Gartner: Four Ways Companies Use Twitter for Business

Discussion
Mar 30, 2009

By Tom Ryan

Although Twitter was originally intended
for communication among individuals, a number of companies have begun to
actively participate on the platform. However, Gartner notes that not all
companies are using Twitter in the same way. Some are tweeting, some are
just listening, and some are doing both.

"Despite
the fact that Twitter is primarily aimed at individual users in the consumer
market, many of those individuals work for companies and ‘tweet’ about
business issues, leading businesses to explore how they could best use
it," said Jeffrey Mann, research vice president at Gartner, in a statement.

"As Twitter is a public forum, employees
should understand the limits of what is acceptable and desirable," added
Mr. Mann. "It is good practice to remind employees that the policies
already in place apply to this new communication forum, as well. If organizations
have not defined a public web participation policy, they should do so as
quickly as possible."

Gartner identified four ways companies are
using Twitter so far:

Direct: Some
companies are using Twitter as a marketing or public relations channel,
touting corporate accomplishments and providing links back to corporate
web pages, press releases, and other promotional sites. Gartner maintains
that this approach "should be used with caution because uninteresting
or self-serving Tweets could hinder the brand image as much as it could
help. Responding to comments can be particularly risky, as the anonymous
nature of Twitter can easily descend into a negative spiral."

Indirect: The
second approach involves letting employees tweet. Gartner said, "Good Twitterers enhance their personal reputation by saying clever,
interesting things, attracting many followers who go on to read their blogs…Twitter provides a way of raising the profile of
both individuals and the organizations they work for, which elevates these
companies that want to be seen to employ influential leaders."

Internal: Some companies use Twitter internally to share ideas
or communicate about projects they’re working on. Gartner does not recommend
using Twitter or any other consumer microblogging service
in this way, because so far there is no guarantee of security.

Inbound Signaling: Some companies are Twitter "listeners."
Using search tools like search.twitter.com or desktop applications like TweetDeck, they keep track of what’s being said about the
company, its product names, or even the industry as a whole. Said Gartner,
"Savvy companies use these signals to get early warnings of problems
and collect feedback about product issues and new product ideas."

Discussion Questions: How do you think companies
should be exploring using Twitter? What shouldn’t they be doing with
Twitter? How does the opportunity differ for retailers versus vendors?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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13 Comments on "Gartner: Four Ways Companies Use Twitter for Business"


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Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
13 years 1 month ago

Companies are obviously feeling their way with Twitter. It’s imperative that smart retailers do, at a minimum, monitor the “inbound signaling” and begin to explore how to potentially participate via “indirect” use.

Longer term, I question whether Twitter, specifically, can build lasting relationships with customers. Twitter is all the rage today, but what about two years from now when individual users get bored and move on to the next best site? When talks turns to Twitter, it seems Twitter hype often overshadows social networking reality, i.e., the latter offers a fresh way of communicating with consumers and holds the promise of a long-term relationship that’s more immediate and transparent.

Mary Baum
Guest
Mary Baum
13 years 1 month ago
Tim, I think you raise a salient point: part of the lesson of Twitter is the lesson of how we’ll handle the next shiny object that comes along. My guess is that Twitter will be all the rage for a while–the S-curve folks would estimate that time to be about as long as it took to get it this far–then plateau with a core of steady users. Then the next hot web app will come along, and we’ll all do our damnedest to figure out how *that* will make us instant millionaires–or at least, temporary kewl kids. If I may be so bold: probably that shiny object is FriendFeed, coming to the awareness of the world’s non-geeks in about twelve to eighteen months. Shorter, if I’ve just insulted anyone on this forum by referring to them as a non-geek. (They’ll hop over to FF and sign up all their friends, just to prove me wrong…). Nevertheless, the issue becomes: do we need to be developing a system NOW for how we integrate new ways of… Read more »
Rick Moss
Guest
13 years 1 month ago

Joel Warady commented above that “we have yet to see a brick and mortar retailer make GREAT use of Twitter.” I challenged our Twitter followers on that. “mainmerchants” replied that LLBean was a good example (although they’re admittedly not fundamentally brick and mortar).

“rickboretsky” wrote that “TJ Maxx is using twitter quite effectively. I think they may have the start of an appropriate model” and also mentioned Whole Foods, Build-a-Bear and Starbucks. Mr. Boretsky also offered his blog post on the topic: Where in the World are Brick & Mortar Retailers?

Doug Fleener
Guest
13 years 1 month ago
As a Twitter user myself (http://twitter.com/dougfleener) I’ve seen all these different methods used. Like Bob and Carol who I follow on Twitter, we’re also recommending that clients be on Twitter. What you do on Twitter depends on who your customer is and the value you can bring. I think a great example is Home Depot (http://twitter.com/homedepot) Their Twitter feeds in Hurricane season are amazing. They let their followers (5,600 of them as of now) know what stores are open, what supplies are on hand, and I also like how they call out their employee efforts during difficult times. Another great example is Zappos as others have noted. I love the way Tony balances tweeting about his life and what’s taking place at Zappos. How many CEOs did you watch trying their had at their first Turducken, and the next day share some great business advice? I’ve also seen some independents do a great job of putting a human face on their business. I’ve also see some blur that line between the voice of a retailer… Read more »
Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
13 years 1 month ago

Twitter is an excellent tool for communicating but there must be policies in place to control information flow. It’s one thing to complain and whine about the place you work at, but it’s entirely another to pass company secrets through Twitter. I do like the public nature of social networking sites and I think they can add value and efficiency to any organization, but like Facebook, problems may arise in the future so it is having a policy regarding social networking sites that is essential. I have seen Facebook used positively and negatively. The productivity opportunities should be explored, but with caution.

Joel Warady
Guest
Joel Warady
13 years 1 month ago
There is no question that Gartner’s list of four Twitter strategies is a great place to start. The biggest challenge for most retailers as well as corporations is allowing their employees to tweet about the company on a regular basis. This requires a change in attitude of the company, and change does not come easy. Most corporate executives would consider spending time on Twitter a waste of good man-hours, and it takes a visionary to allow their employees to tweet without concern. Retailers could certainly use the tool to grow traffic in their stores. Using Twitter is a great way to encourage corporate transparency, and allow your customers to see inside the boardroom to better understand what the company’s philosophies are. We don’t recommend that you use Twitter to announce sales on products, because most people will become annoyed, and stop following the company. There is a place for this use, but it has to be a part of an overall strategy, and used properly. We have yet to see a brick and mortar retailer… Read more »
David Biernbaum
Guest
13 years 1 month ago

There are a number of ways for companies to take advantage, learn, and even participate with Twitter. However, companies should allow the forum to remain “individual” and respect its intent and purposes, and be very clever about how to conduct public relations, brand marketing, and any other viral objectives. My experience in working with, and observing how many companies try to capitalize on Facebook MySpace, LinkedIn, etc, is that many companies go about it in a unsophisticated manor and get erroneous results. Leave it to a professional, be planned and organized, and treat it like it matters.

Joan Treistman
Guest
13 years 1 month ago
Last week at the Search Engine Strategies Expo I was amazed to see how many companies are selling services and products to enhance a client’s use of the internet. To the point of today’s discussion and the mention of Inbound Signaling, I encountered several companies who will establish blogs, twitter accounts and populate the content for those that don’t have the time. And there’s more–they will hire people to mention your brands as these random folks twitter or post on their blogs. Note there are a few celebrities who have been called out on that. They have “their people” twitter for them. And the rationalization is that the celebrity doesn’t have the time, but the person writing is writing in the celebrity’s “voice.” How long will fans follow “in the voice” of? Rationalization for the brand is that the hired hand isn’t obligated to say anything positive; they can say anything they want. Wasn’t there an old adage that said, “I don’t care what you say about me as long as you spell my name… Read more »
David Dorf
Guest
13 years 1 month ago

Twitter is great for delivering time-sensitive information, like “blue-light specials” and such. As long as it’s not treated as another spam channel, retailers could use it for special, targeted promotions. An even better use is to gauge customer sentiment and prevent brand bashing. Best Buy does this using an application called “Spy.”

Max Goldberg
Guest
13 years 1 month ago

Twitter is a great tool for feedback and customer service by allowing companies to listening to conversations about their brands. Consumer tweets can reward great customer service and highlight problems. The instantaneous nature of Twitter encourages companies to quickly try to resolve problems with its products or services.

These positive attributes can be offset by careless use of Twitter by executives and employees. Twitter, like most social networks is public. Don’t say anything on Twitter that you would not say in public.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
13 years 1 month ago

I’m recommending Twitter to all my clients. We simply don’t know where it will go. As a consultant, I’ve received an inquiry solely on my tweets. Dell computer did $1 million in sales tied to their tweets of sales. Lumber Liquidators is using it for immediate sales.

The challenge will be how to develop a personality on Twitter, not just a new form of couponing. Last week, I wrote about ten things I hate about Twitter Tweets if you’re interested….

Rick Moss
Guest
13 years 1 month ago

Excellent points, Joan. From our still fledgling experience Twittering (http://www.twitter.com/retailwire), I’d recommend that companies use the service to give their followers an “insider’s view” of how the company thinks and where its interests lie. The intention would be to build trust, and how better to undermine trust than to fake the messaging with ghost Twitterers? If you can’t make a sincere effort, don’t bother.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
Carol Spieckerman
13 years 1 month ago
As an active Twitterer (http://www.twitter.com/retailxpert), I’m constantly surprised by the way that it has helped my business. It is an invaluable resource for social networking information, up-to-the-minute news (from reputable news sources) and even much-needed humor breaks (The Onion tweets). I’ve also met new clients on Twitter who have contacted me through a direct message. I’ve gone on to meet up with them at summits and trade shows or when they’re in town. The (usually) supportive environment within Twitter is something you can only fully appreciate once you are immersed in it. I’ve also encouraged my client companies to establish Twitter armies similar to Zappos’. When Twittering is left to the CEO only, it can look self-conscious and controlling. On the other hand, encouraging the rank and file to Tweet about the projects that they are working on adds a very appealing personal touch that can pay off in new business and deeper relationships with existing clients (but only with prospects and clients that are on Twitter, of course). Twitter also gets misused: Tweeting news… Read more »
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