In recent weeks, Twitter has made headlines with the quiet launch of its experimental Nearby timeline, which allows eligible mobile users to discover tweets posted by others in their immediate vicinity, regardless of whether they are following them.
This feature is currently available to a select number of users who have opted-in to allow their location information to be shared on Twitter. Nearby appears as its own tab alongside the Home tab within Twitter’s mobile apps.
As shown above, the tool features a map with the user’s location indicated, surrounded by pins for the locations of other users who have recently tweeted. Users accessing Nearby can click any of the pins to view and engage with the Twitter user and their content, whether they’re around the block or several miles away.
While Twitter has so far declined to comment on Nearby — saying instead that it is always testing out new features — marketers and analysts have already started to discuss the potential opportunities for local advertisers if the feature becomes a staple within the Twitter application.
The immediate focus has been on how Twitter might use Nearby to enable small businesses (as well as national businesses with local outlets) to promote sponsored tweets within the Nearby map to targeted users. Many feel that Nearby may be Twitter’s first stab at entering the local space in a way it hasn’t been able to up to this point.
Despite recognizing the potential local opportunities that Nearby provides, the feature is still in its beta stage and has not been released to all users on Twitter. In addition, users must opt-in to share their location, which means that the user pool is currently limited.
However, I believe that there are five simple (and free) steps that local businesses can pursue now to take advantage of this experimental tool and best position their Twitter efforts if and when the feature becomes permanent.
1. Opt-In To Share Your Location
Location services for Twitter accounts are “off” by default, so you will need to opt-in your mobile device to share your location in order to access Nearby. For iPhone users, go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services, and ensure that Location Services is turned on. Within the same screen, you can also grant permission for your Twitter app to access your location.
In order for your business’ tweets to appear within Nearby, you’ll need to ensure that your location is shared each time you compose a tweet from your mobile device. The tweet itself will include location information such as your latitude and longitude, or in some cases something more general like your town or city.
You’ll also need to make sure that you’re actually tweeting from your business’ physical location so that your location appears accurately on the map. You’ll want to turn off location services if/when you’re tweeting about your business but not actually present there (such as when you’re working from home).
2. Preview The Local Conversation
Next, spend several days previewing Nearby to better understand how it works and to observe the people and conversations taking place in your area. Toggle through the tweet pins that appear in the vicinity of your business to get a lay of the land. Also take advantage of the ability to scroll to locations outside your immediate area — the tool lets you see tweets taking place miles from your location.
It’s likely that many of the tweets you view will not be applicable to your business — but that’s to be expected. Instead, try to get a read for:
- Nearby Influencers. Those Twitter users with large and engaged followings who help to drive the conversation near your business location and may have interest in your business’ offerings.
- Key Locations Of Conversation. For example, nearby restaurants or store locations that generate the most user tweets, local sights that get the most photos, etc.
- Key Topics Of Conversation. What common topic threads, if any, are being discussed among users (e.g., traffic or road repairs, complaints about the closing of a favorite local store, etc.)? Also take note of topics of conversation being discussed by other local businesses in your area.
Once you’ve spent some time monitoring the local conversation, write down your findings and begin to brainstorm ways that you might engage and promote your business within the conversations taking place in your area.
3. Test-Run Engaging In The Local Conversation
As a business, it’s a somewhat daunting task to proactively engage with Twitter users you’ve never spoken to before without coming off as Big Brother. (“How did they find me?!”) Discovering opportunities to subtly enter into conversations with the people in your area is a balancing act that requires careful thought.
While every situation will be different — and, obviously the type of business you run will come into play — here are some thoughts on how you might leverage the knowledge you learn about local Twitter conversations to build your reputation and reach:
• Follow influencers in your area that you think may be interested in your products and services. If you think they may be open to it, tweet the influencers directly welcoming them to engage with you. For example, a local restaurant may tweet, “@johndoe, we’re meeting our neighbors and would love if you stopped by for 25% off.” If John comes for a meal, make his visit special. At the end, ask if he or she will help spread the word about your business locally on Twitter as an ambassador of your brand in exchange for an incentive.
• If you come across a tweet from a local user who is looking for a certain local product or service, reach out and share your expertise, even if the question isn’t related to your business. In doing so, you help to position your business as a good local citizen and resource. For example, your local shoe store might tweet, “@tomsmith, You should try @hardwarestore on 12th St. — they have a great selection.”
• Stop by and tweet from popular locations in your area, so others using Nearby are more likely to see your tweets. For example, if the local coffee shop is a hotspot for local tweeters, use your next visit to tweet something relevant about your current activity as well as your business. If you’re a local hardware store owner, you might tweet, “Grabbing a morning joe from @localbarista before our 20% off sale around the corner.”
• Along the same lines, if you’re attending a major event in your area like a baseball game or concert, join your business in the conversation. Use the appropriate event hashtag and tweet messages that both show your business’ human side and also subtly reference your offerings.
For example, a clothing store owner attending a baseball game might tweet, “Great night for #baseballteam, wearing the team jerseys and hats from our store!” along with a photo of you and your companion wearing the items. Or even something more direct: “Enjoying #baseballteam game! Stop by and show us this message tomorrow for 20% off!”
• Enter popular conversations taking place tied to neighborhood issues. If a nearby Twitter user is complaining about traffic, engage them with something like, “@janedoe, We feel your pain w/the traffic. Let things clear up while you enjoy our #happyhour — drink on us!”
• Take the opportunity to follow, retweet and promote businesses in your area that are active on Twitter. If there’s a local restaurant you enjoy, share your favorite dish with your followers next time you dine. The good will could go a long way in building your local reputation and having other businesses promote your business both online and offline.
The key themes are to be friendly, engaging and helpful — but most importantly, to be open to trying out new engagement approaches and seeing what sticks.
4. Make Your Tweets Resonate With Local Consumers
The great thing about Nearby is that it will provide the opportunity for your business’ tweets to be seen by all local users, whether or not they’re following you. This will enable you to promote specials, discounts and other offerings with a wider local Twitter community that may not have come across you otherwise.
Keep in mind that some, if not many, of those seeing your tweets in Nearby will have no previous exposure to your business. This will require you to take a dual approach to your tweeting moving forward: catering to those who already follow you and know your business but may not be close by, as well as introducing your business to those with no prior knowledge but who are close by and able to visit and try you out.
To accommodate this, in a typical day, a local ice cream store might target its current followers by tweeting about its new flavors and later target those using Nearby by tweeting about a free ice cream for new customers who sign up for its loyalty program within the next few hours. (Businesses can target tweets down to specific ZIP codes on Twitter’s desktop version, but it’s unclear whether those tweets will appear in Nearby).
5. Get Started Now
Twitter is one of the most popular social networks globally and home to approximately 4.5 million small business accounts. As the network becomes increasingly mobile — 76% of Twitter users access the social network via their mobile device — it’s imperative for local businesses like yours to act as early adopters of its new offerings and experiment with ways to boost visibility on the site.
Twitter’s current self-service advertising platform enables small businesses to build their Twitter presence by paying for promoted channels and tweets that target specific age groups and genders, interests and keywords, etc. However, none of its offerings so far have the level of local impact and opportunity as Nearby. Take the chance now to stay ahead of Twitter’s next step by familiarizing yourself with Nearby and what it currently has to offer.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.