Still Not Convinced Twitter Is For Business?

Twitter is one of those growing online phenomenons that still has some users wondering what its business application really is.

To me, the brilliance of Twitter is that it is another “media” platform: a way to communicate your message — to a super-targeted audience, because it’s 100 per cent opt-in — “tweople” on your list (Twitter people) have subscribed to read what you post (they’re your “followers”).

The Twitter bird

In that way it’s similar to opt-in email, but acts more like SMS, because the messages reach users’ Twitter accounts both on the computer and on mobile/cell phones or other internet enabled devices.

It’s simply a micro-media messaging platform within a larger media (the internet).

And it’s popularity is growing fast. It’s still not up there with Facebook, who passed the 200 millionth user mark in the last few days, Twitter is only around the 9 to 10 million user mark (so there’s plenty of room for growth)… but it has definite potential for businesses, especially with “early adopter” customers.

There was a story in the papers just today talking about Twitter’s first millionaire — the race between CNN Breaking News, Ashton Kutcher and Britney Spears to reach 1,000,000 followers on Twitter. As of posting this article, their numbers are 960,506 for CNN Breaking News, 943,888 for Kutcher and 927,817 for Spears.

The 3-horse Twitter millionaire race

(Just in the 3 minutes checking their profiles, each of them gained 70 to 100 followers!). And yours truly the humble author has only 215 followers in TOTAL at the time of writing! Kutcher has gained over 24,000 followers since the story was published at 12:33pm today, less than 11 hours ago. CNN picked up over 12,000 and Britney over 13,000 new followers too).

I imagine the “winner” of the race will be declared in the next day or so, given the media interest — and I see from another Twitter user I follow (@WarrenWhitlock) that CNN is giving a prize to entice followers (update: so is Ashton Kutcher, for the millionth follower, if he outdoes CNN Breaking News).

Warren had a very nice way of putting it:

CNN offered (me) a prize for following them, but I follow you because I like your tweets.

Nice!

Interestingly, aside from the Spears twitter account which itself follows 77,547 people as of writing, the Kutcher and CNN accounts both follow less than 100 people (just six in the case of CNN and 72 for Kutcher). So their own Twitter feed of updates from followers is quite small (and would be easy to follow, unlike Britney’s, which would be overwhelmed by “noise” with so many other tweople being followed).

Email vs Twitter

Here’s four difference between email and Twitter, in Twitter’s favour:

Firstly, the size of the message — Twitter is limited to just 140 characters — it’s like just receiving messages a little bigger than an email Subject Line (even smaller than the 160 character limit on an SMS).

Secondly — and one major reason for the growth in followers on Twitter accounts — everyone on Twitter can see who follows you, and who you are following.

So, if you’re “one of the gurus” amongst your raving fans, very likely, because they want to be just like you, they’ll also follow the people you follow.

Thirdly — while people are more protective these days of their inbox, it doesn’t yet seem the case with Twitter, it’s easy for them to follow you because they’re in full control: they choose when to follow you — they choose when to unfollow you, there’s no need to rely on an “unsubscribe link” that you put in your emails. You can’t also send html like with email, so you can’t track “reads and open rates”, although you can see from spikes in traffic and referrer logs when users follow a Twitter link to go to a web page.

So that user control is a strong benefit to your followers.

Fourthly — reading Twitter messages is usually a “virus free” experience — although Twitter accounts do get hacked and like emails, links can be malicious and should be treated carefully (here’s an example of a Twitter “worm” virus at work just in the last few days).

Gaining Followers

Also, there’s a raging debate amongst Twitter users about following people just to get them to follow you back (and build your own list of followers — some people think it’s good Twitter etiquette to follow back, but not all users agree) — to the extent that some Twitter utilities let you follow masses of people in the hope of picking up some of them as your own followers (and they you stop following the ones that don’t reciprocate — and sometimes start/stop incessantly).

Personally, I like the idea of natural, organic growth in followers — you follow me because you’re interested in what I have to tweet about, not simply because you want me to follow you, and this is your way of getting my attention.

Also, some people have twitter pop-up every time one of their friends adds a tweet — it pops up like an automatic instant message or announcement of new email — but to me that’s a severe interruption of my day. I control when I view Twitter, and it’s only once or twice a day!

But wait, there’s more!

That millionaire race isn’t the main reason for this post!

Twitter For Business

So, can you really use this micro-messaging platform for business?

Yes you can.

So long as people know who you are, and your Twitter account can be business or organisation based (like CNN mentioned above), your followers may be following you to hear about business updates.

For example, here’s a few ways you could use Twitter from a business perspective:

So Twitter isn’t just all bubble and squeak — there’s useful information and communication you can have with a targeted audience.

And Google indexes tweets — so that gets into Google (so watch what you tweet!).

There’s also a script for the Firefox Greasemonkey add-on that puts real time Twitter tweet results on page one of your Google search results: again, making your Twitter activity more valuable to your business.

BakerTweet

On Springwise this week — my favourite brain juice for new business ideas — there was the story this week about BakerTweet, a device that allows bakeries to keep their customers informed — via Twitter — of when baked goods have just come fresh out of the oven … time to pop down to the bakery and get the freshest produce!

A video screenshot from BakerTweet showing the Twitter message device

Bakers setup the device on their computer and establish a free Twitter account, and then just have the BakerTweet device installed in the kitchen (see the above video at BakerTweet). Baked goodies are fresh out of the oven, and the baker just twists the dial to the right message and presses a button — and all of their Twitter followers know there’s hot, fresh, bakery goodies ready for purchase.

It’s not hard to see how this push-button simple device makes it easy for a business to keep their customers informed!

Of course, business goes MUCH FURTHER on Twitter than just this example.

And it’s easy to see how such simplicity could later be linked to a service like Twitpic (a way to share photos via Twitter) to post both messages and images for customers to view.

Email Universe vs the Twitterverse

Despite Twitter’s popularity, this of course pales next to email in terms of the size of the media, usage and audience.

Email

Twitter is approaching 10 million users (Comscore.com blog news from last week) — that’s UP around 700 per cent from a year ago and more than 10-times its numbers from when I joined in August 2007.

However, according to Pingdom, in 2008 there were 1.3 BILLION email users sending 210 BILLION email messages every DAY!

That’s 1,300,000,000 vs 10,000,000 — or 1,300 times more email users than Twitter users.

To Twitter Or Not To Twitter

I certainly wouldn’t ignore Twitter, as it has some helpful ways to get attention and traffic for your business. At the rate it is growing, it certainly is an audience worth considering.

Given of course email and other ways to communicate and build relationships, Twitter should still only be one small part of your overall strategy to get your message out to your audience.

If you haven’t already, sign up for your Twitter account!

Thought A Voucher Was A Better Gift?

… well it appears not everyone wants to use the Gift Card they got for Christmas!

So now comes along “GiftCardRescue” — as spotted in Springwise this month — who allow users to either exchange their cards for cash or another gift card from a different store. The story states the cash payout is 60 to 80 percent of the card’s value, or an exchange can be up to the full value of the card you’re getting rid of.

It’s only US based … for now … but that’s a great business idea that filled a need of a hungry crowd.

On the subject of gift cards…

While I don’t have a source of stats — I have heard in the past (and can verify from anecdotal evidence) that gift vouchers and gift cards are not only sometimes unwanted, but even people who like their present don’t always spend the card at its full value (if at all).

If you’re a retailer, it shows you two things: one — promoting gift cards may earn you unexpected profits from cards that aren’t redeemed; and two — if you were to address that issue in some way, it could be a way to stand out from your competitors.

Done For You Banking

With the amount of “noise” in online marketing there’s not much these days that gets into my inbox for my direct attention. Most incoming mail is heavily filtered into folders: I’ll look at it if and when I think it’s worthwhile. I’m very protective of my inbox and it ensures I remain focused on what matters to me.

One of the emails that I do allow that privilege is the weekly Springwise newsletter of new business ideas: based on what subscribers spot and report from around the world. Along with its sister site, Trend Watching (monthly briefings on emerging consumer trends), it’s great entrepreneurial juice for the brain. Ideas sprout from the Springwise website daily, but I’m happy to take in a weekly digest.

This week again included a great idea for “done for you” style marketing: this time for wealthy clients of a private bank (Insinger de Beaufort in Amsterdam). As it says in the article, the bank realised many of its wealthy clients lacked the time or patience to deal with their personal finances — so it found a simple and convenient way to solve that problem. The bank even takes care of the entire follow-up process, including paying the bills, filing tax returns and processing business expenses!

And here’s another stroke of brilliance about this idea:

Sensing a gap in the market, Insinger de Beaufort offers its shoebox service to clients at other banks, too.

Where can you add “done for you” into your services? A related service? Something else your client normally has to do in the overall process? This should spark a ton of cross-marketing ideas with complementary businesses, to come up with your own “simple” and “easy” examples.

Affluent Marketing

At last week’s Mal Emery Platinum mastermind get together, we briefly discussed how there’ll be a massive transfer in wealth in the coming decade or more, as the parents of baby boomers pass away and wealth is transferred in greater amounts to the baby boomer generation.

That transfer of wealth will generate an increasing amount of spending on products and services aimed at an increasingly affluent generation who are no longer prepared just to sit out retirement, but want experiences, services and products to actively enjoy life after work.

Here’s one indication of the amount of wealth being transferred, at least in the US:

“The numbers are staggering. According to the Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy, over the next 50 years, the wealthiest Americans will leave behind an estimated $27 TRILLION dollars.
High Net Worth on CNBC, 16 August 2008

(On the CWP website, the figure is even higher — they’re reporting intergenerational wealth transfer of $41 trillion by 2052 — in 44 years).

It certainly reinforces that discussion … so what can you do in your business to make the most of this opportunity? How can you package and present your products to attract affluent baby boomers to your business?

If you haven’t already done so, you should be taking note to ensure this lucrative market is not overlooked.

A presentation on presentations

You’ll get some great points from this set of slides about engaging the brain in presentations… why you should fling your current PowerPoint presentations and take notice of this advice.

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