At SMX Social Media Marketing, experts shared insights on high-performing Twitter marketing strategies. Here's Brafton's top 10 Twitter marketing takeaways.

“Social marketing is all about hustle,” Kurt Krejny, director of online marketing for Fathom, said at SMX Social Marketing.

While it may be a fast-paced marketing platform, Twitter marketing success takes careful planning. This is a challenging but certainly not impossible feat: Brafton has reported that Fortune 500 companies say Twitter marketing offers the most social ROI. SMX speakers in a session entitled Boosting Business with Twitter Marketing offered insights on how to create and promote Twitter content that can engage and convert social audiences.

Here’s a recap of the top 10 tips offered in this session: 

1. Set clear Twitter marketing goals before you launch a campaign.

Defining better social success measures is a hot topic in the world of new media marketing (it was theme at the recent SES Chicago conference, too). Krejny advised marketers to set reasonable Twitter KPIs before they start their campaigns as this should influence the content they share. The reasons businesses adopt Twitter marketing will vary, but the SMX experts suggested success metrics include brand visibility, a positive impact on search rankings, more links, more traffic, improving customer service and customer experience  and – to an extent – socially derived sales.

The bottom line is that marketers’ Twitter campaigns can’t exist in a bubble: It must be part of an integrated online marketing approach that aligns with overarching business goals. Mathew Guiver, paid search manager of e-storm international, told marketers to ask themselves, “What do you ultimately want followers to do? Think about desired actions first!” 

2. Have quality landing pages and/or blog content to back up your Tweets

Before marketers start worrying about what to put in their Tweets, they should evaluate their site assets. The experts all suggested that – as with any social campaign – a goal for Twitter should be to bring users to your website, so it needs to be ready for visitors.

James Zolman, CEO of QualityScores.com, shared a case study in which a campaign with “newbie landing pages” and a lack of content marketing led to failure in Twitter marketing. The site content had no valuable information, containing nothing but overt sales pitches. For a related Promoted Tweet campaign, none of the traffic that ended up at the site converted. (He also suggested this site missed an opportunity to share existing web content because its site content was bad.)

Kerjny made a similar point about drawing from site content as a way to find shareable content, encouraging marketers to do inventory on their sites and see which web pages are worth sharing, which brings us to the next tip… 

3. Research which Twitter content will engage your audiences

Marketers should do some social listening to determine what Twitter audiences will be interested in. The experts encouraged brands to use free analytics on Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube to see which industry topics audiences are buzzing about and join the Twitter conversation. Using hashtags to become visible in related searches is a great way to become part of the conversation (and maybe a no-brainer for someTwitter marketers).

Brafton also recommends tuning in to forums like Yahoo Answers and Quora: Marketers can discover industry questions people are asking, address these in a blog post, then share on Twitter. And, for those looking for trending issues, Google Trends offer great insights on what’s hot in search. Since Tweets are indexed quickly, this might also offer a little search lift. (Of course, inclusion of trending topics requires that brands make these issues relevant to their audiences!)

Once you start Tweeting, the experts suggested some tools that demonstrate which content is most successful for your business, including:

Getting the content right is key to Twitter success. As Brafton has reported, 47 percent of users say they follow brands because of interesting Tweet content.

4. Create categories for top influencers in your industry and send targeted messages

Once you have a sense of which topics are important for your industry, you can go deeper to investigate which of these topics are most relevant to specific influencers. Simply Measured offers a breakdown of followers that can help with micro-targeting. 

Krejny advised marketers to then manipulate “certain messages for optimal influencer impact.” Will they respond to how-to articles? Product information? Data-driven infographics? Consider the influencer and your ultimate business goal to get these messages in front of them. One way to do this is by determining which content buckets are most pertinent to key individuals and @mentioning them (with discretion) with a relevant piece of information.

5. Seamlessly Tweet your top converting site pages in combination with dynamic content

While you want to include trending, dynamic content in your Tweets, the experts also reminded SMX attendees that it it’s OK to occassionally share your top converting landing pages. It’s smart to get top-performing pages to a wide audience. To avoid being too promotional, write a compelling tie-in or make the landing page relevant to trending issues (ie: reference a holiday shopping trend and link to your ecommerce page).

6. Create a Twitter content calendar

If you’re balancing messages for multiple audiences, trying to get in trending topics, distributing your site content and sharing key landing pages, you need to set a calendar to keep it all straight. The experts agreed that getting organized and understanding when to post what is a vital component to Twitter marketing success.

Krejny recommended marketers check out Twitalyzer to see when their followers are most active, and the tool boasts it can tell marketers “exactly when you need to be active to reach them.” 

7. Become an early adopter of Promoted Tweets

One of the first points Guiver made about Twitter marketing is that businesses should take advantage of Promoted Tweets now. Twitter ad revenue is expected to reach $400 million by 2013. But right now, “the competition is low and so are the prices,” he said. The minimum cost per engagement bid for promoted Tweets is currently $0.50. He expects these rates won’t last long as 80 percent of Twitter advertisers have made more than one ad purchase (which he expects is due to ROI).

In fact, Guiver suggests that 200 percent return on ad spend is a fair average for what his clients are seeing with Promoted Tweets. (He explains that marketers don’t pay for impressions and they only pay for the first two engagements a given user has with a Promoted Tweet – ie: a click and an @reply, and then no payment for the subsequent Retweet from the same user.)

8. Add RELEVANT trending content in Promoted Tweets to mazimize visibility/ reach

This point overlaps with the idea that it’s important to research topics that will engage Twitter audiences, but the experts pointed out that trending topics have an added advantage in the world of Promoted Tweets. As Zolman pointed out, Promoted Tweets have a short lifespan. However, one way to make the most of Promoted Tweets is capitalizing on trending topics. This can boost the reach and (potentially) expand the life span of a Promoted Tweet.

Guiver shared a successful Promoted Tweet where one company had a $1,111 giveaway on 11/11/11.

Of course, marketers must proceed with caution when adding trending topics. Zolman pointed to an incident where CreditLoan.com used the trending phrase #WorstFeeling to try to bring up the point that it feels bad if you’re not able to pay off loans. Some people were annoyed with the company’s use of this phrase and deemed it insensitive. The @replies indicated that consumers thought it was distasteful of CreditLoan.com (to say the least). Here’s a snapshot of some of the replies.

P.S. CreditLoan paid for these responses since they count as engagement with the Promoted Tweets.

Moral of the story: Be discerning and remember RELEVANCE IS ESSENTIAL when including trends in Tweets.

9. DO NOT add hashtags in Promoted Tweets.

Guiver pointed out that it’s best to avoid hashtags around trending topics used in Promoted Tweets: Clicks on these trendy phrases will cost a business, and they’ll bring users to search results for other Tweets with the same hashtag (where brands may have minimal presence).

Instead, make sure the “clickable” content in Promoted Tweets will take users back to a branded content page (see tip No. 2!). You only want to pay for clicks that could lead to conversions – not those that will users to search results where your brand will have minimal presence.

10. Use multiple measurements and analytics tools to understand Twitter returns. 

To understand how Twitter really plays into conversions, Krejny suggests that marketers need to go back to the KPIs they initially set and use the appropriate tools to measure each one. 

Marketers trying to understand how Twitter is helping brand reach can check out Twitalyzer to see which communities they are influential in. Find more in Brafton’s related blog post: Free tools to quantify your social influence.

If more traffic or increased conversions are a goal, they need to be measured accordingly. Using Google Analytics to measure the traffic from Twitter and tracking dlvr.it clicks can help brands determine whether Twitter brings (valuable) traffic gains. Look at traffic driven by Twitter to your site. How does it compare to organic search traffic? PPC? Other social channels?

Also, tracking coupon codes can help measure whether Twitter act on promotions, and getting comfortable with multi-channel funnels in analytics can help businesses determine whether or not Twitter is playing into conversions.

Because, Krejny points out, Twitter updates are public and quickly indexed by search engines, there could also be a lot of intangible SEO benefits to social media marketing on the microblogging site. Businesses should try to balance measuring direct ROI and the added search benefits – even if it means working with agencies or CRM solutions.

These tips should come in handy for a number of brands. And SMBs should remember Twitter has value to them, as well: A new study from Ad-ology (relayed by MarketingProfs) shows that more than half of small businesses say Twitter has proven beneficial for business. 

Katherine Griwert is Brafton's Marketing Director. She's practiced content marketing, SEO and social marketing for over five years, and her enthusiasm for new media has even deeper roots. Katherine holds a degree in American Studies from Boston College, and her writing is featured in a number of web publications.