If you have yet to hear about Twitter, I might ask you if you have been living in a cave and for how long. The micro-blogging platform that few knew about a year ago has now gone mainstream with over 6 million users - a number that is growing daily. Even major news outlets such as Fox News, CNN and others are using Twitter on a daily basis to get viewer reaction and create discussion around breaking stories and issues.
This leads me to question whether Twitter can be useful for business or is it simply an outlet to waste time and be counter-productive?
As a small business owner, I have found Twitter to be extremely beneficial for business. Sure there are times I have found it to be an incredible time-waster (depending on what it is keeping you from accomplishing such as actual work, spending time with family, etc.). However, in this post, I'd like to focus on how Twitter can be useful to businesses and will cover five functions it can serve. I will then invite comments from others on additional ways they have used Twitter for business.
1. Puts a Human Face On the Company
We already know that blogs are very useful tools to put a face or name to the company - in other words allow the company to become more personable. The problem with blogs is that they require one to actually write.
Twitter on the other hand is like blogging but has a 140 character limit for each entry you make. You can therefore "say" something without having to write up a lengthy post.
Furthermore you do not always have to say something that is important or of any real value. You can tweet (term used for adding entires to Twitter) things like, "currently at airport awaiting flight," or "enjoying a fine bottle of wine right now," or any other random aspect from your personal life. While tweets such as these may seem trivial, they show that you are a real person behind the corporate entity.
2. Community Outreach
Twitter is a great tool for reaching out to a community of people. I have seen it used to broadcast Amber alerts, bring attention to charitable causes (when Twitter users turned their avatars pink for Breast Cancer Awareness month), connect with people at specific events (i.e., conferences, parties, local gatherings, etc.), and discuss breaking news to name a few examples.
How can this be useful for business? Keeping in mind that you should work to build a community around your products and/or services anyway, Twitter is a great tool to help in this process. By setting up a Twitter profile for your company and then making sure you invite your active customers and prospects to follow you, you now have a direct connection to them.
And while newsletters, e-newsletters, and even blogs are effective ways to reach out to your community, Twitter offers a way to reach out by saying very little. Let's face facts - not every client is going to read through a lengthy newsletter or visit every blog post you put out. Short tweets on the other hand are very easy to read and can even call for more action such as inviting clients to read a post or bringing attention to a new product.
3. Product/Service Promotion
Once you have a decent amount of followers, announcing new products and/or services, upgrades or even promotionals becomes a breeze. Also consider that many Twitter users will use specific search queries to locate topics that interest them. Therefore by associating the right keywords along with your tweets, you can attract those that aren't even following you.
While product/service promotion can be an attractive use of Twitter, I caution you to make sure it is not the only thing you contribute. Just as in any web forum, blog commenting system or chat environment, if all you ever do is to "toot" your own horn, you may find yourself doing more harm than good.
4. Brand Management
With so many people using Twitter, there are bound to be occurrences where your company and/or products will be discussed. Twitter's search function can be an excellent resource for monitoring brand names - when and how they are being discussed.
Simply enter various search terms related to your company brand and product names and see results in real time. Better yet, save each search as an RSS feed and add to your reader. That way anytime someone begins talking about your company on Twitter, you will be notified via your RSS reader.
This is one of the most useful functions of Twitter - the ability to gather feedback via polls, surveys or even by asking a simple question. As a small business owner I have utilized this function many times to locate tools used in my business, find a solution to a web site issue or even learning business sense from those more seasoned than myself.
Using polls and surveys on Twitter can also help you to gather useful intelligence on your products and services. Just be ready for criticism which if you make good use of, can be utilized to improve your product and/or service offerings.
These are just a few ways businesses are using Twitter. I'm sure there are many other uses and would love to hear from other business owners either on how they are using Twitter for business or possibilities they have yet to explore. Please use the comments system below to share your ideas. Oh and finally if you would like to follow me on Twitter, I'm right here.
David Wallace is CEO and founder of SearchRank, an original search engine optimization and marketing firm based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is experienced in search engine optimization and marketing, pay per click and pay for inclusion management, directory submissions and web site design usability. David is a frequent contributor to various search engine related forums, an active editor of popular directories such as GoGuides.org, Joe Ant and Zeal and has had several articles published on industry related sites. Since 1997, David along with his company have helped hundreds of businesses both large and small increase their search engine visibility and customer acquisitions.
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