Twitter Marketing: Business Outcomes in 140 Characters or Less

Chances are good that by now most people have heard about Twitter. Whether from professional athletes and celebrities in magazines or on your local evening newscast, it is difficult to escape the phenomenon. Perhaps what has made Twitter so popular is its simplicity; Twitter requires far less effort than other social networking options, such as MySpace or Facebook. Whatever the reason, Twitter is currently being used by more than 1 million people every day to connect, socialize and stay informed.

For those who aren’t familiar, Twitter is an online social network that allows users to connect with friends, family and people with similar interests around the world. New users simply select a username or “handle” and provide a few pieces of information about themselves. From here, users simply provide short status updates in 140 characters or less (that’s usually about 20-30 words). What is the purpose of these updates (or “tweets”)? It can be anything, really. From updates about a cool book or movie to making a note about a traffic accident or linking to a cool piece of news or information, people use their 140 characters to keep their followers informed or just to speak their minds.

The next step is the actual connecting. With Twitter, users can choose to “follow” other users if they know each other or if they are simply interested in what that user has to say. When a user logs into his or her Twitter account, the updates for all of the users that they follow are displayed, in real time. Conversely, anyone who follows you will see all of your “tweets” streamed in real time along with the other members of their network.

And that’s Twitter in a nutshell. It all seems simple (which it is) and you might be wondering how 140 characters could possibly be useful for business. The answer to that question is almost as simple as Twitter itself.

Everyone knows that networking and connections build business. However, those who view Twitter as just another social Web site, which creates business opportunities through networking, are missing the point. Yes, Twitter can provide a great, fast way to make connections and network (and yes, this is good business). Yet, the biggest benefits that Twitter can provide from a business perspective are far more interesting and useful than simple networking opportunities.

To truly understand Twitter’s potential for creating business opportunities, it is important to look at Twitter as a platform — a platform for business, a platform for ideas, a platform for learning, etc. Just as Twitter is not merely a networking tool, it is also not a magical marketing machine that can grow businesses without any effort or creativity. But when put in the proper perspective, Twitter can provide a great resource for any business.

For example, let’s look at Twitter through the “business intelligence” lens. What better place to gather information about your customers than a collection of more than 1 million people who are speaking freely on topics of their choosing? Search applications allow you to scan through the millions upon millions of Tweets in order to find pertinent information. Try searching a product or service in your business area and look at all of the free marketing information the search returns.

In the same vein, imagine the information you can gather on the competition. Twitter allows you to keep a close eye on your competitors and even see how customers are reacting to their products or services. A little research can provide you with not only a company’s branded Twitter account, but the accounts of individual employees — all the way down to a summer intern.

Maybe you haven’t been using Twitter because you are afraid that your marketing or promotional efforts will be transparent and no one will want to follow your updates. Maybe you just can’t think of anything to say. Well, consider the fact that all of the possibilities that have been mentioned thus far do not require any interaction at all. They are simply examples of the free information that Twitter provides. This information can be acquired by simply watching and monitoring.

Of course, it is very possible to interact on Twitter without driving a promotion or touting a link for people to visit. For example, let’s assume you are looking for a way to improve your company’s customer service. And let’s also assume you have just released a new product. Search your company’s name and the name of the product on Twitter. You will find all instances where customers are talking about your new product: the good and the bad. Using this information, you can have your company’s representatives send a direct message to the individual customers who are not having positive experiences. This can be short and sweet: “I am a representative from XYZ Co. and heard you are having problems with our latest widget. How can I help?”

Not only will your customers be happy for the assistance, they will really appreciate the direct contact. Think about it. How excited would you be, for example, if your phone stopped working and your carrier contacted you with instructions on how to fix it? Or if you noticed a discrepancy on a bill and instead of having to call the company to complain, they called you to help?

The best part is that these examples are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the possibilities that Twitter provides for generating real, attainable business outcomes.

Bill Balderaz is the president and founder of Webbed Marketing, a social media and Internet marketing firm with more than 40 clients, including several Fortune 500 companies. Prior to founding Webbed Marketing, Bill worked with some of the largest publishers in the world, including Standard and Poors, McGraw-Hill and Thomson Gale.

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