Who would want to read about what anyone had for breakfast? Chances are you've either read or personally had this reaction to the now ubiquitous new social media tool called Twitter that allows anyone to post 140 character updates about what they are doing right now. Yet the site has amassed millions of users from across the world, including politicians, Hollywood actors, and business celebrities and seems to be featured at least daily in the news.
For all the attention that Twitter gets, its real significance though is that it has started the trend of "microblogging." Through these short posts (called "tweets"), you can experience everything from updates written by witnesses of global tragedies to behind-the-scenes gossip from Hollywood. But is it actually useful for a small business? Below are ten real business uses for one of the most blindly praised social media tools today:
1. Selling directly to customers. Twitter itself may not be making money, but if you want an example of making money through the site, just ask Dell who passed the $1 million mark in online sales from their @delloutlet Twitter account.
2. Listening and gathering insight. Not only can you get an instant pulse of consumer sentiment about a brand, but unlike Google results, most of what you find will be only a few minutes old.
3. Learning "secret" information. Customers are tweeting about what they want in an products, competitors share strategy, and potential recruits signal they are in the market. Can you afford not to be reading?
4. Managing or averting a crisis. By watching brand conversations happen real time, Ford recently used Twitter to help resolve a legal dispute with a fansite that could have been much uglier. Crisis averted.
5.. Conducting a live focus group or poll. For a prolific Twitter user, tweeting a quick poll can generate hundreds of responses in a matter of minutes, as opposed to email invitations to polls that are deleted or filed for later.
6. Demonstrating a brand personality. Social media can help to bring the human side of a brand to life. When a real voice responds to a mention, it is unexpected but has a great effect in fostering customer loyalty and encouraging word of mouth.
7. Promoting a campaign. Twitter should not be used solely to blast out links to your latest marketing effort ... but once you have built a community of Twitter followers, tweeting a link could be your best short term traffic driver.
8. Tracking emotions. Many people share how they feel right now. So before pitching a journalist, check their Twitter account (yes, thousands of media now have them). If they had their car stolen that morning, you might want to wait until tomorrow to send them that press release.
9. Amplifying real life events. During any large event, you can see a surge in Twitter activity from people "covering" it in real time. This can be a powerful way for any brand to share an inside look at a real life event with a virtual audience.
10. Offer a direct communications channel. Beyond email, customers expect more ways to interact with companies. Luckily, Twitter is also an extremely fast way to interact, so it can scale.
Rohit is a founding member of the 360 Digital Influence group at Ogilvy, one of the largest agencies in the world. He is author of the best selling new marketing book Personality Not Included, a guide for small business on how to be more authentic, keep your customers and inspire your employees, which has been published globally in 8 languages.