Is it time to get Twitter-fied?

April 20, 2009

twitterYou know something has buzz when it makes the leap from noun to verb. Like Google before it, Twitter — a social networking site that lets users follow and communicate with each other via 140 character messages, known as “tweets” — is raising the eyebrows from the big business gurus at Starbucks to small businesses like the local bakery.

Can 140 characters revolutionize your business?  If that possibility isn’t already on the mind of every marketing whiz across the globe, then maybe it should be.

Twitter aims to keep people connected by asking one basic question: What are you doing? Naturally, this invites an avalanche of answers of the banal “clipping-my-toenails-on-the-couch” variety.  On the flipside, businesses are starting to recognize it can be a free, highly-effective tool for communicating with customers. (Emphasis on free.)

Consider Starbucks.  The ubiquitous coffee chain’s presence on Twitter aims for the same folksy,  feel-good vibe that it so carefully constructs at every store around the world. With updates besieging you to have a “happy weekend” or reminding you of the benefits of soy milk, Starbucks wants Twitter to push its brand into the eager, caffeinated minds of the Twittersphere. If it sounds like your worst nightmare, you can always choose to “unfollow” the Starbucks twitter account.

The impact on the bottom line is hard to quantify. Has Starbucks sold more non-fat vanilla lattes since it started tweeting? Maybe not. But it’s hard to deny how slyly the company has managed to slip into the cyberworld, even earning the free publicity of coffee fans who choose to be identified as “Starbucksgeek” or “Starbucks_girl”.  (Not everyone’s a fan — just ask “Kissmystarbucks“, a disgruntled barista who Twitters with passionate discontent.)

The beauty of Twitter is you don’t have to be a a multinational to reap its rewards. Reports are popping up about local coffee shops that tweet to their customers when a table has opened up, or bakeries that send out alerts when fresh cookies come out of the oven.  Twitter has the unique ability to make users feel part of something much smaller and more organic, something that a 30-second Super Bowl commercial or glossy magazine ad would be hard-pressed to achieve.

Take it from Kogi Bbq, a pair of taco trucks in Los Angeles that turned to Twitter to keep its customers in the loop. The restaurant’s Twitter page has more than 15,000 followers, and business is booming despite the dire economic times.

So is it time to get Twitter-fied? Says one marketing expert: “You have to be a complete moron to ignore it.”

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Twitter is another tool in the social networking world. It can help you or become benign depending on how well and how much it is utilized.

Upper-tier companies can use it to monitor their products and services. In this way it can be used to learn how your customers regard your products, if those customers are experiencing problems and Twitter can be used to mitigate complaints by responding directly to a customer with a complaint.

Small businesses can definitely benefit by promoting their brand and keeping their products and services in the mix of their competitors.

I have a client that has begun using it – taking pictures of cars that he has worked on – when potential customers begin searching on Google, Bing or Yahoo, those twitter updates will begin ranking high on search engines, not to mention other learning about his service without digging through search engine result pages.

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