How One Small Business Uses Twitter to Build Its Brand

A Bird's-Eye View From New Orleans

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Ed. note: We recently wrote about Naked Pizza's use of social media. Here, the shop's three co-founders, who have plans to take the concept national, tell their story -- and why they think social media, going forward, could incite businesses to adopt more meaningful missions and philosophies. (You know, something worth sharing.)

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Twitter, the free microblogging service that enables users to send text-based "tweets" 140 characters in length to their "followers," is one of the hottest social-media companies on the planet. Despite a meteoric rise and the fact it's been around for nearly three years, we had honestly never heard of Twitter two months ago. It was not until Mark Cuban tipped us off that we actually created a Twitter account and sent our first tentative tweets.

Naked Pizza on Twitter
Naked Pizza on Twitter
How time flies in a Twitter world. In these few short months, our single-unit store in New Orleans has plunged into the deep end of the social-media pool. We have added our Twitter handle (twitter.com/nakedpizza) to all carryout menus and box toppers and our company website. We've provided a link to sign up in our e-newsletter, sent to about 5,000 opt-in recipients on a biweekly basis. In the coming weeks our Twitter handle will appear on the 5,000-plus pizza boxes that go out the door every month and will be featured on more than 60,000 direct mail pieces sent to addresses within 5 miles of our store. We have even replaced a giant sign that formerly displayed our business phone number, 20 feet above our store, with a Tweetie bird and our Twitter handle. For a bricks-and-mortar company that did not have so much as a Facebook page two months ago, to say we are embracing social media would be an understatement. We are betting the farm on it.

If you hope to compete as a small "carryout and delivery only" pizza joint operating out of a 600-square-foot space against the Goliaths of pizza delivery, you had better have a good product, great service and a deeper mission that differentiates you in a meaningful and sustainable way. And we do -- but that's not enough. Even with a loyal following of customers, you must spend marketing dollars to drive business. Even your most core customers must be continually and softly nudged. The advantage here clearly goes to the larger chains, which enjoy greater market penetration and scale.

So far, we have relied on cost-effective strategies such as e-newsletters to deliver information and coupons to a subset of our customers. We also use a smattering of direct mail. But the open rate for our newsletter has steadily fallen over the past year. Though this is speculative, we believe consumers are simply fatigued -- too busy, too many other newsletters in their inbox, and so on. Enter Twitter.

Though many are clearly high on the new smell of Twitter -- us included -- we are beginning to see, through the fog of idle chatter surrounding social media, new opportunities to connect with our customers in ways that makes sense to us. The obvious and redundant criticism of social media is the ROI of such a strategy at any level. How do you measure ROI on buzz, comments, friends, followers, mentions and so forth? For us, we see the value of Twitter in a number of areas.

We Twitter to supplement, or possibly replace, our e-newsletter, with daily 140-character special offerings or other tweets that contain links to more in-depth information on our mission and our products. Analytical tools buried in the HTML of our website suggest that this approach is working. As for the actionable tweets we call "Tweetie Pie" specials, we are optimistic about them when compared with our e-newsletter data. For example, on a single Thursday a few weeks ago, Twitterers accounted for almost 15% of the total sales, many of which were new customers. Source coding in our POS system makes tracking this data possible.

Beyond our planned weekly promotional tweets, we maintain what we call "corporate chatter" about the mission and purpose of our product. Twitter offers a company like ours a unique advantage in that we sell a healthier product with a deeper social mission of improving the health and well-being of the population in general. That said, we simply have a lot to tweet about. If Twitter and similar technologies become game changers, we may see a day when companies create "initial" business plans that take into account whether or not they have anything worthy of microblogging, resulting in more sustainable consumer and environmentally friendly business models. Not a bad thought.

As we move forward, we will test and measure every aspect of our social-media strategy to better serve our customers and our bottom line. While we have no illusion that Twitter will replace the muscle of direct mail for our business sector, its brand marketing power will surely lift what may soon be declining return rates on traditional methods. For us, we believe it is time to move beyond treating consumers as only the sum total of their e-mail and physical addresses, instead striving to create models that take into account the interesting creatures of consumption that we have become. For our business, we are developing a proprietary marketing tool, Pavlov, that will merge traditional and emerging marketing strategies in an intelligent environment built around customer experience. The lessons we have learned, and will learn, along with the mistakes we will continue to make and learn from in the New Orleans market, will serve as the model of how Naked Pizza will roll out additional stores in the U.S.

Above all else, Twitter has taught us an obvious but often overlooked lesson of building a new company: The brand is just as much a creation of the end user as it is a product of the ideals and hard work of the founders. As a small business striving to make headway in the choppy waters of today's economic environment, we welcome the appearance of a feathered friend to guide us in some small way. The safe harbor of a thriving and secure small business may still be beyond the horizon, but our little birdie is helping us stay on course.

As a small pizza place sailing into the uncharted waters of today's business environment, we're convinced that our Twitter bird can help move us safely to dry land.

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Jeff Leach and Randy Crochet are co-founders of Naked Pizza; Brock Fillinger is general manager.

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