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Twitter: Are you drowning in the firehose?

Twitter has become a lot noisier of late. By the end of 2011, Twitter’s own statistics revealed that we reached 200 million tweets per day, up from 140 million per day at the start of the year. According to data from social media monitoring company Brandwatch, tweets during the England vs Ukraine Euro 2012 game peaked at 3,200 per minute, while British Airways has been mentioned in conjunction with the Olympics over 42,000 times in the last month alone. That’s a lot of buzz.

Amongst all the noise, businesses are supposed to be able to use Twitter to communicate with customers, partners, suppliers and prospects. We’re expected to have a social media strategy, policy, guidelines, best practice document and crisis plan. We’re told that we need social media monitoring, sentiment analysis, segmented influencer lists, and in-depth measurement of social media’s effect on sales.

But good use of social media doesn’t have to be like this.

Before you tweet on behalf of your organization, think about whether you really should. Don’t be like Nike, who had its campaign banned due to its sponsored celebrities tweeting promotional messages without disclosing their affiliation. Don’t be like Argyll & Bute Council, who stopped a 9 year-old girl from posting photos of her school dinners, only to realize how quickly the internet to rise to support an underdog. Don’t be like actress Sofia Escobar, who responded sarcastically to a disgruntled fan and quickly found out that a winky face doesn’t always translate.

Let’s look at a couple of stories where things have gone right. Volvo, for example, switched its own social media marketing strategy from consumers to businesses in 2011. The company consolidated its output through one channel – a News & Media section on its website – and was more selective about the information it shared and the conversations it entered. Sales increased 17% in Q1 2012, compared to 2011. Read into that what you will.

Avanade, an IT specialist owned by Microsoft and Accenture (and, to give you full disclosure – unlike Wayne Rooney did during the Nike campaign – a client of mine) uses Twitter to share personalized video content with key customers it meets at events. They measure the results in leads, not buzz, as this provides a far more effective way to track success.

So how should companies behave on Twitter? By being selective, that’s how. Responding to every mention of your company’s brand name or tweeting every piece of news that comes from within your organization is not necessary. A bit of groundwork can save a lot of time and trouble, and selectiveness results in success. Twitter might be a firehose, but that doesn’t mean drowning is the only option.