If you’ve been reading anything at all on the internet in the last year or so, you’ve probably seen a plethora of stories about Twitter. Lots of them have been about how Twitter’s being used by politicians, celebrities and businesses to connect with voters, fans and customers, and often the upshot of such stories is: and you could be doing this too.
“Brands” are told to watch what people are saying about them on Twitter, and respond. Which is great, if you’re a “brand”. But what if you’re a tiny retailer running an eBay shop and a website out of your back bedroom, and no one’s talking about you at all?
I’ve seen some truly terrible ideas to promote eBay listings on Twitter, not least the tool that creates a Tweet every time you list something. A friend of mine was using that, listed 100 items, and instantly had 100 tweets all pushing her eBay listings: this is a great way to get yourself unfollowed by a lot of people very very quickly. Twitter didn’t like this idea either and shut the service down — but it’s still possible to feed your eBay RSS feed to Twitter. Just don’t.
I’m not convinced that “buy my stuff” is ever a message you can post very often on Twitter. It’s like going to a party with the message “buy my stuff”. People might be interested that you run your own retail business, but pulling merchandise out of your pocket and waving it in their face is just rude. But that doesn’t mean that Twitter has nothing to offer in terms of business development for small retailers. Here are some ways I think it really can help:
1. It expands your business. If you make jewellery or posh frocks, talk to boutique owners. If you sell car parts, talk to car owners’ clubs. There isn’t really any special sauce about Twitter – it’s just people, talking to people, and all Twitter does is make it easier to find them. Think who you need to talk to, and go start a conversation.
2. It hooks you up with your competitors. Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer: that’s one way to look at it. Personally I’ve always preferred to at least get along with my competitors, because we all have ‘help I’m out of stock of this thing I need to fill this order’ moments. Perpetual war isn’t fun, and you can’t make a marketplace all by yourself.
3. It’s a news feed. One of the ways that you can raise yourself above the competition as a retailer is to be about more than sales. You read about your industry, right? If you’re a crafter and you read craft blogs and forums and useful how-to sites, or if you have a niche DVD store that specialises in film noir, you read about that – don’t you? Your customers will be interested in the same things you are, so start feeding those links to Twitter. There are numerous widgets that will take your Twitter feed and put it on your website, so you’ll instantly have a bunch of interesting links for people to look at. All the more reason to come back to your site.
4. It’s an emergency notification system. One of the useful things about Twitter is that there are so many ways to access it: widgets for phones and desktops, as well as the website interface. If you’re having an unforeseen crisis – from lack of web access to emergency root canal – these can offer you a way to keep in touch with your customers (tell them, Twitter’s the emergency channel) that you have easier access to than updating a website. A short tweet – “car broke down on way to post office” – can save you from complaints and chargebacks just because people can see you can’t necessarily respond to them immediately.
5. It’s a watercooler. When I started working by myself, from home, one of the things I missed most were the watercooler/smoking room moments, a couple of minutes talking about nothing with random people. Twitter more than replaces that. This is by no means its least important function.
Are you using Twitter? For business, or for fun? Leave us a comment (and your @ id).
Thanks to Twonvo for the conversation screen shot, and Virgin Media for their response to my rant.