your tweets on other users' "With Others" feeds. How do you feel about following random people in hopes that they would follow you back (after they receive email notification you've began following them)? Would you consider this spam? Do you think there's any benefit in doing this?

Todd: I would definitely consider this spam, as there's no concrete reason for following someone other than to propagate messages by reciporication. It misses the point of Twitter, and it's quite impersonal, even a bit sleazy. When people follow out of interest, the value of their attention is greater than any PageRank increase or even the satisfaction of seeing a high number of followers. Where the messages sent through Twitter really pay off is where they deliver actual value to readers - those are the things that get talked about in blogs, podcasts and other media, those are services that build enduring audiences and have productive conversations with their members. The rest eventually, I think, get tuned out and forgotten, no matter how high their follower counts and PageRanks are.


Todd: Wow, look at the time. You know, I have a thing to go to...

Linda: Are there any customer communication features you feel are missing currently from Twitter that can be satisfied by other types of social media?

Todd: Twitter is just text, which is part of its beauty, but the web can do more when you need it to. Two services I often compare with Twitter for their rich-media support are tumblr ( and Pownce (

If Twitter is micro-blogging, then Tumblr is mini-blogging. Shorter items, often focussed around sharing a piece of media like an image or a song or an interesting link. Tumblr also can act as a good alternative for those who find the 140 character limit too tight.

Pownce is best described as file sharing for groups. They make it nice and easy to share a pdf, mp3 or whatever with a selected group of friends or colleagues. This is substantially different from Twitter which sports a more open sharing policy, but doesn't deal with files.

For services that need to communicate more verbosely (and that should be a question answered with some real thinking, not a 'blink' reaction), or with something other than text, the other services may just fit the bill. So far we haven't found Twitter limiting at all. For what we need to say and hear back from our members, it's working well for us.

Thanks, Todd for your excellent insight on best-practices for using Twitter as a customer service channel!