Benefits and Compensation

Twitter: All You Need to Know

By Jennifer Benz, Benz Communications

If you’re not yet using Twitter, you may think the ubiquitous site—that asks “what are you doing?” and gives you only 140 characters to answer—is just a bunch of nonsense and online noise.

But, before you dismiss Twitter as just an Ashton Kutcher—and Oprah Winfrey-inspired fad, read on to learn why Twitter is valuable for benefits professionals—and how to get started.

What Is Twitter Anyway?

Twitter is a simple, public platform that lets you exchange information with people through short notes called “Tweets.” Anyone can read your Tweets by “following” you (essentially, subscribing to your page) or viewing your profile page.

You can also use countless search tools and third-party applications to search through all the Tweets based on key words or topics of interest.

What makes Twitter interesting is that the millions of people using it are having short, ongoing conversations, ranging from simply entertaining or silly to detailed and thought-provoking, depending, of course, on the people and the topics.

Many people describe Twitter as an online cocktail party or a crowded room: On first glance, there’s just a bunch of noise, but if you listen a little more closely, you’ll see that people are exchanging all kinds of interesting and valuable information—or, just having a good time.

Why Is It Valuable?

Twitter has many valuable applications—especially for business. SmartPulse, a weekly reader poll in Smartbrief on Social Media, tracks feedback from leading marketers about social media practices and issues.

A recent poll asked, “What is the primary way you use Twitter?”, and these were the responses:

  • Staying on top of breaking news/trends, 42%
  • Broadcast messages and announcements about your company, 23%
  • Staying in touch with friends and family, 13%
  • Prospecting and lead generation, 9%
  • Monitoring what’s being said about you or your company, 8%
  • Customer service, 5%

Those are all very relevant for benefits and HR professionals—particularly staying on top of news and trends and understanding what’s being said about your company.

Twitter is also a great source for entertainment news (there are countless celebrities to follow) or to follow your passion or a hobby.

How to Get Started

Using Twitter and observing the interactions is the best way to understand the value. All you have to do is sign up and you’ll be started in no time.

Sign up. Simply go to www.twitter.com to sign up. Use your real name or something close to it if you can. Post a good photo. Put some thought and detail into your brief profile description.

Learn the Lingo

Twitter has a language all its own.

@replies and DMs and RT

You can direct a Tweet at another person using the @reply. This lets your reader know that you’re responding to or directing that comment at someone specific—and the person you’re talking to will see it in his or her browser.

It is an easy way to “converse” on Twitter—but remember that it is all public. A DM, or Direct Message, is a private Tweet—you send it only to one person and only he or she can see it. It is kind of like Twitter’s version of e-mail, but with a character limit, of course.

You’ll also see “RT” show up often on Twitter. That is short for “Re-Tweet,” and it just means that you’re passing along information that someone else posted. The original poster will likely thank you for the Re-Tweet, and that is a good way to grow followers.

You’ll see that the Twitter community is very gracious and, in general, very polite; most people are generous with their “thank yous” and very conscientious to acknowledge where they get information.  

#Hashtags

Hashtags are a way to tag a Tweet with a specific topic. The hashtags evolve and change quickly depending on what topics are hot on any given day.

Many conferences send out a specific hashtag for attendees to use when Tweeting. It allows anyone to easily follow a conversation or specific topic through search applications.

You can also see what topics are trending up—or being talked about a lot—on any given day by following the hashtags on the side of your Twitter profile. When big news events are taking place, whether it is the swine flu or politics or an election, you can use hashtag searches to watch the conversation in real time.  

Strange URLs

You’ll also see a lot of crazy looking URLs in Tweets. Never fear, those are just from many of the third-party applications like TinyURL that shorten long Web addresses so they don’t take up so much precious space in your posts.

Some Do’s:

Get Followers (or Not)

Many people strive to gain new followers and attract attention from the Twitter community. This is the trickiest part of Twitter, and there is no magic formula for gaining followers. And it may not be something you need to worry about at all.

Whether you want to get droves of followers or prefer to stick to a close group of friends, my advice is to be authentic and be yourself. Don’t overthink it, but posts that are specific, relevant, and have some personality will be most interesting to other people (including your friends!).

You can post what you’re reading, working on, doing, or observing. It is true, no one really cares that you’re buying a coffee or eating an apple, but if doing one of those things puts you in an interesting place with interesting people, then it just may be worth a Tweet.

Or, don’t worry about posting frequently or luring followers at all. You can identify people or topics that you’re interested in and observe the conversation and post when you have something to contribute.

There are no set rules for how to use Twitter, and there is no reason you need to get a lot of followers (but I would recommend you read the “don’ts” so that you get the most out of your experience).

Join Twitter Chats

Twitter chats are a scheduled “meet-up” on Twitter to discuss a particular topic. You can follow the discussion through hashtags or a search. They are a great way to maximize the value of your time on Twitter and connect with individuals in your field.

Organize with Twitter Applications

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Twitter applications. These are tools or websites or mobile phone applications that let you interact with and use the information in Twitter in different ways.

A quick search online will generate an overwhelming number of potential applications to use. But, they will make a huge difference in how you experience Twitter.

Hootsuite and TweetDeck are two examples of essential applications that let you organize your Twitter world.

Some Don’ts:

  • Don’t have long conversations using the @reply feature–take it to e-mail or phone or in-person
  • Don’t aggressively market yourself—or anything else. Social media is most effective for the individuals and brands that are authentic. If you add value, people will appreciate your contribution. 
  • Don’t post anything you don’t want your boss, employees, kids, mom, or whomever to see—remember, it is all public! 

In next month’s issue, we’re going to teach you how to use Twitter to broadcast messages and announcements about your company’s benefits—and even use it for employee service.

Meanwhile, Benz Communications recently launched a Twitter profile to reinforce how much you can say about benefits. You can access it at http://http://twitter.com/benefitstip. It just might inspire you to dip your toe into the Twitter waters.

2 Jennifer Benz is the founder of Benz Communications (www.benzcommunications.com). Benz Communications is a Human Resources communications strategy boutique creating integrated employee benefits communications programs that increase employee understanding, engagement, and satisfaction and enhance employee recruitment and retention. Its clients include Fortune 500 companies, Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For, and small- to mid-size companies.

Jennifer can be reached at jen@benzcommunications.com or on Twitter @jenbenz.

Healthcare Reform: Dependent Coverage To the Age of 26

Effective for plan years beginning on or after September 23, 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as amended by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 requires group health plans and health insurers that offer group or individual coverage that cover dependents to cover dependents on a parent’s plan until the dependent’s 26th birthday.

For plan years beginning before January 1, 2014, a group health plan that was in existence on March 23, 2010, does not have to make coverage available to an adult child if the child is eligible to enroll in another employer-sponsored group health plan.

There is no requirement to make coverage available to a grandchild, even if that child’s parent is covered as a dependent.

Regulations are to be issued defining which dependents to whom coverage must be made available because of this requirement. The definitions of a dependent under existing law, however, remain unchanged.

Employers will likely have to cover additional dependents because of this provision. Keeping track of the coverage eligibility of dependents has always been a problem for employers.

Employers are advised to obtain all the information needed for determining dependents’ coverage eligibility before this provision impacts their plan and keep it up to date to minimize paying for ineligible dependents.

Many states have existing laws that require insured plans to provide similar or more expansive coverage of dependents. These provisions still apply to insured plans in those states.

Along with this provision regarding extended coverage for dependent children, several other crucial provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will become effective September 23, 2010.

You can get ready for the changes by ordering BLR’s exclusive webinar recording, “Healthcare Reform: What the New Legislation Means for Employers; Get Prepared Now,” specifically designed around all the new changes that employers need to know about.

Learn from two experts what the changes mean, when they’re taking effect, and what you should do right now to prepare your organization (and your employees) for what lies ahead.

Go to http://catalog.blr.com/product.cfm/product/30579515 to learn more or order now!