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What Twitter can do for your business

What Twitter can do for your businessTwitter—it’s the latest craze in social media. The micro-blogging site is new, full of promise, and experiencing a popularity explosion. But is Twitter for you, and what opportunities can it offer your business?

Twittering is no longer a pleasant stream of bird-sound from your back garden, but a stream of messages, 140 characters or less, publically broadcast on Twitter.com for anyone who cares to read them.

Launched in 2006, and currently gaining users at an astonishing rate, Twitter allows its community to post ‘tweets’—short sentences that Twitter users use to broadcast anything from what they had for breakfast to commentary on world affairs. Members of the Twitter community who sign up to receive these tweets are known as ‘followers’, and the number of followers you have is one measure of your Twitter success.

Twitter’s front page describes it as a service for “friends, family, and co–workers to communicate”. There’s no mention of businesses per se, but in fact a large and ever increasing number are jumping on board. Business directory Twibs now counts more than 6,000 businesses on the service —a number they say has doubled in the past few weeks—with the big name brands and companies including Dell, Ford, Kodak, Hertz, Starbucks and H&R Block numbering among the ‘twitterati’.

So how are these businesses using Twitter, what opportunities are they discovering and how can your business benefit?

Keeping an ear out
One of the features of Twitter is that the conversations held on the service are public. Twitter users are constantly posting their thoughts, opinions, likes and dislikes. This means that even if you’re not going to participate yourself, you can still use Twitter to monitor what people are saying about your company, products or brand.

Twitter’s built-in search tool allows you to search for tweets that mention any specific word. It’s also relatively easy to create an automatic feed that updates whenever specific words, such as your business name, your competitors’ names, or terms relevant to your sector are mentioned.

Monitoring Twitter is going to become an increasingly effective way to keep watch on your reputation and to gain insight into what people are saying in regard to your company, so get on board.

Connecting on a personal level
Of course, Twitter’s biggest benefits come with participation. At the moment, one of the most exciting things about Twitter is that it is still an evolving platform, and businesses are constantly discovering new and useful ways of capitalising on it as a tool.

Clothing business Urban Outfitters, for example, broadcasts special offers to their followers, such as free shipping on shoes purchased online. On the other hand, QuickBooks, makers of small business accounting software, tweets about its upcoming conference presentations and provides a running commentary on the state of the economy and issues facing small business.

When joining Twitter, it’s important to realise that the service is an opportunity to give a personal face to your business or brand: a way to give your business a presence in the world that is far more dynamic and instantaneous than a static website or a press release.

Twitter is about ‘people’, so making a particular staff member your designated ‘twitterer’ means that your business will be much more likely to attract and retain an audience. Companies who’ve ventured down this route include Marriott Hotels, whose official ‘twitterer’ is John Wolf from its Corporate Communications department.

If your business is large or has a wide product base, you might want to follow the example of Dell and Microsoft and create multiple Twitter accounts for different departments or personalities within your the business. This helps customers who may only want to follow news about particular products.

What to Tweet about?
Once you’re set up, the next question is what should you include in your tweets?

Peter Denton, product manager at Twibs, a directory of businesses on Twitter, says that Twitter is like a dinner party. “The person who has interesting things to say, whether relevant to their business or something they read about a topic completely unrelated is the person who will get listened to,” he says.

Constant selling is a recipe for failure, Denton advises. Instead, businesses who interact in a sincere way, sharing information and insights will prosper. “Followers need to connect on a personal level,” he says. While ‘tweets’ drawing attention to sales, special offers, or new products are certainly not forbidden, they’ll be more effective if they’re just a small component of your overall stream.

One effective strategy is to draw attention to external reviews or mentions of your business or products in other media. If you have a company or personal blog, Twitter is also a great medium for increasing your readership. When you’ve written a new post, you can ‘tweet’ a short summation of its argument or theme, along with a link back to your blog. If your followers like what they read, they may even ‘re-tweet’ your message; that is, broadcast it to their own followers, exposing your business to a new audience. ‘Following’ other Twitter users is a must. Handily, it can also double as a form of subtle promotion, with users receiving notification that your business is following them, along with a link to your profile.

The frequency of your tweets is also an important consideration. Active Twitter users are the only kind likely to develop strong followings. A Twibs study has found that when it comes to business users, as a general rule, one tweet will equate to one follower, so a business that sends 2,000 tweets will usually obtain 2,000 followers over that period.

It’s also useful to note that Twitter updates are not restricted solely to Twitter. You can also display them on your business website or blog, allowing your visitors to see what you’re ‘tweeting’ without having to be members of the platform itself.

A new frontier of customer service
Beyond broadcasting, Twitter’s potential also lies in its ability to create one-to-one engagements. The service allows its users to ‘reply’ to specific tweets, meaning that users can engage in conversations, rather than simply receiving broadcasts. Many businesses are finding that this ‘reply’ feature is a great way to improve their customer service. Of course, Twitter won’t revolutionise or replace your existing service regimen, but it is an opportunity to add a new, proactive and responsive service channel to your arsenal.

A celebrated example is Comcast, an American cable provider whose ‘digital care manager’ Frank Eliason, watches Twitter and other social networks for comments about the company, messaging and offering help to users who’ve posted comments about trouble they’re having with Comcast or its services. If you choose to engage with customers in this way, be aware that it can quickly clog your Twitter feed so it is a good idea either to have a dedicated customer service Twitter account (separate to your primary one), or to use private messaging within Twitter to communicate directly with your customer.

If it’s relevant to your business, Twitter is also a great medium for serving up service updates, with airlines such as Virgin America sending out information on delays and gate changes through its account, at the same time as engaging with customers.

Examples to ‘follow’

Twitter is still very much an emerging platform and its full potential is yet to be tapped.

Starbucks, which has almost 80,000 followers, now has a Twitter feed run by ‘Brad’, a barista from Seattle, who answers questions about Starbucks’ various coffees and posts updates about the company’s initiatives. Penguin Books uses its feed to promote podcasts from its website, announce awards won by its writers, and to discuss favourite books and authors with followers.

Many businesses say they started with Twitter as an experiment, and found that new and effective uses of the service emerged over time. Even if you’re not sure exactly how you’d use it, in joining up you’ll probably find that creative uses spring to mind once you get started.

When it comes to business use of Twitter in Australia it’s still early days. In comparison to the US and Europe, Australian companies have been slow off the mark. However, according to Hitwise, Twitter itself has been enjoying a “phenomenal yearly growth rate” in Australia, with web visits increasing 517 percent last year. This means that there’s currently great scope for Australian business adopters to reach an increasing local audience.

So if you’re looking to add a new dimension to your business, sign up for an account. In addition to its potential benefits for connecting with and better serving your customers, it’s also an enormous amount of fun.

—Caroline Shawyer is director of The PR Group and can be followed at www.twitter.com/cshawyer

If you would like to follow DynamicBusiness on Twitter to keep up with the latest small business updates, news, tips and blogs, you can find us at www.twitter.com/DynamicBusiness

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Caroline Shawyer

Caroline Shawyer

Caroline Shawyer is the founder and managing director of The PR Group

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