At a packed session at the NRF convention on Tuesday, Richard Alfonsi, Twitter's global VP for small business sales, suggested smaller retailers take three steps to get started on the social media website: listen, find your voice, and create a tweet calendar.
Listening gives retailers a way to hear not only what customers are saying about them, but also what they are saying about competitors and their industry overall. About 400 million tweets now occur globally every day. In the U.S., over 4.5 million conversations are related to retail on average every week, a gain of 60 percent over the last twelve months.
But listening also helps a retailer find its voice. Said Mr. Alfonsi, "Tweets resonate when they're authentic, when they're conversational, when they come across as you."
Finally, a tweet calendar should be set up to handle the "pressure" that comes with keeping a regular schedule and also to encourage variety. As an example, he noted that on Monday one might focus on revealing a behind-the-scenes detail on the business; Tuesday, a special promotion; Wednesday, a helpful tip; Thursday, a new item spotlight; and Friday, a focus on Twitter followers.
Overall, Mr. Alfonsi likened Twitter to a "pop-up global town square," where people can connect not only with the news of the day and famous people but also with friends within the community or local businesses.
Twitter is also offering a "richer media experience" beyond 140 characters with snippets of the story link also viewable. Images and video clips can also be attached. As examples, he notes how Whipped Bakeshop in Philadelphia, with 5,000 followers, ran a Twitter campaign around "Ugly Sweater Cookies" for the holidays that wound up being featuring on the Today Show.
Many programs directly drive traffic, including ads tailored to the interests of Twitter users. Bonobos, the men's apparel e-tailer, ran a "Flock to Unlock" tweet with a deal becoming accessible to all within 20 retweets. The tweet drew more than 80 retweets in about eight minutes and the company gained 100 new customers. A Frappuccino happy-hour tweet from Starbucks in the U.K. has led to long lines around the chain.
Compared to other outreach approaches such as print and search ads, Mr. Alfonsi said one big difference is that Twitter involves two-way communication. It enables stores to build deeper bonds with existing customers by telling stories and responding to tweets but also feeding strong word-of-mouth through retweets that reach new customers. A future goal for retail communications, he suggests, may be far from only "spreading messages but being so good that others are spreading it for you."
How would you rate Twitter's potential as a tool for smaller stores to engage existing customers and reach new ones?