Love it or hate it, Twitter has become something of a social media phenomenon. The idea of telling the world what you had for breakfast might fill you with horror, but there's no denying that any channel that helps you identify emerging trends and engage with huge numbers of people has to have some potential as a business tool. MT asked ntl:Telewest Business's John Cunningham for his top ten tips on how you can use Twitter to benefit your bottom line.
1. Identify (and solve) customer issues
Twitter is an open forum, where customers and businesses happily coexist and talk with each other. It has been used to raise and resolve service issues since its very early days. Its search tools can help your business to identify who is talking about you and provide a way to engage with them, helping your business to resolve issues directly. This type of interaction can often turn a complainant into a promoter when they see such a proactive response to their problem.
Fashion brand ASOS.com is an excellent example of this. Not only does it use Twitter to make company announcements and distribute discount codes, but it also has a separate @ASOS_HereToHelp identity devoted to resolving customer problems. Twitter’s real-time search capability means that ASOS’s customer service staff can proactively monitor the site for mentions of ASOS in relation to lost deliveries and poor service. When it encounters complaints, its staff then tweet back to ask how the problem can be resolved before taking action.
2. Track your reputation
Twitter is fast becoming a good indication of how your business is viewed by its customers. It allows you to get a candid view of what people actually think. While Twitter is still not a complete representation of the whole of your customer base, it provides a complementary vehicle for viewing feedback on your brand in real time – good or bad.
Twitter also allows you to communicate with your customers in a way that they want to be communicated with – i.e. on an individual level, so they feel like more than just a statistic. This offers companies the ability to humanise their brand and connect with customers on a personal level.
3. Recruit better people
How do you find good people? Word of mouth and recommendations are always key methods. With this is mind, Twitter can be a useful recruitment channel. Not only can you ‘tweet’ your vacancies, but people will also 're-tweet' (forward around your message to their 'followers') your requirements amongst their friends and contacts - spreading your message to different sets of followers who may have remained previously untapped.
4. Advertise your sales promotions
Some companies have been able to demonstrate that their use of Twitter is positively impacting their bottom line. For example, computer manufacturer Dell uses its Twitter feed to advertise promotion codes and special offers on its products; it recently estimated that doing so had brought in $3m in extra revenue that would not have come in through other sources.
5. Engage with sales prospects
Monitoring sales needs to be handled very cautiously. You can use Twitter's search functions to find people who have openly expressed an interest in buying a product you offer, and suggest that you help them through the process.
A word of warning though: there is an etiquette on Twitter, which you'd do well to observe. Think of it like being stood at a hotel bar. You can say hello to someone and attempt to start a conversation - if they engage then great; if they don’t want to talk, then it’s best to move onto someone who does.
6. Improve your internal communications
Although Twitter is traditionally seen as a public communication method, there is private direct message ('DM') functionality, and you can form ‘closed networks’. While it isn’t recommended to DM your colleagues or team any sensitive information, it can come in useful to send short messages back and forth – especially for individuals who favour the medium of social networks.
This acceptance of social networking within a business can also engender a sense of collaboration among co-workers who prefer that format of communication - particularly those who work remotely and don’t have the benefit of face-to-face time with colleagues in the office.
7. Network in a relaxed environment
Twitter is a relaxed form of networking as most people are quite happy to say who they are and what they do on their Twitter profiles and as such you can amass a rather powerful network quite quickly. However, personality is important – it’s what social networks are all about, after all. If you want to build up a productive network, it’s important that you sprinkle your tweets with normal day-to-day conversations rather than view it as an ongoing sales platform. Those businesses who are using Twitter to the best effect appreciate this balance.
8. Spot emerging trends
Twitter is a place to watch trends emerge - where news breaks and where 'grassroots' action happens. Twitter provides a 'trending topics' list - which gauges in real time what's being discussed. Through the use of 'hash tags' (words preceded by # usually at the end of a message) such trend tracking is easier. You can use a combination of automatic trend tracking tools and human intelligence to discern what your followers are talking about.
9. Drive more traffic to your website
Your Search Engine Optimisation team may tell you Twitter and its 'no follow' tags won’t help your Google ranking, but you can still use it to drive traffic to your website. You can tweet your news, press releases, and other stories of interest with a link to the relevant page on your website. Due to the short (140 characters or less) nature of Twitter messages, software like Tweetdeck will help you automatically 'shrink' your URL into only a few characters. Whilst this removes your website address from your 'tweet', Twitter users are used to clicking on links through these URL shrinking services (like tinyURL, bit.ly, etc). These same services will also provide measurement for your response with full click-through tracking.
10. Promote yourself
Whilst I’m not suggesting you'll become the Stephen Fry or Jonathan Ross of sprockets and widgets, with Twitter you can very quickly become an expert in your own marketplace. Again - and this has to be repeated as so many people have got this very wrong in the past - don't be pushy, and don't use Twitter as a constant stream of advertisements for your brand. Engage with people, start or jump into conversations with great insight, and become someone who people want to read updates from.
Ultimately if you’re looking for something that will be a magic bullet to hit your sales numbers, Twitter isn’t it. What it is, however, is somewhere you can find out what people are talking about right now. And if that happens to be your product, your competitor’s product or a problem that you could help solve, that’s well worth knowing.
John Cunningham is director of business markets at ntl:Telewest Business (http://twitter.com/johnpc)