Using Twitter in Your Marketing Campaign

If memory serves, it was almost exactly a year ago when I had two colleagues — both senior marketing executives — come to me with very similar questions: “Hey Chris, do you know what this twitter thing is all about? I mean, why would I ever use it?” At the time, my answer to them was basically some disparaging muttering. If you’ve had similar thoughts, but everyone keeps pestering you about using Twitter in your marketing campaign, then hopefully this post will be of some use to you.

What Is Twitter?

For those of you unfamiliar with it, Twitter describes itself as “a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?” It’s a social network, like LinkedIn or Facebook, but with only one feature: the ability to “tweet”; to enter a 140 characters which will be shared with everyone who is “following you” (twitter speak for “in your network”). Now, there are quite a few 140-character things that a junior-high school student might want to broadcast to their entire social network; for example, “Yo dudes! I straight ollied a ten stair without breaking my legs! Meet me in the park in thirty minutes and we’ll roll from there. Tweet!!” (OK, that’s only 138 characters, but you get the idea). I can even imagine wanting to get an update like that — maybe even as late as college — but now, as an adult, the prospect of getting dozens of text messages a day sent to my cell phone from each of the people in my social network, with 140 character updates on their status sounds, frankly, horrible.

Another, slightly less horrifying use of twitter is to stalk your favorite stars from a distance. I mean, it might be exciting to follow the tweets of David Lynch (@David_Lynch) or Snoop Dog (@snoopdog). They might say something that I’d want to receive as a text on my cell phone.

Then again, maybe not.

A Shift in The Landscape

So, back to a year ago, neither I, nor anyone I knew, could figure out what to do with this whole twitter thing; never mind how it was going to survive as a business. But then something changed. It’s hard to say exactly when it started, but it’s probably safe to point to this commercial as the turning point.

It may be unlikely that 233,000 people were tweeting right at that moment; and given that the verb form, to tweet, had yet to become popular enough to be used in the commercial, I suspect that far more than 26% of the people watching had no idea what they were talking about — but a lot of people went and found out. And when they did find out what twitter was, the marketing world started innovating around it (and you should be, too).

To be fair, most people still don’t know what to do with twitter. In fact, according to a recent Harvard Business study, the median number of lifetime tweets per twitter user is only one. But you don’t want to be the median user, you want to be the power user — one of the 10% of twitter users who account for 90% of all twitter traffic. It doesn’t matter if you’re a small company or large, an on-line business or something more traditional; twitter is all the rage now, and, best of all, it’s free! So, unless you have an unlimited marketing budget (heck, even if you do have an unlimited marketing budget), you should think about how to use the twitter rage to your advantage, right now. To get you started, here are a few examples of a variety of different companies using twitter in a variety of innovative ways.

Case #1: Guerilla Marketing for The Small Business with Twitter

Boccalone Solumeria is a little salami/sandwich shop in San Francisco’s Ferry Building. To build awareness and get people salivating over their “tasty salted pig parts”, they’re engaging in a little guerrilla marketing. Every so often (often enough to keep people interested, but infrequently enough to keep it exciting) they send out 30-ish panini in a cooler on the back of their custom built bicycle to a corner in the city and set up shop for lunch. Given the unpredictability of their destination (or even whether they’re coming or not), you’ll need to follow their twitter feed to get your sandwich fix: follow @boccalone and they’ll tweet you with their destination, ETA, and panini selection of the day. Not only do they get to sell their 30-odd sandwiches, they get the buzz generated from a horde of people descending upon a corner in downtown San Francisco. And, of course, they get the potentially greater buzz of all of their twitter followers following them (not to mention the occasional write-up in a blog) to build awareness of their store.

Case #2: Twitter as Part of An Integrated Marketing Campaign

While the above is a great example of guerrilla marketing through twitter, it’s not the best use of the service as a marketing device if for no other reason than it violates one of my core tenets of marketing: the results must be measurable. Here’s where there are shockingly few companies using twitter to maximum benefit. But, one that is doing so is Apple Vacations. Take a look at the postings of @applevacations, and you’ll notice two things. First, when they post links to their web site, they post them to specific landing pages. This should not be a new concept to anyone in marketing today, but shockingly few companies’ tweets seem to be making use of this standard SEM technique. Second, they’ve integrated their twitter campaign with their facebook campaign, enabling them (potentially) to build using viral growth techniques.

Case #3: Twitter for Inbound Marketing

Moving away from classic outbound marketing efforts, I think it’s worth giving at least one example of a slightly different sort. Not all marketing is about immediately acquiring revenue. Marketing means something very specific to me, but it covers a lot of ground. For example, marketing can be about retaining employees. Or it can be about doing market research. Or it can be about increasing analyst coverage to improve share price. One thing that it is often about (though not often consciously enough) is keeping customers happy.

Matt Asay suggested in an article for CNN, in January 2009, that perhaps technical support departments could give their customers, “a Twitter feed to follow … that details the different efforts underway to fix the issue, both successful and dead-ends.” Now, upon even a little reflection, there are some challenges with this — for starters, most companies don’t want their technical support issues open for the entire world to see. That said, the fundamental notion isn’t a bad one. If you have timely information that a targeted audience will be extremely interested in receiving, and particularly if that timely information can improve their peace of mind, then twitter might be a great way to go.

Case #4: Twitter for Public Relations

A recent example of this came from CalTrans. Over Labor Day weekend, CalTrans closed the Bay Bridge for a major construction project, with a plan to reopen it at 5:00 AM on Tuesday morning. Shortly after construction began, they discovered damage to the bridge which was outside the scope of their project, which had to be fixed, and which would take herculean effort to finish anywhere near the originally scheduled completion time. As it happens, they pulled off this amazing feat, and had the bridge open on Tuesday morning, with only a two hour delay from the original schedule. But far more important than the timeliness of this extra effort was the communication about it.

Not too long ago, news of this sort delivered on a Saturday could have left people with a ruined holiday as they stressed over their commute on Tuesday morning, whether they’d have to cancel plans on Monday to leave early and take an alternate route, whether the bridge would even be open by Wednesday, etc…, etc…. But CalTrans did a great job of keeping the public up to date — not only through the traditional media, but over the Internet, and through their twitter feed, @baybridgeinfo.


In summary, twitter can be a powerful tool for your marketing efforts if you keep two things in mind:

  • Think outside the box: use twitter in conjunction with guerrilla campaigns or non-traditional messaging to keep your customers happy and informed on time-critical matters; and,
  • Think inside the box: just because it’s some newfangled technology doesn’t mean you have to forget all of your marketing basics (like measuring results and using custom landing pages)

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