By Nancy Drexler
The Green Sheet asked me to write about Twitter this month. Always happy to oblige, I did my research. Talked to the pros. And in my honest opinion, if you're not yet tweeting on Twitter, you don't have to start now - at least not for marketing or business purposes.
On the other hand, Twitter is just one example of a slew of new social networks that may become a significant part of the marketing mix. So, should you choose to continue reading anyway, here are the facts.
Twitter facilitates mini-blogs that let you blast short messages called tweets to specified friends and followers, as well as to the Web community at large. Messages must be 140 characters or fewer, including letters, punctuation and spaces.
You select Twitter users whose communications you want to follow and then receive all of their postings on your computer, cell phone or personal digital assistant device. Twitter is free (which may explain its explosive growth) except for fees that may be charged by your phone or text service provider.
Tweeting is a form of social messaging. Young people love it. It is a short, simple, fast way for them to communicate with all their friends.
They type in, "Who wants to eat at Jack's tonight?" and in seconds they have set dinner plans. They post, "Going to the park to kick around a soccer ball," and all their friends know where they are. (Young people seem to think their friends want to know such things.)
Small businesses that want their employees to keep in touch can use Twitter in the same way as youths do. On business trips and at tradeshows, for instance, Twitter provides a simple way for employees to keep track of each other's whereabouts or to inform the group if a key prospect just took a seat by himself at Starbucks.
Local police and fire departments are also getting on board, using Twitter to keep their communities apprised of emergencies. Faster and more immediate than traditional blogging, Twitter gets short news out fast.
For that reason - perhaps coupled with the fact that Twitter has become one of the most popular social networks - larger companies are also beginning to participate. Twitter, it seems, offers a new and efficient way to introduce a product or service, brand it, get immediate customer feedback and drive interested prospects to your Web site.
If you are marketing a new video game, for example, you can find yourself talking to millions of people who will tell you what they look for in the gaming experience, what products they've liked and disliked, and exactly how they feel about your product offering.
Generating and monitoring this kind of buzz is a plus for companies launching consumer products or services that have broad appeal, particularly to a younger market. Of course, it's most effective when the buzz about your product is positive; there is undoubtedly a risk in throwing your name out there for public discussion.
Some prominent companies, such as Comcast, are also using Twitter to provide immediate responses to customer inquiries. By solving problems quickly and in public, Comcast boosts its image as a hip, proactive, responsive company.
This approach also works for The Home Depot U.S.A. Inc., which used Twitter during a hurricane to post information about protecting homes and possessions from damage.
Does the payments industry need to start tweeting? Twitter has added Twellow, a search engine designed to help users find people to follow on Twitter. It lets you search for people based on several dozen categories. You can look for accountants, environmentalists, artists, e-commerce businesses, telecommunications specialists and so forth.
If we were to list ourselves on Twellow or search there for prime prospects to follow, it might help us reach people in targeted merchant categories, but do those people actually want to converse (in brief bursts of text) about credit card processing? Do we have enough appeal? Can we generate enough buzz? Will merchants actually choose to turn their payment processing over to us simply because of what they heard on Twitter?
In the future, the answer to these questions may be yes, but for right now, I'm not sure there would be enough business generated to make the time investment worthwhile.
Furthermore, Twitter poses risks we may not want to take. Buzz cannot be controlled. One person ranting and raving about your lousy customer service may easily cause others to chime in with their negative experiences. Bad news, as they say, travels fast. And bad apples can be found trolling all the social networks.
Twitter is not really about sales; it is about relationships and friendships and conversation. Interrupting Twitter users to push a product or service is likely to backfire. All social groups have inherent norms for behavior; it's not wise to tweet professionally unless and until you know what you're doing.
Maybe it's just that I am past my prime. Maybe it's just that I don't like all this "connection." The truth is, I don't want to be buzzed, beeped and tweeted at all hours of the day, and I certainly don't care where you are eating dinner.
Nevertheless, it is clear the corporate Web site is becoming less and less relevant as a marketing tool and more and more dependent upon the Internet marketing that surrounds it. It is Web marketing that drives people to your site and social networks that generate buzz.
It may not be time to start tweeting for your business, but it is time to get online, get connected, and get familiar with the variety of available online marketing tools and social networks, including Twitter. While few of us can afford the luxury of hiring someone to sit at a computer all day to blog and monitor our Web presences, it may soon become a necessity.
So, despite my aversion, I'll tell you what: Maybe I'll try it. I'll become Señor Pay and start tweeting away. I'll let you know how it goes.
Nancy Drexler is the Vice President, Marketing for SignaPay Ltd., an ISO headquartered in Dallas. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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