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How To Use Twitter for E-Commerce

Posted on 4.12.2009

Many think e-commerce has no place in the Twitter-verse, but look at some of the top accounts and you'll think otherwise. From a one-person startup to fortune 500 CEOs, anyone can and is using Twitter to connect - but not all are doing it as well as they could. Let's look at some ideas on how to use Twitter for e-commerce success, specifically to promoting products and connect with customers.

Over the weekend I saw a commercial for the new Palm Pre that actually referenced Twitter - "233,000 people just Twittered on Twitter. 26% of you viewing this have no idea what that means." Regardless of whether the general populace understands Twitter, the service has millions of active users and those individuals are of the hyper-connected variety, complete with disposable income and established social networks of like-minded individuals. That presents an exceptional opportunity for e-commerce merchants (and even affiliate marketers) to sell products. 

The problem, until now, is that there has not been any formal guidance on how to use Twitter effectively to market actual products. Build a name for yourself, sure, but sell out your inventory of left-handed hot pink widgets? Not a chance. Instead, those type of how-to guides tend to focus on building a massive following and rightly so. Twitter used most effectively is as a communication tool and a bigger audience carries with it a greater chance of exposure. With a little strategic thinking, however, Internet retailers can use Twitter in much the same way to sell their products, generate revenue and establish deeper bonds with their customers. 

First, Know thy Twitter-self
Perhaps one of the most important things in starting a Twitter account is deciding what kind of account you'll have. Will you use it for one-on-one communication with your friends and co-workers or is it more of a business account to publicize your company? If a business account, will you be feedback focused (pull marketing) or leverage some push marketing tactics and announce sales and product info? Deciding early in the course of your time on Twitter will help you yield the highest return on your time investment in Twitter. That being said, let's look at a few practical ideas on how e-commerce merchants can use Twitter effectively for the benefit of the bottom line. 

Perhaps the easiest way to use Twitter as an e-commerce merchant is to simply post products and sales offers directly in the tweet. Many users of Twitter do this regularly and do some with some success. While it does work, there are other way to maximize your user of Twitter as an Internet retailer: 

Align Product Mention Tweets with a Current Event
While tweeting about the products you have sold requires little in the way of creativity, it does give your followers an opportunity to know what is being sold and works as a way to drive traffic. It really works if you can craft an interesting tweet. One way to do that is to align your tweets with a current event. For example, tweet that you've sold twice as many of a certain product and find an possible explanation - whether it's a review you've received on a website, or a popular commercial that got people thinking about the need for that product, etc. Followers get exposed to the product and learn about your place in the greater Twitter-verse. 

Creating Deep Connections With Shoppers/Customers/Consumers
Consumers want a reason to shop from merchants - so give it to them. Customer service and the sense that merchants are genuinely focused on providing a positive customer experience is certainly always Tweet-worthy. For example, be transparent and tweet that you just accepted a return for a broken product (not your fault, of course) or post a frequently asked question that you received via email. Listening to the conversation that is occurring at Twitter can be time-consuming, but is vital to your success as it provides you with powerful information on areas of potential improvement. Are all your shipped items arriving broken? If so, maybe a new delivery person is in order. Are shoppers confused about the way pricing information is presented? Correct it and you may increase the bottom line without even trying. While automated Twitter tracking tools like TweetBeep are excellent ways to track brand or product mentions, even using Twitter's search feature helps to identify customer kudos and complaints (and areas of improvement) and goes a long way to keeping customers and keeping them happy.  

Tweet about New Merchandise You're Planning
One of the great marketing motivators is the concept of exclusivity. That's why we all so often fall into the trap of the endless beta product. If only a handful of people have access, it must be worth more, right? Posting messages on Twitter about upcoming merchandise you're planning (or even going as far as to let them influence product design) gives users this sense of exclusivity without all the obligation of actually turning it into a real product. Say for example that you're at the water cooler with a product designer and come up with an interesting idea. Post it on Twitter and ask if others would find that a valuable addition to your product line. The connectedness that users feel with you (the Twitterer) and the brand can be monetized, but it requires a deep and genuine connection. Twitter can help make that initial connection and make the connection stronger.

Tweet about Your Daily Business Life
While it may seem mundane to you, there are Twitter users out there that will find it interesting to know that you are on a sales call with your accountant. I'm not one of them, but they do exist. Finding a way to relate the tweet back to your followers is imperative, as it humanizes you and your brand. While "staring out the window eating lunch" might be interesting to your co-worker, telling followers about your attendance at a Webinar or a book you are reading related to your job shows that you are connected to them in deeper ways than just as a product pusher alone. Think of Twitter as a means to get connected to your audience on a deeper level and you'll earn more followers long term.

How does your e-commerce company use Twitter?
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