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Using Twitter to Communicate with Members

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Communicating effectively is often a key problem when dealing with your membership base. Member engagement is a vital part of managing a successful association, but it can be complicated, time consuming and prone to errors.

Managing an association, charity or other membership group requires membership mangers to communicate constantly:

  • To prospect members: Promoting the association, highlighting offers and benefits, engaging with prospect members generally

  • Current members: Ensuring they receive value from their membership, that they’re aware of everything the association is doing or offering, and that they can give and receive information easily that’s relevant to them

  • When holding events: Promoting events, selling sponsorship, providing the costs, timings, location and agenda items. Answering member questions and directing them to the right places, promoting member engagement and interaction during the event. Then getting feedback from members and exhibitors, promoting the event to those who didn’t attend, thanking speakers and guests for their input etc.

Ensuring that a consistently high level of communication is maintained can be difficult for membership managers. Updating members via various mediums (website, email, post and telephone) takes time and it can often be the case that smaller or less important updates are not communicated because of the difficulty in managing and updating these mediums.

The problem is that all members and those involved with the membership organisation or association want to know correct information and updates as soon as they happen no matter which communication medium they prefer. If a member misses something important due to lack of communication updates, it isn’t their fault – it’s that of the membership manager, and it can have an extremely damaging effect on the reputation of the association and the satisfaction of their members - especially if 
poor communication results in complaints.

Members now want more from their membership. It’s not enough to be sent regular newsletters, or to come to events and just 
listen to the speakers; they want to be able to network effectively with other member and to engage in the presentations and discussions in an active manner. They want to be able to ask questions and have an input on the activities of the association and its members. The world has become more involved and engaged and it’s important that associations are able to keep up with this trend.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN ISSUES?

Silverbear Membership recently conducted some research in which both membership managers and members were asked about the communication issues they often face. 

Membership managers said that they often didn’t have the time to update all their communication platforms with each and every amendment or change each time one arose. Instead they would wait until a number of changes had occurred before updating each medium. This meant that they were updating their website less frequently, were sending out less emails and letters, and making fewer telephone calls. This was often seen as both a positive and a negative. Membership managers 
often thought that in this day and age, with the high volume of spam emails and post that is generated, that sending out numerous emails or letters with small event updates would not be appreciated by their members. Instead they felt that a bi-monthly or monthly update would be more acceptable. However, they did understand that this often meant that some event changes would go unannounced for up to four to six weeks, which did sometimes cause issues for members and increased the volume of inbound calls and enquires.

The members that Silverbear spoke to agreed that they didn’t want to be inundated with constant emails or letters from the 
associations, but did find it irritating that sometimes they would have to contact the company directly if they had a question 
regarding their services or member benefits. These emails would often take up to 48 hours (and sometimes more) to gain a response, which again wasn’t something they rated very highly.

One thing both membership managers and members agreed on, was that the association website should always have the most up to date information available. This means that those members wishing to be proactive and find out updated information themselves, were able to do so without having to contact the member company directly. The associations and membership companies that Silverbear spoke to agreed that this was best practice and most said it was standard procedure to update 
their websites as often as possible.

ADDITIONAL COMMUNICATION PROBLEMS

Members also cited the desire to be able to communicate with other members. A desired activity is for members to organise their own informal networking meet-ups with other members in their local area or during official association events. Networking with peers and colleagues can provide an immense amount of value and can be an important benefit of being 
a member of the association. Being able to communicate the details of these meet ups is something that many membership managers are not able to control since they are often hosted by members themselves.

I once attended an event where one of the main afternoon presentations I wanted to see was cancelled. I only found out about this when I arrived at the meeting room to see a note pinned on the door. I had left another workshop early to attend this presentation – so you can imagine my frustration at of finding out it had been cancelled in this way.”

Members also said they wanted more power in terms of communicating with the association and speakers during official events. Asking questions and being given a rapid response was mentioned as an important communication area they often had problems with. 

If any problems arose on the day of an event, such as a cancelled presentation or an amendment to the agenda, it was noted that this was often not communicated effectively to members. They often found this information out at the last minute, meaning they weren’t able to make alternative plans if they wanted.

Post event, members wanted to be able to continue the discussions regarding key presentations and follow up with presenters 
and other members. Unless the association had some kind of official forum, this was often very difficult, if not impossible.

Unless you exchange business cards with everyone you meet, it can be difficult to continue the conversations you were having, after the event. Even doing this still makes it difficult to have a really good, lively debate. I’ve been members of associations where you can log on and continue talking over official forums which is great, but only useful if everyone else logs on at the same time!”

INTRODUCING TWITTER AS AN EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION PLATFORM

Twitter is a social networking and microblogging service, enabling its users to send and read 140 character messages called 
tweets. These tweets are publicly visible by default and users can subscribe to other users tweets by ‘following’ their profile.
Launched in July 2006, Twitter has experienced incredible growth, with over 175 million registered accounts. Over 4 million tweets are posted per hour, adding up to over 95 million tweets being written every single day, Twitter is something that is now being incorporated into everyday life for many people and businesses across the globe.

HOW CAN TWITTER BE USED?

The first step is to decide what kind of Twitter account to open. For a large membership organisation that has a variety of different membership types, it is probably best to open an account dedicated to each membership segment. For a smaller membership association a general corporate account might be better.

The account should be branded in line with the association – a familiar logo or icon should be used as the profile image, a branded background should be created and a succinct biography should be added.

It’s also important that a team or individual is given full ownership of the account. It’s vital that any communication from or to the account is managed and monitored by someone who understands the medium. Social media can be a very effective communication tool, but if it’s neglected or deployed badly, you could come under some negative criticism. 

If using Twitter to promote a specific membership event, the campaign should begin at the same time as the initial event marketing. If there is a dedicated microsite or page on the association website, this should include the Twitter username and a link to the account. Ideally a live stream should be added to the website/page listing all the accounts’ tweets as and when they are posted.

#HASHTAGS

Hashtags are used to mark keywords or topics in a tweet. It was originally created by Twitter users as a way to categorise messages. Hashtags can be created to match the membership segment, feature or specific event. Membership managers should ensure that this is kept to the minimum number of characters possible, so as not to take up valuable space in the 140 character tweets. 

You should then promote this hashtag to your members, colleagues, staff, prospect members and all other stakeholders, to ensure anyone tweeting about that subject uses it within their updates. This way both the association and members can monitor what’s being said and answer any questions and respond to any comments.

GENERATING A HIGH QUALITY NETWORK

The Twitter username should be added to all relevant marketing communications, and be included in the event collateral, emails and direct mail. 

The owner of the account should then start to follow relevant Twitter users:

  • Members

  • Industry leaders

  • Prospect members

  • Suppliers

  • Those in the local community

  • Those from relevant industries

  • Other membership associations/companies that compliment/link with yours

It’s important that the account generates a high quality network. This is more important that creating a high number of followers. 

In 2010 there were thought to be up to 60 million inactive or spam accounts on Twitter (current 2013 figures have not been released, but it is safe to assume that this figure will  have risen in line with the growth of Twitter overall). Having inactive or spam Twitter users following your event account just to boost your follower numbers will provide no value to you 
whatsoever. Instead, you should work towards ensuring that your network consists of relevant, high quality users; people who are interested in your association, those in your industry and those who can help promote your association and member benefits further.

WHAT TO TWEET ABOUT?

Planning your tweets can be a daunting task. It’s vital that you come across as useful, engaging and interesting. Twitter accounts that constantly promote their own agenda do not do well on Twitter. The goal is to share information, provide advice and help to others,and to become a trusted platform for those in your industry.

So what kind of things should you tweet about?

  • Association announcements: Such as new events, new members, new features/benefits etc.

  • Updates: Any changes to your association that members should be aware of

  • Answer Questions: People might ask questions about your association – the membership types available, the benefits members can expect, cost etc.

  • Ask Questions: Ask your network of followers questions that can help improve your membership offering – what do they want to achieve from their membership, what events are they looking forward to, what do they think can be improved?

  • Retweet: This is where you retweet (RT) another users tweet. Things to RT could include positive feedback regarding your association or an event that you’d like to share, tweets from suppliers or sponsors talking about your association, or relevant industry news. Anything that you see in your news feed that you think is worth sharing with your followers

  • Links to useful content: If you see an article on the web that is relevant to your event or industry, you can tweet a link to the webpage with a comment.

MANAGING YOUR TWITTER ACCOUNT

Twitter is a social tool and never shuts down. People can contact you via your Twitter account 24/7. For this reason it’s important that you have a person or team who has complete ownership of the account. The account should be monitored and updated on a regular basis (in the immediate lead up, during and post event time, this level of monitoring should be increased). Twitter is all about engagement and if you are using it as a communication tool, all direct contact (i.e. tweets directed to you or direct messages) must be responded to as soon as possible. 

A key selling point of Twitter is its level of immediacy as a platform. Many of the largest news stories in recent times have been broken on Twitter, and people affected by world events often use Twitter as a method of communication. It’s updated constantly and as such, anyone serious about using it, must be able to commit to it as a platform which requires constant monitoring.

RESPONDING TO NEGATIVE TWEETS

Many people are worried about using Twitter due to the high public level of communication it provides. Anyone is able to sign up to Twitter and write a negative tweet about an individual or organisation. 

This is something that often puts associations off using Twitter completely. However, the key thing to remember is that those negative tweets will exist on Twitter whether you are there or not. 

You can only deal with negative tweets if you know about them – not being active on Twitter also means that it’s unlikely you’ll be monitoring it for mentions of your association. This means that any negative tweets will go unnoticed and un-responded, which often makes the situation worse.

Monitoring Twitter for certain keywords such as your company name or event name means that you’ll be aware of any tweets that are relevant to you. If anyone posts anything negative, it’s vital that you respond to it as quickly as possible. If it’s a complaint, try to explain what happened, apologise or request their contact details so you can contact them outside of Twitter.

Dealing with negative tweets and complaints in a public forum gives you the opportunity to show how good your customer service levels are. Companies are humanistic and as such will always make mistakes; people are aware of that. It’s how you respond to that complaint that differentiates you from your competitors. If a member’s complaint gets ignored, this can 
sometimes cause them more irritation than the original complaint itself. 

Following up the complaint via Twitter shows to the aggrieved Twitter user and to your whole network that you are actively engaged in ensuring you provide high value and high quality customer service. 

TOOLS TO HELP MANAGE YOUR TWITTER ACCOUNT

There are hundreds of tools available to help manage your Twitter account. Trying and testing these all would be a never ending process, so we’ve put together a list of the most useful.

Bit.ly
Bit.ly is a URL shortening service. Since Twitter restricts you to just 140 characters per tweet, it can be helpful to use a link shortening service when you want to include a URL in your update. Bit.ly is just one of many link shortening services available, but it comes with the ability to track and monitor tweet statistics. Users can see how many times their link was clicked, at 
what time, and from what country clickers were from. 

This is an excellent way of being able to analyse what your networks likes and dislikes – what kind of content they want to see and what isn’t popular at all. It can also help in the crafting of tweet language and copy – what call to actions are most popular and effective, what offers do people respond to most? The information gained from these reports can be invaluable in developing Twitter as an effective communication tool.

TweetDeck
TweetDeck is a free desktop application for Twitter and other social networks. It allows users to create columns which show different things, such as direct tweets, direct messages, tweets containing particular keywords etc. From TweetDeck you can post tweets, schedule tweets in advance, and monitor the Twitter environment for key tweets (i.e. people asking questions, people posting tweets using your hashtag, competitors, key members and stakeholders etc.). 

Alerts can be set up so you are notified via a desktop pop up when one of your columns has been updated with a new tweet. This is an excellent way of passively monitoring Twitter for mentions of your name or event. You can integrate your Bit.ly account with TweetDeck, so any links will automatically be shortened using Bit.ly and you can view your stats by logging into your Bit.ly account.

hootsuite
hootsuite is a similar free tool to TweetDeck, although it is web based. Again, it allows you to monitor Twitter, post and schedule tweets. It also integrates with other social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and Foursquare. You can create similar columns to that of TweetDeck such as mentions, direct messages and scheduled tweets.

The difference with hootsuite is that it’s much easier to use multiple accounts at one time. You can add more than one Twitter profile and tab easily between these. It is possible to manage more than one Twitter account in TweetDeck, but hootsuite has a more intuitive way of managing it. 

Being web based it also offers convenience of being able to access it from any location – as long as the user has Internet access. hootsuite also comes with the ability to see statistics regarding your tweets. Their built in link shortener – Ow.ly, means that you have access to link tracking and analytics from the same platform – letting you see what’s popular, what people click on and what tweets promote the most engagement. 

BlastFollow
BlastFollow enables you to follow Twitter users who share your interests en masse. This is accomplished by searching for users who have tweeted with a particular hashtag. You can use this tool to ensure that you follow anyone who uses your specific hashtags.

Using BlastFollow to follow relevant Twitter users en masse can be an effective way of following relevant Twitter users. However it requires careful management – it can be easy to amass a large volume of users you are following, but not all of these will want to engage with you. Some may have mentioned your association or event in passing, but are not members and have no interest in joining. Others might be spam accounts who retweet other people’s tweets and aren’t worth following at all.

It’s important that if you use this tool, you regularly check the users you are following to ensure they are relevant to your event or company.

tweetwally
If your membership association hosts events, then tweetwally is a great tool which you can use to make your presentations more interactive and increase the level of engagement between your members and the presenters. tweetwally lets you build a stream of tweets which can be used during presentations and conferences. It updates with a live stream of tweets, presented on a user designed theme. 

You can enter in a hashtag, username or keyword and any tweets including these terms will be added to the live stream. This is a great way of encouraging questions, interaction and feedback during a presentation or conference.

At the beginning of a presentation, the speaker can announce a specific hashtag for that presentation which audience members can include in their tweets. This means that people attending the presentation can ask questions and comment on the content. For those who couldn’t make the presentation, if they are aware of the hashtag, they can use this to see what is being talked about.

This is a fantastic way of engaging with audiences and members during an event. It doesn’t have to be limited to specific 
presentations either. A large screen can be displayed in a prominent area within the event and all tweets using the main event hashtag can be displayed on the stream, giving updates and information to both members at the event and those not able to make it.

MOBILE TWEETING

A vital part of using Twitter as a successful communication platform for membership events and other activities, is being able to use it during the event itself. Luckily, there are many applications available that let you manage your Twitter account on 
the go:

  • Twitter for iPhone/iPad - Official Twitter App: This free app includes features such as search for your timeline, replies and direct messages. You can also save tweets as drafts and geo-tag your tweets 

  • UberTwitter for Blackberry: One of the best Twitter apps for Blackberrys, this includes features such as multiple account support, trending topics with background info, full Twitter list support, keyboard shortcuts and video embeds

  • Touiteur for Android: Touiteur is a free Twitter mobile app for Android users. It includes drop down tweet menus, old style retweet functions and more

  • Echofon for iPhone/iPad: This is an easy to use, fast Twitter app for the iPhone and iPad. As well as making it easy to manage multiple accounts, this app includes features such as retweets, save searches, inline photo and video viewing, instant push notifications and more.

TWITTER & MEMBERSHIP SOFTWARE

Silverbear Membership is a comprehensive online software solution that enables you to manage all parts of the membership process. As standard, it includes a social media module. Combining many years of practical experience, Silverbear Membership software is designed to provide a complete end-to-end environment specifically for the online and offline management of members in Membership Bodies, Associations and Not for Profit organisations.

Features include:

  • Membership Management

  • Financial Management

  • Event Management

  • Member Communication

  • Membership Reporting and Analysis

  • Business System Integration

Built into Silverbear Membership is a social media module. This lets you manage and control all your social network accounts from one platform – saving you time and giving you more control.

TALK TO US ABOUT YOUR MEMBERSHIP SOFTWARE REQUIREMENTS
Employed within societies and membership organisations throughout the UK, Silverbear Membership helps organisations to build, define, examine, inform and communicate with existing and potential members. It is one of the most comprehensive membership management software solutions on the market today.

Silverbear Membership is not just a piece of CRM software but a membership solution that recognises that keeping your membership community involved, will ensure you attain, retain and maintain your members.

If you’d like to know more about Silverbear’s Membership Solution, please get in touch. Call us on 01483 409 409, email membership@silverbear.com or complete our Contact form today.