SmoothSpan Blog

For Executives, Entrepreneurs, and other Digerati who need to know about SaaS and Web 2.0.

The Tactics of Twitter for Marketing and Competition

Posted by Bob Warfield on May 12, 2009

Everyone wants to be seen and heard on Twitter and to have a lot of followers. From NASA, to 10 great brands that some say are creating a worse impression of their brand because of the way they are using Twitter, there are few who aren’t yet signed up. Google stands off to the side, trying to remind everyone that they could build Twitter too if they really wanted to. When Twitter goes down, there is absolute panic among the ranks of the Digerati who can’t figure out what else to do with their time. Heaven forbid FriendFeed going down at exactly the same time!

Forrester’s George Colony warns CEOs that Twitter and other Social Media are just like sex: It’s fun to talk about them, but you’ll never understand until you dive in and use them yourself (hat tip to Sarah Perez for putting me on to that post!). But use Twitter for what? What value can business really get out of Twitter other than buzz?

First thing is first — Colony is right. To understand completely, you have to Tweet. But here is another equally important point: There are two Webs out there. There is the conventional Web 1.0, and there is the Social Web. Companies that think putting up a corporate Web site and dealing with email is all that’s needed are assuming the conventional Web 1.0 experience will carry them. Guess what? Web 1.0 has likely peaked and is now over.

Take a look at the stats for creation of new Web sites and you’ll clearly see that peak. Some say that means the growth of the Web is slowing down, but I look at it differently. It means that pretty much everyone is across the chasm with respect to whether they need a Web presence. The last few late to the party got it done in a big gushing burst even though the economy was terrible (we went up this time on creation instead of down as happened right after the Dot Com bust).

That game is done. Having a corporate Web site is just table stakes and earns you no advantage whatsoever. Now the question changes from whether to be on the Web to, “How do we gain the most advantage from the web?” To maximize that advantage, your organization will have to kick up your Web presence a notch or two by embracing Social Media. You have to deal with what Steve Rubel calls the end of the Destination Web Era.

One problem with this is that a lot of Social Media has been way oversold on the hype value. “Just try it, you’ll be amazed at how well it works, you’ll see!” We’re rapidly getting to the end of that phase too. Twitter is particularly problematic. It has so much hype, so many people are trying it, but most apparently don’t find it compelling on first glance. A whopping 60% of new Twitter users don’t return againafter trying it for one month, or as the WSJ cleverly quips, “Most Twitterers are Quitters.” Obviously, it is important to go into Twitter with a game plan for how you’re going to get value from it.

 At my day job, running the products group for Helpstream, we take cutting edge Community technology and combine it with Business Process to solve known Business Problems and return a real ROI. We do that pretty well there. In fact, it is our distinctive market competency. Rather than just claiming that Community is a Silver Bullet that solves every problem and replaces every process, we try to plug it in harmoniously where it can deliver the most good. Helpstream wisely limits itself to a Customer Service focus where we can really excel, although there is a lot of value to be had for the various other business functions.

 Along the same lines of trying to use social media harmoniously with existing business processes, I thought I’d write a few notes about some ideas and practices I’ve seen involving Twitter in the areas of Marketing Lead Generation and Competitive Analysis. Twitter turns out to be an excellent vehicle for this sort of thing. Where else can you actively engage in so many interesting conversations with so little effort? Where else can you find those most willing to talk and participate in experiments as early adopters?

 Let’s start off with the competitive angle. Twitter is a wonderful information-gathering device. Set up a Twitter searchto track each of your competitors by name. You’ll notice you can get an RSS feed for the search. Plug that feed into your RSS reader, and then read what it has to say about each of your competitor’s every day. Some of it will be good, some of it will be bad, all of it will be useful. Some of it is the competitor talking about itself, but a lot of it is the competitor’s customers talking about their experience with the product. The latter is solid gold. Every now and again, you’ll also come across the odd note where some other market player is trying to interact with the conversation around your competitor. Take careful notes:

 – What are they trying to accomplish with that Tweet?

– Are they doing something you’d like to do?

– Is it working?

 In one fell swoop, you have gained access to:

 – Knowledge from customers about the customer experience associated with a competitive product, both good and bad.

– Knowledge of who the active Twitterers are in that customer base.

– Knowledge of how others are trying to join and leverage the conversation.

– Knowledge of how the competitor is promoting itself to that audience.

 Cool beans!

 Now, let’s take the next step. Besides understanding competitors and winning against them, marketing has a couple of key issues it has to solve. First, it needs an effective message to deliver. Second, it needs a list of people to deliver the message to and a means by which to get it there. Marketers try to build up their house list, typically using marketing automation software from companies like Eloqua, Marketo, or Infusionsoft (some of whom are Helpstream’s customers, BTW). How can we leverage Twitter for these goals?

 First, I hope you have a corporate Twitter account like Helpstream. Now, while you’re reading those RSS feeds associated with your competition, go follow every single person who Tweets about them. If you’re picky about not having the competitor follow you, that’s fine, don’t follow them, but trust me, they’re gonna catch on so it is a wasted effort. Information on the Web is frictionless. A good tool to help with all this following is Twittermass. Twittermass lets you set up Twitter searches, and automatically follow anyone whose Tweets are picked up by your searches. Even better, it has an option to stop following anyone who doesn’t follow you back after a few days.

 Now you are following a lot of the competitor’s customers. Plus, you’re Tweeting about your own products, and folks following you are hearing your messages now too. Pretty cool. But that’s just the competition, and they may not be the most important thing to worry about. Perhaps it’s more about the market or type of product. Whatever the issues are, make up a list of appropriate Twitter searches and follow the same strategies. You’re trying to build a network of influencers, evaluators, and potential customers.  This is a new source of leads for your house mailing list. Be sure to Tweet any webinars, white papers, blog posts, or other messaging.

Remember one absolutely critical thing: don’t view your Twitter account as yet another place to Spam. Deliver meaningful content, and make sure it isn’t just your own content. Do a good editorial job of finding content that people in your industry would be interested in and Tweeting about it. 72% of Twitter users are coming to Twitter for more than just your normal product and service blurbs.  Give them more value.  Provide content anyone in your industry can benefit from.

 Next time you’re in a meeting of any kind, ask yourself whether it would be interesting and appropriate to Tweet about it. Create some ambient intimacy around your organization. Let people see some of the inner workings. That familiarity is beneficial. It feeds the conversation and leads to new conversations. Recently, I Tweeted about a meeting we had to discuss marketing strategy with Geoffrey Moore. I had several notes come back to me wanting to know more. Likewise, I was in a meeting with one of the analyst firms and they were Tweeting sound bytes they liked from us in real time during the meeting. That’s the sort of stuff the Twitter audience thrives on. It’s the sort of thing you have to do to keep it fresh and authentic. Always give value before expecting to receive value on the Social Web.

It’s straightforward to get very systematic with Twitter, and it produces very tangible results!

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