Twitter. The word itself is enough to strike fear and loathing into the hearts of some Hollywood A-listers. And yet, within the real estate industry there is apparently no technology tool that inspires more passion than this microblogging service.

Why, a raging online debate popped up recently between Marc Davison (@1000wattmarc) and Dustin Luther (@tyr) about how to measure influence in the Twittersphere. That debate, in turn, led to this rather interesting post from Marc that included an in-depth interview with Joe Fernandez of Klout — a service that offers a measure of your social media influence.

It’s all rather interesting, and if you have a free rainy afternoon — or live in Seattle, which I suppose is more or less the same thing …

Twitter. The word itself is enough to strike fear and loathing into the hearts of some Hollywood A-listers. And yet, within the real estate industry there is apparently no technology tool that inspires more passion than this microblogging service.

Why, a raging online debate popped up recently between Marc Davison (@1000wattmarc) and Dustin Luther (@tyr) about how to measure influence in the Twittersphere. That debate, in turn, led to this rather interesting post from Marc that included an in-depth interview with Joe Fernandez of Klout — a service that offers a measure of your social media influence.

It’s all rather interesting, and if you have a free rainy afternoon — or live in Seattle, which I suppose is more or less the same thing — then you might spend some time looking at Marc’s article, and Dustin’s post as well, and contemplate the meaning of "influence."

What I would like to direct your attention to, however, is something else altogether: the idea of a Twitter strategy.

In the comments to Marc’s post, more than a few respondents — quite a few of them members of the RE.net "Twitterati" — mentioned things like the following:

Once you have your business goals set, you want to ask: Can Twitter help me accomplish them? If you think it can, then you need to determine what your Twitter strategy should be. Then you execute it and track it.

If it’s working, great. And hey, tell the rest of us about it! If not, make any necessary adjustments or reevaluate whether it is the best use of your time and resources. I think a lot of people are on Twitter without a clear strategy that is in service to their goals and target audiences.

Now, it just so happens that before hitting Marc’s post, I read this post from Wendy Forsythe at the CleanSlate Blog in which she states, "The bottom line is Twitter is not a toy. It’s a very serious and powerful marketing and communication tool."

I have a terrible confession to make, especially considering that I’m apparently one of the most influential real estate people on Twitter: I treat Twitter like a toy — gasp! And … I have no Twitter strategy at all. I apologize. Penance shall follow.

A target audience on Twitter?

Part of the penance, I suppose, is thinking through and writing about what this "target audience" business might actually mean for Twitter. Because I really don’t have one. Take a look at a random sampling of my last few tweets:

— "(Repost) @EvangelistaLA: Korean barbecue!!! (And the crowd goes wild with approval!)"
— "(By the way) @mikesimonsen Peyton is doing a great impression of Brees … @hthrflynn."
— "There’s the Cialis ad I’ve been waiting for! What’s an NFL game (without) a Cialis/Viagra/Levitra ad?" …CONTINUED

My target audience for this set of relative nonsense? I have no idea, except the people to whom I’m possibly replying. The idea of "targeting" anyone other than those people didn’t even occur to me.

So let’s think through this together.

Target audience implies targeted marketing, which in turn implies that you have a product or a service that provides high value to a set of market segments but very little to the rest of the market. The goal of targeted marketing then is to make those market segments aware of your product or service, ultimately for the purpose of driving sales.

Using Twitter for targeted marketing, then, presumably means that through 140-character-limited text messages you will make your target market start to follow you, and then come to realize the value of the product or service you are providing to them.

To achieve the first goal, of course, your target market must first become aware of your existence, which requires targeted marketing of some sort. And to achieve the second, your messaging in a series of 140-character-limited text messages must overcome their revulsion to advertising in general.

Does this even make sense to you? Because I’m not seeing it.

Twitter: Not a marketing tool

For the record, I have never once considered Twitter to be a marketing tool of any kind. Those companies and individuals using Twitter as such will quickly come to understand that Twitter marketing bears an uncomfortable resemblance to opt-in e-mail marketing, but without the benefits of (a) staying in someone’s e-mail inbox until they delete it, and (b) having the space to really explain the value propositions and the resale value of the list itself.

So what is Twitter, then, and why should anyone give a damn about it?

Well, watch this video:

Notice the word that kept getting repeated? Besides "Twitter," of course. The word is: "friend."

Twitter is most effective for staying in touch with people who are already your friends in between larger events. As the video says, "Real life happens between blog posts and e-mails."

Substitute the word "contacts" if you wish for "friends." Looking back through my Twitter activities, I realize that its most important use is to stay connected with people I’ve met at various events throughout the past couple of years.

So Twitter is not a marketing tool. Rather, it is a relationship tool. …CONTINUED

Relationship strategy?

With that in mind, let’s revisit the notion of a Twitter strategy. My first rule of thumb is to differentiate between friends and contacts. If you have a "friend strategy" then you are someone I’d like to avoid altogether. There’s something extremely creepy about you.

If you have a "contacts strategy," that’s more acceptable and it is more the case in real estate, with its firmly entrenched sphere of influence concept that making contacts and building relationships are the keys to success.

Tread carefully, however. "Contact" doesn’t mean "prospect" in every case. Just because we’ve met and started some sort of a business relationship does not mean I want you to try and sell me every minute of every day, during the "real life" space in between blogs, e-mails, and phone calls.

Plus, please recognize that Twitter inherently assumes that you already have a relationship of some sort; it’s the only way in which a 140-character text message makes sense. If we don’t have a relationship, or a distant business relationship, I really don’t care what you’re having for lunch.

If we’ve embarrassed ourselves at karaoke together one drunken night, then I actually care that you’re doing laundry. Probably. Maybe. Sort of.

So, want more followers on Twitter? Go out more. Throw parties and events. Want to maximize your investment in Twitter? Go make more relationships — you know, away from the keyboard. Then use Twitter to maintain and expand those existing relationships.

My Twitter strategy

I suppose that I do have a Twitter strategy, after all. I use Twitter as a toy for the most part, to stay connected to people I already know away from the keyboard. I use Twitter as a way to let people get to know me as a person better, assuming they care for whatever reason. I play, I joke, I argue, I ask questions, I opine, and generally have a good time with people I already know.

And sometimes I’ll be at an event, meet someone for the first time, and they’ll say, "Hey Rob, I’m so-and-so on Twitter" and it’ll be like we’ve been friends for a while. That is magic.

I don’t plan for the magic. I plan for the mundane of being myself in everyday life with people I already know. The strategy, if you will, is to have no strategy at all other than simply to be. Maybe, just maybe, that’s the best strategy of all.

Robert Hahn is managing partner of 7DS Associates, a marketing, technology and strategy consultancy focusing on the real estate industry. He is also founder of The Notorious R.O.B. blog.

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