HR Specialist

Top Twitter Tips

In Human Resources on October 13, 2009 at 11:42 am

Silly time waster? Sure. Powerful business tool? You bet.

You’ve heard about Twitter — that curious, strangely addictive social-networking technology that facilitates torrents of truncated messages among millions of users. You might even know your hashtags from your re-tweets. But how can you make money with it?

Forbes canvassed scads of businesses and pricey social-networking gurus looking for honest answers. Admittedly, we were skeptical. After all, how much can you accomplish in 140 characters or less?

Turns out there are myriad ways Twitter can have an impact, and not just as a marginal marketing tool. Indeed, we found several clever ways to use Twitter, for everything from boosting sales and scouting talent to conducting market research and raising capital. Chances are there will be many more.

Focus groups

Back in the old days (last year), companies actually paid customers to solicit their opinions. There were 3.37 million mentions of Starbucks on Twitter through early May 2009, and all of that information is available for less than the cost of a Frappucino. “There is a major element of Twitter that’s about listening and learning,” says Brad Nelson, the man behind @Starbucks. “Twitter is a leading indicator.” Collecting the information is as simple as searching for references to your company.

Morgan Johnston, manager of corporate communications at JetBlue Airways, abolished a $50 fee for carry-on bikes after hearing complaints via Twitter. “Think of Twitter as the canary in the coal mine,” says Johnston. “We watch for customers’ discussions about amenities we have, and what they’d like to see made better.” For a more formal approach, lob a simple post asking for feedback and provide a hashtag to collect the responses.

Poaching customers

“Twitter is not just a kid story,” says Chris Brogan, president of New Marketing Labs. Brogan should know: He is one of several Twitter experts advising companies on how to spy on their competition and swoop in with a better service or discount.

Freesource’s Egan describes how to do it: Using TweetDeck, set up a permanent search for all permutations of your competitor’s name, as well as words that convey dissatisfaction (“sucks” or “hate”). Public replies to those new prospects are dangerous, as your competition may see them, so the best bet is to follow them and get followed back, allowing you to send direct messages.

Customer expectation management

Bad things happen — it’s how you condition customers to deal with them that counts. JetBlue tweets flight delays. In April, when a Stanley Cup hockey broadcast was interrupted, cable provider Comcast used Twitter to immediately inform its subscribers that the culprit was a lightning storm and that transmission would soon be restored.

Small companies — like United Linen, a linens and uniform company in Bartlesville, Okla. — can manage expectations this way, too. When a major snowstorm hit the area, Marketing Director Scott Townsend used Twitter to let customers know deliveries would be delayed. “It was a great way to send information to everyone,” he says. “They understood we wouldn’t be there, but they wanted to know what our status was and updates as the situation changed.”

Corralling eyeballs

During last year’s NBA Eastern Conference Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Orlando Magic, Turner Broadcasting managed to weave social-media feeds into its home page. Fans accessed the conversation by logging onto Twitter through TNT.com, and the tweets were also posted on Twitter with links back to TNT.com. Those forums mean more Web traffic — and thus more advertising revenue. “It’s exciting to sell this to an advertiser,” said Liza Hausman, vice president of marketing for Gigya Socialize, the brains behind the integration technology.

Vendor selection

Twitter can snag customers, but how about suppliers? Crowdspring, an online marketplace that marries businesses with graphic designers (see “The Creativity of Crowds“), used Twitter to build up its stable of contributors — now 12,000 strong globally.

Business travelers can apply this same logic: Tweeting that you’re about to visit a city can scare up discount offers from hotels, bus companies and other travel-services providers.

Conflict resolution

Wiggly Wigglers, a Herfordshire, U.K.-based marketer of gardening and farming supplies, was recently overcharged $10,500 by British Telecom. Five months passed without restitution.

Finally, Wiggly owner Heather Gorringe hit the Twitter-sphere, asking if anyone else had had problems with BT. @BTCare sent Gorringe a message within 30 minutes promising help; two days later, the bill was amended. “When I phone them up, I’m an isolated call to deal with, so I’m less important,” says Gorringe. “But if I tweet, and 1,193 people re-tweet, 100,000 people see it within 30 seconds.”

Employee recruitment

Sodexo, a food services and facilities management company, trains its recruiters on Twitter and other social media. An automated program sends prospects a direct message whenever a position opens up, and the messages are opened 30 percent of the time.

The trick, says Arie Ball, vice president of talent acquisition at Sodexo, is to be as personal and engaging as possible: “People get an insider’s view, a sense if this is a company they want to work for.” The company says that using Twitter as a recruitment tool has helped cut its investment in online job boards by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Raising capital

As in the physical world, no one likes to be solicited for contributions online. A better Twitter tack: Don’t ask, just inform.

Last Thanksgiving, Epic Change, a nonprofit that encourages people to tell their stories to transform communities, launched the Tweetsgiving Web site, with the help of theKbuzz, a word-of-mouth marketing firm. Tweetsgiving asked people to tweet what they were grateful for, and compiled the responses at #tweetsgiving, with a link back to the Tweetsgiving site, where users had the option of contributing money to build classrooms in Tanzania.

Over the 48-hour campaign, 15,000 people came to the Tweetsgiving site; 360 donated, for a total of $11,000. “We never asked people to give,” says Stacey Monk, founder of Epic Change. “We got people invested in their own, personalized way.”

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