The Business Relevance of Twitter

Written on 19 March, 2009 by Jonathan Crossfield
Categories: Marketing, Social Media | Tags: social media, twitter

There must be hundreds of you reading this wondering what all the fuss about Twitter is for? Stories about the addictive social networking site appear almost daily in the SMH and Daily Telegraph online versions and even Channel Seven’s Morning Show did some bandwagon jumping with Larry Emdur introducing housewives to the celebrities who enjoy reporting their every move in 140 characters or less.

For those of you that don’t know – and can there really be that many of you – Twitter is the biggest thing since Facebook and requires users to post comments of no more than 140 characters. By subscribing to the Twitter feeds of friends (called following), you are presented with a string of individual comments that you can reply to, forward to others (called a retweet) or ignore. As others follow you back, you may find people responding to your own comments and sharing them with their friends – and this is the core of Twitter. A brand loves nothing more than positive word-of-mouth and Twitter is the king of WOM. But instead of a handful of friends at a coffee morning, a positive or negative comment can reach potentially thousands who can also reach thousands more, and so on.

Last week, I attended the Ad:Tech conference in Sydney and sat in on the panel discussion “The Relevance of Twitter”. The panellists; Laurel (@silkcharm) Papworth, Gavin (@servantofchaos) Heaton, Jye (@jyesmith) Smith and Mike (@M_Hickinbotham) Hickinbotham – each prominent social media commentators and marketers – attempted to demonstrate to the audience how important Twitter was to a brand.

The opportunities for small business are one to one conversations and the ability to build relationships with a wide base. But as Hickinbotham pointed out, there is still a lot of fear and mistrust when businesses discuss social media. “For a brand to go on Twitter, the fear is the same as public speaking. What if you fall down in public?” Hickinbotham should know. The BigPondTeam Twitter account was panned by the Twitter community when it first launched last year. It was seen as a corporate, rigid and automated spam-bot, devoid of the human qualities demanded by social networking. Hickinbotham insists the Bigpond account was always human, but conceded that the messages were so corporate and formal in tone that it was impossible to tell the difference. He said it was like “showing up to a backyard barbecue wearing a tuxedo”.

Questions asked of BigPond would have to be referred up for official answers, customer service questions were referred to the standard online form and the Twitter account was not seen to be adding value to anyone who chose to follow it.

What the BigPond team learned was to relax. Twitter is a social environment – albeit an exceptionally huge one. Brand messaging should fit into the conversations that are happening instead of shouting over the top. By entering into conversations with a friendly tone that didn’t sound like it had been vetted by three legal teams and a board of directors, users began to respond and interact with the brand.

BigPond’s Twitter experience has now resulted in testimonials from users on how they have been helped quickly by customer support and many more stories of exceptional service – all because of an open, friendly and conversational tone.

So what are the advantages of Twitter for small, business?

1. Networking

Every business person knows the power of networking. Whatever industry you are in, the opportunities to meet and build relationships with other businesses can be invaluable. Just like a networking drinks do, it is important not to merely hit everyone with a sales pitch. Networking is more social than pitching – chatting about anything of interest but boosting familiarity with you and your brand at the same time.

2. Feedback

Online marketing should be a two-way conversation. Feedback is essential. Customers want to know they are being listened to, just as BigPond discovered. Ignore the conversation at your peril.

3. Reputation

These days, more activity related to a brand happens away from the website. Customers may be discussing your business and your products on facebook, in forums and on blogs. Twitter is exceptionally powerful for people to spread word-of-mouth reactions to products and services. If there is a negative conversation about your business on Twitter, wouldn’t it make more sense to spot it and respond, politely resolving issues and showing you to be listening and genuinely concerned with customer satisfaction?

All of these things combined can produce some exceptionally powerful word-of-mouth, displaying your successes and positive feedback to more and more people.

Tools

One of the biggest complaints I hear about Twitter is that it sucks up time. No busy manager wants to spend the day constantly checking for conversations worthy of attention and even less wants to pay an employee to do it. Thankfully, there are tools that can be used to make Twitter a viable business channel.

Tweetdeck is a desktop application that can present everything you need in an easy interface. It can also filter according to your own specifications. For example; create a search column for the keyword of your brand name and you will see every single mention across the entire Twitter community of your brand, whether you are following the commenters or not. Filtering your network also allows you to see the tweets you want without missing them in a sea of thousands of trivial messages.

Allowing Tweetdeck to notify me only when there is something worth looking at saves a huge amount of time and means that I can be productive and highly responsive in Twitter without affecting my other work.

Other tools such as Twit This and Twitterfeed allow you to automate tweets from your blog RSS feed or submit interesting webpages to Twitter with one click.

The future of marketing is conversation and nowhere is this best displayed than Twitter.

You can follow Netregistry, Nett Magazine and myself to get you started.