Ever wonder what top sales people tweet about? Is it all business all the time — or do they spice up the conversations with tidbits about their personal lives? What information do they share — and why?

If you're eager to know the answers to those questions and more, you can reference a new report called, appropriately enough, How Sales Leaders Engage on Twitter (registration required), a collaboration between Leadtail and Hoovers.

Tapping Twitter

The report looks at how sales leaders use social media, including what they’re tweeting and retweeting along with the hashtags and platforms they’re using to share that content. Leadtail claims the information can improve the ways you reach, engage with and influence people through your social media efforts.

“No matter who you are or what you sell to whom, your customers know how to use social media effectively,” said Karri Carlson, VP Social Insights, Leadtail. “And even if they are not themselves tapping Twitter for raw information, the journalists that write their trade publications, the speakers at their industry conferences, the authors of the books they read, and the guy in the office who seems to have a say in *everything* probably does ... Social media influence translates into real world influence fairly directly.”

While some organizations have been slow to embrace social selling, the sales leaders surveyed are eagerly on board. The report is based on the behavior of 580 North American sales leaders, about 70,000 tweets and some 44,000 shared links.

Top influencers share frequently, Carlson said. “But the thing that set these high-volume influencers apart from other users that simply tweet a lot is that the influencers know their niche. They may intersperse some inspirational quotes or the occasional airport check-in on Foursquare, but by and large, their tweets are highly curated and focused on delivering value to or engaging with their audience.”

The most popular topics, according to the report were:

  • Marketing
  • Social selling
  • Leadership
  • Technology
  • Sports

When they share information, most go to mainstream media sites (48 percent). But a large portion also tap into industry media (38 percent) for articles as well.

Lessons to Learn

So what do these findings mean to you? Looking at what sales leaders are doing right can help you refine your social media efforts.

Take advantage of popular hashtags. "They give you great visibility into the things (issues, topics, events) that are capturing the attention of your target audience. They tell you not only what is being talked about, but how it's being talked about," Carlson said. Use them to determine the keywords you want to include in your content marketing, SEO and paid media plans.

Focus on buyer relevance. “Identify, engage and then build relationships with the influencers that are most relevant to your buyers,” said Carter Hostelley, founder and CEO of Leadtail. “For example, in the sales report we show the people who are most retweeted and mentioned. This is a great place to start with following and then engaging influencers to read and share your branded content ." This helps you amplify the reach of your content and gain social credibility with your target audience.

Remember everything you say is public. When using Twitter it’s important to consider your audience and the appropriateness of the information you share. “It seems obvious but the somewhat arcane nature of Twitter continues to trip people up,” said Hostelley. “For example, forgetting how to direct message (DM) and instead replying can make what you thought was a private tweet (or private conversation) public. We were all reminded of this recently with the CFO of Twitter disclosed what he thought was a DM about a potential acquisition candidate.” Many people have actually lost their jobs over social media missteps and transgressions. Make sure the messages you are sending out are consistent with your company’s brand and your professional role. “As with all public forums... think before you tweet,” said Hostelley.

Don’t overthink things. When developing social media strategy it doesn’t have to be daunting and complex. “There are a ton of frameworks and plans and tools and techniques to get lost in, but if I keep it as simple and human as possible,” said Carlson. “I'd say preparing to succeed on Twitter is akin to preparing to be a great dinner party guest. Show up, bring something to the table, let the conversation flow, ask questions, share your perspectives, keep in touch with interesting people you meet and build your own relationships. Who knows, you might even enjoy yourself.”

Get ready to evolve. “The rise of non-text based content (photos, images, videos, podcasts, slides, etc.) is pretty exciting and will create challenges and opportunities,” said Carlson. “The opportunity is that as new social networks emerge that specialize in these alternative types of content, there is a green field for individuals and brands to establish themselves as leaders and influencers.” But this means that you need to be able to adapt. “The challenge will be that marketing teams with an established presence (and large investments in) existing platforms that aren't prepared to produce new types of content may find their social media ROI suffers as things that were working start to lose their effectiveness.”

So when adopt new social media strategies based on what’s working for others, the process is never over. You need to keep shifting and adapting over time as social media continues to grow and change.