Let’s talk about Twitter. I know what you’re thinking, why should I read about Twitter when I never want to do it. I hear that almost every day from some entrepreneurs as well as from a few of our faculty. But if you’re not listening to what’s being said on Twitter about your product or your company; if you’re not using Twitter as a source of information about your industry; if you're not taking advantage of the flow of information that Twitter-users generate, you're missing an opportunity. Take a look at some examples of how you might use Twitter from the article Reach Your Customers in 140 Characters, All of them Free by Kermit Pattison of the NY Times.
Some other thoughts from the article, noting especially the point about “selling” in an over-the-top fashion:
DO NOT BE BORING Humphry Slocombe is a 14-seat ice cream shop in San Francisco that has gathered nearly 300,000 Twitter followers — far more than giant competitors like Ben & Jerry’s, Baskin-Robbins or Dairy Queen. Not bad for a small business that began posting on Twitter only last year.
“We started using Twitter just because we have zero money for any kind of advertising or promotion whatsoever,” said Sean Vahey, co-owner and operations manager. “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.”
But there was an issue. Mr. Vahey’s first impression of Twitter could be summed up in six characters: boring. So he decided to make his account edgy, occasionally rude and always entertaining. The shop’s Twitter bio: “ice cream with attitude.”
The store posts updates to its menu, which features 100 ice cream flavors including prosciutto, milk chocolate tarragon and foie gras. “As soon as we put it on Twitter it moves,” Mr. Vahey said. “It’s an instant response.”
CREATE A FOCUS GROUP Twitter can be your portable focus group — one you do not have to pay for.
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.”
SOAPBOX FOR THINKERS For some, Twitter serves as a high-tech bully pulpit.
Tim Berry has an enviable job. The founder of Palo Alto Software, he stepped away from day-to-day management into an emeritus role of evangelizing about small-business planning and management.
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.
“If you’re just selling, it doesn’t work,” Mr. Berry said. “If somebody starts selling, I stop following them.” (my bolding and underlining)
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.
STARTING SMALL IS FINE Quick! What famous architect designed the pyramid outside the Louvre in Paris?
If you saw that question move across your Twitter stream (the answer is I. M. Pei), you must have been following La Boulange, a French cafe and bakery with 11 locations in the San Francisco area. La Boulange has fun with Twitter posts, like a Twitter trivia bingo contest or daily posts of New Year’s resolutions like “eat more chocolate.” La Boulange has about 1,000 followers, but for a local business, even a few hundred loyal followers can be extremely valuable. “Twitter makes it possible for small business to retain that personal touch,” said Anamitra Banerji, senior product manager at Twitter. “Interacting with a Twitter account is almost like walking into a corner store. There’s a closeness and intimacy that small businesses have really leveraged on Twitter.”
So it is with La Boulange. “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.”