The Twitter social network is a phenomenon of the decade, with some estimating that by March of 2013 its total user base will meet or surpass 500 million. While some debate the validity of that number, there is no doubt that a substantial portion of the user base represents committed and active users who are in frequent if not virtually constant contact with each other. This illustrates the tremendous potential of twitter marketing. In general, the benefits of twitter marketing can be viewed as having two main areas of emphasis: external, generally customer-based, relationships, and business intelligence.
The potential of Twitter’s use for customer relations can hardly be overstated. At a basic level, the network can be used to issue free press releases that will rapidly disseminate to Twitter users interested in the company, and from those users out to those with whom they are somehow connected. The true depth of benefit will, however, become apparent as the company actively engages with the medium, as should be apparent to anyone who has watched a recent episode of TV’s Lets Make A Deal and noted that a substantial portion of the studio audience follows the show on Twitter to determine what little items they should bring to the show to win prizes. Similarly, periodic release of coupons or special offers through Twitter helps to keep customers engaged with the company, and allows more effective use of company web sites and blogs by linking back to them. This engagement can be extended by providing customer support through the medium. Such dialogs give customers the sense of dealing with people rather than a faceless organization, which has an obvious benefit in customer loyalty and enhances the credibility and reputation of the company.
To a large extent, the second area of emphasis, business intelligence, flows from engagement with the customer base. At its most basic level, marketing involves developing products that the customer wants, and if a company is engaged with its customers, they will tell the company what they want. They will tell a company what they like about a competitor’s product, for example, much more honestly, and more cost-effectively, than any focus group.
The benefits of Twitter marketing, however, do not come without a price. Engaging with the medium requires doing just that, which means that the people responsible be knowledgeable and beyond that be able to get answers when they do not know them. Slow, inaccurate, and generally ineffective responses to any tweet are likely to get re-tweeted around Twitter, perhaps even more rapidly than good ones, and become grist for the mill of the competitors of the company. As with any tool, Twitter marketing can be double-edged. This cannot, however, be construed as advocating a lack of participation. A company will be just as much a target if it is not present. The most effective strategy is to recognize that Twitter marketing will have a substantial influence on the public persona of the company and devote an appropriate level of resources to enhancing it. The potential benefits far outweigh the costs.