Many businesses still think of Twitter as only a public relations tool. But Twitter is more than just a way to publicize a new product or service. It's a way for businesses to quickly connect and engage with customers, partners and employees and build a loyal following. So how can your brand leverage Twitter beyond PR? Following are six innovative ways to use the social media service that can benefit your bottom line.
1. Lead generation/customer acquisition
"Businesses can use Twitter to prospect for leads," says Brandon Hoffman, director of Internet marketing, KEA Advertising. "For instance, let's say that you're an auto mechanic. [You could] do a search for terms like 'need mechanic' [or] 'recommend mechanic,' [looking for posters] within 10 miles of your business address." You can then "engage them and potentially find yourself a new customer."
Another way to find prospective customers on Twitter is to search for intent-based tweets. "Three-hundred million Tweets are sent daily and two of the most commonly used phrases on Twitter are 'I want' and 'I need,'" says Bernard Perrine, cofounder and CEO, SocialCentiv, a Twitter marketing tool. "Monitoring Twitter for keywords and geolocation, brands who represent services or products that answer the 'I want' or 'I need' tweets have a golden opportunity to reply with a personalized offer and [attract a new customer]."
You can also "monitor Twitter to find unhappy customers of your competitors," says Brittany Berger, head of Content, Mention, a media monitoring service. "If there's an opportunity where you can help or solve their problem, a quick reply can turn them into a hot lead. Just make sure to reach out with the intention of helping, instead of letting it turn into a hard sell."
Similarly, "look for general conversations happening about your business's industry," she says. "If you find people asking questions you know the answer to, help them out regardless of whether or not it's related to your product or business. This will help you build warm connections that can be converted to leads."
Another way to attract new customers, "reward your Twitter followers with special promotions and flash sales," says Roxanne Martinez, president, Roxstar Marketing. "Tweet a deal that your customers cannot find anywhere else. If it's compelling enough, you're likely to get retweets or engagement that could attract new customers."
You can also "use Twitter to hire talent," says Ninh Tran, cofounder and CMO, HireTeamMate. "Fifty-four percent of companies are using Twitter to hire, and 74 percent of hires come from social networks." Moreover, "34 percent of job seekers are 'social' job seekers - [and] 29 percent of social job seekers ask for advice on Twitter."
"When recruiting, use Twitter to scan for qualified applicants in your field," says Michelle LeBlanc, social media strategist, Industrium, an advertising, marketing, PR and public affairs agency. "Using industry-specific search terms, plus a geolocation filter, in an application like Hootsuite, will help you to quickly narrow your search to nearby candidates [who] are passionate about your products or services."
"Twitter can be a great channel to recruit your most active fans to join your company as employees," agrees Weiting Liu, founder and CEO, Codementor. "At Codementor, we constantly monitor Twitter for potential candidates. One of our key hires actually joined us because he tweeted enthusiastically about our service. We followed up aggressively - and a few months later he joined as our head of business development!"
To find job candidates on Twitter, use "hashtags like #jobs, #jobsearch and #[your city or region]," says Andrew Hall, copywriter, Nublue, a Web design, development and hosting company. And "be sure to include a photo of your workplace, [including] your people, as well as the salary range of your vacancies and a link to your careers page online - or, even better, an internal recruitment video [on] YouTube."
3. Market research
"Wonder what consumers will think of your new widget or service? Introduce it on Twitter with a custom hashtag and ask for feedback," says Erika Taylor Montgomery, founder and CEO, Three Girls Media, a public relations and social media management agency. "The platform is a quick, easy and inexpensive way to gain valuable insight from a desired core audience."
Twitter is a great way "to conduct impromptu (and totally free!) market research," says Tami Brehse, a digital marketing consultant. "Ask a question and let the crowd answer, or reach out directly to influencers to get their pulse on the topic of your choice."
Indeed, Twitter "is a great way to collect ideas, feedback and opinions on your brand, product or the industry you're in as well as information about your customers themselves," says Jodie Cook, the owner of JC Social Media. "People love being asked their opinion. It makes them feel valued and that you, as a company, listen to your audience. Furthermore, you can go about collecting information that can [help] shape your approach and decisions."
4. Event marketing
"When you're looking to promote an upcoming event [say a trade show or conference], Twitter's advertising features allow you to target audiences that make up your ideal registrant and who live in or near the city hosting the event," says Kyle Willis, chief strategist, N2Q Consulting. "Through Twitter cards, you can combine a photo, CTA [call to action] and short message all in a single tweet. And with retargeting enabled, you can continue to show those ads to people who've visited your website but haven't registered yet. Twitter's advertising rates are pretty low too, so you can run ads with any budget."
You can also use Twitter to advertise upcoming Web or podcasts or live chats.
5. Customer service
"Many customers [these days] prefer to contact businesses on Twitter for immediate resolution to their issues," says Susan Ganeshan, CMO, Clarabridge, a customer experience management company. "This saves them the time and hassle of looking up a phone number or email address and having to wait on hold - and it saves you money. Since neglected these customers become increasingly dissatisfied, aim for a process that enables response within an hour."
"We've transitioned Twitter to a customer service platform because it's extremely cost effective and our customers are already on Twitter," says Leon Rbibo, president, The Pearl Source. "Customers have grown increasingly weary of automated, frustrating phone systems. Why put them through that pain? We're able to resolve issues on Twitter within a matter of minutes. This, in turn, provides brand loyalty. A happy customer who feels taken care of is one that is going to come back."
"Twitter is [also] a great alternative to live chat," says Mark Tuchscherer, cofounder and CEO, Geeks Chicago, a Web development company. "People love having the option of being able to reach companies via the social media networks that they spend so much on time each day."
6. Media relations
Use Twitter to "find the journalists and bloggers who are writing about your space and begin following them [on Twitter]," says Mark Karayan, media strategist, LEWIS, a global communications agency. "Listen to their conversations and jump in to add your knowledge, respectfully, when it feels natural."
"Utilize Twitter for media outreach," says Meredith Warren, social media manager, Idea Grove, a PR agency specializing in B2B technology. "Some journalists may prefer a tweet over a phone call. If you spot an active Twitter user on your media list, a personalized tweet just might be the best way to get their attention." Just "don't bother reaching out via [Twitter] if they haven't posted a tweet in 6 months."
"Twitter is a great way to maintain relationships with key media influencers and reporters," says Sarah Hilmer, Communications, BetterWorks, the developer of goal-setting software for enterprises. "You can [use Twitter to] learn about their likes, dislikes, resource preferences and even writing style and humor by interacting with them, which gives you a huge advantage when you go to pitch them a story idea."