Using Twitter for Product Management
'I've come to realize Twitter is not about # of followers you have, but quality of tweets of those you follow!' @highrockmedia
As a product manager, I am constantly looking for new ways to understand the market, users, and competitors for the products we build. It’s critical that every piece of information gathered is based on real-world data. This gives us the power to make intelligent, well-informed decisions.
Over the last 5 years, I have used social media as one method of collecting data, dramatically increasing the ability to find our true end users. And through these outlets, gained a better understanding of our customers’ overall profile, current industry trends, and information about competitors, keeping us in-the-know.
One outlet I use extensively is Twitter.
Oh no, not another article about Twitter!
Before you stop reading, hang in there. I’m not going to tell you that Twitter will increase your leads, or is the next “great thing”, or that you have to be as clever as @Zappos (one of the best tweeters around). In fact, when using Twitter for product management purposes, you need to engage differently than just setting up an account, and sending out tweets.
To gain real value, you need to treat your Twitter account as an RSS feed, and use it to collate all of the relevant people in your industry: the experts, the analysts, your customers, the competitors, and your competitors’ customers.
By reading the tweets of those relevant to your company, you will be the first to know about competitive announcements, analyst predictions, user problems, and often, customers feel about each of the above.
But how do you amass this information?
First, you need to find your Tweeple. Then, you follow them. And, finally, you need to really respect them.
Here’s a little secret: Tweeple (people who use Twitter) are your competitors’ customers, industry experts, and end users. More importantly, they LOVE to talk about everything. While they are sharing tidbits with the world, in 140 characters, they are also providing you with information on building the best product to meet your users’ needs while often innocently identifying your competitors’ weaknesses.
Tweeple are amazing! End users post frequently, discussing the pains of their jobs, the failures and features of the products they use, sharing tips with each other, and in between those posts, they are parents, avid sports fans, online gamers, and beer aficionados. On top of it all, they are often well-informed about the analysts’ take on our space.
To put it in layman’s terms: they are by far better than any RSS feed you could create to find industry announcements; not to mention they are also fun.
Twit-cred: Street-cred for Twitter
Many people don’t realize that behind those pixel-y icons and short text messages are real people and they want to be respected. Make no mistake, if you start sending them dozens of direct messages, you will be treated like a telemarketer calling at dinner time.
My philosophy is pretty simple: Stop, search, and listen.
If you really want to learn, you need to “listen”. Product management research through Twitter is very much like sitting in a real user interview. It is your job to sit and listen to what the world is saying, filter and identify what’s important, and only when you really, really need to, ask questions that help clarify your understanding.
When in doubt, don’t type.
So, how do I start?
- Create a Product Manager personal twitter account.
Don’t use the corporate Twitter account. This account is for relaying information about your company, and should not be intertwined with research. Besides, if you do gain any interesting follower, it will just annoy them to see all of the corporate announcements.
Clearly identify yourself. This is about integrity. In my personal profile, I chose to clearly identify myself as a Product Manager for my company, making sure that no one ever wonders who I am. Being upfront about your position and intentions is important; no need to act like a spy when all of the information is public.
If you are looking to gain followers, post your personal picture. Social media is about you getting to know people. They are more likely to keep you as a follower if they view you as a person and not a corporation.
- Set up a Twitter search using a tool like Twitterfeed or TweetDeck.
Searching for the information you need is much like Googling. Using Twitter.com is great, but having automated searches through tools like those above allows you to set up keywords that search all public Twitter accounts. Search terms can include a list of competitors, their product names, industry standard terms, and details about your own company (product names, executive staff names, etc.).
- Start “following” the people whose posts interest you.
When the searches return something that is relevant or of interest, “follow” that user. Take a few minutes to search through the past posts of all of the users you follow to see if you can make a profile of them and understand where they fit in the matrix: Are they a prospect, customer, competitor, expert?
You can also search on people who are known experts in your industry. Gartner and Forrester are great sources of information and most of their analysts have Twitter accounts.
Create only relevant postings.
Beware the chronic poster!
No one really needs to know what you are doing every 5 minutes, at least not as a product manager. You’ll need to find your own rhythm, but try posting something only every few days in the beginning. Remember, this account is not for marketing your products, nor is it for sales. Use it to ask questions or maybe share a good article you read on your industry. If you keep it relevant, you will find that people will respond. If you post irrelevant information, you will lose your followers, and may end up being blocked.
So, I guess twatching all of these people may make me a bit like Twiiter-azzi, but having fun while learning a great deal should help you in your job. Keep it respectful and you’ll find there is an amazing amount of information at your fingertips.
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