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Twitter: Fad or fundamental communication tool?

12:12 on Tue, 11 Aug 2009 | Social Media | 0 Comments

Unless you’ve spent the last few months with your head in the sand, you’ll have noticed the rapidly growing popularity of Twitter. But is it here to stay, and can it really be good for business?

From film star Ashton Kutcher racing CNN to achieve one million followers (http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/04/15/ashton.cnn.twitter.battle/) to Habitat getting rapped on the knuckles for capitalising on coverage of the Iranian elections, (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8116869.stm) Twitter has wormed its way into daily news. Celebrity ‘tweets’ are hitting the headlines as are campaigns and offers from big brands. But is this a fad which will pass into obscurity or is Twitter here to stay?

Twitter’s rate of growth has propelled it into the limelight, and the site has achieved alarming popularity – at a startlingly fast rate.

But is Twitter for everyone? Some people rely on it for their daily news feed and as a way of communicating and networking. But others are simply following the flock, and joining Twitter because it’s the latest thing to do. As more people sign up and realise that it might not be for them, Twitter will inevitably reach a peak of popularity and new users will start to fall.

Surprisingly, over 20%* of Twitter members (http://www.sysomos.com/insidetwitter/) have never even posted an update, and the majority (85%) post less than once a day, indicating that for the majority of Tweeters, it’s not entered into as a long term commitment.

But if the current Twitter boom doesn’t last, what does this mean for businesses that are using the site as a primary communication channel? We all know of a company that has joined the site and is frantically trying to attract as many followers as possible, but are they really making the most of Twitter and, more importantly, are they using it well?

Habitat obviously got their Twitter tactics completely wrong, by linking their sale announcements to unrelated, but popular, trending topics. Habitat thought tagging their tweets with topics related to the crisis in Iran, as the nation rioted in the streets against President Ahmadinejad’s re-election, was a good idea. It wasn’t. Using a non-related, populist political story to attract attention to their latest sale brought nothing but negative responses from angry Twitter users, and harks back to unsolicited spam emails.

However, there’s some fantastic Twitter practice happening in the social media world. Dell, for example, has had far more success. By creating Twitter accounts for each arm of the business, including @DellOutlet (http://twitter.com/dellOutlet), they keep an existing loyal customer base aware of clearance events. With more than 600,000 followers, all of whom have the potential to ‘re-tweet’ (re-post) the messages, Dell has attributed over $3 million in sales to their Twitter campaign.

Using Twitter to engage an existing loyal customer base is the key to successful use of the site without risking the wrath of Tweeters annoyed with spam and unsolicited messages. Dell already had a large, loyal customer base pre-Twitter. And by using the service to send information and offers to those who wanted to read it, they managed to build an even more impressive following.

At Further we’re encouraging clients to use Twitter in a similar way. Our client Adnams (http://twitter.com/Adnams) is a great example. They’re a fantastic brand name, with an existing loyal customer base – and they are now talking to their fans on Twitter. We use their Twitter account in two ways; firstly to share industry and new product news and secondly, to respond to others on Twitter who are talking about Adnams online. (http://adnams.co.uk/)

One of the many benefits of Twitter is being able to see what other members are saying about you as a company or your products. It’s a great monitoring tool. By responding to compliments, complaints and relevant discussions posted by other members, you’re engaging with existing customers and attracting new ones, by showing you are an approachable and informative company. This can only work to attract more followers.

Twitter may well be reaching the peak of its popularity. But of the millions of users, it will retain a high number of loyal members which means Twitter is a self-sustaining and valuable tool for businesses who know how to use it, and use it well.

Starter for 10 - Twitter Tips:

1. Your website is your shop window for new and existing customers. To attract them to your Twitter account, make sure you badge up your website with ‘follow us on Twitter’ and link to your Twitter account
2. Only Tweet if you have something interesting or informative to say
3. Bring Tweets to life with links and pictures – the most read Tweets direct followers to other sources of information on the web
4. If you announce company news on your website, then Tweet the headline and link it back to your site.
5. Use sites like www.tinyurl.com  to create small URL addresses to links, so you don’t waste your 140 characters
6. If someone follows you – follow them back, its Twitter etiquette
7. If you’re tagging your Tweet to link it to a current trending topic, it has to be relevant and related – don’t risk becoming a spammer
8. Check Twitter for mentions of your company regularly, the @ tool means you can see mentions and gives you a chance to respond
9. Offer exclusive discounts or give your Twitter followers the chance to preview products, and reward their loyalty
10. Follow other companies, bloggers and experts in your sector to get unique and varying views on industry news

If you’d like to find out more about our social media services, follow us at http://twitter.com/furthersearch or look at the social media case studies on this site.

*Sysomos Inc study, June 2009

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