The Perfect Storm Guide to Using Twitter in Online Retail

The Perfect Storm Guide to using Twitter in Retail, Part 1

This is the first of three guides on how best to use Twitter for your online retail business. We hope you find it of interest and please do not hesitate to contact us should you have any questions.

What is Twitter (if you don’t know, where have you been?)

As of March 2009 nearly 5 million people use Twitter, a service that lets people — and marketers — send frequent, short updates to their followers. Twitter is uniquely valuable to marketers because it’s more immediate and interactive than any other digital channel. It’s easy to use Twitter’s search to monitor conversations about your brand; marketers as diverse as Dunkin’ Donuts, Comcast, and Dell also use it to connect with fans, address support questions, and sell products.

What is it all about?

Essentially, it’s an instant messaging platform that was developed to answer the simple question: what are you doing? People who sign up to the service have a space to fill 140 characters about whatever it is they are up to, and these “tweets” are filtered into the newsfeeds of the others who follow you. You can follow as many people as you want, and many celebrities have already developed a loyal following of 1 million plus!

People who sign up to the service can receive other peoples/businesses messages by “following” them. Following an account causes the updates they post to appear on the home page of the user following them. To be heard though, you need to have people following you. It’s important to remember that Twitter has come from nowhere to become the 3rd largest social network (behind Facebook and MySpace) and is a completely new channel for brands to interact with their consumers.

How Are Current Online Retailers Using Twitter?

Advertisers have begun to use Twitter to set up pages to not only reflect the essence of their brands butalso to act as a direct line of contact with product advocates and potential customers. Therein lies the beauty of Twitter for ecommerce – it’s an indirect way to build loyal relationships with customers and to informally communicate with them about what you’re doing.
Twitter should therefore primarily be viewed as an extension of your corporate communication and customer service functions rather than a sales channel in its own right, but done well and your Twitter profile could lead to a surge in sales at certain points of the year. In general, there are two types of approach that brands tend to be taking on Twitter; these can be described as “personal” and “informative”. Both can work well for your brand, depending on your overall marketing
strategy and the where Twitter falls into it.

The Personal Approach

Zappos –

Zappos Twitter Profile

Zappos Twitter Profile

Zappos, the American ecommerce giant which specialise in shoes, have their CEO update their Twitter feed regularly. The tone is colloquial, and the feed is a mix of personal information about CEO Tony Heish, what he’s up to, where he is in the world and what’s on his mind. His everyman tone embodies the brand he leads, and this ensures he (and the Zappos brand) endear themselves to the Twitter audience (he has300k followers). He doesn’t push products, and actually very few of his tweets talk about what the brand is doing. It works because Heish puts a personal front to a big name ecommerce brand, and by engaging with users on a wide range of topics he makes his audience think of the Zappos brand as a person, and a person they like to do business with.

Informative Approach

WholeFoods –

Whole Food Twitter Profile

Whole Food Twitter Profile

This American organic food grocery chain has taken a completely different approach from that of Zappos, using Twitter not to entertain, but to inform it’s 300k followers.

Their strategy is based around answering every question submitted by their followers, whether the question is on ingredients, packaging or store openings. This “discussion forum” approach works for this brand because they are a retailer with an audience who have a special interest/need. A vegan who’s allergic to sunflower seeds doesn’t want to mess around with unclear package messaging; she wants to know there’s a place where she can go to get the facts. Twitter, to that consumer, is a direct link to a brand that’s entrenched in her world and a major part of her life philosophy. Knowing she can get her questions answered quickly and efficiently means a lot.

Final Word

Your brand will probably fall somewhere in between these two different styles. Most companies have a number of people internally responsible for Twitter (so it’s not just built up around one employee who could leave at any given point). There is no doubt having your CEO or Chairman would add to the gravitas / readership of your Twitter profile, but most likely you’ll want to intersperse colloquial comments about what you’re doing as a business with replies to questions from interested

So now you need to get set up on Twitter and utilise its power…

Twitter Recommended Actions

Go to and set up your own business account, if only to grab the name of your business before anyone else does, even if you don’t plan on using your account for a while.

If you are ready to set up your profile, the first step is to set up a Twitter background. Developing a branded background which has
your brand logo and colours is recommended. It tells your potential followers you care about your Twitter presence and will probably be a good brand to follow.

The next step is to build your network. The service allows you to import email lists etc from your own contacts, but for brands the easiest place to start is by going to Twitter’s own search engine at and inserting your interests. If you sell fashion/clothes, it’s worth typing those keywords into the search engine and following users who have mentioned this keyword regularly in their posts.

If you want to get a little more granular in your search, you can use a service like TweetGrid or Twilert to search under multiple keywords and get email alerts when someone in the Twitosphere is talking about your brand or related subjects.

Following someone is the same thing as adding them as a Facebook friend, except that they don’t see your updates unless they choose to follow you as well. Generally the best way to get followers is to add people based on your interests, as most people will follow you once you start following them. It is easy to remove people if they keep posting irrelevant content.

Ask yourself why you are on Twitter. Are you operating on a personal or commercial basis? As an aside, it is important to acknowledge that if you answer the latter, you need to understand whether you are an individual ‘face’ of an organisation or if you’re Twittering under a brand name.

Be clear about your Twitter objective. Are you using it as a customer service support? A brand monitoring tool? A marketing or sales platform? Understanding why you’re using Twitter will help you follow these guidelines and create great copy…

And finally, if you are serious about wanting users to interact with you on Twitter, you can add the “follow me on Twitter” badge to your blog or website. This will encourage your consumers to check out your Twitter profile.

Use this Badge to Attract Followers

Use this Badge to Attract Followers

The next part of this guide will be published on May 26th, when we will be guiding you on your Twitter tone of voice and general etiquette, so make sure you come back and continue your Twitter education!

This Twitter lesson is the first in a special series of Digital Best Practice blogs that Perfect Storm will be producing over the coming weeks, essential reading for all digitially minded people!

  1. Nicely done. Can’t wait for the next installments.

  2. Really good read!

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