/ Why paying Twitter to attract additional followers is a great investment for your business. It’s like Google pay per click 2004.

For anyone doubting the benefits of a CEO’s presence on Twitter, I can vouch for its impact. Being on Twitter is generating a steady flow of inbound customer leads, partnership introductions and quality recruits for Domo.

But growing a notable following, especially in the scintillating world of enterprise tech, can be a challenge. I say that tongue in cheek — but the hard truth is that if you aren’t CEO of a consumer brand like a Richard Branson or a Rupert Murdoch, growing a respectable following takes a good amount of time, work and sometimes, money.

I’ve had a personal Twitter account for more than three and a half years. When I first signed up for Twitter, I didn’t see the value in using the platform. Audiences weren’t big enough, adoption wasn’t broad enough and most tweets were about what people were eating. So I got my @joshjames handle and kept relatively quiet.

During that time, I was also in the process of selling Omniture and wasn’t really in the mood. Post-Omniture, I enjoyed staying on the down low for a while but once I started Domo, I was ready to roll.

There was only one problem. I had precisely zero followers. As former CEO of a global, public company, I was used to a big stage. I had friends with thousands of followers, and saw how others had tens of thousands, and some millions.

I started tweeting a few of my startup rules and my thoughts on running businesses and my audience grew — but not quick enough to feel a noticeable difference.

When I would get a tweet, I’d try to figure out who someone was. I’d look at their picture, read their bio and look at their followers. I noticed how I was categorizing people whom I didn’t know. I started seeing people with 3,000−5,000 followers and they were 16 or 17 years old.  I started feeling like a second-class citizen of the Twitterverse. Granted, my followers were great quality and consisted of people with whom I had shared interests, but the size of my audience left me wanting for more.

While my desire for a more sizable following was influenced somewhat by relevance, it was more deeply driven by my longer-term belief that social media could help drive Domo’s business. Knowing social media is the shortest distance between two points, I was really interested in exploring how it could impact Domo’s operations, recruiting, marketing and sales. I wanted a plan to change things, fast.

Enter the idea of a Twitter promoted account. When I told a few people on my team what I wanted to do, I heard a collective groan and felt the eye rolls. My team’s biggest concern was that the act of paid promotion violated the organic nature of social. Some were worried about the fallout: the haters, the people who would scoff because my account was “promoted” and because I bought the “blue check” status symbol, which was the only way you could get your account verified at the time. (Twitter has since changed that policy.)

As I started tweeting more regularly, I noticed how my own tweets were driving thousands of new eyeballs to media websites. One day, for example, I tweeted a story I found interesting about enterprise IPOs. That tweet drove a higher-click through rate than the norm. Ten percent of my followers clicked through to read a 10-page story. I did the math: 10% of my followers represented more than 1,000 visitors. At $40 CPM that was probably generating $400 for the publisher. Now imagine what would happen if I had 1000 times the followers.

That realization made me think about the impact that someone like Jay-Z or Lady Gaga with millions of followers could have. Are they driving real business? The network effect of one engaging tweet has the potential to be astonishing. Huge. Transformative. Different. I love that.

It all reinforced that Twitter has real influence and yes, I want followers.

As we found through our company’s #domosocial experiment, there are a variety of ways to acquire users. You can drive organic growth through your content and get high-quality followers – but that takes a significant amount of time. You can also play the follow-back game, buy Net ads or pay mom-and-pop services.  All of these options work, but they tend to deliver lower quality.

I believe the quickest way to build a high-quality following is a Twitter promoted account because Twitter gives you the ability to target more effectively, whether you are promoting your own account or promoting a specific tweet. You can target based on a key word and only people in Silicon Valley, for example.  Or, you can target people in Chicago who follow the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Bulls. There are endless ways to match key words, locations and interests. And in my opinion, the cost to do so is a steal when you compare that cost against other channels of marketing. To me, this is similar to the early days of Internet advertising – new and somewhat unchartered territory for reaching a targeted audience.

In the early days at Omniture, we told everybody that the cheapest way to get leads was the pay-per-click route because it was a land grab at the time and everything was cheap. Now pay-per-click is typically the most expensive way to get leads, but still extremely effective. By the same token, this is the time to grab high-quality Twitter followers inexpensively.

The day I set up my promoted account, I created a campaign that covered entrepreneurship and technology. It was focused and measurable. I also love music, especially Jay-Z and hip-hop, so I experimented with another campaign targeting people with similar interests. Then I hit “run” and the wave began.

Within a few hours I had 100, 300, then 500 new followers. It was hard to keep up with each new profile but I started to notice a couple trends were emerging. First, I was attracting a pretty large contingent of people from towns in India that I never heard of.  Second, every 16-year-old Brazilian Belieber and Australian One Directioner seemed be on Twitter and was now following me. That was just awkward.

I had made a couple of mistakes setting up the campaigns. Mistake #1:  Not geo-targeting. While India, Brazil and Australia are tech-savvy nations, they aren’t likely markets for Domo for the next year or so. Budget would be better spent on North America.

Mistake #2:  Adding music as a campaign. Music cast a net that was waaaaay too wide and attracted a majority of followers who aren’t likely to grow Domo’s business any time soon.  That said I have a few hundred people to tweet with if I want to get my Bieber groove on.

I scrapped the music campaign and added geo-targeting to the original one. Those adjustments made all the difference. While growth has been much more controlled, my network started to look a lot more like what I was hoping to build from the get go.

I am a firm believer that if you are leading a company, you should be where your customers are. Everyone has customers on social networks and Twitter is one of the most interesting and easiest places to listen and engage. Despite that, according to a recent study by Domo and CEO.com, less than four percent of the top 500 CEOs have Twitter accounts. That’s still mind-blowing to me. And as I said in a recent post on Forbes, it’s the responsibility of all CEOs to be social CEOs. Three of the nine Fortune 500 CEOs who are active on Twitter chimed in to say they agree. These executives — Michael Dell; Jack Salezweder of American Family Mutual Insurance, a company with more than $6 billion in revenue; and Michael Rapino, the CEO of LiveNation who has more Facebook friends than any other Fortune 500 CEO — are great proof that being a social CEO is doable. Whether you are CEO of a publicly traded company, or a private one, you just have to believe in the benefits.

The world is changing and CEOs must change the way they do business. It is our job to lead innovation, and those of us who don’t get out in front of it risk getting run over and left behind. Today, we’ve been seeing the benefits of being social in multiple ways. Social media has helped us tremendously in recruiting. I’ve had countless sales reps reach out to me directly, which is helping us reach our goal of hiring 40 new reps by the end of the year. I’ve also had potential partners and prospects connect with me directly through Twitter about doing business together.

We can also use innovation with social media to change the way we serve our communities. I sit on the board of Save The Children, a nonprofit organization that focuses on improving the lives of children around the world. I recently decided to see how the network effect of my Twitter following could raise more awareness for Save the Children, and hopefully inspire others to donate and get involved with the work they do for kids. So for my 1000th tweet, I started a campaign offering to donate $1 for every retweeet up to $100K. In less than a week, we had 7,000 retweets but we had reached 7 million people. That was amazing. I had feedback from followers who said they hadn’t heard of Save the Children before. Other people donated money.  The reach completely surpassed my expectations. I committed to donating right then. And while I don’t plan to do all of my giving this way, it was eye-opening to the see the real, positive impact Twitter could have in raising awareness.

With regards to Twitter, I’m looking forward to sharing more lessons I learn, so stay tuned.  And while you’re at it, you can follow me on Twitter. I’m @joshjames.

Tags: social media

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