Tuesday 20 October 2009

Twitter Account Syndication Made Simple

So, you have your company Twitter account or accounts and you are managing them competently with Cotweet or Hootsuite and your departments are tweeting about the right stuff. (See previous post). But how to make the best of your Twitter output? How to show off your accounts so they get followed by the right people inside and outside you business?

This is the first part of our simple guide to Twitter syndication. It will show you how easy it is to embed feeds into your company's web pages. The second part will look specifically at putting them into your WebAdvantage® site.

The simplest way of syndicating is to insert a link to a Twitter account which says "Follow us on Twitter" or "Follow our Chemical Division's tweets". There are any number of free Twitter icons you can incorporate in this link - have a look at the free giveaway icons at Smashing Magazine. A simple link like that might just suit your style. However it is much more eye-catching to give people a taste of what they would be getting if they followed you - live content which refreshes regularly always being a good draw.

The first thing to do is to find and save the RSS feed for each of your Twitter accounts. Go to the profile page of of the account and look at the bottom of the right sidebar as illustrated below. There you will see the link to the RSS feed for your tweets.

Click on it an you will see something like this:

Bookmark, or copy & paste the URL from the address bar to a safe place for future reference.

The next thing to do is put the feed in a badge or widget so it can be embedded in a webpage. These are kinds of miniature feed-reeders which can be easily incorporated in the HTML of a webpage. There are many different services which will generate widgets for free, and blogs have their own gadgets for putting RSS feeds in the sidebar. In Blogger, for example, click on 'Customise' > 'Add a Gadget'; then scroll down until you find 'Feed' > click '+' > 'Configure' > choose options > 'Save' and you get something like ours in your sidebar, which has conformed to the 'style' of the blog. Scroll down this blog until you see it in the right sidebar.

However, that is Google doing it for you. In an ordinary webpage you need to use one of the free services already mentioned to generate the code for you. My preference is for Yahoo Pipes, about which I have already blogged. It may seem a bit 'OTT' to use Pipes for a single feed, but I like their customisable badges, and besides, Pipes is very useful for doing more complicated things with your feed(s), as I will demonstrate below, so it is right and proper to do everything in the same style.

Imagine you have four or five departmental Twitter accounts. You might like the idea of showing them off by putting them on your home page as a single feed, sorted into publication date order. Visitors to your site would see that different posts were generated by different accounts and when they clicked on an individual post they would be taken to the particular generating Twitter account. This can be done very easily with Yahoo Pipes.

Here is a snapshot of the four merged Twitter feeds I made at Yahoo Pipes:

The top four modules gather the Twitter RSS feeds; then 'Union' does what it says and puts them into a single feed. If you have more than five feeds to merge you will need to use an extra 'Union'. In the unlikely event you have more than nine, you will have to use a third, and so on. The new single feed is then piped through a 'Sort' module - in this case set to present the posts in publication time/date order.

If you would like to make your own version, save a clone of my Pipe, which I have made public, and then modify to suit your Twitter feeds.

To put the result in a webpage, click on 'Get as a badge',
then 'Embed', and copy & paste the generated script into your page, where it will pick up the style of the page for body text and links etc.

In Part Two I will look at putting Twitter feeds in a WebAdvantage® site.

Go to this post's page at www.zinepal.com and get the PDF file or perform various sharing actions.

Monday 12 October 2009

How can you manage multiple Twitter accounts for business?

Let's say you are a medium to large company with several departments - something like Chemicals, Pharmaceuticals, Mining, Exploration, Personnel and R&D. Each of them has an official blog and a Twitter account. Both the blogs and the Twitter accounts probably have a selection of people with posting permissions. You are in charge of the whole shebang. How do you get 'your ducks in row'?

One of the simplest levels of organisation is provided by Twirl. This is very useful if you need to continuously monitor posts in several Twitter streams at the same - while actively engaged in other activities on your computer. You can load all your Twitter accounts and have them sit on your desktop like this:

If Twirl is minimised, your Twitter accounts sit in the tray and pop up a little window every time any of the streams is updated, in the same way that the desktop tool for the private group micro-blogging service Yammer works. Twirl also handles replies, Direct Messages and URL shortening as well as image sharing, searching and filters. Definitely recommended for those who need to keep a constant eye on what is going on - and will work perfectly well alongside the other tools we suggest you use.

And that means you need some serious organisation as well. Tweetdeck is highly thought of by many people and it does have the extra feature that you can tie in a Facebook or Myspace account as well. This is useful if you are a Global Brand and are regarded as a 'Lifestyle Brand' by devotees on those Social Networking sites. But if yours is an ordinary boring business in the eyes of the world at large - however big - then, as I have said before, have an FB page by all means as an extra point of contact but keep it reasonably passive and you don't need Tweetdeck in order to feed that page with blog or Twitter feeds.

Personally I much prefer Cotweet or Hootsuite. They perform very similar jobs. Cotweet aims itself specifically at companies (Cotweet = Company-Tweet. Geddit?). Their strapline is "How business does Twitter" and incidently they have a number of those Global Lifestyle Brands mentioned above as users. Ford, Starbucks, Coca Cola and Pepsi to mention a few. However I think Hootsuite, whose strapline is "The professional Twitter client" and has its own Global Lifestyle Brand users, has a clearer, fresher interface. Cotweet is just a bit standard, serious bluey-silvery-grey-transparent for me - I happen to prefer Hootsuite's brighter and quirky sky blue, olivy-green and white layout. By such little things fortunes and empires are made and lost!

But seriously, they both do an excellent job. You can set up multiple users on multiple accounts. The multiple accounts are tabbed and inside each tab you can make posts, see replies and direct messages and set up keyword feeds (in the way Tweetizen works) to see who is talking about you. For example, we at Glanton have one for WebAdvantage®, DNN and DotNetNuke. Also, you can look at a range of statistics about each of your Twitter accounts. And, very usefully, you can set up 'pending tweets' which will be automatically posted on a later date and at at a time specified by you.

This brings me on to the whole business of automatic tweets. You need to be careful (see Tom's Twitter Rules). Automated tweeting, if not obvious to the reader, and with obvious reasons for doing it, can be very tedious and a turn-off. An 'Unfollow' situation. But used sensibly and with good reason it is very useful. For an example, dates in the future when your company is attending a trade show or confererence: tweet normally when you first get the info, then set up one or more automatic reminders to post nearer the time. Or use to post tweets of regular occurences - maybe special offers at your e-commerce site on the first of every month. Or maybe a bit of corporate image building with historical dates: "On this day in 1921 our founder, J. Arthur Blogs Snr. made the first plastic picnic set in his basement in Peoria." You can set up any number in advance. But please, use sensibly! An automatic tweet which just says "Hey, look at us!" is stupid and a waste of time and counts as spam for most people.

One more tool which counts as automatic tweeting. I should point out that at time of writing Hootsuite can do this, but Cotweet doesn't seem to have set it up yet, so if you want to use the latter you should also consider Twitterfeed. This is very useful for making tweets about your blog updates. Load your blog feeds or other RSS feeds, then choose how often you want Twitterfeed to check for new content (range is 30mins to 24 hours), and then select which Twitter account(s) should receive the update. And then forget it - it just gets on with it. For a big company with lots of blogs and a number of Twitter accounts like our imaginary one at the top of this piece, it is perfect. And posting about a new update to a blog surely can't be spamming in anybody's book. You might have one main company Twitter account which takes all the company blog updates, while individual departmental Twitter accounts might only need the update tweet from their own blog or blogs.

So, to summarise. Use Cotweet or Hootsuite for your main Twitter organisation. Use Twirl on your own desktop when you don't want to have one of the former open, but want to keep an eye on what's going on. Use Twitterfeed to make auto-tweets about blog or feed updates.

Next time I want to have a look at putting your Twitter feed(s) in websites, concentrating on how to use in a WebAdvantage® site.

And finally, just a little memo: No payola here! We are not paid to recommend any other companies or their products.

Go to this post's page at www.zinepal.com and get the PDF file or perform various sharing actions.