From The Editor | July 13, 2009

Three Reasons Your Company Needs Twitter Now

Without A Queue

By John Roach, Editor, Retail Solutions Online

It's free, it's easy to use, and it's the fastest-growing social media site, with nearly 35 million users — following a 2,565% jump in the last year. It can help you engage your customers, generate revenue, and boost traffic to your websites. So, why again aren't you using Twitter yet?

Twitter, the social media site that lets users post comments of 140 characters or less to a collection of followers, offers large and small retailers alike a golden opportunity. (For more Twitter basics, click here.) You can grow relationships, revenue, and brand loyalty unlike any other customer-focused outreach. Regardless of what's stopping you from using Twitter — fear of the technical unknown, simple uncertainty, its too-cute name — here are three reasons you need to start using Twitter now.

1. You Will Better Engage Your Customers

Twitter is neither an advertising vehicle nor an outlet for press releases. Think of it as a way to enhance customer service and create dialogues, not as your newest marketing tool. This distinction is vital because your aim is to become part of the Twitter community, join the conversation with your customers, and gain insights from them that will benefit your business.

Use your Tweets to personalize your company and solicit feedback. CEO Tony Hsieh has created such a unique Twitter page that he has more 957,000 followers aware of everything from his July 4th thumb injury and his interaction with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to the company's merchandising contact. Whole Foods Market has more than 50 Twitter accounts to cover a range of locations and customer questions about niche products.

Via Twitter you can empower your employees by designating certain individuals to respond directly to specific topics, such as corporate questions, customer feedback, support services, or sales leads. For example, Best Buy has signed up more than 500 employees as a customer service team ("Twelpforce") that, starting July 19, will search Twitter posts to find users looking for information about electronics.

2. You Will Generate More Revenue

Your customers certainly will want to hear special offers from you, too. Tell them about upcoming sales or new products and offer coupons and special Twitter-specific discounts. Convenience store retailer Kum & Go, for example, ran "Twitter Tuesday" promotions throughout June and increased traffic to its Des Moines-area stores.

Sales success stories on Twitter are common. Tea retailer 52Teas more than doubled its sales of handcrafted teas of the week since it started on Twitter. Dunkin' Donuts offered free donuts with a beverage purchase on National Doughnut Day (June 5) and tweeted the news to its more than 28,000 followers — who, in turn, tweeted to thousands of others.

Just remember to offer incentives sporadically and not as your only Twitter output. For example, the Twitter page for Big Lots, with representative "Anita Deal," reads like a newspaper circular. The page has just 260 followers — and even worse in Twitter's community-centric universe, "Anita" isn't following anyone.

3. You Will Boost Traffic To Your Web Destinations

Twitter can be a mechanism to drive your followers to your company website, blog, Facebook page, or community forum. By inserting links into your tweets, you can guide consumers to places you can further engage them. However, as with the use of Twitter sales promotions, be judicious in how often you promote yourself.

Pizza Hut devised a creative Twitter campaign to direct users to its website. In the days prior to Independence Day, Pizza Hut's Twitter page teased the holiday promotion before the one-day-only free stuffed pizza roll coupon code was announced on Twitter at 10 a.m. on July 4. The tweet directed users to the Pizza Hut website where they had to order online to receive the deal.

The days when companies pushed one-way messages to consumers are gone; two-way customer relationships reign today in retailing. Twitter offers a one-of-a-kind opportunity for you to grow your business by interacting with your customers. Give them a voice in how you do business, offer valuable contributions to the Twitter community, and react to their needs. You will create engaged customers — and engaged customers become more loyal customers, who just may use Twitter to further spread the word about your business.

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