May 27, 2010, 12:33 PM

Tweet me

(Page 2 of 2)

J & P Cycles maintains two Twitter accounts, one promotional and the other aimed at drawing attention to the extensive information content the retailer provides on such topics as how to upgrade a bike or tips for buying a bike. “The only cost of Twitter is staff time,” says Rich Brecht, senior contact center manager. “It’s the least expensive of the social channels that we spend time and energy on because of how we use it.”

Since it launched on Twitter in the fourth quarter of last year, Brecht attributes about $10,000 in incremental online sales to Twitter. That includes sales to customers who enter through the retailer’s promotional Twitter page, or those who link to a blog to read the full content of an article, and then make a purchase. “We really work hard to trace that back to the original touchpoint,” Brecht says.

The retailer also uses a custom-built reporting tool from RightNow Technologies to share what’s happening on Twitter with its contact center agents without requiring them to go on Twitter directly. Customer tweets that require follow-up are forwarded to an internal support team for resolution.

Illustrated tweets
But with Twitter being so new, retailers are using it in different ways. Women’s T-shirt retailer Michael Stars is using Twitter as part of its campaign to gets its name out more broadly. The retailer launched an account on Twitter last August as part of a strategy developed with the help of Performics, and has 500 followers.

A big part of its strategy is to publicize photos of celebrities wearing Michael Stars T-shirts. When it gets such a photo, it uploads it to TwitPic, a photo-hosting service that comes free with Twitter accounts, and includes a link to the photo in its tweets about the celebrity sighting. If the shirt is in stock at MichaelStars.com, the retailer can include a link back to the site in its tweet. The retailer also tweets about deals like one-day free shipping.

But Michael Stars has garnered the greatest Twitter response from its humanitarian efforts. The response to tweets about partnerships with charity organizations, such as a recent effort to raise funds for Haiti earthquake relief, produce four times the referral traffic to MichaelStars.com from Twitter as do tweets on celebrity sightings or free shipping promotions, Malinowski says. “It’s really about getting the name out there,” he adds.

By contrast, online discount retailer Overstock.com Inc. uses Twitter mainly to keep track of comments about the company. In fact, Overstock initiated its Twitter program last year after noticing that not all the comments about Overstock on Twitter were positive. Now a handful of customer service agents at Overstock monitor Twitter, and respond to consumer tweets by directing them to resources within Overstock. Overstock now has 23,170 followers on its one Twitter account.

Overstock does use Twitter to get out the word on promotions, but that’s a minority of the content on its Twitter page. “If we did it too much, I don’t know how our followers would react,” says Stormy Simon, senior vice president of marketing and customer care. “Social media and Twitter in particular is still so new. There may be 23,000 reasons for our 23,000 followers to follow us. It’s hard to categorize what works.”

The advertising option
While marketers are still trying to figure out Twitter, the service last month added a new variable in the form of an advertising vehicle it calls Promoted Tweets. That lets advertisers pay to promote one of its tweets to the top of a Twitter search results page. Only one such promoted message will be allowed per page, as Twitter tests advertising as a way to finally monetize its 21 million unique monthly visitors.

Twitter included only a handful of advertisers initially: consumer electronics retailer Best Buy Co. Inc., coffee chain Starbucks and airline Virgin America.

Participating made sense to Best Buy, says senior director of digital media Tracy Benson, as a way to build on a customer service initiative launched last year called Twelpforce, which allows Best Buy employees to use Twitter to respond to consumer questions. “We saw it as a way to have more control over our brand perception and to elevate our Blue Shirt tweets through Twelpforce,” Benson says. Best Buy refers to its employees as “Blue Shirts” because of the color of the shirts store employees wear.

Best Buy initially used the new advertising option to promote some of its most engaging tweets, and Benson says in the first few days it saw many of those messages being passed along, or re-tweeted, by Twitter users. She notes the promoted tweet remains at the top of Twitter pages as other users pass it along, adding to the value of the ad spend.

It’s way too early to gauge the value of this advertising option. But web measurement firm comScore Inc. says there were 91 million searches on Twitter.com in February, one-third of them from the U.S. That’s a lot of consumers retailers can reach through Twitter. Given the low cost, marketers are likely to give short messages a chance to prove they can be long in value.

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