Jason Snell, VP-editorial director of IDG's Macworld, admits there is a narcissistic component to Twitter, the microblogging service that enables its users to send and read other users' updates, or “tweets,” that must be fewer than 140 characters in length. But Snell said that's not to deny the social network's potential as a sales and marketing tool for business publishers.
“You can create an ecosystem for conversations,” he said. “Twitter allows you to create a web of connections, which leads to conversations that otherwise would not happen.”
Since its 2007 debut, Macworld's Twitter account has attracted more than 23,000 readers or “followers,” Snell said. Tweets, which can be sent via mobile texting, instant message or the Web, could be information about a Macworld article Snell found interesting or an Apple event he attended. “Be sure to pick the best stuff from your Web site and use Twitter to help readers form a personal attachment to your brand,” he said. “It's not going to turn around your Web site, but in terms of ROI it's pretty strong.”
Twitter could also help to break down the silos between sales and marketing. “If a lead is interacting with the publisher via Twitter, it's important that marketing let sales know that the lead is interacting, because that can show a higher level of interest than other leads,” said Ted Kohnen, VP-interactive marketing for b-to-b ad agency Stein Rogan+Partners, which has attracted 115 followers since starting a Twitter account in January. “The lead is communicating with you, and now it's important to communicate back.”
Kohnen added that Twitter is not a direct sales model, but, rather, a media vehicle that can “lead to substantive conversations and sales.” (Indeed, Dell Computer acknowledged late last year that Twitter helped generate $1 million in revenue via sales tweets and other promotions, said John Pope, a communications manager at Dell.)
Twitter, which debuted in 2006, currently has about 5 million users, according to Forrester Research. It does not yet have a business model. Twitter's relationship model is based on one-way connections between people (as opposed to Facebook, which is based on two-way connections and requires people to “accept” a friend in order to get the ball rolling). Users can “follow” someone on Twitter, but they are not necessarily followed in return. When notified that they are being “followed” users can either accept or decline the relationship. If they accept, the parties can then start a dialogue.
“It's the ability to be a fly on the wall and then jump into the conversation when [the subject] is relevant. That's the secret sauce,” says Rodney Rumford, CEO of Gravitational Media, an online marketing agency, which in March released a survey on people who use Twitter.
The survey, which was conducted online as a “tweet” (with a link to survey questions), took the pulse of 712 Twitter users in December. It found that about 56% of respondents use Twitter for business-related purposes, including professional (27%), marketing (15%) and research (8%). “People organically connect over time,” Rumford said. “These are businesspeople—your peers, your clients, buyers—people who have money to spend. ... It's not about, "I just ate a cheeseburger.' ”
Lance Ulanoff, senior VP-content for Ziff Davis' PCMag Digital Network and editor in chief of PCMag.com, uses PCMag.com's Twitter account as an extension of the brand. Ulanoff said his tweets feature a blend of news and information from across PCMag's digital network.
Since its debut last fall, PCMag.com's Twitter account has attracted 2,341 followers, with anywhere from 50 to 100 new followers a day, Ulanoff said. “The return is measured in traffic,” he said. “If you look at the number of followers we have, it's a high click-through rate compared with newsletters, ads or other marketing materials, and for a low investment.”