The Twitter social networking and micro-blogging service was launched only two years ago, but it’s rocketing up in usage numbers quickly, and it seems likely to turn red-hot. Many companies are rapidly cluing into the promotional value, but smaller businesses appear slow to hop on the bandwagon. Here are a few tips on leveraging Twitter to help your locally-oriented business.
As oft pointed-out among search marketers, Twitter links do not pass “link juice”—that is, they don’t transfer PageRank value from Twitter to linked-to sites. Even though links in Twitter are nofollowed, there still could be some small value in real ranking terms, according to the theory that “citations” or “references” appear to sometimes help improve rankings in local search. So, at the very least, it’s a good idea to claim a profile in Twitter and link back to your business site.
But, the larger value of Twitter to your company may be in terms of audience engagement and as a communication vehicle, if you learn to use Twitter effectively.
Here’s the sort of thing you’d love to see: a customer happens by your store and is fascinated with something there, and “tweets” a pic of it out to all his Twitter followers:
Even better, if they endorse the business to their followers, this becomes an online species of word-of-mouth-marketing. So, how do you encourage this to happen?
Twitter is full of word of mouth Marketing opportunities. Here’s a sample of just a few tweets I saw that came up in the last week for people seeking NYC restaurants:
- “I need a good reco for a restaurant in NYC with fried chicken. Anyone have suggestions?”
- “looking for inexpensive restaurant options in NYC. Anyone want to help? I’ll be in Soho, but all around the island”
- “I’m seeking NYC Mexican restaurant recommendations, any thoughts?”
- “looking for a NYC restaurant recommendation for me and my lady friends…”
If your business is something people seek out frequently, like an entertainment venue or restaurant, then consider monitoring Twitter mentions containing apropos keyword phrases and send replies recommending your place to them. Use Twitter Search for this. Also, Andrew Shotland suggests using TwitterHawk to help with this in his blog post on the subject.
Andrew warns that Twitter might consider such suggestions to be spam, but I’d argue that the user was actually asking for that advice. Probably, there’s a dividing line between being too aggressive/intrusive and cooperatively engaging with the community, so, be conservative. If someone’s asking for referrals to your type of business (say they’re asking about “eateries in Miami” and you’re a Miami restaurant) you could suggest your place to them. But, if they’re only distantly related to your business (say they just mention they’re passing through Miami) then don’t intrude on them.
Also, keep a pulse on how many of your types of business are in Twitter. If a user gets inundated with dozens of recommendations from businesses for such a query, they’re likely to get irritated. And be aware that Twitter may take a very conservative approach with this to rightly protect their service’s usabilty.
(Also interesting in an aside, check out Andrew’s post about Twellow, a service that uses Twitter profiles to build out a sort of online yellow pages. Presumably, if you don’t have a profile for your local business on Twitter, then a listing for it might not appear inside Twellow.)
Here are some tips I have for ways that you might be able to use Twitter to find and engage with customers:
- Send instant coupons. Empty restaurant? Tweet out a small discount offer for the next hour and fill the place up!
- How about Tweet coupons based upon the customer showing you that they’ve retweeted the offer out to their list of followers? (“Retweeting” = “forwarding” to other Tweeters). This encourages a viral behavior.
- Entertainment venues—tweet out the week’s events! Antone’s Nightclub, Home of the Blues, in Austin appears to be doing this:
- Tweet collaboratively. Partner up with other local businesses and tweet each other. Also consider package deals.
- If you have a local blog, tweet each time you post to promote your blog. Be sure to use a shortened URL in the tweet! (I like Zi.ma and Bit.ly for URL shortening services).
- Tweet out pics of special stuff going on with your store— things like new product teasers, celebs who visit your store, other interesting aspects of stuff your company does like charitable fundraisers.
- Once you’ve built up sufficient numbers of followers, use Twitter to perform quick polls about what products, features, services your customers would prefer. Cheap, fast input from your client base!
Pioneers using Twitter for local marketing
Don’t just follow my list of tips—check out some other savvy businesses who are already using Twitter to promote their local businesses:
The four Portland authors behind ReadingLocal are doing a phenomenal job of collaborating to promote local bookstores, local authors and locally-authored books.
This NJ taxi company seems to be tweeting experimentally, providing info on where taxi pickup locations may be found, tips to getting good taxi service and comments on local taxi regulations. Their engagement approach seems to be a cool one.
John Wolf, Senior Director of Public Relations at Marriott International seems to be handling the hotels chain‘s corporate Twitter presence really adeptly. Can one man keep up with a huge chain in Twitterspace? So far, so good, but when usage continues to ramp up?
Not to be outdone, the Luxor Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas is tweeting entertainment tix and lodging promo codes. Perhaps they’re just slightly edgy/risky in the icon they use for their Twitter profile, though — could it be an actual picture of Brandie, their “Interactive Marketing Ninja,” in that revealing bikini?
San Diego Harbor Excursion is using Twitter to promote themselves, mentioning weather conditions on the bay as well as upcoming dinner cruises, recent press, and other events they offer.
The Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago is using Twitter to mention press, upcoming shows, and other delicious tidbits about their work.
The pastor (Ed Young) at my mega church in Dallas, Fellowship Church, has just begun Tweeting as well, reminding members of upcoming events, commenting on stuff going on and using it as yet another means of keeping connected. Odd for a church to be so sophisticated at marketing, but actually a natural progression for this one since their mission is to be highly relevant and dynamic. It’s really great that they make it personal by having Ed do it, rather than using just an impersonal, institutional persona.
Whole Foods grocery stores appear to be using Twitter for audience engagement, very frequently answering tons of questions sent by other Twitterers. Their bio humorously describes: “Fresh organic tweets from Whole Foods Market HQ in Austin, TX.” They must be promoting Twitter elsewhere, since they have a whopping 176K of followers! Could be some users are finding them through Facebook and coming over to Twitter?
Elizabeth Lewis, a small business attorney in Colorado, uses Twitter to mention personal stuff, promote her blog postings, and generally connect up. Big points on her Twitter avatar, too—her dog’s portrait conveys friendliness while keeping her face private—personal without too much self-exposure.
Twitter is still a new and evolving medium. There’s some compelling numbers of people using Twitter, and the numbers appear to be growing daily. Try it out and see if you can find ways to promote your business and online/mobile presence through Twitter. The service really lends itself to local business marketing opportunities.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.