Who would have guessed that the expression "a little birdie told me" would be such an accurate way to describe the sharing of information online? With the growing usage of Twitter, people are hearing much of their news, gossip and general life updates from friends via the little blue bird that has come to represent the popular micro-blogging site. From celebrities sharing personal stories, to reporters providing real-time updates from war zones, to Fortune 500 companies running Twitter-exclusive promotions, the 140-character "tweet" is becoming a common way to send your message.
As professionals, the decision to join the Twitter conversation needs to be given much consideration. Today, too many companies are too quick to jump on the Twitter (and social networking in general) bandwagon without assessing the marketing objective and assigning a method of quantifying success. Twitter and other social media efforts require time and attention in order to stay up to date and relevant — which is the point in getting involved in the first place.
BENEFITS AND USES OF TWITTER. From large national companies to small local chains, Twitter has helped many businesses to engage with their consumers while they are online. Here are just a few of the ways you can put Twitter to use for your business:
Increase your company’s presence: More and more, people are looking to Twitter and other social media platforms for news, tips and deals. Having a presence in that space increases your chances of being the resource people turn to when they have questions about pest control or are looking for a pest control partner.
Communicate with customers: Through @replies, which allow you to address a comment to a particular person, and direct messages, which go privately to one person, you can have conversations with customers via Twitter. Being able to communicate with people in the online places where they’re already spending time eliminates a step for them to get in touch with you. After all, clients are looking for a service provider that will make their lives easier.
For example, consider Best Buy’s customer service tactic. Best Buy started their "TwelpForce," through which customers could post a question with the tag #TwelpForce. This tag allowed the questions to be tracked and aggregated, so a group of Best Buy employees could then follow up on them and answer the consumers’ questions in a timely manner via Twitter. This has resulted in tens of thousands of consumer questions being answered online.
Share news/tips: Have you noticed an increase of infestations of a particular pest in your area? Have tips on how to recognize a tricky species? Running a promotion or discount offer? Twitter is a great way to let people know, or direct them to your website to learn more.
Provide offers/deals: Offering Twitter-exclusive discounts and deals can also up your presence among users and help you track the engagement you’re generating through your Twitter efforts. Try offering codes that are only shared through Twitter, or simply direct followers to mention, "Twitter sent me" when calling to receive a percentage off of the total service cost.
Boloco, a Boston burrito restaurant, found this particular tactic to be a key driver of sales when it used Twitter as another avenue to distribute its coupons. Boloco’s owner decided to distribute a picture of his restaurant’s coupon and tweet that customers could show their smartphones with the coupon page called up. The restaurant normally gets 350 coupons from its traditional ad campaigns. After combining it with this Twitter tactic, Boloco redeemed 900 coupons.
POTENTIAL DRAWBACKS OF TWITTER. As with anything, there are potential drawbacks to Twitter as well. Although it is being widely used, this technology and its use as a marketing tactic is still relatively new, so there is a learning curve. Some potential drawbacks to consider:
Twitter can be time consuming: Keeping up with a Twitter feed and other users’ tweets and replies takes time. Starting a Twitter feed and then not keeping up with it does not reflect well on the company, so only get on board if you have the time to devote to your Twitter feed. One idea would be to hire an intern who could take Twitter on as a responsibility; after discussions about what is appropriate to say and what is not, of course.
You’ll need to post continuous, new content: Though some people get carried away, tweeting almost hourly, it is necessary to provide new updates with some regularity. If you don’t have news very often, it can become difficult to think of new things to say. Be sure to have a clear idea of the kind of things you’d like to post so you can cast a wide net for content, such as sharing relevant news articles or photos via TwitPic.
It can provide a platform for potential negative comments: By opening your company up to a public platform like Twitter, there is always going to be the risk that people can post negative comments about your company or a particular service. Using the same @reply formula that can direct a tweet to an individual, users can make comments about you that would link to your profile by using @ and your handle. The best way to address negative comments is to remain professional and polite, and not engage in arguments or name-calling. You can always request to connect with someone offline to discuss his or her comments or concerns. At the same time, if you post something negative, you never know who could see it and potentially be offended by it, so it’s always best to remain informative and helpful, and steer away from negativity or sensitive subjects such as religious or political views.
A recent example of a Twitter faux pas came from Chrysler. A representative from their social media agency tweeted a negative and inappropriately worded comment about the city of Detroit, thinking he was tweeting from his own personal account. However, he failed to realize that he was signed in to the Chrysler account when he posted a very negative statement about drivers in Detroit from the voice of Chrysler. Chrysler fired its social media agency and the agency then fired the employee.
OTHER SOCIAL MEDIA AVENUES. If Twitter doesn’t seem like the ideal place to be, there are other social media platforms that could be an option. Consider the following:
A company blog where you can share news about your company and the industry. A blog can show the human side of a company and reassure consumers that they are dealing with real people. You could share stories of interesting jobs or even news about employees to help clients feel connected to their PCO partners.
Consider using a Google or Technorati search to find bloggers in your area that write about their homes. Reach out to them to offer a complementary service so they can then review their experience on their blog, encouraging others to turn to your company when they have a pest problem.
A Facebook fan page can allow you to engage with your consumers in a place where they spend a lot of time. You can post photos, answer questions and provide company information and updates.
Visit message boards and forums that are talking about home care and maintenance and act as a resource to help answer questions that people post about pest prevention, identification and treatment. Just be sure to disclose your company affiliation.
THE BOTTOM LINE. The social media world is large and there are many ways to interact and connect online. Twitter is one of the most popular platforms for communicating, but when being used by a business, joining Twitter must be a well-planned and thought-out step. The beauty of social media and what makes it successful for companies, is that it allows customers to interact with the brands and firms they use. If the interaction is missing or the conversation only occurs one way, it will not work. If you can make the commitment to an active, engaging Twitter account, you can enjoy great success and dialogue with your customers.
The author is executive director of the Professional Pest Management Alliance. She can be reached at email@example.com.