by Petra Jones
Courtesy of The Crafts Report
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Many small craft businesses are beginning to explore the potential of social networks as marketing tools. One of the biggest of these is Twitter, with over 14 million users in the United States alone. Twitter is a website which allows you to write short updates (under 140 characters) about your current craft projects and what you're doing now (e.g. "Setting up my booth display at Kansas City Craft Festival. Why not visit me?").

Twitter's log-on screen for adding updates


Much of Twitter's appeal comes from the ease of updating--you simply sign up for an account by going to Twitter.com/signup and typing in your information. People can subscribe to your craft updates, adding themselves as followers and you can even message individual followers directly if they have questions about your craftwork. Updates (known as "tweets") can include anything from links to updated pages on your website to images of new craftwork.

Sharing craft updates
Twitter can spread the word about your craftwork by allowing your followers to resend your updates to their friends. Known as "retweeting" this enables updates to be seen by a much wider group of people than other Twitter users who are following your updates. One way to encourage Twitter users to do this is to place a retweet button on your blog or website. You can sign up to the TweetMeme (TweetMeme.com), which provides guidance on adding such buttons to Web pages. Besides helping you spread the word about your craft updates to others, TweetMeme also provides an analytics tool to see how many retweets have taken place.

The easiest way to see how popular your Twitter updates are is to look at the number of followers you have. However, this only gives you part of the picture--it is only a number of people interested in your crafts who already have Twitter accounts. One way to monitor the popularity of your Twitter posts is to sign up for free web tracking tool (such as Google Analytics, google.com/analytics), which will count how many 'hits' a web address gets and where users come from. This will tell you how many users that visit a given Web page (your craft blog, news page, etc.) come from Twitter.com.

Finding crafts enthusiasts on Twitter
Finding fellow crafts enthusiasts or people who might be interested in your craftwork isn't always easy. While the official Twitter website has a search box into which you can type "craft" or other key words, (search.Twitter.com/advanced), relevant results can be as low as around 50 percent according to some estimates. So you might need to consider using a specialist search tool to help you.

There are several to choose from including Twazzup (www.twazzup.com), which will refresh any results in real time as new tweets are posted. There's also a retweet option if you find something interesting you'd like to share with your own followers. Plus, you can also sign in and be able to save searches to your user account so you can search again later and using the same key words. Tweefind (tweefind.com) is another search engine offering both Google and Bing Twitter results along with related RSS feeds. However, it can bring back multiple posts from the same Twitterer which isn't always helpful.

Probably the most useful search engine is Twellow (twellow.com), which lets you search by category in a yellow-pages-style format (with categories like crafts, ceramics and pottery, beading, quilting etc.) or using key words. The results include a link to follow that person on Twitter or visit their profile. You can also click on the TellowHood tab to find Twitter-based craft enthusiasts in your local area who might be interested in your craftwork. Simply click on the map to drill down to your town or city, then enter relevant key words to find local craft enthusiasts. Finally, there's Twibes (twibes.com) which allows you to create or search for various craft interest groups (e.g. Craft_Professionals, BudgetQuilters and Jewelry_makers).

Sharing new product photos using Twitter tools
In terms of publishing images of your craftwork, displays and presentations, there are several tools available--all of which allow you to upload photos and include a link to them in your tweet update. One of the best is TweetPhoto (tweetphoto.com) which also allows you to see who viewed your craft image and automatically geo-tags the image, making it easier for local craft enthusiasts to find. You can also send images from your mobile (perhaps at craft exhibitions or trade shows) to a specific email address to publish them on the Web or auto-publish photos to your Facebook account.

Tool for uploading craft images to Twitter.


Organizing Twitter
As you begin to follow other people's updates (anyone from colleagues within the craft industry to updates from suppliers), you can quickly become swamped by updates and thereby miss important ones. One way of avoiding this problem is to download a Twitter browser like TweetDeck (TweetDeck.com/beta). TweetDeck allows you to organize friends into groups (e.g. customers, suppliers, or colleagues). TweetDeck is also handy if you need to manage more than one Twitter account (e.g. one for your craft business and a personal account).

Twitter is well worth a look as a quick and easy tool for updating customers with details of new craftwork. Many blogs, including Wordpress and Blogger, will also allow you to display Twitter updates as part of your blog. Together they provide a quick way of keeping others in the loop about your latest craft projects.

A desktop tool for organizing the Twitter users you are following into groups (e.g. suppliers, customers, colleagues, etc.)

Glossary

Cutting through the jargon

Analytics: tools for tracking how many people are looking at your website or Twitter updates.

Bing: a new search engine rather like Google but built by Microsoft.

Tweet: an update of what you're doing now (limited to 140 characters or less).

Twitter: a website for updating others on your craft projects or whatever you're doing now.

Twitterer: a person with a Twitter account which they use to provide regular updates.

Retweet: resending someone else's update to your friends and followers.

URL: the address of a website.


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