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April 27, 2009
A Case For Twitter
 
Chances are you have heard the term “Twitter” in the last month or so. The term refers to the social networking website and service Twitter.com. In addition -- and possibly in part -- to increased celebrity use and TV News and national newspaper reports, Twitter.com grew 1382% year over year.  (Nielsen Online).
 
In fact, with roughly 6 million monthly visitors, Twitter.com now ranks as the third largest social network behind MySpace and Facebook (Compete.com). 
 
But if you haven’t heard of Twitter just yet, don’t feel too bad.  Most of their growth is relatively new.   Although Twitter is three years old, 70% of Twitter users joined in 2008.
 
Twitter's quick rise to popularity has placed it front and center in many marketing manager's minds.   Before we discuss how Twitter can help your business, let's first better understand what exactly Twitter is.
 
WHAT IS TWITTER?
 
Simply put, Twitter enables its users to send and receive other users' short text messages (known as tweets).  Users can allow others to receive these tweets or may subscribe to receive others' tweets (called following).  If both users follow each other, they can then send private tweets to one another (called direct messages).  
 
Part of the attraction of Twitter is that users can send and receive tweets from many different locations other than the twitter.com website. In fact, most messages are sent through the following methods:
 
    SMS text messages to/from their mobile phones
     Third-party mobile phone applications (e.g. TwitterFon)
     Third-party desktop computer applications (e.g. TweetDeck).
     RSS feeds (for receiving tweets only)
  
WHY CONSIDER TWITTER
 
Twitter is, at its core, a free tool for helping people connect and converse.  Let’s break that down:
 
It’s free -- the Twitter service and website is free (although the cell phone providers and third-party tools may charge additional fees).  Within minutes you can set up an account on Twitter, create a profile page with your corporate logo and brand message, and start tweeting.
 
It’s a tool – as with any tool, its benefit is all in how you use it.  We will get to business uses of Twitter shortly.
 
It’s for people – never forget that your subscribers are people.  They are not dollar signs.  When they select to follow your tweets, they want a personal relationship with your brand, product, or service.  They aren’t signing up to be bombarded with in-your-face advertising.
 
It's for connecting and conversing: There tend to be two type of Twitter users – those who use it as a pedestal to repeatedly proclaim how great their brand/product/service is (not successful) and those who engage in conversation and provide meaningful information (successful). Be the latter.
 
So if you were seeking a free, inexpensive means to connect and converse with both potential and return customers, Twitter is for your business.  
 
 
HOW TO MAKE TWITTER WORK FOR YOUR BUSINESS
 
From pro-active conversationalist to behind-the-scenes research, there are several ways to make beneficial uses of Twitter. In the end, they all adhere to the goal of using Twitter to communicate with customers and solve problems -- that's the value of social media. 
 
 
     Research: Twitter’s relatively new search feature is a great way to see what people are saying about your brand, products or services.  Or, better yet, find out what people are saying about your competition!
 
     Build Relationships:  Rather than blast messages out about your product, invest time in building relationships – talk to people, interact.  Don't be a fly on the wall -- get out there and Twitter like a social butterfly!  Respond to both negative and positive comments.  Make people know you are available for conversation and to help them.   Exemplary customer service uses of Twitter are @comcastcares and @zappos
 
     Build Community: Don’t concentrate on you and your products. Promote the products of others without asking anything in return. Concentrate on building a community of people who help each other.  Over time, you can draw these individuals into trying your product or spreading the word about your brand.
 
     Inform Brand Fans:  Realize that most individuals who want brand updates are already fans, so provide them with relevant information they can share --  research, deals/coupons/sweepstakes, industry news, case studies. In essence, demonstrate what you can provide or do for them.  @DellOutlet used this strategy of making followers aware of sale items to make $1 million during the 2008 holiday season.  But remember: your goal isn't necessary to complete a sale, but rather to make fans aware of opportunities.  
 
HOW OTHER BUSINESSES MADE USE OF TWITTER
 
 
You can learn how 18 other CEO's made effective use of Twitter.
 
 
Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com said it best -- “We’ve found that Twitter has been a great way for us to connect on a more personal level with our employees and customers. We use it to help build our brand, not drive direct sales."
 
This article is the first part of a three-part series on how businesses can make effective use of Twitter. Next article -- Tools and Tricks to Get Started on Twitter.

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David Felfoldi is CEO and founder of Sherpa! Web Studios -- a digital experience marketing and design consultancy based in Atlanta, Georgia. His goal is to make the Web a better experience, including for people who write emails in all capital letters. Earlier in his career David was co-founder and Senior Vice President of Interactive Services for Vascent -- a consecutively top ranked Web software development firm in Atlanta. Learn more about him by visiting Sherpa!'s blog.
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