Friday, March 20, 2009

Can Twitter Work For the Small Business

When I started using Twitter I had two objectives. One was to see how Twitter functions as a social media marketplace and the other was to get a sense of how smaller businesses could use it as a channel to market.

Despite the hype around it Twitter still seems to me to be a niche product. That is based on the composition of its members. It reminds me of all those speed networking events that were so popular, their limiting factor was that it was predominantly sellers who attended and what we really need is buyers. I don't pretend to suggest that Twitter will die out as speed networking has but it does suffer from this phenomenon of too many sellers.

There are some areas where Twitter is well suited. The B2C environment for one, and there is certainly anecdotal evidence that companies have generated real revenue from Twitter and those providing digital products have found it a regular source of new business. It is however fair to say that this is not a quick win, it does take time and effort to build up a reputation and presence on Twitter. Mostly however its time; for those who are involved in delivering digital services, this is not an issue since using online environments is their natural marketplace. For those offering physical products and services it's a more challenging environment. However, if you're selling into the B2B or SoHo markets then it can still be an effective route. Essentially the fact that you can readily communicate with the decision maker and that the sales process is simple and short means that using Social Media Marketing (SMM) works well and having good visibility on twitter will certainly generate interest.

At the other end of the scale major corporates' have the time and resources to dedicate the man hours necessary to regularly insert their message and build that vital link of trust with their customers and prospects. So you can see many of the worlds largest businesses using Twitter including, Dell, Ford, etc. Dells assertion that it obtained $1million in revenue from Twitter has been well publicised. We must however accept that larger businesses already have an advantage since they've built a level of "trust" around their brand long before Twitter came along and they leverage that advantage further now.

One should not forget also that Twitter is more attractive to business because postings are necessarily short and unlike Facebook, You Tube or MySpace are text based. Interestingly this will make it more readily adopted by the professional in a higher age group and therefore more suited to today's decision makers.

The more difficult question is how "Fred Bloggs of Bloggs Joinery" can use Twitter. B2B business is not necessarily well suited to Twitter and many owner managers don't have the time to devote to develop a network, and quality is still as important as quantity. This is ignoring the import question of whether they "get Twitter" which is likely to be a major hurdle in itself. I have spoken to a number of small business owners who just don't "get it" and have subsequently stopped using it before they really had a chance see what it could do for them. So what options are open to them, well firstly assuming there is sufficient marketplace on Twitter for their product (something that is seriously open to question), they could encourage all their staff to join Twitter and use a collection of voices to build up a following or secondly, outsource. This may seem an extreme step or even heresy in Social Marketing, but to me it's an inevitable consequence of how social marketing works. SMM agencies will naturally develop enormous power simply by having several clients each with several users promoting several products. With that infrastructure its becomes almost inevitable that they would harness all the voices from all the clients to cross promote each new product growing in power and effect each time they add new clients. The next logical step is to dispense with real voices and create surrogate voices after all it's relatively easy to create personas which people can use as templates. If true it would completely undermine the concept of Social Media Marketing as we know it.

Laurence Ainsworth is using is founder of Exigent Consulting which provides advice and support for small to medium businesses. Exigent specialises in Business Turnaround, Sales and Marketing and Mentoring &n Coaching.

He can be found on and at
He is a regular contributor of articles on marketing and sales and is a frequent Blogger and Twitter

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