What the New York Times can teach businesses about Twitter

May 28th, 2010 No Comments

Today’s edition of the New York Times has a great article explaining how Twitter can help small businesses with their marketing. It also emphasizes how this service, with millions of members, is mainstream and requires community management.

Many businesses are struggling to make sense of Twitter, but even if it strikes you as an enigma or hype, consider this: many of your customers are already there.

The article points out several important best-practices:

  1. Listen – “What are people saying about your company? Unlike conversations by phone or e-mail, Twitter conversations usually are not private, and listening is fair game.” People are talking about your company, your competitors, topics that are of interest to you and your business.
  2. Engage – As I always tell clients, the first word in “social media” is “social.” It is not a one-way broadcasting message for you to tweet out your press releases or marketing material. If you do that, no one will listen. Instead, join and create conversations (that you were listening to in step 1), and interact with others. Be social.
  3. One sign of a company that engages with followers is a page filled with @ symbols (Twitter shorthand for a reply to a specific person). “You absolutely have to remember you are part of a community and you have to offer value to that community,” Ms. Erwin said. “It’s not about you. If all you do is talk about yourself, your audience will be instantly bored.”

  4. Be Useful — Provide relevant content that serves your customers and your community. One ice cream shop uses Twitter to keep their customers informed of their constantly changing menu. ““We have a product that changes daily. Our customers were asking, ‘How do you keep us up to date on the different flavors?’ Twitter was the perfect answer.””
  5. Respond and Support — Twitter is not just a marketing platform, but also a customer support and service platform. If your customers are having difficulties, help them and QUICKLY. “The company follows up to 2,500 Twitter postings a week, often from clients with technical issues, he said. “If we see those, we’re on them in 15 or 20 minutes,” Mr. Dunay said. “That’s providing killer support and customer delight.”” Marla Erwin, a Whole Foods staff member who oversees the account, estimates that customer questions generate three-quarters of its Twitter traffic.
  6. Get Feedback — Get instant analysis of what your customers like and don’t like.
  7. Chrysta Wilson owns the small Los Angeles bakery Kiss My Bundt. She likes to experiment with new recipes and use Twitter for customer feedback. “It absolutely is like a focus group, except the beauty of it is I don’t have to go and find people who are interested or knowledgeable about baking,” Ms. Wilson said. “My universe is already there — my Twitter followers and Facebook fans.”

    When Ms. Wilson wanted to try a new maple bacon bundt, she posted about it, put up photos and invited followers to stop by for free samples. Their feedback helped her perfect the recipe, which is now a favorite. She has more than 1,900 followers. “It’s great for getting input — they become your sounding board,” she said. “It’s a way to break out of the business owner’s bubble and get an outsider’s perspective.”

  8. Share, Inspire, and Educate — But Lay Off the Hard Sell – Let others know what you find useful, spread news about topics that are relevant to your readers, and create conversation
  9. He posts about interesting articles, blog links and anything that strikes him as surprising. “The key thing is being interesting,” he said. Mr. Berry said he believed that his Twitter stream generated 10 to 20 percent of the traffic that came to his company Web site. If he can pique interest and establish himself as a trusted authority, he said, customers are more likely to buy his products and services.

  10. Lay off the Hard Sell. – Nobody likes used car salesmen. People don’t buy from annoying telemarketers, snake oil salesmen, or the used car guy or Crazy Eddie. Don’t be that guy.
  11. “If you’re just selling, it doesn’t work,” Mr. Berry said. “If somebody starts selling, I stop following them.”

    Mari Smith, a social media speaker and trainer who lives by the rule “always be marketing” and has amassed more than 68,000 followers, agreed. Ms. Smith will not post a traditional “push” marketing message that explicitly advertises an event like a webinar. Instead, she might post something that arouses people’s curiosity and include a link.

    For Ms. Smith, Twitter is a way to maintain a personal touch — and scale it up. “Whether I’m chitchatting, retweeting, @replying, talking about my personal life, my products or services, it’s all marketing,” she said. “People buy people before they buy products or service. They’re buying into you.”

    The payoff: Ms. Smith said half her business came through Twitter.

    No one likes annoying car salesmen. Don’t be one on Twitter

  12. Start Small – Don’t get too caught up in numbers. Don’t expect a million followers. Maybe not even 3,000. It’s one to one and personal connections. of course, if your numbers aren’t going up, it probably means that you aren’t being useful and interesting, so keep that in mind, but if you have a small, core group of dedicated followers, keep that up.
  13. “It’s not so much about the number of followers,” said Emily Doan, La Boulange chief of operations and principal Twitterer. “It’s about making that connection and relationship to people. It’s keeping our company fresh in their minds each day.”

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