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5 marketing tips for tackling Twitter

5 marketing tips for tackling Twitter Steve Mulder

Social media has added many new marketing channels to our toolbox: blogs, forums, user-generated videos, social networking sites and so on. But none of them is as odd as Twitter.

Think of Twitter as something between microblogging and sending public instant messages. People post very short messages (a limit of 140 characters) called "tweets" about what they're doing or what they're thinking, and other people follow their every word. As with blogs, individuals are using Twitter to stay in touch with friends, to rant, to ponder, to experiment, to brag and (from many tweets I've read) to avoid boredom.

Why does this matter to marketers? Because Twitter is becoming an increasingly important platform for online communication and conversation. Numbers are hard to come by, but TechCrunch reports that Twitter has more than 1 million users (200,000 of which are active every week), and about 3 million messages are posted every day. These are still relatively small numbers, but the activity comes from an early-adopter segment that can be hard to reach using traditional marketing channels.

Where there's an emerging communications channel, there are always marketers fearlessly jumping in, and the same is true of Twitter. Who's doing it well? How can you use Twitter for marketing your products or services? What are effective ways of engaging in this emerging dialogue without turning people off?

Here are five core ways to dive in.

As with other social media, the most important first step is to listen to the conversations. See what people are saying about you on Twitter. The daily thoughts of so many people can be an incredibly rich source of information on the perceptions of your brand, products and services.

The easiest way to start listening is to visit search.twitter.com and enter your brand and related keywords. You'll quickly find gems like these:

  • It's an Epson Perfection V500. It's the loveliest flatbed with negative scanning capabilities I have ever met. does 120 too. :D

  • Something's wrong with the Hertz website. First I can choose from a dozen car classes, after I change the date only convertibles are shown.

  • When did the malls in fort worth get so trashy? It felt like I was walking around kmart.

  • I will officially miss the $5 burgers at Bennigan's. If Applebees closes, too, my cheap bar eating days will be shot.

To view the volume of conversation about your brand on Twitter, also try Twist. There are also several social media analytics services that track Twitter as part of their package, such as Techrigy SM2 and Collective Intellect.

Only after you've listened a while and understand the style and etiquette of Twitter communications should you consider creating an account and posting content. An easy starting point is to publish regular news and updates that you already distribute via other channels:

  • Product announcements

  • Press release headlines

  • Events

  • Press coverage about you

  • Blog posts

In most cases, you'll post just a headline with a link to the full content. Examples of companies publishing news updates include Oracle, Salesforce and Apple, which unfortunately appears to ignore Twitter except during Steve Jobs' presentations.

But don't limit yourself to pushing existing content. After all, only truly passionate customers will follow your tweets if all you provide is news they can already get elsewhere. Your Twitter presence won't grab attention if all it does is link to other content, like Salesforce does. Think about new and different bits of content that your prospects and customers will find valuable.

For example, JetBlue often uses Twitter to post weather alerts or travel tips that make traveling easier:

Whole Foods finds external resources that it knows customers are interested in:

Some companies are finding that Twitter is an effective channel for sending out promotional messages. Timely sales and coupons are easy to distribute on Twitter, and the fast nature of the Twitterverse means that people can respond to the promotions quickly.

DellOutlet regularly posts offers with codes for special discounts:

But let's face it, blasting people with your news and special offers simply won't cut it for the great majority of Twitter users. Most people don't want to follow you on Twitter for the factual information and offers you might publish. They're interested in you because they want to engage with the brand in some way. They want to hear the voice and personality of the brand.

Ultimately, Twitter is far more valuable for distributing your brand personality than it is for merely delivering your content. Companies that are engaging users on Twitter aren't succeeding just because of the information they supply; it's the voice and style of delivery that makes the difference.

H&R Block is a big company. Few people get warm fuzzies when thinking about H&R Block. But on Twitter, H&R Block has a voice that is approachable and helpful. People are exposed to an H&R Block that expands their perceptions of the brand through tweets such as this:

Similarly, Crocs uses Twitter to express its unique brand personality and get people excited about shoes:

Speaking of shoes, the CEO of Zappos uses Twitter regularly to talk about products, parties he attends and anything else on his mind. His voice becomes the voice of Zappos for Twitter readers:


For more examples, check out Carnival Cruise, Marvel and SmarterTravel.

Social media spaces such as Twitter are where personalities meet. If you come across as a monolithic, faceless organization, you will be ignored. If you take the time to hone a voice and personality, people are much more likely to engage with you. Be real, authentic, interesting. Figure out your voice and jump into the pool.

I saved the most important Twitter tip for last: Twitter is about conversations, not monologues. Old-school, one-way marketing is at best quaint and at worst annoying in this two-way world of social media. Twitter is about talking with people, not merely at them. While publishing content and creating personality are starting points and should be components of your Twitter strategy, it shouldn't stop there.

First, make friends on Twitter. If people follow you, follow them too. You're creating a community around your brand, not a soapbox for you alone. Barack Obama succeeds on Twitter because visiting his page feels like entering a community of like-minded folks, unlike Hillary Clinton's Twitter page, which feels like an empty room.

Obama's Twitter page

Clinton's Twitter page

Second, reply to others. This critical component of your Twitter activity makes all the difference, because it shows you want to engage with customers and listen to them. When people make a comment or ask a question, respond quickly and authentically. Respond like a real person, not like a marketing robot. Here's a typical conversation JetBlue engages in on Twitter:

  • Customer: @jetblue where can I find your checked bag policy? Does a car seat count as an extra bag?

  • JetBlue: children's car seats don't count as a second checked bag (and can also be gate checked if you find that easier)

  • Customer: Thanks much. I'm ready to be a happy jetter tomorrow

This simple dialogue answers a customer's question, and because Twitter is a public forum, it also informs other customers and displays JetBlue's responsiveness and service.

Other companies such as Network Solutions use Twitter to respond to requests for improvements:

  • Customer: Network Solutions Hosted DNS service does not allow SPF, TXT or PTR records of any kind. I don't understand how that is possible.

  • Network Solutions: I know we are adding features to the DNS. I can have someone give you more details. My contact http://tinyurl.com/6gsz66

  • Customer: props to Network Solutions @netsolcares for offering to speak to me after I bitched about their service.

  • Network Solutions: Thanks. Your feedback is the stepping stone for our improvements.

Finally, be proactive in starting conversations. Listen for mentions of your brand, read them, and take the lead in starting a conversation. Here's an example of how Comcast reached out to a customer who said something about them:

  • Customer: my comcast internet has been down since yesterday. so not cool, comcast. esp w ur already low customer satisfaction #s

  • Comcast: Can I help?

  • Customer: i tweeted about my 24hrs of dead comcast internet and @comcastcares answered my cry for help in secs. No. 2999 why i am in awe over Twitter! plus i have a new found respect for comcast. thank you, @comcastcares

  • Comcast: DM the phone number on the account and let me take a look

Imagine the surprise a customer experiences when, after he or she rants about Comcast, a helpful person from Comcast sends them a message and earnestly tries to help. Helping one customer at a time where everyone can see it can make a real difference in brand sentiment. And those good experiences are being shared beyond Twitter, where blog entries and word of mouth generate broader benefits.

Because success on Twitter requires these types of back-and-forth interactions, it requires dedication and resources. You can't create a Twitter account, post a press release once a month, and expect an instant audience of thousands. Companies such as Comcast and JetBlue are having an impact because they are willing to have personal, authentic conversations with customers. In an era where messaging is the standard, one-to-one conversations stand out.

Steve Mulder is director of emerging interactions at Molecular. 

Steve Mulder is director of emerging interactions at Molecular, where he helps organizations innovate on customer relationships using social media, rich Internet applications, and emerging digital interfaces. He is the author of "The User Is Always...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Steve Dodd

2008, October 14

Steve, this is a terrific outline about how to work with Twitter! More and more of our customers (Sysomos) are asking for Twitter analytics, especially when combined with other forms of Social Media. I will be using this outline as part of our customer discussions.
Specifically, there are many great examples of B-B marketing in this domain and it is growing quickly.

Commenter: Rebecca Blackwell

2008, October 05

I appreciate the way you've broken this down, and want to point out that the same factors apply to marketing in small businesses.

Twitter has, in many ways, evened the playing field for both large and small businesses. Large businesses can act small (connecting with customers, projecting a personality, reacting quickly, etc.) and small businesses can act large (reaching large numbers of people quickly, driving customer opinion, generating buzz, etc.).

Commenter: rickey gold

2008, September 25

Thanks, Steve, for a great article that I plan to share with my clients who don't quite "get" twitter yet. I know they need to be there (b-b as well as b-c) especially after speaking to someone at an event last night who told me how much the word on her company's biz has spread since they've been twittering.

Commenter: Fred Jorgensen

2008, September 11

Well organized post and great synthesis of Twitter's role in a marketing context.

Re: Melinda's B2B question, consider following @crosbymarketing to see how we're using it to dimensionalize our agency and add value to customers, prospects and employees.

Commenter: Steve Mulder

2008, September 10

Melinda is right that most Twitter experimentation is on the B-to-C side. I'm not aware of B-to-B Twitter successes yet, though I encourage people to share any they've seen. But like all elements of social media (blogs, wikis, ratings/reviews, etc.), B-to-B usage eventually follows B-to-C successes. After all, every business user is also a consumer in other areas of their life. They all experience firsthand the value of blogs, user reviews, Twitter, and so on, and start looking for them and expecting them in their B-to-B interactions as well.

Commenter: Melinda Snow Welsh

2008, September 10

Thank you for such a great article for newbies to Twitter. This was really helpful and I'm going to start some experimenting. Quesion for you...most of the examples you cited are for B-to-C. Are you seeing success in Twitter for B-to-B (non-technical companies)?