Traders who tweet in line for a treat?

A survey suggests fewer than 9% of retailers use Twitter - and they're missing out.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
Party poppers at the ready, y’all: it’s Twitter’s fifth birthday. Yep, five years ago today, ‘tweet’ ceased to be just a noise birds make and we all started to discover more than anyone ever cared to know about the decision-making process behind our colleagues’ breakfast choices. With at least 200m registered users, Twitter has become something of a phenomenon, which you’d have thought businesses would take advantage of. But a new survey has suggested that some of the UK’s most beleaguered businesses – retailers – have yet to get to grips with it. Time to stop being twits and get tweeting?

According to the survey of 500 retailers by Virgin Media Business, only 9% use Twitter for business purposes, while just a third say they use other social media platforms, like blogging or Facebook. According to a separate survey, by Experian Hitwise, one Facebook fan of a retailer will visit its website an average of 20 times more than they would have otherwise – which immediately demonstrates social media’s advantages.

With consumers continuing to rein in their spending, retailers have had a tough time of it lately. And, as Tesco CEO Philip Clarke pointed out in June, now’s the time for innovative retailers to start looking for new ways to get customers through their doors. ‘We now live in a multi-channel world,’ he said. ‘[Consumers’] high street, their computer, their smartphone – all these offer different ways of shopping and all are converging.’

But how can retailers take advantage of Twitter (and Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, etc)? Well, there are obvious points – like using Twitter to keep your reputation squeaky-clean by finding and dealing with complaints. But there are also less obvious ways of doing it: many retailers take advantage of Twitter, Facebook or even location-based apps like Foursquare to offer followers and fans competitions and exclusive discounts that they wouldn’t otherwise have had access to.

But even if you’d rather not do that, there’s no doubt that just by using social media, it can help to build up brand loyalty by allowing customers to feel like they know the people behind it. Just look at Betfair Poker’s twitter feed. With tweets like ‘My only goal in life is to become the world's tallest man. At 26 and 6'1 I just need to make it to 50 to reach my target height of 12 ft’, it doesn’t even have anything to do with poker – but it’s got 11,000-odd followers, and it’s been building up brand loyalty all the while.

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