June 15, 2010, 1:03 PM

Make sure Twitter fits your target audience before investing in it

Most of Musicnotes.com’s shoppers aren’t followers.

Lead Photo

Bill Aicher, director of web and marketing, Musicnotes Inc.

Musicnotes Inc.’s director of web and marketing Bill Aicher uses Twitter for personal communication and believes it has great potential for retailers as a way to stay connected with their audience. It’s not for everyone, however: the online sheet music retailer has more than 2 million customers, but only 2,300 Twitter followers.

Retailers should use restraint when it comes to joining Twitter to communicate with consumers; they should examine their goals for the medium and use it themselves first, Aicher said last week at the  Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition. Goals can include using Twitter strictly to communicate with consumers, for company news and announcements, sales or customer service—but retailers need to have plan. “Don’t do it to be cool,” Aicher advised.

Retailers should examine whether their audience is active on Twitter, why consumers might want to follow the company and, if a program is pursued, who will act as the conduit for Twitter tweets. “We have one person who focuses on Twitter, and I respond occasionally if necessary or tweet something, but you must figure out who will be in charge of it,” Aicher said.

Retailers also must decide which employees will be authorized to use Twitter on behalf of the company. At Musicnotes, No. 496 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, employees aren’t restricted from using the communications channel, but only authorized personnel tweet as representatives of the company. The Twitter usage policy should be established along with general rules that govern all social media, Aicher said.

Retailers also will need a plan for dealing with negative comments posted via Twitter. “Twitter is a quick way to vent frustrations, so you need to decide how to respond in a non-combative way,” he said.

Setting up a Twitter account and doing some actual tweeting is recommended, to see if anyone follows and to build a file of messages before announcing a formal Twitter program, Aicher said.

After testing the Twitter waters retailers should be prepared to change course, as was the case for Musicnotes. “We overestimated how many people use Twitter,” Aicher said. “We all do at Musicnotes, but most of our customers don’t.”

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