The importance of Twitter for businesses.

I was recently asked, “what should I do to maximise the benefits of Twitter in my business”. There are in fact many opportunities: I would like to share some of my ideas and hopefully gain some feedback from these thoughts. Before doing this it is worth looking at some key facts about Twitter.

During the first quarter of 2010, Twitter had over 106 million accounts (increasing by 300,000 every day). It received more than 3 billion daily requests, generated from 180 million unique visitors. Seventy five percent came from outside Twitter (you don’t need an account to use twitter) and it averaged 55 million tweets in a twenty four hour period. Their search engine reviewed 600 million daily queries. (website-monitoring.com).

Based on these numbers there are clearly many opportunities that can be harnessed. First and foremost Twitter should be seen as a communications tool. Companies should be integrating the Twitter channel into their daily PR, Communications and Marketing practices. Twitter must be seen as just another cog in the overall information machine. It should never be managed as a separate entity.

Twitter allows you to share information in text, video or picture formats. Many companies already have news feeds on their websites: why not link it to Twitter? Will it matter that you are not tweeting more than once a day? No, it is the quality of information that is important.

Each Twitter message is limited to 140 characters, so to maximise the impact there needs to be some other web presence to expand on the information: see it as the hook to entice individuals to the next stage. Remember to also utilise one of the many redirection / URL shortening services (example: http://www.strategic-planet.com/2011/05/patient-adherence/ becomes http://tinyurl.com/4557te6 ):

•    http://tinyurl.com
•    http://goo.gl
•    http://bit.ly
•    http://www.shorturl.com

In addition to sharing information you can gather valuable data about your brands. This can be done by asking simple questions to your followers. See it as a simple market research tool.

Intelligence gathering is another option. You can use Twitter to find out what people are saying about your brands or even your competitor’s brands. Just type the brand name into the search facilities (you should also include it with a # tag). The example below illustrates the results of a search for Nike:

Brand review on Twitter with #Tags
Brand review without #Tags

Note: you can also use the main Twitter search facility:

Twitter Search Engine
Twitter Search Engine Results

Businesses can use it to respond to questions, feedback and even compliments. Why not get users to Tweet their comments or questions at your next conference or workshop. There is a word of warning however, in Twitterland the expectation is answers should be immediate.

Using Twitter as a platform for competitions is a good way to increase brand awareness. The classic format employed is “follow me and retweet the following phrase…..”. With really great prizes you can quickly create a large viral impact. Some people argue that this is just another form of spamming, but such is the nature of advertising.
When the commitment is made to utilise Twitter, a strategy for recruiting followers will be needed. To help you decide, let us look at some business examples:

Sector
____________________________________________
Stats @ 12th May 11
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http://twitter.com/HBO
In entertainment, HBO use it as a way to engage their audience with interesting sound bites and information.
• 5,841Tweets
• 321Following
• 219,361Followers
• 4,460Listed
http://twitter.com/intel
Intel (that well known B2B computer technology company) use it as part of their global Communications platform to share news, views and events about tech innovation.
• 1,335Tweets
• 644Following
• 46,418Followers
• 2,871Listed
http://twitter.com/BarclaysWealth
In finance, Barclays Wealth use it to promote financial stories.
• 1,196Tweets
• 8Following
• 4,590Followers
• 209Listed
http://twitter.com/heathrowairport
In travel, Heathrow airport use it to provide travel updates and promotions in their various terminal store.
• 7,958Tweets
• 30,458Following
• 47,458Followers
• 1,745Listed
http://twitter.com/fdarecalls
In health, the FDA use it to update followers on product recalls.
• 1,432Tweets
• 14Following
• 149,778Followers
• 3,788Listed
http://twitter.com/ToyotaGB
Toyota, a global automotive brand, use it to inform, communicate and run competitions. Their strategy is to have country specific accounts:
• 704Tweets
• 778Following
• 1,807Followers
• 95Listed
http://twitter.com/Toyota • 2,252Tweets
• 19,198Following
• 44,430Followers
• 1,910Listed
http://twitter.com/reuters
Reuters use Twitter as a channel for the latest news from around the world. It includes breaking stories in business, politics, entertainment, technology, and much more.
• 43,026Tweets
• 570Following
• 692,626Followers
• 32,573Listed

You can clearly see those businesses that actively follow individuals and those who don’t.  It is highly likely that the large followers are using what I call the reciprocal tweet theory of “follow me and I will follow you” to build their numbers.  Such a strategy is not wrong as long as the implications are understood. Here are some options that need to be considered when recruiting followers:

•    Build a community of like minded people (follower numbers are not so important)
•    Build brand awareness (numbers become more important, however segmentation needs to be right)
•    Building search optimisation (numbers become key)

If you have a global brand a decision must also be made about the Twitter community. Should a single account be created or a number of country variants?  The example above illustrates how Toyota have segregated their US and UK communities.

Finally, this article only gives the reader a brief insight to Twitter and the business community. There are many other options including recruitment updates, real-estate sales, stock performance, investor information, events timetabling and education activities that could be utilised. As you can see the list is endless.  We should also not forget that Twitter does not have to be used as an outward facing tool. It can be set up as a private messaging and communications platform used to update staff on projects, KPIs, objectives, pricing and much more.

For those who are unfamiliar of the basics of Twitter please watch this short video:

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Dr Alan Shaw is a Senior Lecturer and Marketing consultant focusing on a range of sectors. His main interests are in strategy development, social marketing, digital marketing, advertising, consumer behaviour and marketing application.

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