Microblogging tools like Twitter are enabling direct communication with customers. Should you be developing a Twitter strategy?
“Wow. It's not even 9 a.m. and I got all my required things done for the day. Maybe I'll go back to bed.“ Rich Brooks, president of Flyte New Media, a Web design and Internet marketing firm in Portland, Maine, “tweeted” that note in mid August. One of his 300 or so “followers” on Twitter, a social networking service, messaged him back, asking what made him so productive. “My secret is Pleasant Morning Buzz coffee from Whole Foods. Damn, now I have to kill you,” Brooks wrote.
Later that day, Slaton Carter, a social media coordinator for Whole Foods Market, the natural foods retailer based in Austin, messaged Brooks. His unsolicited missive, chosen as “Tweet of the Day,” had earned him a $25 gift card.
“Who says Twittering doesn’t pay?” Brooks jokes.
Welcome to microblogging, a new form of Internet communication that has interesting business possibilities. Twitter started as a personal service, where members answered the question “What are you doing?” in 140 characters or less. While many tweets, as the messages are called, broadcast mundane inanities about snacking or napping, increasingly proponents are using Twitter to broadcast news, to promote their companies, and to establish closer relationships with clients and customers.
How Twitter works
Twitter, as well as other microblogging tools such as Jaiku and Plurk, use the simple message service (SMS) protocol to send updates of up to 140 characters to the public and private groups. Twitter has raised $20 million from venture capitalists and while it doesn’t make money, it has become somewhat of a Web 2.0 phenomenon that many are trying to figure out how to monetize. In July, there were more than 2.2 million registered accounts, about four times the number a year earlier.
Though Twitter was not developed as a business tool, its founders started seeing business cases emerging, says Biz Stone, founder. “We’re trying to take note of how businesses are using it, and see if there are more ways we can deliver more value.”
Companies like Whole Foods, Jet Blue, H&R Block, and Zappos are experimenting with Twitter. WholeFoods started tweeting in July, an outgrowth of Carter and two other online marketers’ own personal experience with the service. “We started seeing other brands popping up and thought, why don’t we try it for Whole Foods?” he says. Now, more than 3,000 people follow Whole Foods, which tweets about promotions, new items, and even product recalls. It also awards a Tweet of the Day four times a week, and weekly does an in-store gift card giveaway to the first five people to say the correct password at that week’s chosen store.
Business uses for Twitter
Twitter use is growing rapidly, and online marketers should experiment with it to see how they can better communicate using this new medium. New uses are still being discovered, but for now, experts advise using it to:
What not to do with Twitter
There are also rules of the road to help you avoid alienating your real and potential customers. Here's what you need to watch out for:
The best online marketing establishes real connections with customers. “People are looking for transparency first and foremost,” Carter says, “and a way to directly connect with real people behind a brand. That’s certainly what we’re doing -- engaging with people.”