Time to Tweet? the Social Media Twitter Isn't Right for Every Bank. but If You Are Interested in Instant Online Interaction with Your Public, Twitter Can Be a Smart Way to Get the Dialogue Started

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Let's face it: Twitter isn't for everybody. The micro-blogging platform is far from being the largest social network in size, and its retention factor is debatable. What Twitter does offer is a passionate core following and instantaneous online interaction with people and businesses.

For banks, Twitter is a new way to connect directly with an engaged audience and to build meaningful digital relationships. With Twitter's real-time component, the site offers an unprecedented opportunity for customer service outreach.

Twitter entered the social scene in 2006 and has experienced significant growth in the past year (Nielson Online reported over 1,000 percent). With an estimated 6 million-plus users, Twitter offers a platform for people to easily and instantaneously share what's going on in their personal and professional lives. Unlike other social networks, most Twitter accounts are public, and businesses have flocked to the site to join in this open conversation.

There are hundreds of financial institutions on Twitter. The successful ones have adapted Twitter as a two-way communications stream that has allowed them to be more accessible and relevant to their online public. Listening, responding and maintaining relevancy are the keys for banks building a presence on this site.

Twitter basics

The best way to understand Twitter is to make the leap and become a personal user. There is a Twitter language and culture to learn once you're active on the site.

Twitter users communicate via short updates, called tweets of 140 characters or less. To get started on Twitter, you'll want to choose the best username, or handle for your bank. Your handle identifies your Twitter stream and other users can direct tweets to your bank by adding an "@" sign before the handle name. These are called replies, as any user can publicly message your account on Twitter. It's important to note when a follower tweets a reply to your bank, that all of their followers can see this message. Twitter keeps track of these replies for your account. Check your replies often to see who is talking to-and about--your bank.

On Twitter, users become followers when they decide to opt in to receive, or "follow" a specific account's stream of tweets. It's a best practice to refollow and become a follower of those following your own account. Many business accounts make the mistake of not refollowing. Remember, Twitter is not a one-way broadcast stream to your followers. You also want to follow their streams with the intention of future engagement.

When a user finds a tweet that he or she wants to repost and share, one can retweet the update. Retweets, which are important to your bank, are identified with an "RT" somewhere in the tweet. If you come across a positive tweet about your bank, you'll want to share that with the rest of your following by retweeting.

Private messages on Twitter are known as direct messages or DMs, which only the author and recipient can view and respond to. Direct messages are important to take a conversation further with a follower. For example, if a follower wants to know more details about something, you could tell him or her to "DM for more info." Both direct messages and replies are tabs on your Twitter homepage for easy monitoring.

Ready, set, tweet

Twitter accounts allow for a thumbnail photo, brief bio, Web site URL and your location to be listed on your homepage. There are customized design opportunities to take advantage of with your bank's Twitter background. You can list any security disclosures and financial relationships (FDIC/DIF/Equal Housing Lender) to meet compliance standards while keeping the design light and fun.

When you first create your Twitter account, it's important to jump-start your following by taking advantage of Twitter Search and finding/following users in your branch and surrounding areas. …