A social platform like Twitter isn't a sales driver; it's a far subtler marketing tool.
The public doesn't like to be harangued with sales messages when they're socializing. They don't want it in the pub and they don't want it online.
But Twitter still has an immense value, even if it's hard to measure. It's superb for building brand loyalty, as long as you approach it in the right spirit.
Last year, a U.S. study by Chadwick Martin Bailey and iModerate found that 79 percent of consumers who follow a brand on Twitter are more likely to recommend that brand compared to before they followed them.
It's hard to put a price on that kind of word-of-mouth publicity and shows the value of having a popular Twitter identity.
So, here are my five top tips for building brand loyalty through Twitter.
Tweet Something Worthwhile
This is a basic tip, but it's sadly often overlooked. What will your corporate Twitter account actually say and will it be anything that people want to read?
You'll never follow a brand that relentlessly churns out marketing messages, even if you like the actual product or service. Who would?
Some brands also retweet every favorable mention of themselves, which is fine in small doses but gets a bit tiring if they are constantly bringing these tweets to your attention (price comparison websites are particularly bad for this).
Every message you post should provide some value for the reader, unless it is such good publicity that you simply have to share it.
On the occasions that you do use Twitter simply to blow your own trumpet, make sure it's for something impressive -- think major donations to good causes or winning industry awards.
Anything less and you just look a bit desperate and a bit corporate, which won't result in brand loyalty.
Valuable tweets might include links to interesting, relevant articles and blog posts; research and statistics you've uncovered; expert commentary on industry events; discounts; offers of freebies; and relevant news.
- What's most important: The two most important words here are value and relevance. Deliver both and your Twitter feed will be a success.
Encourage Staff to Tweet -- With Guidance!
In addition to the official branded account, could your team tweet themselves? People like to feel they are connecting with other humans online and seeing the people behind a business can be highly effective in building a personal connection and securing brand loyalty.
This can be particularly valuable if you have a customer services team, as they are used to representing the brand and can then respond to feedback made through Twitter.
It also gives your team a platform for pro-active communication, which can be very powerful for building loyalty.
By engaging in relevant conversations and chatting to their followers, staff can create considerable feelings of brand attachment.
- What's most important: If you let your staff loose on Twitter, it's essential that you retain some control.
Put guidelines in place for them to follow and ensure they understand that they are representing the company. They should have separate personal accounts if they want to tweet about contentious subjects or chat to friends.
Respond to Tweeted Complaints
If customers are complaining, they can be outrageously angry at a faceless corporation. However, it's hard to be so angry when a specific person contacts them from an organization to try and resolve their issue.
Customers expect brands to be on Twitter and anecdotal evidence suggests that many even use the micro-blogging platform to complain publicly -- expecting a response from the business. They can get even angrier if they don't receive a response.
However, a friendly, fast response can turn a dissatisfied customer into an advocate, which is particularly useful if they are active on Twitter as it means they are willing to publicly praise or condemn.
- What's most important: Recognize in advance that you can't resolve every negative mention online.
For example, if someone tweets that they hate your new advert, or says something inflammatory and untrue about your business, it's usually not worth responding.
Sometimes knowing they have a company's attention can spur these trolls into even greater abuse. Play it by ear -- look at the seriousness of their comment and their number of followers. Isolated idiots tweeting obscenities about you can be ignored.
Give Something Back to Your Followers
Loyalty is a two-way street. If you want customers to value your company, you need to prove that you value their loyalty.
This ideally means giving followers and regular customers something more than the general public can get.
So, this might include special discounts and offers -- which can be a way to drive sales through Twitter without offending your followers.
You can also run competitions for followers with genuinely attractive prizes. Although 'retweet to win' comps can get you a lot of Twitter mentions, inviting followers to enter a more sophisticated competition can be better in terms of building brand loyalty.
For example, a caption competition where you retweet the funniest entries as well as picking an overall winner can be far more successful when it comes to connecting with your followers.
- What's most important: While offering discounts and special deals can enhance brand loyalty, don't let your tweets become spammy.
Overdoing the number of tweets or simply offering poor deals instead of good rewards will not build brand loyalty. It's much more likely to lose you followers.
This is a hard one. While Twitter might be home to revolutions, revelations and reactions, it's also really informal.
It's a fun platform and most people use it to play around, chat and share stuff they like. Just like a blog, it's a chattier way to approach customers.
So, unless you're a very serious brand, like the British Bankers' Association or the Treasury, it's okay to be a little more playful on Twitter than elsewhere.
Making your brand more personable will also help people feel a greater connection with it, once again enhancing their feelings of brand loyalty.
- What's most important: The level of playfulness that you can get away is determined by your brand and not by the platform through which you're communicating.
Don't be carried away by the casualness of Twitter if it risks devaluing your reputation. For example, what would work wonderfully for a clothing company will not necessarily be appropriate for a financial adviser.
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