October 14, 2010, 11:40 AM

Mobile + Twitter = a great combination, speaker says

Charity: water uses Twitter to help supporters raise funds for clean water projects.

Lead Photo

Paull Young

Millions of consumers are seeing and sending Twitter messages on their smartphones—one reason Twitter and mobile can make a powerful marketing combination. At Internet Retailer’s Mobile Commerce Forum yesterday, Paull Young, director of digital engagement and fundraising for charity: water, shared how the not-for-profit organization has put Twitter at the core of its fundraising efforts and also how other businesses can use Twitter to support their own goals.

Charity: water, which has raised millions to build wells providing safe drinking water in 17 countries, has built a powerful presence on Twitter with more than 1.3 million followers.  It uses its position on Twitter not to raise money directly—Young says the charity never asks directly for funds on Twitter—but to support its followers’ efforts to raise funds for the cause, by building community around those campaigns.

For example, charity: water tweets news of followers’ fundraising initiatives, such as local Tweetup parties, and also re-tweets the posts of others hosting, reporting from and commenting on those events.  Charity: water and its Twitter followers also use TwitPic—a tool that allows people to easily post photos on Twitter via their mobile phones as well as by e-mail or directly from TwitPic.com to post photos on the charity’s Twitter page. The photos capture fundraising events and the related activities of followers as well as pictures of clean water wells being built, used and appreciated by local residents.

“Those are some of the ones that work best for us,” said Young of the clean water photos.

Young also offered ideas for how retailers and for-profit organizations can use consumers’ rising interest in Twitter, which is being fed by their increasing use of mobile phones, to further marketing goals. Participation in the ongoing conversation on Twitter can help humanize huge corporate brands, according to Young.  At Dell Inc., for example, No. 3 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, employees are actively encouraged to Tweet about the company and thousands of Dell employees do just that, he said. Similarly, online shoe retailer Zappos.com encourages employees to participate in Twitter, with CEO Tony Hsieh leading the way.

Young also mentioned other ways large brands are using Twitter, such as for customer service, noting that Home Depot Inc., No. 39 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, as well as Comcast are monitoring Twitter for customer comments and responding to tweets as needed. “It’s not going to replace the customer service department, but it’s a great way for people to have a good experience with the brand,” Young said.

The immediate nature of Twitter also can make it a valuable tool in crisis management, Young said, describing Twitter’s role in a recall of Graco strollers. “Social media, including Twitter, was a huge part of the company’s outreach,” he said. The buzz on Twitter in turn pushed Graco—including what the company was doing to respond to customer concerns—up in Google search results, a phenomenon that later resulted in a favorable story in national media about how Graco handled the recall, he said.

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