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The New Inside Track to Connecting with Customers

twitter-birdIt’s no secret that more and more companies are using Twitter and other social media to connect with their customer base. But just who are they Tweeting and what kinds of results are they getting?

Socialmediatoday recently published a fascinating survey report entitled “The Coming Change in Social Media Business Applications: Separating the Biz from the Buzz.” What they found about who is using Twitter and why may surprise you.

According to the survey, companies of all sizes — from startups to FORTUNE 500 leviathans – have Twittered with customers and other internal and external constituencies. Internally, the primary focus is on networking and information sharing. Externally, companies Twitter mainly to “share breaking news” and/or to “extend a personal face to customers.”

In the external arena, however, the trend is definitely shifting toward using Twitter to facilitate more involvement with customers. And this is where I see the real potential for social media to change the way companies interact with their customers (including businesses and consumers).

In the battle for market share, few things have as much impact as when, where and how companies communicate with their prospects and customers. But as many companies are learning, some of the old tried-and-true communication methods are now falling on deaf ears.

Take cell phones and email. As these traditional communications tools become increasingly susceptible to unwanted marketing messages, many customers have begun ignoring them. A few years ago, having someone’s cell phone number practically guaranteed instant connection with them anytime, anywhere. Now, all you get is their voicemail box. And don’t expect them to return your call either.

At the same time, many younger consumers now consider email to be as outdated as fax machines. People who once felt compelled to check their email every 10 minutes now turn up their noses at the mere thought of using such primitive technology as their primary communication vehicle. As a result, many no longer respond to most email, even from people they know.

For most companies, the main attraction of Twitter is that it enables instant contact with customers. Granted, individual Tweets are limited to a paltry 140 characters. But when speed is of the essence, Twitter connects you with customers much faster than traditional channels. The only drawback is that your customers have to actually use Twitter in order for the channel to work.

How do you know if your customers are on Twitter? Study their social media habits.

If your customer base is blogging or using some form of social media, it greatly increases the odds of reaching them via Twitter. In fact, according to the survey, 23% of social network users also use Twitter or a similar service. In contrast, only four percent of people who do not use social networks have used Twitter.

For now, Twitter seems to be less effective in the B2B arena. In a separate study, only four percent of sales respondents said that Twitter had helped them close a B2B sale. But in the right markets, Twitter can profoundly influence your ability to reach your target audience, as well as connect with media outlets for PR and information distribution purposes. And I suspect it’s only a matter of time before B2B companies figure out how to use Twitter to effectively reach their customers.

An approach I have seen used effectively for B2B companies is to use social media to contribute to a positive brand perception and credibility for your products and services. Most major media is sourcing ‘experts’ via social media today. So, if getting quoted in a national publication or being referenced in industry journals, would contribute to your company’s success, Twitter is where you need to be.

In addition to connecting with customers, companies participating in the survey also reported using Twitter to:

  • “Mindshare” with industry peers
  • Demonstrate thought leadership
  • Recruit talent
  • Provide educational content and tech support
  • Notify constituents of upcoming events
  • Keep in touch with bloggers
  • Extend communities of interest
  • Provide customer service

Other company uses I have seen include using Twitter for coupon distribution and special offering announcements, sharing industry news and engaging in question and answer sessions. Some large organizations are beginning to focus on Twitter as a channel to build their employee brand (after all, at some point hiring will crank up again and talent will get hard to find).

Going forward, I believe businesses will focus primarily on using Twitter to develop leads and generate prospects because that represents an area of real need for most companies. Plus, it offers the biggest payoff for the time and money invested. If you’re finding it harder to connect with your customers through traditional channels, take a look at Twitter. You may find that your customers are already there waiting for you.

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