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[8 comments]

NRF: Twitter for Mom & Pops

January 17, 2013

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."

Discussion Questions:

How is Twitter evolving as a tool for smaller stores to engage existing customers and reach new ones? How should mom & pops initially pursue a Twitter strategy?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

How would you rate Twitter's potential as a tool for smaller stores to engage existing customers and reach new ones?

Comments:

I would recommend mom and pop operations stay as far away from Twitter as possible. As a commercial platform, I do not like Twitter, do not use Twitter and found Twitter to be very chatty.

Twitter sounds good but real world is the average Twitter user probably following over 100 feeds from celebrities and getting dozens of messages a hour compounding into pure information overload.

Mom and pops should probably focus more on driving store traffic through offers, CRM and other endeavors.

Ed Dunn, Founder, (Stealth Operation)

Most people/companies think that Twitter is for just listening—hearing what customers are saying. If there is a complaint, you respond. If there is a positive comment, you say thank you. It's an opportunity to engage, take care of and communicate with customers. This is a "reactive" strategy.

Along side of reacting, become proactive. Post content—and not just promotional content. Post helpful content, which can include links to videos you create on how to better use your products, links to industry articles—or any other content that might be interesting to your community of followers.

The best companies, regardless of being a mom and pop or a large chain of stores, understand the power of being both reactive and proactive with social media.

A big benefit to the mom & pop is that using Twitter (and other social media strategies) can connect you with followers all over the world, thereby giving you a world-wide presence.

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Shep Hyken, Chief Amazement Officer, Shepard Presentations, LLC

I think that Twitter does offer benefits for mom & pops. It isn't about whether the platform is good or bad, but rather, how it is marketed and the value that is offered. If customers follow a store and receive value from the relationship, why wouldn't it be another channel in the marketing mix? The point is that retailers need to be where shoppers are today and Twitter is one of these places.

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Brian Numainville, Principal, The Retail Feedback Group

Twitter is a valuable channel for any retailer as long as the channel is used properly and not abused. Now what does that mean?

Using a social channel at the right level—meaning at the same "marketing height" as your target shopper—helps the retailer to support multiple marketing channels that are all designed to increase demand and market basket size. Overdoing it on any channel—especially Twitter—can cause negative sentiment across segments of the retailers' market.

Why Twitter? Twitter is used by and hits only a certain segment of the shoppers. Many shoppers with solid wallets do not tweet. For example, there are some smaller retailers that push the "communicate with us on Twitter" message too much on their websites and in their stores. A segment of their shoppers couldn't care less about Twitter. If you over promote Twitter—or any marketing augmentation tool—then you turn the shopper off.

As social sentiment analysis expands more and more small retailers will harness this capability and then better understand how to create the right balance of Tweets and Twits.

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Tom Redd, Vice President, Strategic Communications, SAP Global Retail Business Unit

I am an avid Twitter user. Let me first share who I see on twitter. I see retailers, news, marketers, people who want to be read/heard and people looking for help. What do all these people have in common? They are mostly all professionals and they are looking to stay in the know and learn new things about whatever their subject du jour may be. This is a great place any new business, large or small, if done correctly, should engage.

Lee Kent, Encourages retailers to meet share and learn, YourRetailAuthority

Twitter is conversation. Most of it probably non productive or beneficial. Used right, this might develop into a good marketing tool for mom & pops. But then isn't that what Facebook is?

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

I'm with Lee on Twitter. It's a great resource and, if done right, a terrific place to network and do business. What often gets left out of the discussion is that people search Twitter any number of ways based on affinities, interests and needs. That alone is worth the time and effort, particularly for a small retailer seeking to showcase its points of difference.

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Carol Spieckerman, President, newmarketbuilders

Let's riff-off off of Richard's 'global town square' frame.

Imagine that you are @small-retailer, hanging at your booth in the town square. Traffic is light, so you decide to take a walk around. You pass by some #Hashtags (groups) on your walk—some are very large with people walking in and out, oh yeah that's #Lance Armstrong, no wonder! Others are smaller, with folks meandering, nothing interesting, but wait, what's this combo #route95-construction has folks from many of the #local-big-companies—that seems interesting so you listen in. Suddenly the idea comes to you, so you stick your head in and shout this post:

@small-retailer
Hey #route95-construction - the detour runs by my store, stop in for amazing refreshments and great #valentine gifts bit.ly/QeQ3Q (142 characters)

Now imagine that the reporter from WXYZ is hanging around those #hashtags and takes an interest and decides to call, and you get some retweets from some locals. The global town square is buzzing. Oh my, is that Spike Lee in the store? Yes, it turns out he was stuck in traffic.

Suddenly you are marketing gangnam style!

Vahe Katros, Consultant, Plan B

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