To Tweet or not to Tweet

Twitter, the popular micro-blog and short message service (SMS), has become an important marketing tool for companies and their advertising agencies eager to promote different products and services to the public. While celebrity athletes and movie stars still get the most followers, corporate giants like Best Buy, Target and Apple also enjoy a healthy Twitter fandom.

Users who sign up for a free, no-frills Twitter account feed can subscribe or “follow” other feeds and send public messages (“Tweet”) to their own followers in 140 characters or less (Oops, ran out of space). You can also post or “retweet” comments or links from other feeds that you like or agree with.

Hash tags (#Mississippi for example) have become a new way to organize different trending comments or topics on Twitter. It’s an easy way to get out news and find out what people are thinking and saying about it.

Mississippi State University is one of the state’s most visible adopters of the Twitter hash tag. In anticipation of last year’s football season, the Twitter tag #HailState was painted in the end zone at Davis Wade Stadium turning the school’s traditional fight song into a social media buzz word.

Assistant athletic director Chad Thomas said the idea came up after the athletic department launched its new website hailstate.com. “We were trying something completely new,” Thomas said. “National writers started picking up on it and started to see how cool it was. After our fans started seeing the response they really took a hold of it. People use it for just about everything. It’s just a rallying cry for Mississippi State fans.”

Twitter is still ablaze this season with #Hailstate mentions for everything from new MSU uniforms to homecoming elections. Thomas said #HailState will also be painted on the basketball court and baseball dugouts.

 

Creating content

“Twitter is the fastest way to get the message out,” says Shailee Bhatt, a social media specialist for Jackson-based GodwinGroup, one of the Southeast’s oldest advertising agencies.

For one client, the non-profit Gulf Coast Regional Tourism Partnership, GodwinGroup constantly uses Twitter to get the word out. But instead of Tweeting stale or generic marketing updates they interact and share information on the latest hurricane projections or holiday beach closure information.

“When (Hurricane Isaac) was here we were giving our fans an update every minute saying what was open or when the curfew was activated,” Bhatt said. “People think it’s a whole community setup and people identify with such updates. It’s informal with a human side. Getting information from a website is no longer considered the first option. They go to Twitter.”

As Isaac slowly made landfall, Ridgeland advertising agency Mad Genius used Twitter to help its Red Cross Mississippi clients communicate with storm victims. Social media director Frank Owen said that in one instance, some people stranded that could not get through the phone lines were able to Tweet out what was happening and Red Cross units were able to respond.

In addition to times of public service, Mad Genius also uses Twitter to promote regional retail brands from Primos Hunting Calls (@TeamPrimos) to Bruce Foods (@BruceFoods).

“I think Twitter is great for conversations, for more direct contact with the brand,” digital content specialist Robert Pettit said.

Twitter is indeed full of customers who sound off on company feeds about positive and negative experiences.

”I love your #Dollar Menu,” McDonald’s follower @RichieLong recently posted. For those customers with an axe to grind, Twitter is an equally potent forum.

“We’ll tweet back and say sorry you had a negative experience. Is there anything we can do to make that better,” Pettit said. “I think that ability is something that people didn’t necessarily have access to before.”

Mad Genius interactive director Rob Rubinoff believes the feeling that the customer is still making a human connection is the key. “The crucial thing for success is having somebody on the other end who is there,” he said. “There’s a whole world of Twitter users that have conversations throughout the day. If you want to be a brand and participate at that level you need somebody there.”

 

Making money

According to Twitter’s advertising blog, more than half of all Twitter users follow between five and six retail brands.

Most business executives just want to know if Twitter can make them money. While people generally aren’t shopping or searching for product reviews on Twitter, some marketers believe it can still be used to make a sale.

“Directly buying something on Twitter is still in its nascent form,” Bhatt said. “We ultimately like to send traffic back to the site because it increases traffic and gives the most robust environment for people to complete their sale.”

For example, while “daily deal” websites like Groupon.com fight for market legitimacy, Twitter can be used by companies to link to various sales or special offers. E-commerce technology has advanced to the point that companies can now trace an online sale back to the original social media promotion.

“For potential clients the digital world provides you with the most information back on how well you’re dollar is going,” Rubinoff said. “More than TV, print, anything else… we can track it to turn into how many widgets did we sell or how many leads did we get?”

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