21 Twitter Tips From Socially Savvy Companies

Adapted from his book Engage, Brian Solis presents his list of suggestions to help businesses learn how to engage customers on Twitter through the examples of those companies, from Dell to Zappos, already successfully building online communities.

twitter tips

Engage by Brian Solis Number 1. Special Offers

We live in a society that is as distracted as it is informed. People are making decisions on what to read, view, purchase, visit, and sample based on the information that filters through their attention dashboards. At best, even the most qualified information sourced from the most trusted contacts will receive only a cursory overview. The trick is to concisely introduce the value up front. If the offer is compelling and affiliated with their interests, the consumer will make the connection to personal value and benefits and click-through to redeem the special or coupon when ready or so inclined.

For example, @delloutlet uses Twitter and Facebook to send coupons to customers. In just one year, Dell recorded upward of $3 million in sales directly sourced from Twitter.

California Tortilla (@caltort), a chain of 39 casual Mexican restaurants based in Rockville, MD, sends coupon passwords via Twitter, which customers must say at checkout to redeem the offer.

Number 2. Ordering

While the distance between introduction and action is only separated by a link, many businesses are using Twitter to log orders. Coffee Groundz (@coffeegroundz) uses the direct message channel on Twitter to receive and prepare orders. Using Twitter as a promotion and marketing channel, Coffee Groundz reports 20 to 30% increased sales and market share.

As an aside, Pizza Hut offers an iPhone and Facebook application that allow hungry patrons to order pizza directly from Facebook and their mobile phone.

Number 3. Word of Mouth Marketing

Moonfruit offered 11 Macbook Pros and 10 iPod Touches to celebrate its 10th anniversary. In order to qualify, contestants had to send a tweet using the hashtag #moonfruit. One month following the completion of the contest, Moonfruit site traffic was up 300% and sales also increased by 20%--and all because of a meager investment of $15,000. The company also realized SEO benefits, by landing on the first results page on Google for "free Web site builder."

Wendy White, Moonfruit's CEO, realizes that there's a fine line between effective and destructive #tweetowin campaigns: "Such campaigns must be courteous and fit with a company's brand, lest you draw the ire of the Twitter-sphere."

Number 4. Conversation Marketing

Zappos (@zappos) doesn't necessarily market on Twitter; instead, it "unmarkets" via conversations and engagement. At current count, 436 Zappos employees use Twitter, including CEO Tony Hsieh. For the record, Tony has over 1 million followers.

Aaron Magness, director of business development at Zappos, acknowledges that proactively sharing the company culture and values creates a humanizing effect that invites people to be part of the community, and also acts as a sales driver. "It's easier for them to embrace openness," he said.

Number 5. Customer Service

Frank Eliason of Comcast (@comcastcares) and Richard Binhammer of Dell (@richardatdell) are paving the way for service-focused organizations on Twitter.

Eliason, whose title is director of digital care at Comcast, uses Twitter to help 200 to 300 subscribers a day. Frank and his 10-person help desk receive direct questions, but also proactively seek out complaints. His key to success lies in his desire to earn relations, not bark advice or chat people up. "If they want assistance, they'll let me know," he said.

Number 6. Focus Groups

Wisdom and creativity are widespread in social media. Tuning in to the frequency of conversations related to the brand or marketplace can serve as a real-time focus group for innovation and adaptation.

Over 3 million mentions of Starbucks populated Twitter in May 2009 and, as the company learned, the price for paying attention is less than that for a caramel macchiato, but the value is priceless.

Brad Nelson, who leads @starbucks, recognizes the inherent wisdom and insight in Twitter: "There is a major element of Twitter that's about listening and learning. Twitter is a leading indicator," he said. Morgan Johnston, Manager of Corporate Communications at JetBlue, was inspired to change policy because of Twitter. He helped eliminate a $50 fee for carry-on bikes after hearing complaints via Twitter.

Johnston listens to the people who are active on the Social Web in order to improve company processes and customer service. "Think of Twitter as the canary in the coal mine. We watch for customers' discussions about amenities we have, and what they'd like to see made better."

Number 7. Direct Sales

Brian Simpson (@BSIMI) has helped The Roger Smith in New York monitor dialogue related to hotel stays and travel in order to offer specials in the hopes of attracting new guests. Using Twitter search, he can identify prospects and offer them a 10% discount on the lowest-rate rooms. Simpson estimates that Twitter and other forms of social media have netted between $15,000 to $20,000 in additional revenue.

Simpson also professed the necessity of cultivating community in social networks: "It validates us more when other people talk about us than when we talk about ourselves," he noted.

United Airlines and JetBlue use Twitter to provide customer service, in addition to using the micronetwork to offer followers first dibs on discounted fares and last-minute specials. Dubbed "cheeps" by JetBlue and "twares" by United, these tweets provide an already active and extemporaneous network with the ability to pounce on great deals by simply following these airlines and all the other companies that will soon follow suit.

Number 8. Business Development

Twitter, along with blogs, blog comments, and other social networks, is abundant with conversations that broadcast and echo dissatisfaction with brands and products. One company's crisis is another's opportunity.

Monitoring conversations (social reconnaissance) related to competitors provides the ability to "save the day" with better service or monetary incentives.

A word of caution on this front, however: Responding in the public timeline can be viewed by your competition. In my experience, following someone and offering to help via direct message has proven effective. Empowering your community to publicly respond is also powerful, as they can do so across networks and communities without regard for the ramifications of competitive awareness.

Number 9. Curation

I've written in the past that Twitter is not necessarily most advantageous when used as a conversation platform. Sometimes you can say more with less. Embracing it as a broadcast channel or a dumb pipe is also beneficial when used strategically.

For example, Google maintains over 1.2 million followers, but only follows 160. It employs a strategy that I refer to as a "curation" feed. It compiles links to content and company posts elsewhere and aggregates them into one channel. I recommend that companies use this for information collected from customers and influencers, as well in order to truly curate the best, most helpful content from around the Web while building good will in the process.

However, Twitter accounts can also create and portray a persona around an inanimate social object. For example Albion's Oven, a bakery in London, notifies followers when fresh croissants are ready.

Number 10. Information Networks

Unlike a curated network that keeps followers in sync with trends, services, and solutions, Information Networks can serve up helpful alerts and notices to help followers avert problems, change plans, and also pursue new opportunities.

The Michigan Department of Transportation uses Facebook and Twitter to alert friends and followers of traffic and road closures. Oakland County Parks uses Facebook and Twitter to spread the word about events and news and also conducts polls to improve local programs and services.

In 2009, I established @microjobs along with Christopher Peri (@perivision) to connect employers with job seekers on Twitter.

In business, customers could also benefit from updates and alerts that they might not have otherwise have encountered on their own.

JetBlue tweets flight delays.

Comcast tweets updates on service interruptions.

United Linen, a linens and uniform company in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, alerts customers to delays in deliveries when weather becomes a factor.

Number 11. Dedicated and Branded Channels

Sometimes the pipes in social media become overloaded with general information, making it difficult to truly create and foster communities dedicated to particular topics, interests, or industries. Establishing exclusive channels or subchannels to share specific information increases signal versus noise.

On Twitter, Ford Motor uses distinct accounts for sharing information about specific models and products. For example, @forddrivegreen focuses on sustainability, whereas @fordmustang, well, you guessed it, shares content related to the Mustang.

Scott Monty, head of social media for Ford, recognizes that social media reveals the people who formerly comprised the audience: "We give customers a choice as to how they want to consume information."

Whole Foods maintains independent channels, as well, to better serve customers. For example, the healthy foods retailer channels specific information and updates for wine and beer, cheese, and recipes.

Number 12. Mobile and Geo Location Marketing

This will prove to be among the most oft-discussed examples of social media, and most specifically with Twitter. Local businesses are using social tools to identify customers within the area to attract new business and also extend the online interaction into a full-blown community in the real world. Because I was there when this story was just about to unfold, I will reference my good friend Mike Prasad and the great work he's done for Kogi, a mobile force of Korean BBQ taco trucks.

One night in Hollywood, Mike and I were talking about getting a late night snack. He told me about the company he was working with and how if we sent a tweet out requesting their presence, there was a good chance that they'd stop by the neighborhood to serve us dinner. Thirty minutes later, Kogi was indeed outside our hotel and a group of about 25 to 30 people immediately began proclaiming their appreciation for @kogiBBQ on Twitter. The rest is history in the making and will serve as the standard for local businesses building communities IRL.

Prasad echoes this sentiment and is helping to lead the way: "We try to foster a culture by interaction with the people around us. Now, Kogi isn't about getting a taco, it's about having an experience."

Expect to see this trend continue in mobile social networks dedicated to locale and accessible via mobile phones.

Number 13. Hosted Conversations That Generate Traffic and Referrers

Social Media Dashboards are the future of hosted and aggregated conversations. As we're observing, those sites that integrate Twitter chat functionality can not only thread conversations in one place for easy following, but also send out tweets in the Twitter stream for all followers to see, and hopefully feel compelled or curious to join, as well.

During the NBA Eastern Conference Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Orlando Magic, Turner Broadcasting integrated Twitter into TNT.com with the help of Gigya Socialize. Visitors could log in to the site with their Twitter ID and respond directly in the hosted timeline. As such, their tweets not only appeared on TNT.com but also in Twitter, attracting more fans into the site.

Number 14. User-Generated Change

As we've seen and will continue to see, in social media tiny online social revolutions can manifest and ultimately ignite change.

Historically, the 2009 Iran Election will serve as an inflection point for the rise of user-generated change. While the results of election itself weren't altered, the Iran government was forced to respond.

Two services named Twitition and TinyPetition are dedicated to organizing people on Twitter to call for change officially.

Number 15. Vendor Relationship Management

A form of relationship management introduced by Cluetrain Manifesto author Doc Searls, Vendor Relationships Management (VRM) flips the workflow of CRM (customer relationship management) from companies to customers. Social media is a powerful vehicle for forcing or encouraging companies that have yet to embrace the Social Web to engage and participate through listening and evolution.

Whereas people are relegated to faceless customers when emailing or calling into the service department, social media takes the power once held exclusively by the brand and injects balance.

U.K.-based Wiggly Wigglers, a marketer of farming and gardening supplies, was surprised to learn that British Telecom overcharged the company by $10,000. After five months of a stalemate and without any promise or hope of resolution, company owner Heather Gorringe took her story to the Twitterverse. Within 30 minutes, @BTCare responded with help and two days later, the bill was adjusted.

On a smaller scale, inciting responses on social networks is also a form of forcing companies to compete for your business in the public spotlight.

As the saying goes, a happy customer tells a few people, but an unhappy customer tells everyone. Social media serves as an amplifier to those seeking change, reform, and response.

Number 16. Ideation

As we've witnessed with My Starbucks Idea and Dell's IdeaStorm, crowdsourcing ideas can not only be an excellent source for innovation, but also an effective means for establishing goodwill.

IBM uses Twitter to test concepts and solicit feedback and ideas through @ibmresearch.

Number 17. Employee Recruitment

Twitter is a magnet for people seeking information. It's one of the reasons that Christopher Peri and I created and released @microjobs. We realized that recruiters and hiring managers were turning to Twitter to seek referrals and applicants for open positions. Twitter and social media can spark a social effect that galvanizes community support and action. Not only can companies save a significant amount of money on listing and referral fees using traditional outlets and resources, the company essentially creates a presence through the practice of "unmarketing" itself through the process of seeking qualified candidates.

Number 18. Events

Organizing and promoting events are natural applications for Twitter. Tweetups transcend online relationships and become real-world connections.

Using Coffee Groundz as an example again, the Houston-based business regularly organizes tweetups to draw hundreds of customers into the store for each event.

Number 19. Research and Intelligence

The Social Web is a real-time collective and assembly of valuable information that mostly goes unnoticed. A few existing services are dedicated to applying a magnifying lens into the dialogue that leads to insight, direction, creativity, and inventiveness.

For example, brands.peoplebrowsr.com and celebrity.peoplebrowsr.com provide real-time insight into the most actively discussed brands and celebrities on Twitter at any moment in time, while also revealing the sentiment that is most associated with each.

StockTwits provides an open, community-powered idea and information service for investments. Users can listen to traders and investors, or contribute to the conversation. The service leverages Twitter as a content production platform and transforms tweets into financial related data structured by stock, user, and reputation.

Number 20. Fund Raising

This is a big opportunity and one that will yield amazing stories on how people are using Twitter and social media to raise money for charitable causes and capital for projects and companies. It's the art of spurring contributions through information and education, not solicitation.

When it comes to social media for Social Good, we don't have to look much further than anything Beth Kanter touches or spotlights. She's one of the most influential people in using social media for raising awareness and money for her causes. One of the projects that she remains dedicated to is helping orphans in Cambodia and, to date, it has raised over $200,000. She has also used Twitter, Widgets, and other social networks to help many other organizations and causes. In one live demonstration, which still leaves me in awe, she raised over $2,500 to send a young Cambodian woman to college while she was on stage at Gnomedex in Seattle.

Jeff Pulver, founder of The 140 Characters Conference, and I decided to help prevent a single mother and her daughter from being evicted from their apartment by using an online payment service to collect money to go toward their rent. TipJoy is basically a PayPal for Twitter and was instrumental in tying together tweets, RTs, and contributions. These examples will only grow in prominence as time passes.

Number 21. Words of Wisdom

As reiterated throughout these top tips, listening and responding is helpful and efficacious in luring new customers, empowering advocacy, and instilling loyalty.

Serving as a resource for your community or industry positions, proactively responding to online users who are posing questions, and assisting those who are seeking advice and guidance can garner trust, respect, and camaraderie for you and the causes you espouse.

There are measurable and also incalculable benefits to dedicating resources to lead individuals and organizations to resolution.

For example, @homedepot monitors dialogue related to the company, but also those individuals who are tackling home projects and seeking tips and instructions.

Best Buy's @Twelpforce has authorized its entire staff of trained employees to seek out discussions related to consumer electronics, home theaters, gaming, music, appliances, and technology, and to answer questions, whether or not they're directly tied to the Best Buy brand.

The examples are many, and the common thread is a willingness to share and a dedication to offering help.

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Article excerpted from Engage: The Complete Guide for Brands and Businesses to Build, Cultivate, and Measure Success in the New Web by Brian Solis.

Brian Solis is the author of Engage and is recognized as one of most provocative thought leaders and published authors in new media. A digital analyst, sociologist, and futurist, Solis' research and ideas have influenced the effects of emerging media on the convergence of marketing, communications, and publishing over the years. Follow him on Twitter @BrianSolis and follow his work at BrianSolis.com.

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14 Comments

  • Outsourcing_IT

    Thanks for the tips for Twitter. So far I have not used Twitter groups but that may be useful.

  • Dara Bell

    Following Brians work for a while. The number of concrete examples is great here. For example, @delloutlet uses Twitter and Facebook to send coupons to customers. Richard at Dell was one the first to get on Twitter there are now several active Dell Twitter users.

    California Tortilla, a chain of 39 casual Mexican restaurants based in Rockville, have the added opportinity of using other integrated platfrms like Foursquare and Gowalla too to further inncrease the engagement between customer and restaurant. Other than sending out the coupon and getting more business, we want more Trust and fun in our everyday transactions. We demand more of capitalism and the economic interactions as GenYers. They are becoming more digital, these interactions.

    I feel Chris Brogan unmarkets too in addition to Tony at Zappos. Conversational marketing again i feel suits Gen Y who are more collaborative and seeking engagement at all costs.

  • Jerry Nulton

    Brian, impressive, I look forward to reading your book. I like the concept of handling customer service inquiries via social media as well as handlng prospect inquiries. I look forward to learning more.

  • Thom Mitchell

    Brian, this is a great compilation and summary of the power that social media can provide. I look forward to reading your book. While your list is far more comprehensive and complete, I put together a simple list I call 7 Social Media Rules of Thumb at the request of several of my clients. It might helpful for those new to social media.
    http://www.thommitchell.com/20...
    Again, great work and I can't wait to read your book.
    --
    Thom Mitchell
    http://www.ThomMitchell.com

  • Wayne Fitzgerald

    I have been just an occassional user of Facebook, prefering to do my occasional connecting with friends by email. This article has opened my mind somewhat... there seem to be a lot that can be tapped into by using the social networks.