How to Use Twitter for Business, Not Vanity

In the make-believe world of marketing, Twitter is a magical land filled with fantastic creatures who burp up rainbows and sneeze out cash every time you tweet @ them. But in the real world, the average Twitter marketer gets things like this:

Or this:

A Facebook “Like” (the closest comparison to a tweet) drives on average $1.34 in ticket sales, compared with a tweet that drives on average $.80.

And these numbers look a lot worse when you compare them with, say, click and open rates in email:

So why are so many businesses failing to make money with Twitter? Is it because it’s a terrible platform for businesses?

No.

It’s because businesses tend to skew in one of two directions when they get involved with Twitter:

  • “buy, Buy, BUY!!!! (Are you buying yet!!??!!)
  • “Look at me I’ve got 100 million followers”

There’s a reason for this. The problem is that businesses are putting the wrong metrics at the forefront (if any).

  • If you focus on maximizing the financial value of your leads, you’ll succeed in doing that with all of your leads.
  • If you focus on maximizing retweets, followers, etc., you’ll get millions of retweets and followers and $10 in your pocket.
  • If you’re on twitter because “you need to be” and you’re not really measuring anything…good luck.

As with most of the emerging platforms, the primary reason businesses are having trouble using them to make money is the fact that they are failing to use these platforms for their intended use. They fail to recognize why people use Twitter, and so they fail to make any headway with the channel.

Let’s talk about how to fix that.

How to Make $1 Million+ Per Quarter on Twitter Alone

If you want to make money with Twitter, it makes sense to start by asking if anybody is making money using only Twitter. Yes, it should be obvious that when you integrate Twitter with other channels, you will open up more opportunities. But who has more insight to offer about monetizing Twitter than somebody who uses it as a full time income stream?

That man is Brandon Hampton, who makes six figures every quarter.

Brandon and his wife Stephanie operate at least 24 Twitter accounts, which together total over 11.5 million followers. Of course, those numbers are meaningless. What really matters is that they make well over a million dollars every quarter of the year, which means that those followers actually mean something.

Here’s a peak at why:

 

This comes from @Notebook, operated by Stephanie, an account with nearly 5 million followers. Other Twitter accounts have numbers like that, but most of them don’t receive roughly a thousand retweets and favorites every time they tweet something.

For example, Katy Perry has about 10 times as many followers, but most of her tweets only get 3 or 4 times as many retweets:

 

Yes, that means Katy Perry is only about a third as retweetable as @Notebook.

Let’s make another comparison. The @Notebook tweet above was retweeted by 0.02 percent of their audience. That might not sound like very much (and it really drives home just how infrequently people retweet), but let’s compare it with one of Hubspot’s more successful recent tweets:

 

38 retweets out of 393k followers is a retweet rate of only 0.009 percent. That means @Notebook is about twice as retweetable as Hubspot.

But that’s nothing. Here’s one of Coca Cola’s most successful recent tweets:

 

84 retweets for 2.44 million followers. That’s a 0.003 percent retweet rate. That’s almost ten times worse than @Notebook, and pretty good for business accounts. And, again, that’s a good tweet for Coke, not an average one.

So there’s an important thing to take note of. @Notebook is about ten times as retweetable as a good business account, and twice as retweetable as an inbound expert like Hubspot, or a top celebrity.

How are Brandon and Stephanie making millions on accounts like these? With sponsored tweets like these:

 

That’s right. It’s advertising revenue, roughly 3 sponsored tweets for every 15 unsponsored tweets. In other words, if a business was using these same tactics to sell their own products, they could probably expect 10 times as much revenue, or more.

What Brandon and Stephanie are Doing Differently

So, all of these comparisons are great, but why do @Notebook and all of their other accounts perform so well? How did @Notebook pick up 30,000 followers in just three weeks?

Here are a few things Brandon told TheNextWeb they did in order to earn this kind of success on Twitter:

  • Cross promotion. Brandon would approach tweeter’s with roughly twice his audience for each account. Instead of following them and asking if they would follow back, he did something more meaningful. He asked if they would be interested in retweeting each other.
  • He focused on posting content that would be valuable not just for his own followers, but for the followers of the accounts he was cross promoting.

And Brandon operates far more than just @Notebook. One of his other accounts, for example is @Fitness, with posts like these:

 

While the retweet rate isn’t quite as high, this account still picks up a hundred or more retweets for most tweets.

Here are a few things Brandon hasn’t said explicitly about his strategy, but that I’ve noticed from his pages:

  • Most Twitter “experts” recommend posting links to your account, but Brandon rarely does this. All of the information is contained within the tweet itself. He understands what Twitter is for: bite size content, not depth.
  • They post a lot of image Tweets, and these seem to do quite a bit better than their normal tweets. This shouldn’t be a surprise, considering that image Tweets tend to get retweeted twice as often as normal tweets on average.
  • Most of the tweets are either actionable pieces of advice, statements people can relate to, or inspirational and motivational tweets.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that a good tweet doesn’t contain a link. In fact, tweets containing links are actually 86 percent more likely to get retweeted, on average. The important thing to recognize is that this isn’t because people are actually clicking those links.

In fact, there is virtually no correlation between retweets and clicks. The tweet itself is what gets people to retweet it. It’s just that, for the average account, there is something more retweetable about tweets that contain links.

People are retweeting because they find the information they like in the tweet itself, and they retweet it. It’s not because they actually clicked the link.

And that actually segues pretty nicely into our next point.

Pump Up Your CTR

While clicks and retweets are completely uncorrelated with each other, the fact remains that you eventually need people to click on your links if you want them to take an action. At some point, you want people to buy things.

As I mentioned, Brandon and his wife post about 3 sponsored tweets for every 15 actionable tweets. This is probably a good number to shoot for with your own self-promotional tweets as well. The last thing you want is to scare people off of your account, but it’s also important to transform followers into actual customers.

While it’s true that tweets of this nature will inevitable cause some people to leave, you have to keep in mind that it’s not all about “engagement” (which is a loosely defined and often useless goal anyway). You don’t want an audience of people who feel entitled to free content from you without any commercial activities at all. Audiences like that will retaliate the very second you try to make money off of Twitter, making all of your efforts pointless.

But simply sticking to a certain ratio of commercial tweets to actionable tweets isn’t going to be enough to give you the click through rate you’re looking for. As I mentioned above, the average Twitter account has a click through rate of only 1.64 percent.

In fact, the situation is even more dire than that, because the average CTR drops all the way down to 0.45 percent when your account has 10k or more followers.

In an even more bizarre twist of fate, your total number of followers and the total number of people who actually click your links seem to be completely uncorrelated. Whether you’ve got 1000 followers or 10,000, it seems that, on average, only about 50 people click on your links:

(Here’s the source again)

What this really means is that your follower count is a completely useless metric. All that really matters is the number of real fans you have, people who actually visit Twitter often enough to see your links, and who actually want to click on them.

So, how can you get people to actually click on your links?

According to research by Dan Zarrella, you can do the following:

  • Keep your tweets between 120 and 130 characters (if they contain a link)
  • Place your link about 25 percent of the way through the text of the tweet
  • Don’t tweet more than once per hour. Tweeting twice per hour causes your CTR to drop by a factor of more than three, meaning that the extra tweet won’t be enough to make up the loss.
  • Use action words: adverbs and verbs. Use fewer nouns and even fewer adjectives. People like tweets with action, not description.
  • Be sure to tweet on the weekends. This is when the CTR is highest.
  • Tweet in the early afternoon and late evening. Further research by KISSmetrics supports this:
  • Tweets that contain the “@” symbol are more likely to get clicked on, presumably because they’re directed at somebody specific. However, it’s important to realize that these can also reduce the number of retweets.

Create Interactions

It’s important to keep people interacting with your tweets, otherwise what is the point of sending them out? Peer-reviewed science has also demonstrated that interactions on social media boost revenue and increase customer loyalty.

According to research by Buddy Media, the optimal number of tweets is 4 per day. Four tweets per day earns you an “engagement rate” of about half what you would see from a single tweet per day. That means that you will get twice as many “engagements” if you tweet 4 times a day, compared to tweeting once. After that, users will start to become blind to your tweets.

Unfortnately, as with most things, there is some disagreement here. According to Track Social, brands can increase their overall number of retweets by tweeting as much as they want, as long as they’ve got good content to post:

Needless to say, this is something you should test for yourself. However, some explanation for this discrepancy may come down to the difference between tweets with links and tweets without links. As we mentioned before, raising the number of tweets with links can cause your CTR too fast to be worth the effort. Posting too many tweets with links may also cause users to distrust you, while regular tweets don’t seem to have such a negative impact.

Here are a few other things the Buddy Media study found:

  • As with CTR, the best time to tweet in order to receive interactions from your audience is on the weekends. While you should likely tweet about the same amount every day, the major issue is that most businesses tweet less or not at all on the weekends.
  • Tweets posted after 8 PM and before 7 AM are bad for engagement (which is the exact opposite of Facebook).
  • The most engaging tweets are less than 100 characters long. This is a good figure to shoot for if your tweet doesn’t contain a link in it. These tweets had a 17 percent higher engagement rate.
  • Image tweets have double the engagement, as mentioned earlier.
  • Tweets with hashtags get twice the engagement, but most brands don’t use them. Remember to use hashtags properly. Don’t use them like meta keywords. Think of them like ad hoc forum discussion groups. Don’t use a hashtag unless there’s a conversation happening around it.
  • Don’t use more than two hashtags.
  • Asking for an “RT” will boost retweets by an astounding 12X. Actually spelling out the word “retweet” carries that figure all the way to 23X. In other words, you should pretty much always be explicit about wanting retweets, assuming that’s what your goal is with the tweet. Keep in mind, though, that this can also reduce the number of clicks you’ll get.

Dan Zarrella has also done some research on what increases retweets:

  • Links tend to get retweeted more often than standard posts (as mentioned earlier)
  • Ask for retweets (again). Zarrella’s data isn’t quite as dramatic as the figures from Buddy Media, but the conclusion is the same. “RT” boosts retweets, and “please retweet” boosts them even more.
  • Don’t talk about yourself. Self-referential tweets are less likely to be retweeted.
  • Twitter is big on news. When you break new information, you tend to get retweeted more frequently. Twitter isn’t so much about “evergreen” content, although tweets can be very successful if they are new to your audience, even if the information itself isn’t new.

According to research by Ripenn, these are some of the most viral phrases used in headlines:

And according to further research from every one’s favorite social data scientist, Dan Zarrella has found that the following words are used frequently in retweets:

Research by KISSmetrics has also shown that the best time to tweet is around 5 PM Eastern time if you want to maximize the number of retweets:

Keep in mind that this isn’t the same as the best time to post in order to maximize clicks. As we discussed earlier, that was around noon or 6 PM.

Conclusion

While average figures might suggest that Twitter isn’t as valuable a channel as some of the others, this isn’t necessarily the case for every business. What’s true for the industry in general isn’t necessarily true for you.

As you can see from this post, it’s certainly possible to make money on Twitter alone. While we recommend investing in search and email first and foremost, Twitter can be a powerful channel, and it deserves a healthy portion of your investment if you have the resources available.

Here’s a quick recap of some of the most important things we’ve learned:

  • Cross promotion can be a very valuable way to grow your presence on Twitter.
  • Your follower count is essentially a useless metric. Focus on earning retweets and clicks.
  • Don’t be afraid to post calls to action, sticking to about 3 CTAs for every 15 engaging tweets.
  • Tweet about actions, not descriptions.
  • While you can likely tweet as often as you want, assuming the tweets are worth reading, you should limit tweets with links to once an hour at most, and probably stick to a maximum of 4 per day. These are the kinds of things you should test yourself, however.
  • Don’t forget to tweet on the weekends.
  • Tweet around noon and 6 PM to maximize clicks, and around 5 PM to maximize retweets.
  • Use hashtags (to take part in discussions), images, and don’t be afraid to ask for retweets (unless you’re looking for clicks).

The most important thing to remember is that you should typically use Twitter for its primary purpose: as a platform for sharing bite-size pieces of information.