As one of the fastest growing online communication platforms, Twitter can give self-storage operators a way to become known and trusted in their communities. It’s a free service that enables registered users to send “tweets,” text-based posts up to 140 characters to every one of the author’s followers.
There are already hundreds of self-storage operators on Twitter, but the vast majority are still sitting on the sidelines. For those currently using this social-media outlet or considering it, here are four simple guidelines to help you get the most business benefit from the time you invest.
Twitter falls into a category of online communication tools generally referred to as “social media.” The operative word here is social, and to be social, you have to be human. People connect with other people, and so you want your Twitter presence to have a human feel. Here are recommendations to help you accomplish this objective.
Your profile description should clearly indicate there’s a human at the controls. Your profile description and photograph are the first things people consider before choosing to follow you. The mantra “to be human” should flow through to your tweets.
When a potential follower sees your account, he’ll also look at what you tweet. Tweet about events in your community, yourself or your business, but keep self-promotion to a minimum. If all you ever broadcast is your current move-in special, people in your target market will ignore you. They don’t want to read ads on Twitter.
Small Talk Makes the World Go 'Round
Twitter and other social-media communication platforms have been criticized because users share too many details about day-to-day life. The criticism is merited in many cases, but that doesn't mean you should avoid sharing some of your activities.
If you think of Twitter as similar to a networking event or chamber mixer happening online, it becomes clear why this type of sharing is appropriate. Relax and just accept that small talk is OK, and it's just a corollary to the first recommendation to be human.
Listen to Your Target Audience
Most self-storage operators are missing the biggest benefit of Twitter because they’re not listening. You listen by following people in your target geography. By listening to your target customers, you’ll learn how the Twitter community works and how to fit in. Those who read your tweets will see you as “one of them,” rather than a clueless business to be ignored.
Listening also helps you find leads. Because most people are not currently shopping for storage, your tweets about move-in specials are likely to be irrelevant to the majority of people in your target market. However, if a Twitter user in your market is talking about moving, packing boxes or needs a moving truck, he may be in the small percent primed and ready to hear about your move-in specials. Twitter gives you the power to find him.
To find people talking about their need for storage or other related activities that may lead to the need for storage, you can use Twitter's advanced search tool, http://search.twitter.com/advanced. This allows you to search for keywords like “storage,” “moving” or “packing” and confine your search to a certain geography.
When you find someone in your target geography who mentions something that indicates he might need a storage space, you can send a direct message through Twitter called an @reply. In this way, you can begin a dialogue online about whether you can help.
Finally, listening gives you something to talk about other than yourself. You’ll hear about community events and the successes of the people you follow. Listening also allows you reply to the people in your target market and turn Twitter into a relationship-building tool, not just a one-way broadcast medium.
Put Down Roots
It takes time to learn the norms on Twitter, one of which is to be human. The other norms you’ll pick up by listening and interacting. People (your target market) won’t take you seriously or pay attention to you until you have earned their trust. David Meerman Scott, author of New Rules of Marketing and PR, calls this relationship building “putting down roots.”
Just like with a plant, putting down roots doesn't happen overnight. Twitter gives you access to hundreds or thousands of people in your target market, but it takes a while to build relationships, so don't give up too early. You must plant and cultivate before you can harvest.
Slow and Steady Wins this Race
Some storage operators worry that Twitter will become a big time-waster. One of the beauties of Twitter is everything outlined in this article can be done in 20 minutes or less a day. It doesn't matter if you only find four relevant people to follow the first day.
Invest 20 minutes, then come back to it tomorrow. Send a few tweets, find a few people to follow, reply to a few interesting comments, then come back the next day. There’s no need to continually monitor what’s happening on Twitter. Not only would it be difficult, other Twitter users don't expect it. Small consistent actions are much more important than massive action on an infrequent basis.
Twitter is a free tool that gives you access to people in your target geography and allows you to begin building relationships with them. It allows you to become known, liked and trusted by the people who you hope will rent from you when they have a need for storage.
You'll fit in and find new renters and admirers when you approach Twitter as a human representing a business, engage in small talk, listen and converse, and take the time to learn the ropes and gain trust.
Kenny Pratt is president of Crescendo Properties, a self-storage investment and fee-management firm operating 15 properties in the western United States. For more information, e-mail [email protected]; visit www.sellingstorage.com.